Friday (Jan. 1) night’s episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race may go down as one of the series’ most controversial. Manila Luzon, the season’s frontrunner, was eliminated by Naomi Smalls, who up until this week, had struggled to stand out in the competition. The unexpected move sent fans into a gay panic and will be remembered for years to come.
But Manila didn’t waste any tears: “I tried to keep my composure as much as I could on that stage — I’ve had enough episodes crying on TV,” she tells Billboard.
The freshly eliminated queen caught up with Billboard about the her exit from the competition, her upcoming Aqua-inspired album, and whether she’d return to Drag Race for a fourth time: “If there’s an All Stars 5, 6, 7 and 8 — bitch, I will be there.”
Billboard: Take me back to what went through your head when Naomi chose to eliminate you. What was going through your head?
Manila Luzon: In the moment I was extremely shocked, but as you can see from my performance on the show I’ve been very prepared. I always knew that this was a possibility. I tried my hardest to stay out of the bottom because I knew that the longer I stayed in the top, the bigger threat I would become. Part of me was kind of surprised, but not really because it was Naomi’s first win. Up until that point, we didn’t have an idea of how she would vote. She’s very quiet, she’s like flying under the radar. It was definitely a surprise and it was very heart-wrenching. I tried to keep my composure as much as I could on that stage — I’ve had enough episodes crying on TV.
I thought it was very sweet that Naomi said that you were one of her big drag inspirations when she was younger, but then she ended up sending you packing. Is there any bitterness towards her?
No, I mean, she’s young. In a way, I really loved these newer queens, especially the ones that started after RuPaul’s Drag Race was already established and it got them excited to start drag. She is definitely an inspiration for me as to what not to do to my face. [Laughs] You might wanna add a rattlesnake sound effect after that.
You came in with fans from previous seasons, but the show has grown so much bigger since then. What was the biggest change in the fanbase that you’ve noticed?
Back on season 3, the fanbase was smaller, it was almost like a cult following. Now it’s more popular. You have lots of girls that watch it, and I love that because as a female impersonator, it really makes me feel like I’m doing them a service because I’m representing them well. I’m bringing some joy and happiness and entertainment to them. Their support means a lot, because in this day and age with people saying, “oh you’re trying to appropriate female culture, blah, blah, blah.” It just makes me feel like I’m on the right path and that we’re all just here having a good time. Then the straight girls introduce the show to their straight boyfriends and then they have the straight babies, and then they raise them right.
You have an album on the way. What musical inspirations did you have for it?
A lot of the inspiration for my album Rules, was the cheekiness of Aqua. Do you remember the “Barbie Girl” song? I really love the campiness and the bubblegum pop and the catchy medleys. That was my biggest inspiration.
Musically, I’m always inspired by the legends like Barbra Streisand. I have a song on my album that’s dedicated just to Barbra Streisand. I’m really excited to put a musical tribute out to her. I know my voice is not as good as Barbra Streisand’s but, you know, I try.
You were obviously close with Latrice headed into All Stars 4, but is there someone you didn’t know very well before the competition that you’re close with now?
I didn’t really know Trinity beforehand. I always respected her and admired her style of drag. I could tell that she was a really smart person. You don’t really get to see a lot of our friendship forming on the show, but I really, really fell in love with Trinity.
I didn’t know much about Naomi and she’s a sweetheart. Young and whatever. I guess, maybe, I should double-think some of my friendships, huh? [Laughs]
Which are the remaining queens are you rooting for then?
Of course my girl Latrice Royale, I mean number one. I’ve been a Latrice Royale fan since the beginning of time. So I’m hoping my girl can continue to slay. I know that she has it in her, so I’m expecting her to keep going for the both of us.
I’m a really big fan of Monique Heart. I always think she has some really creative ideas. She’s still very new to it, but she has great ideas. I personally think that her concepts are way ahead of other queens — instead of just finding something on the runway and then making a knockoff of it. She conceptualizes something and makes it in her own vision, which I really love and respect. She could do a little bit more refinement and polish going further, but I think that makes her more charming to me. Coming from way back in season 3, where everything was hot-glued together, we were less concerned with our hem being straight than if we could sell the garment. In a way, she kind of brings back to that era where drag was a little bit more rough around the edges. She’s just such a fierce competitor. I really think she has what it takes to take the crown. I mean, it should be easy for her now that I’m gone. [Laughs]
If RuPaul asked you to return for a fourth time, would you do it?
Oh, hell yes. I had some of the most fun moments of my entire life filming this competition. If RuPaul ever asks me back in capacity, I will always move around my schedule to say yes. RuPaul asked me this fall to make a cameo in her new Netflix show and I dropped everything. I almost missed a gig because of it.
RuPaul’s a legend and the fact that she has given this platform to all of us little baby queens. I will always, always be appreciative of it and I will always do my best to make the most out of it for sure. If there’s an All Stars 5, 6, 7 and 8 — bitch, I will be there.
Maybe I will get a contract where I can come in on the last episode that I left on? Then I don’t have to go through the whole thing from the beginning. You know when you’re playing a video game, and you can save so if you get killed, you just go back again? Maybe I’ll do it that way.