Eight years after being named runner-up in season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Filipino-American drag queen Manila Luzon has never been more in demand. Having completed tours of Europe, Australia and South America this year, she recently featured on US drama series General Hospital. Manila Luzon was also part of Philippine retail brand SM’s 2019 holiday campaign.
It has not always been this way. Although Manila Luzon has worked full time as a drag queen since 2011, her career positively exploded last year when she returned to compete in spinoff show RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 4, wowing audiences with her thoughtful, thematic costumes and smart, tongue-in-cheek style of drag.
Born Karl Westerberg in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, to a Filipina mother and an American father of Swedish-German descent, he chose the name Manila Luzon in 2002 after coming out of the closet – dressed from head to toe in his mom’s clothes. “My mother had this huge wardrobe full of colorful clothes and coordinated outfits, as well as traditional Filipino costumes. When I finally came out as gay, I thought I might as well come out of the closet with all these amazing dresses,” she says.
Why did you choose the stage name Manila Luzon and how is she different to Karl Westerberg?
Growing up, my Filipino heritage was always present, thanks to my mother. We were active in the Filipino cultural society, where we practiced and performed folk dances such as tinikling, singkil and pandanggo. I think that’s where my love of performing first began. As a drag queen, I wanted a name that showcased my Asian roots. Manila is my mom’s and my grandma’s city, while Luzon is the island Manila sits on.