Amidst the continuing emergence of queer culture from the shadows of the underground community, the realm of drag artists has found itself basking in a newfound era of admiration for its artistry and unabashed splendor. Beneath the glamorous veneer lies a profound wellspring of beauty, positivity, and artistic brilliance, once left languishing in the obscurity of concealment.
The engines of hope and recognition were set into motion with the advent of a celebrated reality competition show none other than RuPaul’s Drag Race, which elevated the art form from its traditional confines within clubs and theaters to the grandeur of global screens, stages, and slowly, mainstream consumption.
Over a decade later, the effervescent phenomenon landed on local shores, and now, to a wild phalanx of fans, Drag Race Philippines emerged and became, in itself, an unstoppable force. As it faithfully embraced the mechanics of its iconic predecessor, it artfully infused a flamboyantly Filipino essence, thereby bestowing a distinctive and spirited flair to the franchise, largely (and luckily) reliant on the greatness of the talent of local drag artists waiting for that global spotlight.
This cultural metamorphosis catalyzed burgeoning talents to ascend into the limelight, capturing hearts and leaving an indelible mark on the world stage. And before all these, especially for the renowned Drag Race Philippines Season 1 fan favorite contender, Viñas DeLuxe, is a name already widely celebrated in the local bar scene, but to a limited number of eyeballs visiting her own turf of Nectar Night Club, and, in the turn of the pandemic, Zoom and Facebook shows with fellow contestants and drag sisters, Precious Paula Nicole and Brigiding.
But it only took a matter of time before Viñas DeLuxe, propelled by her talent and inimitable charm, would change zip codes—from local drag bars, to her makeshift condo living room for a virtual performing stage to the world.
Boxes and Labels
Embarking on this awe-inspiring journey, Viñas transcended from the clandestine confines of her bathroom, where then-young Christian, a theater-exposed university kid, honed drag looks with meager resources, lip-synching to Beyonce, before gracefully ascending the grand platform we all know her to thrive and shine in.
Narrating the remarkable trajectory and growth of her illustrious drag persona, she shares,“Bagets palang ako sobrang hilig ko na mag make-up. Pero dahil hindi ko pa kaya mag make-up sa sarili ko nang pang babae, ginagawa ko siya sa friend ko. Tapos may nakakita dun na isang local drag queen.”
This pivotal moment led her to meet one of her esteemed ‘Divine Divas’ sisters and a fellow contender in Drag Race Philippines, Brigiding, who first introduced her to the world of drag in the country. It was through this serendipitous meeting that Viñas was first initiated into the enthralling realm of drag within the country, forever altering the course of her artistic trajectory.
In the world that mainstream pop culture has now popularized it to be, much of the concept of the art of drag comes from the intricately-designed costumes, wigs, and makeup changes each queen has to put on for every show. In every sense, drag is a wild convergence of influences from their most fabulous idols and their innermost personal goddesses. But how does one’s drag persona actually come into existence?
For Viñas, conformity is a word least entertained by the persona she has built and slowly developed for herself, as she found her own path as a drag artist, and allowing only Christian, the free-spirited gay person beneath the glorious veneer, to make calls on the direction Viñas DeLuxe takes.
In performances, though, the process takes on a more personal journey as it is almost always based on what and how she feels the minute the towering heels and shiny lip gloss complete her look for a day’s work. She notes, “When I am feeling sad, I’ll perform an emotional song. If I’m feeling a little silly, I will perform a funny song. I don’t really box myself to a certain category because it’s natural for me to try new things and explore.”
In, and of itself, the beauty of drag lies on the concept of transformation and that everyone is constantly evolving to better represent themselves and their personal growth, and the irony to the pervading notions of drag is that it is a revelation of one’s innermost truth, not a colorful, glittering mask we all see it to be. As Viñas puts it: there is no box to categorize a queen, or anyone for that matter, as the possibilities are infinite when it comes to their art and their wholeness as a person.
From Makeshift Stage to the World Stage
Dress. Job Dacon.
It is, indeed, lamentable to deny the world the captivating allure and resplendent creativity that these enigmatic personas like Viñas’ exude, yearning to dazzle under the spotlight of recognition. But it is not without its struggles.
When the pandemic hit and the livelihoods of drag artists were drastically put to an unprecedented stop, it’s understandable that they felt anxious and unsure of how to move forward. But just like everybody else, queens pushed themselves to get back up not only to put food on the table and pay the bills but to fulfill and stay in touch with their sense of purpose, and with it, their sense of self.
No small thanks to what social media following they already have long before screaming fans at sold out theaters and events tail their every move, they resorted to live virtual performances, replacing cash tips for online likes and views and hopes of getting transferred any amount on their e-wallets.
But for Viñas, the virtual shift opened an entirely new frontier for her to fully express herself, sharing that it made her realize how liberating it is to know she could be successful without traditional clubs and events.
“[Online], people watch us because they want to see us. In clubs, not everybody watches, some people are just there to mingle, some just wants to drink. [Not only that], online, people get to know our personality [more] because they can actually hear us talking.”
With this very passion and the grit to pull through even prior to the “mainstream explosion” of the drag arts, she skillfully demonstrated her artistic prowess not only in her performances but her overall brand as an artist ingrained in her through the years and a pandemic in between, and took it to the Drag Race Philippines stage. A year since, she highlights with conviction the drastic and evident changes the series brought not just to her own life, but to the whole drag community.
“Grabe sobrang laki ng difference sa life ko before yung Drag Race nag-air, until now. As in, I felt appreciated more ng mga tao and finally parang I felt seen—[not just by] the drag community. Na nakita na siya ng public and hindi lang life ko ang nagbago, buong drag community talaga at hindi lang mga Drag Race queens,” she beams, in recalling her 7th place finish in the show.
“Sabi ko, ‘Wow! Iba na talaga ngayon’ parang as in times ten ng TF [talent fee] ko before DragRace yung TF niya sa raket na yun. Nakakatuwa na lahat nagbago dahil sa Drag Race talaga.”
Amidst its global, cultural, and economic resonance, RuPaul’s Drag Race has undoubtedly transformed into a transcendent phenomenon, orchestrating a profusion of opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community—not just in terms of recognition, but also in how it’s abolishing borders, and in the process, uplifting the entire drag industry on a global scale.
“And ang daming recognition, na i-invite kami sa kung anu-anong events. Kahit ribbon cutting, pag [launch] ng mga new products, pati postings sa Instagram. Dati naman hindi nangyayari yun sa mga drag queens, pero ngayon parang pag na-invite kami sa mga events, kami pa minsan yung ‘main course’.”
As the local franchise unfurls its vibrant presence, it too contributes to the burgeoning job market, fostering a remarkable ecosystem of creativity and prosperity within and even beyond the community.
Pride and Opportunities
Anticipating the tide of recognition, it was easy to foresee the series’ potential to elicit profound waves of appreciation even before its commencement, especially with the spoilers going around just closely before it was aired. However, in an awe-inspiring twist, the torrent of impact far exceeded her expectations, as the show’s influence proved to be more transformative and far-reaching than she could have ever imagined.
“Alam naming magiging big siya kasi maraming nag-aabang like ang daming spoilers dati palang. Alam naming magiging malaki siya, pero hindi ganito kalaki na kung ano yung nangyari. Nakakagulat kasi hindi mo ine-expect talaga kasi hindi naman siya free TV, pero ang layo parin ng na-reach niya, tapos kailangan mo pa mag subscribe para mapanuod siya.”
When asked about what’s next in her trajectory of drag success, she answers, “Right now, I am already thinking all the possible things I could do,” eyes fueled by her passion and dedication to empowering her triumphant momentum and the people around her.
Bound by the dynamic realm of drag artistry, Viñas exhibits a sense of discernment, in embracing a deliberate and dedicated pursuit of excellence. She devotes herself to extensive research, ceaseless learning, and the mastery of new skills and techniques in looks and even in performances, especially now, notably venturing into the captivating domain of singing—with one major record label in the country, Tarsier Records opening doors for her. Earlier on this year, she has released the revival of the song “I’m Feeling Sexy Tonight,” hitting over half a million streams after release on digital platforms.
“Mag re-release ako ng new songs soon, so, I’m excited kasi naging part ako ng isang malaking production company here sa Philippines. Excited din ako to release yung ‘Misis’ my original song! After nitong mga ganap and I’m so happy na makapag-release na rin kami ng song ng Divine Divas, my sister Precious Paula Nicole and Brigiding, entitled ‘We are Divine, We are Divas.’”
What’s more, she excitedly shares. “Ngayong kakatapos lang ng concert, alam kong pina-plan namin ito gawin sa iba’t ibang bansa.”
Proving to be a transformative stimulant in Viñas’ journey, it is clear how a titanic platform as Drag Race has helped magnifying her reach and catapulting her career to new heights. This platform has provided her with unprecedented opportunities to showcase her boundless talents, captivating audiences far beyond the confines of her local scene. But it speaks to greater things beyond the pomp, the fan clubs, the merch and the new deals.
If anything, the evolution of drag in the media sphere unequivocally dispels the notion that it is merely an avenue for temporal entertainment. In truth, it emerges as a powerful medium of storytelling and protest, embodying art in its purest, most audacious form.
Within the rich tapestry of the drag world, artists like Viñas embrace the potent power of self-expression, skillfully weaving a captivating narrative of diverse identities that profoundly resonates with spectators from all walks of life. Their performances become a transformative force, propelling both themselves and their audiences toward a boundless future brimming with exciting prospects, abundant opportunities, and the promise of forging an indelible legacy within the realm of drag artistry and in humanity.
Creative, fashion, and beauty direction by Leo Balante
Photography by Jerick Sanchez
Beauty and hair by Viñas Deluxe
Assisted by Viper Nicotine
Video direction by Emil Santiago
Shoot assistant: Bhernn Saenz
With fashion by Job Dacon
Official location partner: Studio LAJ