Welcome to the conclusion of my interview series with ballroom maven and Legendary House of Ebony mother Isla Ebony. Today, we dive into her thoughts and experiences on HBO MAX's competition series, as well as what it was like to take her passion onto streaming screens.
Q: How was this TV ball different from regular "normal" balls?
A: The biggest thing was the judges, because there was only one ballroom judge on the panel and it took a couple of balls for the judges to really figure out what they were doing. I understand why they did that, they were trying to sell a show to the masses, and I do think that the judges got better throughout the season – I do think they hadn't figured it out when they sent the Ebonies home.
Q: A lot of the internet agrees, especially the week House of Ebony was eliminated, it seemed like an odd choice for you to be in the bottom two because your performance turned out.
A: To perform that for us was pretty cathartic. In that opening monologue, the nerves were so high – we knew we were at risk of going home because Shy had been chopped. But we knew we had a good performance, we had literally finished it the night before at like 1 am. We had been fighting a lot that time and stress was really high. My daughter may have had COVID and she was at her grandparents, sicker than she had ever been in her life – so there was a lot going on and I was on stage fighting back tears as I was serving that monologue in the opening of our performance. It was really on edge, but the thing about the Ebonies, and I think the show sort of shows it, but I could tell from the editing starting with episode 2, that the editors were prepping for who was going home. And you could tell by what they would keep out or how little they would put stuff in. It sort of bothered me because if you were actually there in the crowd, the Ebonies every time we did a group performance we got the loudest crowd response, every single time because we just have this ballroom energy. Maybe we weren't as tight as the Ninjas, but there was this raw energy to our performances.
Q: Did they do a good job capturing the essence of a real ball?
A: It was cool, they did a great job – they really did, and I think that it's going to get better with each season. They were definitely figuring it out as they went along. It was kinda all over the place with the categories early on because they were trying to figure it out. They were changing categories around and we had literally two days to figure it out; we had four days in between each ball which was no time. I'm sure for season 2 they're going to be allowed more time. I think the network gave them a really tight deadline. I will not be surprised if they give a whole week per ball for season 2.
Q: In a real ball, you have to come up with everything yourself – wardrobe, choreography, hair – in the show we see interviews with stylists and people there to help. What was that like?
A: We had a wardrobe team and they were great, although they were way overworked. That was not my effect for the body category [in episode 4: Wild Wild West]. I put that together like an hour before the ball. I cut a pair of jeans into a thong because my whole effect ripped when they put it on me. That's also very ballroom to suddenly have to slap something together right before you walk – it could not be more authentic. We're all from ballroom – the commentator MC is ballroom; Leiomy is ballroom; it did do its job of bringing ballroom to the main stage, and it's going to get better.
Q: The show has brought balls to the mainstream; do you see any of it going the other way around – that is, "Legendary" influencing or having an impact ballroom culture, like "Drag Race's" effect on the drag community?
A: This question was asked to the whole house in an interview last night and Shorty [member of house of Ebony] said that he thinks it is – for example, in ballroom, we've never had a category that's tag team where one person's runway and another person's vogue and he said "I feel like we're going to start seeing that in balls". I do think that because the producers were new to ballroom, it's like they brought a fresh creativity to some of the ideas and concepts and I do think that's going to influence it. I also think it's going to bring a whole new batch of involvement. All the houses have already been getting hit up from all over the world…Mexico, Brazil – Brazil is actually the biggest fanbase of Legendary. It hasn't aired in Asia yet, and I'm sure when that happens Chise Ninja will become like Beyonce – literally.
A big thank you to Isla Ebony for sitting down and chatting with me – this concludes our interview series. Remember, if you want to engage with ballroom culture from your own space, Isla's hosting the Banjee Ball online August 15. More information can be found on Instagram and Facebook. If the music of Legendary is more your thing, there are four compilation albums that Purple Crush contributed to – all four Legendary Battles albums are available to stream on Spotify and Apple Music.