Who What Wear Podcast: Jameela Jamil and Leiomy Maldonado

The two of you are two of the incredible judges on HBO’s Legendary, in which voguing teams compete in dance challenges and showcase fashions for a chance to win a $100,000 prize and other things. Can you give our listeners a little bit of background on voguing ballroom culture and what drew you specifically to this project?

Leiomy Maldonado: I’ve been a part of ballroom for a very, very, very, very, very long time. Since I was 15. I fell in love with voguing overall before even finding out what the ballroom scene was and what it actually meant to the community. Experiencing ballroom was really truly me experiencing what the houses were and what it meant to be a part of a house and how important it was for each individual that was a part of the ballroom community.

The show Legendary itself is a show that brings together houses, and they’re able to showcase their best and to be able to share not only their talents, but they’re sharing their story. They’re sharing their triumphs and their losses as well. We’ve connected with these people in so many different ways and that’s something that the world needed to see. … I was a lost teenager born and raised in the Bronx. I was never introduced or educated on what being trans was. At the time, I expressed my femininity, but I didn’t express it in a proud way. It was a natural way of expressing, and I was bashed about it and told that I was wrong and called all different types of slurs.

I feel like a lot of us all go through the same thing. When I found out about the ballroom scene, it gave me a sense of a place to be. It made me feel like, wow, I’m not the only one and that there is a community. … I finally felt at home. I didn’t know how to express myself, so through voguing, I literally found confidence; I found my femininity. I also found my athleticism, something that I had to fight within the ballroom community. Being a woman of trans experience, a lot of times, we’re celebrated for being feminine and for being soft and for being beautiful. I didn’t feel like I had a lane with the other trans girls and within the community. Through just my passion and loving voguing and knowing that any day that I have something going wrong, I can always put a beat on and vogue it out and express myself and be okay after, that alone helped me become who I am. Till this day, I could never not Vogue or not feel the beat. I feel like it’s a part of my being, it’s a part of my strength, it’s a part of my vulnerability, it’s a part of everything that I stand for. I feel like without ballroom, I would have been lost in the world, and honestly, I probably wouldn’t even be alive.

Jameela Jamil: I’ve been going to balls for years in New York, and I’ve just always thought they were the most extraordinary showcases of athleticism, as Leiomy was saying, of dance, of music, of fashion, of makeup. It became so clear to me so quickly within going to these balls that, oh, this is where all of the scenes that we see in the mainstream are coming from. It’s all being siphoned from here. You would see your cis, white fashion people in New York at these balls taking fucking notes of what the kids from ballroom are doing and then going and replicating that and sticking a price tag on that those same kids could never afford.

I think a big part of Legendary was making sure that we tell the world where this comes from. This is the genesis of everything that you love, everything that people read about, even on the pages of Vogue or Who What Wear or anything. All of that comes from ballroom. Even the way that we speak comes from ballroom. It’s so important that this community, at the same time as making sure that we protect and preserve them and their dignity and don’t just capitalize them with an inch of their lives, it is also important to find a dignified and elegant way to make sure that we tell the story of vogue and tell the story of ballroom.

The reason that we wanted to make sure that this got on to HBO Max, which is why you have non-ballroom allies like myself and Megan Thee Stallion and Law Roach, is because this has to have this kind of explosive, large, high-budget, and high-exposure platform to make sure that no one leaves the show having any misunderstanding about where everything we have that is good comes from. I’m very lucky to be involved. I’m very happy to be on the outside. I take all my cues and my leadership from Leiomy. I know my place, and I’m here to be willfully used for my following and for my great, great press.

That was the main reason I signed on is that’s the thing that I can bring. I can’t bring expertise. I can bring some fabulous eye looks because I’m a decent makeup artist. But I can mostly bring my platform, my exposure, and use the limelight that I have been afforded because of my privilege to leverage the platform for the ballroom community. And the hope is that I get replaced one day because the show becomes so big that we create so many stars, like mainstream A-list stars, out of the contestants on our show, and they one day come and sit in my chair. That’s my hope for this show.

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