Lauren Power interviews drag star Manila Luzon before her appearance in St. John’s later this month.
Standing six feet tall (6’4” in heels) with an enormous coif of jet black hair with a shocking blonde streak, Manila Luzon is an impressive figure. However, by day, Manila Luzon reverts to her civilian identity: not-so-mild-mannered visual artist Karl Westerberg of Minneapolis, Minnesota. After a season competing on TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race (and an additional lap on the All-Stars season) showcasing her charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent, Manila Luzon has become a multimedia maven, touring the world, including a stop in St. John’s in May, making her the first drag superstar to make it to the Atlantic provinces.
So, how does a half-Filipino/half-German visual artist from the North Star state become an international sensation? Manila will be the first to tell you.
“She’s a total bitch,” says Luzon, laughing. “My style of drag is a fusion of different styles. Glamourous and funny and a little edgy. RPDR opened the eyes of the world that drag is a lot more complicated than just putting a man in a wig. Although, I am a man in a wig.”
Before the wig went on for the first time, Luzon was a graduate of graphic design at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. “Before all the drag queen stuff, I’m a visual artist,” says Luzon. “Graphic design was the only way I could get my parents off my back. To do something where you can get a job after graduation.”
Since then, Luzon has worked to make a career in art, in or out of drag. For Luzon, her life in drag started as something to do at parties and transformed into a full-time gig. “It really was a struggle, though,” says Luzon. “It was maybe once a month, here and there, doing drag when I didn’t want to wait in line or pay for drinks.”
The hustle to make her way in the creative arts has helped Luzon hit the big time. With an awareness of the limited shelf life of reality television stars, Luzon started touring, and got in the studio to record. Now, she has pop-dance singles on iTunes, and on YouTube, her single “Hot Couture” is poised to hit a million views (currently at 978,050 views).
“I’m so incredibly busy,” says Luzon. “I’m just moving from project to project to project. And I can’t finish my projects because I’m always on to the next gig. But really, the fact is, I’m so used to doing everything by myself. Rather than explain it, I’ll just take it on myself.”
These days though, to mitigate the strain of work, Luzon has learned to reach out. “There’s always room for collaboration with others,” she says. “There’s enough for each queen to have a little piece.”
With Luzon poised to be the first drag superstar to plant her flag in the province, the local drag scene remains small.
“I’ve seen drag done in all different types of places and population levels,” says Luzon. “Where there’s a will there a way. The way it is with us drag queens, is that if you want something, bitch, you better create it.”
Regarding the province’s limited drag dilemma, Luzon has advice: “To the three to five drag queens in the province, you should get all together, once a week at a club with a stage and put on a show. I’m sure people would come out in masses to see you lip-sync to some Madonna song.”
Heads up for anybody looking for a drag name: at press time, “Catty Dundermale” was still up for grabs.
Manila Luzon will be performing at Velvet Club & Lounge (208 Water Street) on May 17th. This summer, look for the Manila Luzon app on iTunes.