Manila Luzon ‘wasn’t waiting around’ for Drag Race Philippines to come knocking

Manila Luzon holding a microphone in front of a sequinned backdrop

Manila Luzon talks her new show Drag Den, Drag Race Philippines and singing her heart out on ITV2’s Karaoke Club.

Drag Race icon, double All Star and all-round fan fave, Manila Luzon is one of the world’s best-loved and most in-demand drag queens right now.

As we speak over Zoom she’s in Chicago, preparing for a show. But through the magic of pre-recorded television, she’s also gearing up to make her debut on ITV2’s Karaoke Club: Drag Edition. against drag performers including Trinity the Tuck, Danny Beard, Freida Slaves, Tete Bang and Lil Test Ease (her go-to karaoke song? “What’s New Pussycat”).

“Most of us are pretty good lip-syncers,” Manila tells PinkNews. “But the singing part, that was the scary part. And listening to some of these drag queens sing was the scary part.

“We all just kind let our guard down. We are all singing our hearts out like we’re Whitney Houston, just a couple octaves lower.”

Karaoke Club: Drag Edition is part of an explosion of new drag-focused TV shows. As well as the ever-present Drag Race and its many, many spin-offs, the upcoming months will see the arrival of Graham Norton’s Queen of the Universe, Peppermint, Crystal (another Karaoke Club competitor) and Barbada de Barbades’s Call Me Mother and the return of The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula.

Manila has her own series launching in the Philippines (her mother is Filipino and her drag name celebrate the Philippines’ capital, Manila, and the island it stands on, Luzon).

Drag Den will be very different from Drag Race, the series she’s competed on three times now, and another way for her to honour her Filipino pride.

“They have their formula and they’ve been plugging it into all these different countries. So we’re trying to do something very new and something that’s very Filipino.”

Soon after the show was announced, RuPaul put out a casting announcement for the long-rumoured Drag Race Philippines. It came as a surprise to fans who saw Manila as a shoe-in for the regional spin-off – she’d thrown her hat in the ring just months before, in an interview with Vice. But in the end, the timing wasn’t right.

“I was aware that they were trying to get [Drag Race Philippines] off the ground for many years,” Manila explains.

“But when the opportunity [Drag Den] came to me, I was like: ‘Well, I’m not waiting around.’ Any new opportunity, I’m gonna jump at, so I took it.”

Manila is quick to point out that there will be no rivalry between the shows.

“I’m excited that we have multiple shows. I’m going to be able to show and tell the stories of different queens and Drag Race Philippines will be able to tell their stories and showcase different queens. I think that it’s great because there’s more opportunity, especially for a country that doesn’t have a lot of opportunity for drag queens.”

Manila Luzon's curves and swerves look.

Manila Luzon’s curves and swerves look on All Stars 4. (VH1)

The same is true of Karaoke Club, which Manila sees as another platform to showcase drag outside of the RuPaul formula.

“Think abut it this way: there’s Idol and then there’s X Factor; there are all these cooking competitions and all of them are different in their own way. I think that the entertainment factor of drag, it transcends just one platform. It’s gone beyond the stage, it’s gone beyond the gay club, it’s gone beyond cabaret, and it’s now on TV it’s going to be going other places.

RuPaul’s Drag Race has been a blessing for the drag community. It’s opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the art of drag. But Drag Race can’t sustain the career of every drag queen. So we’ve got to create something new and different.”

That being said – would she ever return to Drag Race?

“Now that I’m hosting, should I be competing still? Why not. I love how much fun I have on Drag Race. I’d go back 100 times.”

Karaoke Club: Drag Edition airs on ITV2 every night this week, with the finale on Friday (1 October). All episodes are streaming on the ITV Hub.