Interview: Manila Luzon Opens Up About Sahara Davenport and “RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race”

Manila Luzon (a.k.a. Karl Westerberg) is one of the most ferocious queens in RuPaul’s Drag Race history, and it’s no surprise that the season-three alum made the roster for RuPaul’s All Star Drag Race, which airs its third episode Monday night. Paired with Latrice Royale, Manila slayed during last week’s comedy challenge with a thunderous impersonation of Madonna that completely outclassed the rest of the competition (even if Yara Sofia and Alexis Mateo took the win). And if I do say so myself, Manila has the coolest drag name in the history of the show. What two words better proclaim “Filipina pride”?
While the competition is certainly a lot of fun, it’s difficult to watch without thinking about Manila’s gorgeous partner and fellow Drag Race veteran Sahara Davenport (a.k.a. Antoine Ashley), who passed away last month due to heart failure at the age of 27. The two were an unforgettable pair and enjoyed wonderful on-screen chemistry — see below for amazing proof — and it was both heart-wrenching and inspiring to see so many Drag Race cast members offer condolences and loving words. The unthinkable news is still very recent, and therefore I can’t proceed without noting what an honor and privilege it was to interview the fabulous Manila, who is arranging a Sahara Davenport tribute performance in New York while still working on projects like her recent music video for “Best XXXcessory.”

We talked with Manila about Sahara and her legacy, the fun of being Latrice Royale’s partner, and what she considers the great flip-side to being “a c*nt on TV.”

AfterElton: Manila, thank you so much for doing this interview. If you can forgive what might seem like a glib question, how are you?
Manila Luzon: I’m doing OK. It’s been a very, very, very… roller coaster ride. It’s been a huge, like, up-and-down, happy/sad time, and I’m crazy. But I have a great family. I know I have them. I have a great support system in my family, I’ve got great friends, I’ve got all my Drag Race sisters here for me, and I’m getting a lot of love from my fans and Sahara’s fans, so it’s really helping me through it. I’m just taking it one day at a time, and I’m trying to carry on Sahara’s legacy by living every day to the fullest.

AE: You and Sahara are obviously inextricably linked to Drag Race. Is it tough to talk about the show, even though you assuredly want people to watch the new season? Does having the All Star season feel in any way like a blessing?
ML: Well, I don’t know. I’m just kind of rolling with the punches, the ebb and flow. This All Star season, I never ever expected it to ever happen, so when I was asked to do it, I was completely honored. I figured, “It’s only going to happen one time.” I mean, I hope! [Laughs.] I thought, “This is only going to happen once, and it’s a fleeting moment, and I don’t want to live with any kind of regrets. I always want to make sure I’m not losing out on life.” So if I have to go up there and smile for the cameras and be colorful, happy, cartoon Manila Luzon, because that’s what the fans want, that’s what they’ll get. Because that’s who I am deep down inside anyway.

AE: I loved your Madonna impersonation on last week’s episode, and I know you once made a fan video for Madonna on her birthday. Does being a fan make Madonna an intimidating character to impersonate? Or does it make it easier?
ML: You know, it’s hard. Whenever we have to do celebrity impersonations, the problem is that it doesn’t really matter if you look like them, you just have to act like them. The thing is, I love Madonna and I’ve loved her for years, since I was a little kid, so I have a lot of stuff to reference. So that’s sort of how I went with it. You put on a blonde wig, a gap on your tooth, and talk about Kabbalah.

AE: Did your confidence on the All Star season change when you realized you’d be working with Latrice against other pairs of competitors?
ML: I went into the show extremely confident, because I had an entire wardrobe sewn for me. And because I was extremely popular on my season, I worked a f*ckload, so I had lots of coin to spend on amazing outfits. Then I get there and they’re like, “You have to match someone who has a completely different wardrobe than you!” I’m like, “Oh. Great.” But that’s RuPaul’s Drag Race for you. They’re not going to make it easy for you. They want to make you sweat through your makeup. I’m confident with my team though. Team Latrila all the way, honey. Team Latrila for the win, motherf*ckers.

I was so happy to be paired with Latrice because I love her and first of all, she’s a great player from a statistics point of view: She’s from season four, she’s fresh on people’s minds, and everyone loves her. So that way I can be a little bit of a bitch and she balances me out. She has an infectious personality and RuPaul LOVES the bitch, so that might help me stick around a little bit longer. It was great to have someone on your back, zipping up your zipper, making sure your wig isn’t crooked, your lashes are OK. In a way, teams are actually easier. You might be like, “Girl, we need to have matching jewelry and eyebrows.” And she’s like, “Here you go.”


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