Reality drag show kicks off in Thailand

Contestants in Drag Race Thailand include Thanisorn Hengsoontorn (left), Supattarapon Kasikam (right) and fan favourite Assadayut Khunviseadpong, who is known as Natalia Pliacam on the show.
Contestants in Drag Race Thailand include Thanisorn Hengsoontorn (left), Supattarapon Kasikam (right) and fan favourite Assadayut Khunviseadpong, who is known as Natalia Pliacam on the show.PHOTOS: REUTERS
Contestants in Drag Race Thailand include Thanisorn Hengsoontorn , Supattarapon Kasikam and fan favourite Assadayut Khunviseadpong, who is known as Natalia Pliacam on the show.
Contestants in Drag Race Thailand include Thanisorn Hengsoontorn , Supattarapon Kasikam and fan favourite Assadayut Khunviseadpong, who is known as Natalia Pliacam on the show.PHOTOS: REUTERS

BANGKOK • Before his shows at a jazz club in Bangkok, Pan Pan Narkprasert, 29, slathers layers of make-up on his face, emerging after two hours transformed into Pangina Heals, a larger-than-life, purple-lipped woman with a mass of blonde hair.

A professional drag queen, Pan Pan performs a weekly show at the 1930s Shanghai-inspired venue in this capital's Silom nightlife area.

"This is not the White House. We're just having fun here," Pangina tells the cheering audience. "We make fun of everybody. If you feel offended, you know where the door is."

Pan Pan is also co-host of Drag Race Thailand, the first international edition of the American reality television show RuPaul's Drag Race, which pits drag queens against one another in various weekly challenges and runway performances to find "America's next drag superstar".

On the air for almost a decade, RuPaul's Drag Race is hosted by American drag queen, singer and television star RuPaul, and sees the last two contestants lip-sync to songs for a crown and other prizes in the final episode.

The Thai show, which follows the same format, has contestants aged 18 to 37 competing for a 500,000 baht (S$21,000) cash prize.

Drag Race Thailand made its debut last month and Pan Pan credits the show with helping Thailand's drag scene to blossom.

"The drag scene is growing so much more because of shows like Drag Race Thailand and RuPaul's Drag Race," Pan Pan said.

"Thailand's drag scene is new and fresh because drag is a form of Western culture, but Thai people are really interested in it."

A largely conservative Buddhist society, Thailand has nonetheless built a reputation as a place with a relaxed approach towards gender and sexual diversity.

Its tourism authority promotes the country as a friendly destination for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) tourists and runs a website dedicated to the sector.

There are no official figures for the sexual orientation of visitors, but travel industry executives say Thailand has seen an increase in the number of gay tourists.

Despite the relaxed attitude and the prevalence of drag queens in the entertainment industry, their role has largely been confined to nightclubs.

Fan favourite Assadayut Khunviseadpong, 37, known as Natalia Pliacam in his drag persona, has wowed judges with his glittering costumes and flamboyant character, recently winning two out of three challenges in a single week.

Professionally, Assadayut runs a business selling coffins in Bangkok's Chinatown.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2018, with the headline 'Reality drag show kicks off in Thailand'. Print Edition | Subscribe