The Gospel According to Precious Paula Nicole

The drag industry in the Philippines was once a tale that not even books would be proud to tell; a plot that a filmmaker would not dare film, let alone screen; but an obscure art form that only existed within the narrow confines of the underground communities.

For countless years, Filipino drag has thrived but has been caged inside gay bars, and from there, queen-clad animals howl and growl—not out of fright, but of might, in a joint endeavor to put on an extravagant performance that would emphatically punctuate the darkest of nights.

As they are getting publicly transported to explore the first discovered jungle, a wider platform where roars are no longer easy to hear and other wild creatures in different styles and hues arose to the forefront, an 11-year-experienced queen still made a precious voice that stood out and was widely acclaimed. When there is such a flurry of inventiveness, and when anomalous talent and beauty are juxtaposed to the center stage, Precious Paula Nicole is undisputedly the name of the game.

On Precious Paula Nicole: Ensemble, Job Dacon. Male Model: Underwear, Randolf Clothing. Bodysuit armor, Job Dacon.

The success of Drag Race Philippines‘ inaugural season, with its line-up of queens that hail from drag bars that dot the metro and from neighboring localities, and even overseas, and the strangling of drama and quirks, has been highlighted in numerous publications over the past few months as this jubilant celebration of diversity and talent—long hoped for to be given the slice of the pie on our local mainstream consciousness. You cannot put a period there, though, as its impact not just on the drag arts, but that of the LGBTQIA+ community, has been indelibly engraved as a seed that would soon bear fruit to an even more unstoppable future.

Pasabog talaga siya,” Precious Paula Nicole, a moniker originally used and generously bestowed upon her by award-winning actor and eventual host of Drag Race Philippines Paolo Ballesteros, tells Rank Magazine with pride.

But she, along with the other queens who joined the show, acknowledged that she had misjudged how the public would receive the show and, in turn, swam in trepidation about whether it would be successful considering the unpredictable local audience palate. All of these uncertainties were dispelled, though, as soon as Ballesteros mustered the first “Goodluck at dapat pakak!” with the lights and sound working in unison to complete what is to be our very own take of the million-dollar global franchise.

Not long after, fan clubs would soon be born. So would the mushrooming of sold-out viewing parties, “drag brunches”, and merch that supporters would then line up for. Even when aired in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, and even with uproar on the show’s many questionable production choices and ineptitude, it really was the effortless charm and unbelievable talent of the queens that would bring Drag Race Philippines its titanic success and as a result, attention to our rich drag scene that has thrived quietly, long before the drag goddess, herself, RuPaul and the US franchise she birthed, carved drag as an art form and mainstream entertainment on the world stage.

Prior to this historic turn, though, the drag queen born Rodolfo Gabriel II, Kyle to close friends and Boss Rodolfo/Precious, to her fans, has already spent years building her name as a member of Raging Divas, where she got to share space with several lola divas who will soon serve as inspiration on the tumultuous road ahead in her career as a drag performer.

Sana huwag lang akong matanggal sa first episode, kahit ‘yun lang.” she recalls her headspace before the famed reality talent competition saw the light of day. Backed by a hard-earned reputation as one of the most visible drag artists of her generation, having penetrated television, films, and a solid following in her home drag bar, O Bar Philippines, Precious maintained a sense of self-awareness before treading the path of the reality show, given limitations on resources, and an understanding of the franchise being unchartered territory not just for her but for her competitors.

Rather than entering the competition with the goal of winning, it’s the glory of being part of history, donning that coveted veil of recognition on a global platform as a “Ru Girl” that empowered her to soldier on amid the absence of funds to complete particular looks required in the show’s 10-episode run.

Corset top with feathers, Job Dacon. Jewelry, LVNA by Drake Dustin. Nails, Paint N Style.

Nonetheless, despite the enthusiasm and upbeat vibrations she exudes on screen, her life’s narrative is largely made up of a series of setbacks and hiccups she has had to deal with throughout her voyage. With a huge shortage of resources as a result of the unforeseen pandemic, Precious had qualms about competing and instead attempted on joining the following season. Owing to her experience in the drag industry, she was also aware of the pressure and high expectations that stemmed from being one of the most sought-after drag performers in and outside her much-celebrated residency at her home drag bar. 

Kahit queen ka, tao ka pa rin at may karapatan ka magkamali; may karapatan ka magkulang; may karapatan kang hindi gumaling today; you’re imperfectly perfect.” she shares with a smile. 

With countless stumbling blocks that deflated her confidence, Precious shares that she was barely a hair away from despair after losing to a drag competition on local television, to which, she considers a self-worth crushing defeat.

She discloses, “Noong natalo ako, to be honest, gusto ko nang tumigil kasi sabi ko, ‘parang hindi naman para sa akin ‘to.’ Maraming beses na. Kahit noong tumatakbo na yung Drag Race, may mga moments din ako na iniisip ko kung para sa akin pa ba talaga ‘tong mga nangyari na ‘to.”

Embellished blazer and trousers, Kaye Morales. Jewelry, LVNA by Drake Dustin.

Hurdling disappointments and doors closing to her face in the form of designers backing out days leading to the filming of the competition, the path to self-affirmation did not come easy for her. But it’s her conviction and a small army of support system that pushed her to march forward.

Kaya kahit anong mangyarimanalo o matalo ako, okay lang. Basta mapatunayan ko lang sa mga taong naniniwala sa akin na lumaban ako at hindi ko sinayang ‘yung pagkakataon,” she ascertains.

It was not a smooth road as one would expect, though. Social media, today, could be a reliable avenue to be celebrated but it also doubles as a callous channel to spread hate that even after clinching the crown, naysayers continue to discredit not just her run, but other queens in the competition. Precious attempted to disregard these slurs tagging her on the internet, but she is honest enough to say that without a support system, they would have had a profound, adverse effect on her—clouding her vision, even, for winning the title and nearly convincing her to abandon the finals.

Noong binigay na sa’kin ‘yung crown sabi ko, ‘Ah. Kaya pala hindi ako nag-give up, kasi meron pala talaga sa dulo,’ may reward lahat ng muntik kong pagsuko sa buhay ko.

In 2018, RuPaul published a book called GuRu where the acclaimed and multi-enterprise mogul talked about finding her big break following 11 years of sparring against countless roadblocks within the industry before finding validation and that one chance to break into the scene, the same number of years that Precious has been around as a performer and an all-around artist. Before the series finale, reading through the book, she declares to herself that this coincidence is not to be taken lightly.

To her, coming into the show with zero on her account, where the sum of her savings earned from 11 years of working as a professional drag performer and impersonator put to the show, just like RuPaul’s years of waiting, it was almost divinely ordained. From that, she began to recapture her mental strength.

“Reward siya sa daming heartbreaks, sa daming time na gusto ko nang sumuko, sa daming time na nawalan na ‘ko ng tiwala sa talent kohindi ako nag give up. So, feeling ko ayun ‘yung reason kung bakit nakitaan ako ng universe na deserve ko ‘to.”

When asked what it was like after Drag Race Philippines, she jests, “Ito, pagod.” But she enthusiastically emphasizes how thrilled she is, not just for herself, the Divine Divas (Brigiding and Viñas Deluxe), but for the drag as a whole. With their talent fee hiked and a surge in clientele seeking them out to perform this season, this is not the typical of the drag scene, but it is certainly worthwhile. 

On male model: Jewelry, LVNA by Drake Dustin. Underwear, Randolf Clothing. Chains (worn as vest), Kaye Morales.

Kaya hindi ako nag co-complain talaga kapag napapagod ako, napupuyat ako. Thankful ako dahil worth it talaga lahat ng naisugal at naipondo ko for Drag Race Philippines. Dati, ina-attract lang namin ito na maulanan kami ng mga shows pero ngayon nangyayari na siya kaya sobra kaming nagpapasalamat.” 

In addition to getting cast in the television series Drag You & Me, Precious is also slated to attend DragCon in 2023, along with an upcoming major concert with the Divine Divas—a full circle moment when their group was born in 2020, just about the same time the world closed down because of the pandemic, and fan cheers were replaced by emojis and likes and tips on e-wallets. 

Amidst all these, Precious intends to continue drag even online until she deems it formidable enough to return to O-bar, her “forever home.” With glory attached to her name, she still pledges an eagerness to elevating young queens and a never-ending plan for her doing drag. “I really do believe that drag is a never ending journey. Everyday nag a-upgrade ‘yan, everyday nag e-evolve ‘yan. So, I make sure na kung ano pa ‘yung kaya kong i-adapt ay gagawin ko.”

Over and above her pursuits of having a Drag University, she also continues to support the Golden Gays by finding additional revenue to enable them to build their own property without struggling to pay rent. And that’s what makes Precious a rightful drag superstar, a heart for nurturing the future while never turning her back on the past. With all of these efforts on behalf of the drag community, Precious is gradually assembling a team to carry out her blueprint and lasting legacy.

In the end, Precious believes that Drag Race Philippines has been and will always be instrumental in helping people understand that doing drag is not something that needs to be explained. Drag, in itself, is a statement and wigs, makeup, and corsets, their weapons in their arsenal to go against what has been predetermined.

“So, why do you think you won the crown?” We ask in jest. “I honestly do not know. I think, RuPaul is the only one who can answer this,” before exploding in laughter.

At this moment, we helped her put her wonder to rest. Precious Paula Nicole is the very embodiment of the rich and deep culture and artistry of drag in the Philippines, patented by those who have come way before her in history—from the barangays and provinces marveling in local pageants, to impersonators bringing roaring laughters to comedy bars before making it big on mainstream television, to drag queens that have been all the rage in O Bar and other venues of performance at present. But it is in her unrelenting passion to her craft that we see that Precious represents a foreseeable future that combines tradition and innovation, harnessing a widely global perspective that applies to our local flavor, what is intrinsically ours.

Ang hope ko lang ay sana mas dumami pa ‘yung mga nakakaintindi at tumanggap. Although natanggap na tayo, marami pa ring tao ang hindi familiar, and I really do hope na sana mas lumaki pa ang network natin to connect with people na hindi pa aware na nage-exist na tayo. Yun lang naman yun ‘eh. Acceptance more than tolerance.”

Produced, creative and fashion direction by Leo Balante
Styling by Leo Balante
Photography by Trish Shishikura
Videography by Emil Santiago
Hair and Makeup by Precious Paula Nicole
Shoot and editorial associates: Mike Bryan Agcalis, Allysa Esperida, and Tifany Soringa
Cover layout by Bhernn Saenz
Fashion by Job Dacon and Kaye Morales
Jewelry by LVNA By Drake Dustin
Nails by Paint N Style
Official Location Partner Shutterspace Studios
With acknowledgments to Hany Capistrano and Drake Ibay
Male model: Neil Mendoza