She brought fierce lewks and charisma as a host on Drag Race Thailand, and made the most emotional exit in Drag Race herstory on UK vs The World earlier this year after an impressive winning streak as a competitor. Now, Pangina Heals, the trade of every season, is about to embark on a weeklong tour—RuPaul’s Drag Race British Invasion—taking in San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, New York, Chicago and Dallas. She’s appearing as an extra special guest, reuniting with some of her UK vs The World co-stars including season winner Blu Hydrangea, Miss Congeniality Cheryl Hole, UK diva Baga Chipz, Holland’s Janey Jacké, and Canada’s Lemon. Joining them will be Drag Race UK season two winner Lawrence Chaney and reigning UK Next Drag Superstar Krystal Versace, plus UK favourites Tayce, A’Whora, and Divina de Campo.
Taking a break from rehearsing for the tour, which kicks off at San Francisco’s Regency Ballroom on Friday May 20th, Pangina Heals spoke exclusively with The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann about how Lady Gaga is responsible for her first time in drag, the impact that Drag Race Thailand has had on the perception of drag in the country, how she reflects on her UK vs the World experience including the drama surrounding her exit from the show, and her love for Koendanai.
James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: I wasn’t sure if you were going to be in drag or not, but because you’re rehearsing for the show today you are. When it comes to doing interviews, do we get a different Pangina depending on whether you’re in or out of drag?
Pangina Heals: “It’s like wearing a mask; a mask of confidence and a mask of femininity when I’m in drag. I feel superhuman when I’m in drag. So there is a tiny bit of difference, but because I’m so unhinged and have no filter as a boy or as Pangina, there’s not that significant of a difference! When I’m in drag, I’ll usually I have a glass of wine though, so obviously I’ll be a bit more bold!”
As this is the first time that we’ve spoken, would you mind taking me back to your origins in drag? How did you first get into it, what was it that grabbed you about it, and how did it become your life?
“I started because there was a competition where you had to get into drag and parade in public areas and film a music video. If you won, you got to go to New York to see Lady Gaga in concert. Lady Gaga has inspired so many people—not just queer people, but everyone—and for me, I got to see the idea of expressing yourself and being who you are through her. So I thought, life’s too short, I’m not going to be afraid, I’m going to get up in drag. So I did it, and I won! I was able to go to New York to see her, and I passed out halfway through the concert from screaming so hard and so loud! I never stopped doing drag after that.”
“When you’re in drag, if you walk past ten people, nine of them will be like, ‘Werk! You’re fierce! I want to take a photo with you!’ And then there will probably be one who’ll be like, ‘Oh, you’re a faggot!’ For me, that is a testament to most people’s openness. You can totally tell right away if someone is down to celebrate with you or if someone is a hater. Every single day I’m doing something that I love. It’s awesome. I love to perform. Maybe it’s because I had a somewhat different childhood and I want that attention now. I’m reclaiming my experiences.”
I really enjoy watching Drag Race Thailand. My husband and I sometimes refer to the show as just “music!” Rather than RuPaul’s catchphrase ‘let the music play’, the Drag Race Thailand episodes end with ‘music!’ Which is just as iconic.
“You mean, ‘music’ spelled M-E-W-Z-I-K-A-K when Art Arya says it?!”
Drag Race is such a massive platform, what kind of impact do you think Drag Race Thailand might have had on the country in terms of giving people an idea of what it really is?
“Firstly, people view drag more as art now, rather than as, ‘Oh my God, they’re creatures of the night and they prey on men like black widows!’ Now they can say, ‘They’re just artists. It’s just someone who appreciates the art of transformation and the art of performance and the art of makeup, and someone who wants to entertain other people.’ Drag has nothing to do with having to be a particular gender, or about whether this person can or cannot do it. At the end of the day, we’re all human and people are now seeing that and viewing drag as another art form versus whatever ideas they might have had in their minds back in the day. The show really changes perceptions.”
“It’s made an impact economically too. People who didn’t understand it are now immersed in it and have come to support it, so there are more opportunities for drag queens to have careers. Being on Drag Race myself, I don’t know if that had an impact on the kids, but I am seeing a lot more drag queens in Thailand now. Obviously, I’m not the first, but Drag Race is allowing a wider audience to know that it’s okay for you to do this art and to be yourself.”
You’re a co-host on Drag Race Thailand, but on UK vs the world you became a competitor. What was that shift like?
“It was very scary. It was nerve-racking. It was rewarding. It was a life-changing experience and one of the best experiences of my life. I got to meet nine people who come from different places to share what we love. We were all speaking the same language without having met before. A lot of people were like, ‘You were a judge, why would you go and compete?’ But I was like, ‘I am a fan of the biggest show in the world. I have an opportunity that very few people have to go and compete on the show that I fell in love with and that caused me to become a drag queen myself today. So why not?!’ I was so inspired by Ongina and Raja and many more, so when I had that opportunity, I was like, ‘Fuck, yeah!’ Competing was a different position to being a judge because you’re vulnerable and you have to be open to hearing criticism, and you might go home, which I did! I made such great connections with the girls and I respect them. Seeing them hustle made me want to work even harder on my craft.”
You being told to sashay away was probably the most dramatic moment of the season. What did you make of the way that the producers kept your microphone on, so as the show was coming to a close and the end credits were rolling we could still hear you wailing?
“It’s a TV show! Watching it back, seeing me crying and having that much of a breakdown on screen, I thought it was fucking hilarious to keep the sound on. The actual crying that I did was for four hours! I was crying so hard that I didn’t need a makeup wipe. My lashes were falling off everywhere. It was all real and so why not make fun of it?! It happened and I’m okay with it because that takes the power away from it. I think it’s fucking hilarious that this bitch cried that much and that they kept the sound while everyone was walking off. Hilarious! But I have a weird sense of humor, so I had no problem with it.”
Good, well, I’m glad you found the humor in it!
“I find humor in things other people don’t!”
That’s a good way to approach life I think. What was your proudest moment on the show, whether it was a look or a particular challenge, or just the way that you handled something?
“In terms of the way that I handled things, I was not soft spoken, I was very vocal, but in a way that was straight to the point and honest. A lot of people say, ‘Oh my God, I’m so afraid of the edit’, but that was just me, that was completely who I am. I’m proud that I stayed true to who I am and they showcased that. It’s like RuPaul says, ‘She wanna blame it on the edit, you the one who said it!’ So everything I said, I own up to it. I made my point.”
“Something that I’m really proud of, having not competed before, was going into the competition and winning week one and then doing well on week two as well, getting in the top, and then the third week I won. Literally half the competition I was doing the best, and so I have no regrets leaving the competition because I couldn’t have changed anything. So I’m not mad at the decisions that were made at all. This is what I say to some people who say that I’m bitter, or ‘She’s upset and she hates Blu’; ‘You don’t know what’s going on in my mind. You don’t know the relationship I have with the girls. So don’t put words in my mouth because that’s not how I’m feeling. Just because you can’t fathom how you’d deal with that situation does not mean that I can’t.”
As you say, at the end of the day it is a TV show. When you sent Jimbo home I was upset because I love Jimbo, but I’m over it now!
“I’m sure! Jimbo was one of the best contestants on the show. She’s so talented. She brought the looks. She really brought it and she has my respect. We were in a competition. I’m not mad at Blu for sending me home and Jimbo is not mad at me for sending her home.”
In terms of the breakdown that you were talking about, how much of that was to do with the pressure that you might have felt of representing your country? Because obviously the show was set up as that, UK vs the world.
“For sure, because I was the only one besides Janey who represented an entire country as one representative. I think that’s one of the reasons why I bonded with Janey so much. But also Thailand is such a pageantry supporting country and when one of us goes to compete in the world the country backs them up. So sometimes I forgot that they invited me on to the show because of me, Pangina, not Thailand. But I had the weight of that responsibility on my shoulders that I put on myself and I think one of the reasons why I had that big breakdown was because I felt like I’d lost for my country. It wasn’t just I fucking lost. I lose all the time! I lose consciousness. I lose keys. I lose everything on a daily basis. But this was like, ‘You lost for an entire country. Shame on you, you fucking stupid bitch!”
How have you found performing live to audiences outside of Thailand, like here in the US where you’re about to start the British Invasion tour?
“Oh, my God, the US is one of my favorite places to perform in the entire world. The audiences love drag. They understand drag. They’re open to experimentation in drag. I love different types of drag and I love surprising people. When you come to my show, you never know what to expect. I’m not going to do the same things over and over again, so there’s always that surprise element. I’m really looking forward to the tour. I can’t wait for people to see my interpretation of what drag is from my culture. It’s so rewarding and something that makes me feel alive.”
What’s it like being part of this upcoming tour which is such a big sisterhood?
“It’s going to be epic! I’ve haven’t been on a tour like this ever. This is going to be a summation of my hard work over so many years, getting to be on stage with people that you look up to, it’s like a Cinderella story. I’ve never given up on drag, I’ve never given up on myself and now I’m going to be performing in theatres in front of thousands of people. I feel like, wow, bitch! 10 years ago you were still learning how to put eyeliner on and still putting it on your mouth because you thought it was normal! And now you’re on this stage. It’s unreal!”
What can people expect from The British Invasion show?
“It’s going to be a full on show. You’re going to see the charms of each of the queens, their talent. There’s going to be dancing, there’s going to be music, there’s going to be singing. The lineup is so insane, there’s no way that anyone can be disappointed. Everyone is there to showcase who they are and you’re about to have one of the best nights of your life at the show!”
What’s your favorite piece of LGBTQ+ culture or a person who identifies as LGBTQ+; someone or something that’s had an impact on you and resonated with you over the years?
“When it comes to my influences, the easiest one off the top of my head is definitely RuPaul. But I have many references in Thai culture as well. One person that I really looked up to is a colleague of mine, Koendanai. They identify as non-binary. They would go outside wearing female clothes and I found that so powerful. We have to remember that in some countries people are killing each other just because of the fabric that they put on their body. That is so insane. They’re a psychologist and they talk so well about mental health awareness. I love people who change the world through what they believe and what they say and how they showcase themselves. It can really create an impact and cause a shift in society.”
You also mentioned RuPaul. What did you take away from the time that you got to spend with her while you were shooting UK vs the World?
“RuPaul is such a big influence in my life and she’s so significant for so many people’s careers, not just drag queens, but production, crew, photographers, and anyone who is involved in this huge machine that is RuPaul’s Drag Race. Meeting RuPaul, one of the most powerful and influential people in this community, I was so inspired to see the human behind all the glamour. I got to feel her warmth and listen to the advice that she gave in the werk room. I felt really grateful for all of the things that she said because Ru has an immensely positive energy that she instills in the contestants when you’re talking to her, but she also challenges you. She tells it like it is and so does Michelle.”
By James Kleinmann
Pangina is appearing in the RuPaul’s Drag Race British Invasion tour.
Friday, May 20th – The Regency Ballroom, San Francisco
Saturday, May 21st – Metro, Chicago
Sunday May 22nd – Terminal 5, New York
Tuesday, May 24th – Royale, Boston
Thursday, May 26th – House of Blues, Dallas
Friday, May 27th 2022 – Warner Theatre, Washington D.C.
Tickets are on sale now at vossevents.com.