By Brandon Voss
Originally published on Advocate.com February 26 2009 12:00 AM ET
Following in the
footsteps and lipstick kisses of Fergie, Pamela Anderson, and
Linda Evangelista, a Los Angeles-based drag queen named Ongina
has become the latest spokesperson for the
M·A·C Viva Glam campaign, which has raised
more than $140 million by donating 100% of the sale of
M·A·C's Viva Glam products to fight
Known out of makeup as
Ryan Palao, the 26-year-old Philippines-born Ongina is a fan
favorite on Logo's cutthroat reality competition
RuPaul's Drag Race
, in which female impersonators vie to become America's next
top drag queen. M·A·C Cosmetics is a major
sponsor of the show, which is hosted by drag superstar RuPaul,
the original M·A·C Viva Glam spokesmodel.
In an emotional episode
that aired February 23, Ongina bested the five other remaining
contestants to win the M·A·C Viva Glam
Spokesperson for the Day Challenge, in which the queens starred
in screen tests to promote the campaign. When Ongina won, he
broke down in tears on the runway and revealed his own
"With celebrity comes
responsibility," says Nancy Mahon, executive director of the
M·A·C AIDS Fund, which was established in
1994 to support those affected by HIV/AIDS globally. "What's
amazing about Ongina is that right as he's being introduced to
the world, he's saying, 'This is who I am, and this is what's
important to me.' He's the real deal."
On February 25, before
Ongina presented a $25,000 check on behalf of the
M·A·C AIDS Fund to New York City's
all-inclusive Harvey Milk High School, he raised awareness for
the cause with an appearance at the M·A·C
Cosmetics Flatiron store in Manhattan. We pulled aside the
petite Filipino princess to discuss his honesty, his style, and
his obsession with lady parts.
Advocate.com: You look fabulous. Who are you wearing?Ongina:
Oh, this old thing? I'm wearing Burberry Prorsum shoes,
Patricia Field shorts, and this lipstick-print shirt was made
for me by a friend.
What did it mean to you to win the M·A·C
Viva Glam challenge?
I was diagnosed with HIV on April 13, 2006, so winning the
challenge was completely amazing for me. I'm a living example
that you can be just as glamorous with HIV as without. You have
to keep celebrating life. I'm truly blessed to be able to
represent the M·A·C AIDS Fund.
You didn't disclose your HIV status until after you won the
challenge. Tell me about that decision.
It was a really hard decision for me, because originally I did
not want that to be included in the story. But I wanted to be a
voice for our community, and I figured if I can touch just one
person's heart and give them hope, then I'm on the right
You also mentioned during the emotional revelation that you
were afraid to disclose your status on national television
because your parents didn't know yet. How did they react to the
I actually told them about a month before the episode aired. I
sat them down and had a conversation with them about everything
that had happened from the very beginning [of my diagnosis]
until now, so I reassured them that I was OK. They were worried
because they thought I was just telling them I was OK so that
they'd be OK with it, but my last T-cell count was really high,
so I'm doing amazing. I'm very happy.
What was it like for you to watch the episode?
When I watched it, I had my best friend and my roommates sit on
the couch with me. I was like, "All right, we're going to
need Kleenex boxes, and you guys are going to need to hold my
hand when that part comes." I got really emotional again only
because my emotions were very real. This means a lot to me to
be a Viva Glam spokesperson.
interviews you say that you feel like "a woman trapped in a
drag queen's body." You also say that you named your drag
persona Ongina -- using the base of your middle name, Ong --
because "God didn't bless me with a certain kind of 'ina."
Ever thought about getting sexual-reassignment surgery?
I've always been infatuated with vaginas, but I'd never
actually want one because of the whole monthly thing. Although
I guess mine wouldn't have the monthly thing. [
] My first drag name was Peck-Peck Galore. "Peck-Peck"
means "vagina" in my language.
Your style stands out among the other drag queens because
you often choose to go wigless. What's that about?
Wigs are really uncomfortable; they get really hot underneath
there. But that doesn't mean one day I won't wake up and want
to do a big purple wig. It depends on the inspiration, the
song, and the performance that I'm doing. But I really like
creating different headpieces, which I think is a little more
Where can we see you perform?
I'm out in Los Angeles, and I'm a resident drag queen at La
Cita in downtown L.A. You'll see me gallivanting onstage there
every Monday. And usually you can find me on the corner of
Santa Monica Boulevard, wherever it's not busy. [
What can we expect from your show?
It's really out there. Sometimes I take the literal route with
a song, but other times I exaggerate it or elevate it to a more
artistic level. I recently performed "Halo" by
Beyoncé, but I found a deeper meaning and performed it
as the Virgin Mary, and I was having sex with Jesus Christ
onstage -- which is totally not something you should be
So, RuPaul vs. Tyra: Who's going down first?
Oh, my God, Tyra's going down first, because I'll be there to
help RuPaul make sure that she goes down first! [