When it comes time to find new ways to excite the audience, count on Manila Luzon to understand the brief.
When Drag Den Season 1 first premiered on Prime Video in early 2023, it was proof of the continued rise of Philippine drag in mainstream discourse and also stood out for how special it was. There were few, if any, quite like Drag Den on TV with its tongue-in-cheek take on a drag reality competition show that put the story of the queens front and center while also spotlighting important social issues.
Leading the way is Manila Luzon, RuPaul’s Drag Race royalty, who hosts the show as its Drag Lord. A year later, the show is back for season two following a positively received debut. And as Manila sees it, the search for the next Drag Supreme is going to be anything but boring.
A WILD RIDE
Even though drag has been on the rise, especially in mainstream media, over the past few years, it wasn’t a guarantee that Drag Den was going to do well. But it did with its perch on one of the biggest streaming services in the world as fans tuned in eagerly every week. It’s a fact that Manila is grateful for.
“I’m just so proud that I’ve been able to work on Drag Den,” says Manila, who took home Best Entertainment Host award at the Asian Academy Creative Awards (AACA) in Singapore last December for her work on the show. “I’m so happy for it being on Prime Video, it’s able to be seen around the world, which, you know, was one of my goals after I saw my very first drag show live here in the Philippines.”
Many people, Manila included, consider Philippine drag as some of the best and most exciting in the world. So, seeing Drag Den make waves is a step in the right direction for the local drag scene. “Hosting Drag Den has really provided this opportunity for me to showcase the Filipino talent here in the drag community. And it became a dream come true because I really wanted to shine a spotlight on Filipino drag artistry, and the show has provided that dream.”
FOR FILIPINO DRAG
If you’ve seen Drag Den, then you know how unapologetically Pinoy it is. It’s a competition show for Filipinos, by Filipinos. Series creator Rod Singh and her team envisioned a drag competition show where nearly every inch of the den is covered in queer Pinoy energy. The best part is that the show made an emphasis to highlight how diverse the Philippine drag scene is. Drag Den 2 continues to carry that energy as 10 new queens compete for the win in another den after the last one was raided.
Taking on a psychedelic vibe set in Tondo, Manila 30 or so years in the future, season 2, which carries the title Retribution, is giving viewers even more slices of local drag that go beyond location and gender. “I was really interested in showing off more kinds of drag, more range.” The show’s producers made an effort to widen the scope for the cast, which is why this season’s queens aren’t just from the Metro, but from all over the Philippines. Retribution also makes history as having the first AFAB (assigned female at birth) queen compete on the show in makeup artist Marlyn Ocampo (Fun fact: she was Manila’s makeup artist in season one).
“A lot of people think that for drag, you have to be a man playing dress up as a woman, but it’s way more than that. It’s way more inclusive. Drag artists can be biological women, straight men, or transgender. So I’m really excited that we can show off more kinds of drag in the new season,” expresses the Filipino-American queen.
But with all these new rules, inclusions, and additions, was there a pressure to top the first season? “Of course, of course,” says Manila without hesitation. “Every time I get in drag, I always try to improve on what I did last time. I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself because, you know, I’m so well-received as a host.”
Acknowledging the fact that she does have her flaws, such as still not knowing how to speak fluent Tagalog, Manila makes an effort to better herself as the show’s host. “The pressure is on, but that’s fine. I really want our show to do really well and for the audience to really love it. So we made sure that we were keeping on top of ourselves.”
TAKE ME HIGH
No show, especially one as vibrant as Drag Den, is complete without a proper theme song. And for season 2, that comes in the form of Manila’s new song POM POM (Take Me High). In line with Retribution’s more psychedelic theme, the song plays on the idea of partying and having a grand time as your consciousness takes on new forms.
“Recording POM POM was a lot of fun because it really has a lot of trippy aspects to it.” The highlight for Manila though was the fact that Sassa Gurl, who serves as Drag Den’s Drag Runner, joins her on the track. “She is such a star. I mean, she’s been making music now. And I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, we have to collab.’ Then at the premiere [of Drag Den 2], we got to perform our song together for the first time. And that went really well. I’m super excited. I hope to be able to perform with her more often.”
Manila Luzon is no stranger to making music. And it helps that her Filipino roots have made singing a natural part of her life. But getting to do all of this as a drag queen makes it even better for the Drag Den host. “Once I gained popularity from being on television, I realized that this is an opportunity for me to do something original. And so I really like the fact that I have engaged my audience enough for them to enjoy a song that isn’t played on the radio necessarily, but that’s being made by a drag queen, a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, someone that’s accessible to them in a closer way. And it’s a lot of fun. I love making music. I love making the soundtrack to my drag.”
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL DRAG QUEEN
With Drag Den 2 upon us, the show looks to continue its advocacy for giving Philippine drag its due all while giving viewers (and the queens themselves) a few gags along the way. At the end of the day, that’s all Manila wants from the show. “I hope that our audience can fall in love with these drag queens, and I hope that the audience supports the drag queens as much as they’ve supported me throughout my drag career. And I’m really happy to be able to share this platform with these queens because this has been a wild ride for me, and I feel like they deserve some time in the spotlight as well.”
And if you love the show and what season 2 has to offer, Manila implores you to turn that into action, especially with how drag’s mainstream rise is being met by forces who try to dim its light. “We really appreciate it when people come to our shows. We appreciate when people recognize us when we’re not in drag. And those ways of showing appreciation go a long way. Liking our posts, commenting with hearts and smiley emojis, we love that kind of stuff. Sharing our projects with your followers.” Anything else, Manila? “And money, yeah.”
Continue Reading: How You Can Support Pura Luka Vega (And Drag In General)