While there’s no shortage of addictive, talent-based reality series, like Making the Cut, RuPaul’s Drag Race or Top Chef, none of them is as original as Legendary. Inspired by the same underground ballroom community behind the likes of FX’s Pose, the competition sees houses facing off in various categories in order to achieve “legendary” status and win a cash prize. Now streaming on HBO Max, MC Dashaun Wesley and celebrity judges Jameela Jamil, Law Roach and Megan Thee Stallion help ET break down everything you need to know about the sickening new series.
Unlike RuPaul’s Drag Race, which draws inspiration from the ballroom scene, Legendary is a team competition with contestants of all genders, races and ages, made up of members from various established houses within the community. This season’s families include Balmain, Ebony, Escada, Gucci, Lanvin, Ninja, West, and St. Laurent, all of which come with their own distinct style and strengths that make them intense competitors, heartfelt origin stories and are led by the fiercest of parents.
“And the contestants are more full of passion and heart than any show I’ve ever seen before,” Jamil says. “This is a show unlike any other. You've never seen contestants fight this hard in a beautiful way. And also they’re so fiercely competitive, like, to the death with each other -- but also the love between them is stronger than anything you've seen on TV.”
Stallion adds that she was “crying half the time” while watching the houses compete. “I'm just so happy that people are gonna be able to see the lives of everybody on the show and how hard they went and how hard they worked to, you know, meet the goals, beat the next team. They really went hard and I just feel like it's gonna inspire other people,” the rapper says. “They put their all in it.”
Each week, the houses compete in themed balls, which include specific categories meant to set stronger families apart from the weaker ones. The first two episodes' themes are the Grand March, which is a presentation of the group’s signature strengths and styles, and the Fairytale Ball, which includes specialized runway competitions like hair performance (“Rapunzel Effect”), serving face (“Mirror Mirror”) and walks in perfect unison (“Three Fab Mice”).
And those more familiar with the ballroom scene know voguing will play an essential role in later episodes. Like reading is to RPDR, the battle dance is a fundamental part of the competition -- and when the balls really come to life.
Essentially, “it is like the world's greatest talent show,” Roach says, adding that the series is giving “a lot of super-talented people that have not had the chance to be introduced or represented in the mainstream” a chance to shine onscreen.
When it comes to recreating the balls for the series, Jamil says they kept the feeling as real and true to the experience as possible. “We shot the show at night, we kept it very authentic, we had an authentic ballroom community as our audience and we had hard liquor in all of the judges’ containers,” she says.
THE MC and JUDGES
Originally enlisted to be one of the competitors as a member of one of the houses, Wesley actually became an integral part of the production and was later asked to MC the balls. He guides the weekly competitions while DJ MikeQ provides a soundtrack for what happens on the runway. “We need to hear your voice,” Wesley recalls the producers telling him before they “scooped me up as the man on the microphone.”
Wesley and MikeQ are joined by a permanent panel of four celebrity judges: The Good Place actress Jameela Jamil, stylist Law Roach, rapper Megan Thee Stallion and “Wonder Woman of Vogue” and Pose choreographer Leiomy Maldonado. Each bring their own experiences to the panel, with Roach assessing the fashions, Stallion and Jamil providing an outsider’s perspective on their charisma and personalities, and Maldonado offering expert feedback and advice on all things choreography.
If there’s a Simon Cowell of the group, it’s Roach, who delivers some of the harshest critiques during judging. “I would be doing myself and the contestants a disservice if I wasn’t honest,” he says. “But it is all out of love. It's tough love. I am a tough mommy and that's the way I show my love.”
Meanwhile, Stallion is decidedly much nicer -- and focuses on what impresses her most. “I did not have anything bad to say,” she says. “It's all new and exciting, so I was sitting there like, ‘That was good. That was amazing. Y’all are, like, blowing my mind!’”
For Jamil, who has previously served as a host on Misery Index and other unscripted series, being a judge was a whole new experience. “I had no idea how hard being a judge was. I don't know if I have the stomach for it because sending someone home, especially week after week after week, you start to really love and care about the contestants. And I didn't know how I was going to feel. I never thought about that,” she admits.
THE GRAND PRIZE
Despite any worries about sending someone home, there can only be one winner. “All you think about when you're a judge is, ‘Oh wow, someone's gonna win $100,000 and I'm going to be able to be a part of changing their life,” Jamil says. “You forget about all the people whose dreams you take away week after week after week for just one slip, for one mistake, for one bad day or one bad week. And that is hard.”
While houses are typically competing for trophies and notoriety, the series is raising the stakes. Each week, the remaining teams will vie for the Superior House title, meaning they dominated the ball and will not get chopped. However, all of their attention is focused on snatching the grand prize of $100,000 as they try to rise through the ranks, from stars to legends to icons.
But in order to achieve that status and take home that cash prize, they have to slay the competition. “We’re looking for an all-around incredible house, the kind of house that just brings the screen alive, that brings the room alive. We’re looking for technique but we’re also looking for passion and beauty and creativity,” Jamil says, before adding that she doesn’t “even know how we managed to find a winner because everyone was so extraordinary on the show.”