By Daniel Reynolds
Originally published on Advocate.com November 12 2012 7:16 AM ET
Last Monday, Manila Luzon and Latrice Royale were eliminated from RuPaul’s All Stars Drag Race. But the beat goes on. Team Latrila reunited to record a sickening new single, "The Chop," which demonstrates their resilience in the face of life's haters and challenges. (As Latrice sagely advises:"Make them eat it and gag!") The Advocate spoke with Manila about her "Chop" from the show as well as her thoughts and memories of Sahara.
The Advocate: Barack Obama was reelected this week. Did you celebrate?
Manila Luzon: I went out with Willam from season 4. In celebration of the election of an African-American president, I got blackout drunk.
How did it feel to get a second round at Drag Race?
It was exciting because it was kind of like a gauge. It made me feel good that I did something right the first time, season 3, and people were interested in seeing more of me. Also, it was kind of daunting because I had to go above and beyond what I did last time.
How did you prepare?
I prepared very differently. I had to get all new clothes made. I’m known for some of my outfits, so I wanted to bring something new to the show. The first time I was on the show, I could just go in the closet and pick out some cute outfits. … But because I now am on TV, people have seen all my outfits. They’ve seen it on the show or me wearing it on the road or in videos. I didn’t want to repeat anything, so I had to get an entirely new wardrobe, which was extremely daunting because I’m not used to having to get so many clothes made at once.
Did you have help from friends or designers?
That’s the one thing that was so great about it. A lot of my New York designer friends — and I’ve made designer friends after I was on the show — they were more than willing to give me stuff, or give me a good deal to make me clothes. … The last outfit I wore was from my friend Cheng. He has really awesome clothes that are featured in magazines all the time. So I was really happy that I got to wear his outfit.
You looked amazing on your last runway. The judges — and the viewers — were all raving. What inspired the look?
Cheng wanted to have some kind of "shoe hat" and I was like, oh, that’s cute! But I really wanted it to be dark. I really wanted it to look like death, because I had the black hood. That’s why I did the eyes really dark. I inspired by that old black-and-white film The Seventh Seal. I liked it because it felt Old World and still fashion. This time around with my clothes, I wanted to up my game. They’re still kind of costumey, but you have got to make it fashionable too.
For All Stars, the big twist was the revelation that contestants would have to work in teams. Do you think it helped to have a team, or did you find yourself having creative differences with Latrice?
When they said we were going to be working in teams, I was like, fuck, this totally sucks. I had all these clothes made, and all of it was made to stand out from everyone else on the runway, no matter what. So when I was bringing these outfits, they were going to be the most extreme, the most crazy … well, after Shannel, because that bitch wears everything, and Yara, because she’s covered in everything else too. So when they told us you have to match to your partner now, I was like, fuck, this isn’t going to work. However, like any competition, you adapt to the rules, and you adapt quickly. We all saw what happens when you don’t work with your partner after Mimi and Pandora went home. We all saw what happens when you let one person take over control, like in the case of Tammie and Nina. Nina just kind of let Tammie run wild, and it didn’t work out for either of them in the end. I don’t really know. On the plus side, you had someone to bounce ideas off for the very first time. In the regular season you’re in a team by yourself, so there’s the internal dialogue of planning your next move by yourself. You can’t really have it be out in the open. Latrice and I were able to strategize, help each other, make stuff for each other. It was nice having someone to pick you up and make sure your hair isn’t crazy in the back.
How did you decide who would lip-synch for that week?
Latrice had just performed the week before, so we wanted to mix it up. The problem is, when you do the "lip-synch for your life," you try and break out all the stops for that performance. And if they’ve seen all your tricks from the week before, it won’t work as well the next time around because they’ve already seen it. So I decided I was going to sing this one.
This week contestants were asked to channel their masculinity. What inspired your look? What were the difficulties in channeling a “butch” man?
I don’t have a problem … I think I’m just as sexy as a boy as I am as a girl. Well, maybe not as sexy … there’s a little bit more to work with when you’re all dressed up and you’re this out-of-this-world creature. It makes it a little bit different. At first when we were doing it, I was like, what’s the fucking point of this? But as I looked back at it, you know, we do get dressed up and we do this a lot now. We do this all the time. Some of us don’t even have eyebrows. Some of us haven’t had armpit hair since we were 13 years old. Sometimes it’s nice to remind yourself that you’re a dude. You’ve got to look just as good as a boy as you do as a girl. I think I’m a sexy boy. I think that when I first started doing drag, when I first started experimenting in makeup and stuff like that as a young boy, I looked different because I grew up in the Midwest. Everyone was white and I was a little bit Asian, and I didn’t really think I was attractive. I put on makeup and looked in the mirror, and I saw a beautiful creature looking back. When I took the makeup off, it kind of stuck. Like, oh, actually, I’m attractive. Through drag, I was first able to feel sexy. And I think it’s important to know that we are boys. We have to feel sexy out of drag because that’s a lot of stuff to wear to bed, honey: the makeup, the corset, the pantyhose, and the high-heel shoes. Well, the high-heel shoes can stay on, but the rest has got to come off.
During the streetwalkers’ challenge, in which contestants were asked to pull pranks on pedestrians in Hollywood, you said, “Drag and daytime don’t go together.” What are the difficulties of “day drag”?
Lighting is mostly the issue. The sun does not camouflage the way that studio lighting” indoor lighting, soft lighting, or just black of night, “drunken out of your mind’ club lighting. We are dudes and we wear a lot of makeup. In certain situations it could look like we’re not wearing makeup, and we’re just flawless. But in daylight it looks terrible. And then it’s also hot, and we’re out in the sun. And we’re basically wearing a fur hat. So it’s hot and uncomfortable, and we’re running around in the street and don’t know what we’re going to be doing. So yeah, daytime and drag do not mix. It’s not cute. If you see a drag queen in the daytime, don’t judge her. She probably looks gorgeous at night, especially when you have a couple of cocktails in you.
Was it hard to approach people in broad daylight?
It was hard because some people who were passing were like, hell no, I need to cross the street now. But, behind-the-scenes spoiler alert, everyone knew there were cameras because there were cameramen across the street trying to hide. And then there was a person with a clipboard who was trying to get you to sign a release form at the very end of the block so they didn’t have to blur out your face. So people knew as they were passing by that something was going on. And it was Hollywood, and everyone wants to be on TV anyway.
Did anyone recognize you?
Some people did, but I think they cut those out. It kind of spoils the illusion that they’re strangers on the street. But yeah, we did get recognized. Despite the fact that we’re on an extended cable network and we don’t get millions and millions of viewers like The Voice, we still have a cult following that closely follows each of their favorite girls. So yeah, we did get recognized in the street. It’s kind of interesting.
You’ve definitely become icons for a large segment of the gay community.
I think that’s really cool, a show that shows what we get to do and shows off our personality. A lot of people don’t get to see drag queens beyond going to a gay bar for a drag show. You don’t get a chance to see them being real or interacting with each other or being out of drag.
How do you feel that Drag Race has impacted your life?
I used to work as a graphic designer here in New York City for several years. I was kind of getting a little sick of it. When I auditioned for the show the first time, I thought, Well, if it goes well, maybe I’ll quit my job. And it went well. I was able to quit my job and work full-time as a drag queen, which is really cool. And, it’s really changed the way I live my life. I do it now in front of people, even after the show. Every tweet that I put up there, I have to double-check it to make sure it’s communicating exactly what I want it to communicate. Because you can get in trouble sometimes on Facebook and Twitter. I think that it’s helped me to become a better person. It puts things in perspective in my life.
Fans of DR might miss the “lipstick on the mirror” farewell message from parting contestants. What is the message you want to leave after your RuPaul's All Stars experience?
I just want people to realize that it’s hard when you put yourself out there. You don’t get the feedback that you’re expecting, and people cut you down for doing it. And I just want to let people know that you can’t let that bring you down. Go on the path, follow your own destiny, keep doing what you need to do. When bumps in the road happen in life, you just have to push through it. Keep going forward. Don’t get hung up on the negative.
You released a new single, “The Chop,” which you recorded with Latrice. Tell us about it.
When Latrice and I got kicked off, we were kind of a little bitter … well, more than a little bitter. But as time went by, we were like oh, that’s OK. At this point, it’s not even really about the money. Most of us went on All Stars because we wanted to be on TV again. We wanted to keep working. It’s really what you make of it. So Latrice and I wanted to make something inspirational that had a good message: If you fall down, get back up. I’ve had terrible things happen to me in recent weeks, so I’m using my own advice. The song is actually helping me out a lot. I wanted to inspire other people, and I ended up inspiring myself.
How are you coping with Sahara’s passing?
It’s tough. It’s really tough. But I’m OK. I have a really great support system. My family is really close and they’re supportive. They’re great, and they loved Antoine. I have great friends, and Sahara’s friends and family, they’re great too. My Drag Race sisters, I’ve been turning to. And I’ve been getting so much love from my fans and Sahara’s fans about her passing. So the love from the fans is great, and I really, really appreciate it, to know that people are praying for me and Sahara. It’s been really helpful. And it’s also kind of a testament to how much of an impact that Sahara made as a drag queen on a reality TV show. And it reminds me that I have a similar influence on the audience. It puts things in perspective. It lets me know that what I’m doing with my life is the right thing to be doing.
What’s next for Manila?
2013 will be really fun for me. I’m really excited. I’m opening a new chapter of my life, and there will be some surprising things coming around the corner. But I just got kicked off RuPaul’s All Stars! I’m going to finish this egg-and-cheese sandwich from the bodega, then have a cup of coffee.
Do you have any favorites among the remaining contestants?
I don’t really have a favorite. Obviously, when you’re rooting for yourself the whole time, fuck all the rest of the girls, who cares. That bitch ain’t sharing her coins with me. So I don’t care who wins … unless they want to give me some coins!
Do you have parting thoughts or messages for our readers?
Thank you for all my Fanilas who rooted for me through season 3 of Drag Race and All Stars Drag Race! And I appreciate all the love and support you’ve given me this past month after Sahara’s passing. And listen to “The Chop” by me and Latrice on iTunes and Amazon.com.