Captivating Katkat presents fascinating snapshots of the local drag scene pre-Drag Race, crossing into a new era of drag, and the significance of her Drag Race Philippines crown.
In this golden age of drag, where artists are getting more love and spotlight than ever, Captivating Katkat’s journey to the Drag Race Philippines crown is more than just a tale of triumph. Her story reminds us how rich our drag culture is and how it has blossomed from the underground into a cultural phenomenon.
From Shadows to Showtime
With a background in dance, Captivating Katkat was encouraged to audition at a theatre bar in Malate called Politixxx. She nailed the performance and was invited to start that very day. This was in the year 2000, and she didn’t know anything about makeup, let alone that it was a necessary part of the process. The venue’s mama took care of it and asked her to focus on perfecting the choreography instead. And as if by magic, the powerful effect of makeup created a spark that ignited an emerging passion within her. “Naaliw ako kasi, oh my god, ang ganda-ganda ko!,” she recalls saying. A young transwoman having that kind of profound moment was nothing short of life-changing.
It should be emphasized that from a young age, her family already embraced her identity as a woman. “Hindi ko na kailangan mag-out kaya hindi ako nahirapan,” she says. “Nahirapan lang ako dun sa magpapambabaeng damit.” She wasn’t really allowed to go out, perhaps due to the perils of societal discrimination. However, as she began to earn her income (working from Thursday to Sunday and making P700 a night), she found freedom and eventually positioned herself as the family’s provider. The motivation for the latter gave her the bravery and the confidence to explore more about herself and her art.
Captivating Katkat was granted a chance by her boss in Politixxx to shine. Aside from dancing, she would need to acquire another skill to do this: lip-syncing. Like many local drag performers who embarked on their journeys before the advent of RuPaul’s Drag Race, she had zero understanding of drag. “Noon kasi hindi drag ang tawag eh. Ang tawag samin female impersonators.” Her first attempt into this new performance style was a high-energy routine set to “Let’s Get Loud” by Jennifer Lopez. “Aliw na aliw ako kasi ‘yung mga tao nagpapalakpakan,” she remembers. “Doon ako na-oh my god, gusto ko ‘to!”
The Makings of a Queen
After Politixxx, Katkat heard about Bahaghari Productions Inc., which wanted to bring the fabulous allure of female impersonators into the musical theatre scene with Illusione. Pop divas that needed channeling were legends like Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Janet Jackson, etc. She bagged the Madonna role and worked under the strict direction of Fritz Ynfante, who taught her the rigorous discipline of the art. “Doon ako na-train kasi meron din kaming training sa Powerdance ni tito Douglas Nierras. Nagkaroon kami ng chance magsayaw ng jazz, ballet, and hiphop,” she says.
“Nag-start ako sa Cubao nung 2006. Doon na ako na-start na makilala. Sa Palawan 1 (P1) before, Miss Gay Lotto [ang nilalaro] ng mga audience. ‘Yung owner naisipan magkaron ng performers at kami ‘yung kauna-unahang nag-perform dun hanggang nag-boom siya [up to the pont na] ‘yung mga tao hindi na magkasiya,” narrates the transwoman icon. “Nung dumami na ang tao, gumawa ng Palawan 2 Bar (P2) sa kabilang street lang. Ganon siya [nag-hit] sa mga bakla noon nagkaroon pa ng Palawan 3.”
The Cubao scene marked a significant point in shaping her career. During that time, comedy was almost a requirement for female impersonators to earn the applause and appreciation of the audience. Knowing this, Katkat was compelled to exert more effort and become the dynamic performer she is acclaimed for.
“Pinapanood ko ‘yung mga kasama ko kung paano sila nagpapatawa,” she says. “Tapos from there, nag-iisip ako ng sarili kong [atake]. Doon nag-start ‘yung comedy na may drama, ‘yung may mga movie lines na katulad kila Vilma [Santos] o Maricel [Soriano] na isasama sa piyesa. May mga piyesa na bigla mong babaliin at lalagyan ng sound effects. Doon din galing ‘yung nauuso ngayon na ‘pag may hello sa lyrics, may ilalabas na Hello chocolate. [Ganyan] ‘yung mga katarantaduhang piyesa sa P2.”
In that era, performers were free to secure bookings at any venue. So, Captivating Katkat pranced her way to several establishments like Government, Punchline, Laffline, Metro Bar, Fahrenheit, Bar Uno, and many more, sprinkling her fabulousness wherever she went.
“Nag-22nd Street ako sa Cebu tapos bigla ako naka-receive ng text na inalis na ako sa P2 nang walang rason,” she laments. So, parang may beef sa akin ‘yung manager. Tinext ako ni Precious Paula Nicole na, ‘beh, alam mo ba na tinanggal ka na.’ Si PPN kasi backup dancer namin sa P2. Umiyak ako nun, as in ang sama ng loob ko kasi aalisin ka nang walang rason. Pagkauwi ko from Cebu, nag-audition ako sa O Bar. That was late 2009 or early 2010. Ang audition ko [was] ‘Jingle Bells’ na umiihi. Ilang years din ako sa O Bar, pero nung pandemic, umalis na ako,” she says. Umalis ako, hindi ako inalis,” Katkat clarifies immediately. She found a new home in 690, and following that, she ventured into Drag Race Philippines.
Strutting to a new Zeitgeist
Recognizing the contributions and efforts of our trailblazers helps safeguard our culture from getting lost in the shuffle. Now that everything is just a click away, imagine what it was like back then. Captivating Katkat and her peers didn’t have YouTube to learn new makeup techniques or Instagram as a platform to showcase their talents.
It shook things up when RuPaul’s Drag Race hit the scene. For the artists already doing drag, it opened their eyes to a bigger world of endless possibilities and limitless creativity inherent in their art. “Simula nung nakilala ang Drag Race dito sa Pilipinas nung panahon ni Manila Luzon, dun nag-start ‘yung, ‘ay, drag queen pala kami!’ Drag queen pala [ang] tawag samin,” says Katkat on the time she embraced the word drag.
The dawn of RuPaul’s Drag Race awakened a wave of young queer people to immerse in the vibrancy of its culture. The scene is bigger than ever — and it’s great! Consequently, this culture-shifting period somehow also overshadowed what was already happening. Suddenly, the benchmark for drag became exclusively based on Drag Race.
“Sa audience ngayon, mas marami silang alam keysa sa mga drag queens,” she expresses with a sneer and then laughs. “Ngayon mas mataas ‘yung standards nila. Lagi nila kino-compare sa mga napapanood nila sa US. Ang hindi kasi alam ng audience, meron tayong sariling drag culture dito; ito ‘yung kinagisnan namin. Parang kung ano lang ‘yung napapanood nila, ‘yun dapat.”
Turning a New Leaf
“Alam mo dati dini-dream ko lang ang Drag Race. Super powerful ng manifestation. Winning Drag Race Philippines is a validation of my career and my craft as a drag queen,” says her eyes that sparkle with joy and fulfillment. “Akala namin napaka–imposible magkaroon ng franchise. Nag-try ako mag-fill up sa US before pero kailangan [resident ka ng] US, so, nawalan ako ng gana.”
It’s no secret that she’s been through a handful of controversies and may have others still look at her negatively. Katkat admits that she messed up in the past, not because she had bad intentions, but because she didn’t know any better. She gets that things have shifted, so like in the past, she’s rolling with the changes to grow as an artist and person. It hasn’t been easy, especially with the constant barrage of hate thrown at her online glooming over her Drag Race win. “Siguro part na rin siya ng evolution ng drag. ‘Yung ‘evolution na ‘yun, kailangan mo i-embrace; hindi mo rin naman ikakabawas ‘yun,” she says about welcoming cultural change, showing us that growth comes from acknowledging and learning from our shortcomings.
“May mga point na nawawalan ako ng gana dahil sa mga taong hindi ako naiintindihan. ‘Yung mga taong walang alam kundi mang-husga. Iniisip ko [na lang na] hindi ako dapat magpa-apekto sa kanila. Ang iniisip ko ‘yung mga taong sumusuporta sakin. ‘Yun ‘yung nag-[papa-blaze] ng fire [sa akin] para ipagpatuloy ang laban.”
Photography ALAN SEGUI, assisted by JEO LUIS JINGCO, MILES WENCY GAYOTIN, LYNDON KYLE ASUNCION
Creative Direction & 3D Rendering BRIE VENTURA, assisted by JONES PALTENG
Fashion Direction RYUJI SHIOMITSU
Beauty Direction MIA CASTRO
Styling GEE JOCSON, assisted by ANGELO VASALLO
Makeup TINY DELUXE
Hair IAN GARCIA using wigs by WIGALOO
Nails PAINT N’ STYLE
Sittings Editor JUJIIN SAMONTE
Fashion Assistant BITHIA REYES
Production Design JUSTINE ARCEGA-BUMANLAG
Shoot Coordination JOANA FERNANDO