The Fabulous World of Filipino Drag, According to Drag Race Philippines Host Paolo Ballesteros

It pays to be this gorgeous.
IMAGE DRAG RACE PHILIPPINES

Filipino drag culture is thriving, and it's not just at spots like O Bar or Nectar anymore that they're commanding our attention. With the debut of Drag Race Philippines this week, it's now on screens nationwide for everyone to see.

Just ask transformation queen and award-winning actor Paolo Ballesteros, who happens to host the competition.

We know him as Lola Tidora or Auntie-cle from Eat Bulaga or as Trisha Echevarria from Die Beautiful, for which he won Best Actor awards from Tokyo International Film Festival, Kerala International Film Festival, and the Metro Manila Film Festival. Ballesteros is also Maruya Keri and Regine.

His personalities are too many to count at this point, and we're here for all of them.

Paolo Ballesteros at the Drag Race Philippines viewing party at Xylo at The Palace.

Photo by DRAG RACE PHILIPPINES.

Drag queens may differ in styles, but the goal is just the same. Drag, after all, is a journey of self-discovery. "It may be kind of ironic since most of the bars that drag queens perform at closed for a time because of COVID-19. Still, a lot of platforms have been discovered to do drag shows that's why most of our drag queens are coming out of survival mode," Ballesteros says.

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Some want it hyper-feminine, with an emphasis on pageantry. Others go for a more dark, gothic approach. We may also come across those who choose a more whimsical, club-y persona. All are valid. All are queens. Ballesteros tends to lean more on the the classy-chic side of the things, with big hair and beguiling makeup and dresses straight out of Rajo Laurel's daydreams.

"I'm a transformation queen... I also do makeup transformations of celebrities. All of that plus a hint of funny," he notes.

Others come to the game later that most. The carnival of drag doesn't judge nor does it gatekeep. Everyone is welcome. In Ballesteros' case, he thinks it all started from childhood for him. He recalls some early memories that, let's just say, put him on the track toward much bolder horizons.

At the age of three or four, Ballesteros was told by family that they had to put some of his sister's dresses on the top shelf because he wanted to wear them himself. "I was always asking to wear them and cry if they wouldn't allow it. But I'm the only boy in the family so growing up I tried to be a boy, and tried my hardest not to be feminine," he says. "But then came showbusiness."

"It started out in different roles I had to play on Eat Bulaga. But as an artist and drag queen by heart, I made sure that every performance was grand and larger than life."

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These proud, magical, decorated line of queens have transcended the cabaret and nightclub scenes in this modern, more inclusive, more fluid age. More than the bombshell performances or the visceral entertainment value of it all, drag is self-expression, a gender-breaking art form that celebrates the identity, the fabulous, and the beauty of otherworldly spectacle.

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Drag means representation, as well. "You have to take space. That's why it's important." In the Philippines' case, there's still some form of stigma that surrounds drag culture, being a conservative country and all.

Ballesteros feels that, when people think of drag, they envision "girly" people in the transgender community. But it isn't always this way. While he does acknowledge and appreciate how fierce his sisters are, he says that there are plenty of faces in the world of Filipino drag that don't get enough recognition.

"I like the confusion and mystery it brings—you never know what a drag performance is going to give you. On a normal day, I go for soft masculinity so when I'm in drag it's the complete opposite," he claims.

Drag Race Philippines, complete with superstars like Brigiding, Eva Le Queen, Minty Fresh, and Lady Morgana, offers viewers a closer look into the queens that reflect the community's diversity and vibrance. Rounding out the contestants are Marina Summers, Gigi Era, Precious Paula Nicole, Turing, Viñas DeLuxe, Xilhouete, Corazon, and Prince.

The Drag Race Philippines' Season 1 Cast at the Xylot at The Palace viewing party.

Photo by DRAG RACE PHILIPPINES.
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"The world is ready to see what a true Filipino drag queen is made of. And that's what I expect of them. It's going to be a "showdown of wit, talent, glamour, beauty and heart."

All-star talent needs an all-star panel. The show's main and guest judges are just as interesting as its contestants. We're going to see the likes of Jiggly Caliente, KaladKaren, and Pops Fernandez a lot, folks. BJ Pascual, Rajo Laurel, Pokwang, Jon Santos, Nadine Lustre, Pia Wurtzbach, Regine Velasquez-Alcasid, Patrick Starrr, and Boy Abunda will make appearances, too. 

With the run, Drag Race Philippines should become an instrument for "encouragement of young artists." Ultimately, it's about the art of drag and the freedom and drama that comes with it. His best advice is for each of them to let their "true artists in them to grow and reach their fullest potential."

But beneath all the lights, glam, and noise, drag is self-love, of course. It's like what RuPaul always says: “If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”

Drag Race Philippines episodes air on Wow Presents Plus and HBO GO on Wednesdays. Meanwhile, the Untucked episodes air every Friday.

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About The Author
Bryle B. Suralta
Assistant Section Editor
Bryle B. Suralta is the assistant section editor of Esquire Philippines.
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