8. Manila Luzon (Season 3, 2nd runner-up)
I was recently sitting through an overview of LGBT social issues, and at one point the instructor became tongue-tied about how to define and distinguish a bunch of gender-related, often conflated terms, one of which was “drag queen”. I almost hijacked the lecture and took the class through a series of Manila videos. This chick is high drag. She hits all the right citations, each with impeccable delivery. Every walk down that runway is tailored distinctly to whatever the theme of the week is. Let us look back at season three for a moment. Her Christmas couture look was totally Marie Osmond, as guest judge Vanessa Williams pointed out (Vanessa was remarkable guest judge, by the way), and she walked that Mrs. Claus look with a GIANT MUFF. I mean, she might as well have dangled a hundred dollar bill over our heads. Her space age outfit was totally Grace Jones meets Moonraker meets Anna Paquin in X-Men, and she worked that look like a classic sci-fi villainess, perhaps one who can transform into a panther. The Addams family ensemble with the thick black and white stripes was to die for—femme fatale realness! And the PINEAPPLE?! How did she come up with this stuff? Did Manila one day go strolling through the produce isle of a grocery store for inspiration, look at a pineapple and think, “What a ravishing fruit?” And that’s just the first four of her runway looks! Sadly, her final ensemble was underwhelming, but then so was Raja’s so it’s all good.
Of course, Manila’s genius was not limited to couture; she was also the queen of camp and comedy for all of season three. Her tasteless Japanese news reporter was thankfully more than a one-line gag. My only criticism there is that when Ru called on Manila to defend her joke, Manila beat around the bush too much. Manila, all you had to do was say back to Ru, “What would you say to all the cis- and trans- women at home who might take offense to this show’s parody of their gender identities?” I don’t mean to conflate oppressions; I just mean that if queens want thump identity politics they should be consistent (Shangela, you listening?).
Manila’s comedic prowess extends also to her impersonation of former Philippines leader Imelda Marcos on Snatch Game, her jibberish-spouting monkey in “Drag Queens from Outer Space”, and of course her outrageous lip-sync against Delta Work to “MacArthur Park”. How passionate and perfectly executed was that performance, right? One wonders if she had ever performed that song before, because the way she stood up with that cross-eyed scowl on her face, as the beat kicked in, was the talk of the whole next week.
Sadly, Manila’s return to Drag Race in the All Star season did not live up to the legacy she left behind after season three. I am still unsure about how fairly the queens were graded in that season. In fact, while I love All Stars for all the backstage banter I am still not sure how much I loved its format of combining the queens into pairs. You tell me, fans: how much do you value synergy? I think it was just a foil to save budget between the regular seasons (don’t cut me, Ru). Still, Manila had some priceless moments on All Stars, mostly when she touched her crotch and smelled her fingers in her lip-sync of “Nasty”. Best moment? I thought about providing a Manila quote here, because she has so many ready-to-wear slogans (“You can’t just go picking up drag queens!”), but then I forgot to acknowledge her Heatherness! So, at the expense of not providing another prize-winning Manila moment (though I kinda just did), I’m going to quote verbatim this entire segment. This one is dedicated to all the Heather and Boogers in the “Face, Face, Face of Cakes” showdown:
Rupaul: Shangela, one last question. Who do you think should go home tonight?
Shangela: Carmen Carrera.
Carmen: I clearly have to disagree with Shangela. I mean, I think my outfit is a little bit more high fashion than hers.
Rupaul: I’ll present the same question to Stacy.
Stacy: Carmen. There’s high fashion looks here, but I just don’t think she executed it.
Rupaul: Same question, Delta Work.
Rupaul: Manila, I would like a serious answer from you.
Manila: I would like to see Shangela go. She’s just a loud mouth and she’s always talking and ‘Hallelu’-ing...
Raja: Stacy and Shangela, get the fuck out!
Rupaul: Tell me why.
Raja: Ohh, Stacy—you know I’m not sure if she’s ready. And Shangela, although your personality shines, I think you should be on season five or six. That’s where you should be.
Shangela: That’s interesting, Ru, because Raja’s been in the game for twenty-plus years doing drag and I’ve only been in it for one, and we’re in the same competition here.
END SCENE. (Sweet Jesus.)
7. Jujubee (Season 2, 3rd place)
There was a time when Jujubee was my favourite queen, and to this day she is the one queen I most want to be best friends with. In particular, I want to walk the bar strip with her and watch her spread love and shade like holiday cheer. Granted, Jujubee has never won a challenge in season two, or as one half of Rujubee in All Stars, but there are many merits for which Jujubee should forever be acknowledged as a legendary drag queen, the first and foremost of which is her reads. At long last, here is Jujubee in the reading mini-challenge (forgive the shitty quality):
It’s enough that she reads all the girls to filth, but she adds extra spice to each dig with her intricate intonation and facial expression. I die when she raises her sunglasses.
Of course, reading is not Jujubee’s only talent. Her lip-syncs are her other calling card. Everyone has a Jujubee number in their top five lip-syncs (I don’t want to know the awful person who doesn’t). One might prefer her range of lip-quivering and orgasmic howling to Aretha’s “Something He Can Feel” (Tatianna didn’t even try, for goodness sake!). Or someone might remember Jujubee most fondly for her on-stage meltdown to Robyn’s “Dancing on My Own” (I could handle it—I had already been jaded by Yara’s life-shattering elimination in season three). For me, it’s a toss-up between her renditions of “Black Velvet” and “Shake Your Love”. In the Alannah Myles number she gets her hair all knotted up in her face (life lesson: good wigs still look good when they’re messed up!) while she thrashes along the main stage, and it becomes unclear whether she is crying or getting off. We really feel like she’s transported us to a dive bar on Route 66. And during the Debbie Gibson tune she plays AIR KEYBOARD.
final thing I have to say for this queen is that there are no BFFs on Drag Race
who match the awesome power (and yes, “synergy”) of Rujubee. Not Yara and
Alexis, nor Detox and Roxxxy. The friendship on screen between Raven and
Jujubee is the vacuum through which we recall season two. We don’t re-watch
that season to see Tyra take the crown, or Tatianna make it to the top four, or
Pandora get screwed time and again. No, in our memories it will always be the
Raven and Jujubee season. Best line: “I’m Jujubee. I like long walks on the beach,
big dicks, and fried chicken.”