Everything is set: The stage, the lights and music, the costumes and makeup are all done and ready. People from different parts of the city spare a night just to witness a spectacular one-of-a-kind performance–a drag show featuring the Philippines’ top and rising drag queens. But the main stars of the night, before they can finally step into the stage, need a finishing touch before the show can officially start: The host, who now takes centerstage to give them just that.
The host begins to introduce the night’s stars and hypes the crowd. He knows he is not who the people came for, but he needs to be there; otherwise, the main stars’ entrance would be, well, a drag. He hypes the excited crowd loudly and joyfully until, all of a sudden, the lights go off. Three seconds later, it’s all rainbows and glitters; the drag queens are already on the stage, dancing and singing in their flamboyant costumes, giving the crowd what they came for.
This is the life of Buknoy, or EJ Gonzales sans the makeup and costume, in the glittery world of drag in the Philippines. As a host in some of the most breathtaking shows in Metro Manila’s premiere nightclubs, the country’s popular drag queens like Precious Paula Nicole, Viñas De Luxe, and Brigiding often described him to be “the best host in the world” of drag.
For Buknoy to be so, he said that all he needed was “EME”.
Energy. EJ Gonzales has always had a passion for theater. He was a member of a theater club back in college, which ran a lot of successful shows attended not only by students but also by fellow thespians and artists from across the country.
"Being a theater kid helped me a lot in discovering and establishing my hosting style, which I can describe as funny, slapstick, and fast-paced," he said. Post-college, he began accepting hosting gigs for events attended by hundreds of people. That was when he started gaining more confidence in his hosting career.
Until he participated in a marketing digital content in 2019 at TaskUs--where he now works as an Engagement and Experience Manager. For the first time, he dressed up as a drag queen for the complete look. Later, he also had his first appearance during a company Christmas party, where he dressed up as the most beautiful drag queen she could be, which he needed to win the prize.
"I just brought my beautiful fantasy to life," he said.
His energy is important in any drag show, according to the drag queens themselves. "Before the show starts, the moment I hear his voice as he introduces us on stage, it is as though I am already recharged instantly," shares Precious Paula Nicole, who won the first season of Drag Race Philippines, during a recent show that she did with Buknoy.
Makeup & Costumes. Of course, drag is synonymous with makeup and costumes and everything else that would add color to the night. It is the makeup and costumes that transform EJ into Buknoy. Without these, the world of drag would not be able to be graced by Buknoy's presence.
Everything that EJ’s heart desires are being lived by Buknoy. "I feel like I am a different person [when in my makeup and costume]," he said. "Doing drag allows me to bring my feminine side to reality and my fantasy to life."
But who, really, is Buknoy? What is his identity like? EJ shared that he never pegged to be like someone, but he became strategic yet passionate about how he would introduce Buknoy to the world. "I watched a lot of hosting videos and identified which ones I was more comfortable doing or which ones were closer to my personality," he said.
"My bottom line has always been to be fun and entertaining but not in an annoying or offensive way. That is Buknoy."
Encouragement. "He is excellent! The best host in the world! He does not even need us to do a show," added drag queen Vinas De Luxe. To be "The Best Drag Host in the World," it is important to be in an environment full of supportive people. It is in such an environment that someone can grow and be who they want to be.
Currently, EJ is essentially a professional host and entertainer at TaskUs. He organizes and hosts off-work activities for TaskUs employees every day to lessen their stress and pressure from the job.
EJ started as a teammate until his supervisors discovered his passion and skill in hosting. That was when he was asked if he wanted to move to the Engagement Team. "This company truly supported and pushed my passion and purpose. TaskUs has been a significant part of my journey as a host and entertainer," he shared.
"As Buknoy, I am happy and grateful to be part of this growing culture," he said. And, in return, "I am happy and proud to shine the spotlight on my drag sisters. That is my role and I am very proud of it."
Of the three elements of EME, perhaps the last one is the most critical. Because no matter how great one’s energy, makeup, and costumes are, one couldn’t be what he or she aspires to be without any encouragement.
TaskUs acknowledges this. As a frontline-first company, its commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is deeply rooted in its culture and values. It believes that if barriers and discrimination are removed from the everyday environment of its people, acceptance and respect follow. It is in this kind of environment that the likes of Buknoy are born.
After the drag queens’ performances, Buknoy joins them on the stage for some fun conversations. After the exchange of banters, he sends them back to the stage and cues the staff to close the curtain and shut the lights off. Buknoy was the first person to step onto the stage; now, he is the last to leave it.
For Buknoy, being a drag host is a privilege. While the host is often not the main star of every drag show, he carries tremendous responsibility in making sure that the show starts and ends fabulously. With the help of his “EME”, that is his embraced role in the world of drag.
See more behind the scenes with Buknoy and other drag queens here: RISE: A Passion For Drag Excellence