“Legendary,” which just finished its second season on HBO Max, is one of the most confounding competition programs on television. Featuring 10 different ballroom houses battling for $100,000, the series has incredible performers that make it a must-watch, but the only consistent thing about the judging is how inconsistent and confounding it is. Often balancing out that frustration, however, is “Legendary’s” emcee, Dashaun Wesley. A ballroom icon himself, the 36-year-old is simply a natural at hosting. If he’s not working the pre-show red carpet of the Grammys, Oscars, or Emmys over the next 12 months, the industry is truly lost.
Wesley jumped on the phone last week to discuss “Legendary’s” second season and gave a frank but measured response to the controversy over the show’s judging.
“I know everyone is not going to agree with what’s happening when it comes to judging,” Wesley says. “No one ever agrees when it comes to judging. We watch plenty of shows where things go left, but hey, why didn’t it go right? As you can see, as the judges make their decision, I react naturally. I’m like, “O.K. Oh, wow. All right.” Just to keep it going. But my thing is when it comes to being here the ‘Legendary’ balls, what happens at these balls, it’s happening for that one moment. So, I guess everyone will always have what they like, what they don’t like, and that comes [with the territory] across the board. So people like different Houses for the reason that they do like so when they get bad critique…? I always say ‘Good luck to the judges.’ I am the host.”
It should be noted; those judges include ballroom icon Leiomy Maldonado (the only one who knows what she’s judging), celebrity stylist Law Roach, Megan Thee Stallion, executive producer Jameela Jamil, and a guest judge who is often left to give the casting vote with no context.
During our conversation, Wesley discussed what Houses could finally participate in a potential third season, the big jump the show took under surprising director addition Glenn Weiss, the pros and cons of an audience for future seasons, and much, much more.
The Playlist: You are an actor, you are a dancer, you have your own ballroom House, but do you realize how great a host you are on television?
Well, I mean, thanks to the fans and the supporters of the show, I’m being reminded every day. So, I take it with honors.
What do you enjoy about being in that role on the show, specifically? What about brings you joy?
Well, for me, it’s a few things I get joy out of. I mean, number one, I enjoy grabbing a microphone and being able to sit and communicate and make sure everything goes fine and goes well. It doesn’t feel like work. It’s just another moment for me to have fun, as well as getting dressed up every week. I enjoy dressing up and showing my creative side and stuff that I have in my mind and bringing it to life when everything falls, so… it’s sweet. I just love dressing up. So if it’s anything I really do enjoy, it’s putting those clothes on.
It seems like one of the differences between season one and season two is that both yourself and the judges got an upgrade in the outfits. Was that something you were excited about, and was there one in particular that you enjoyed the most?
Yes. Every week there’s going to be a different theme. So, we have a chance to dive into creatively creating something of our own or getting the idea from something and bring it to life. So for me, for this season, my favorite one was the pop art one, which was the outline be outdated. I’d seen a Craig Green of fall-winter 2019 fashion show, and he had these outfits with cut-up outlines, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I have to do this for pop art.”
You shot the first season in Connecticut, and like many programs, COVID happened right when you were close to finishing. So, it was a little jarring to sort of have to finish the show that way without an audience out of the blue. And then season two, you’ve shot here in L.A., also without an audience. What did you think the biggest differences were between the two seasons, and are there any positives about shooting it in L.A. that you thought came with the show?
From season one, that thing that takes the workers out of the community provides offering an audience and the spectators of being there. So, when the last episode happened, the pandemic just hit, and we had no audience. So, it prepared us a little bit of what to expect for season two; when we did the finale episode for season one with no audience, it felt a little intimate. You were a little bit more connected, and you had more of a visual of what’s happening on the stage. And for season two, it did that. Now again, and I say if the audience were there, it’d be a different reaction. But then again, season two brought it to a completely different place because of the pandemic. Right now, we’re sort of like phasing out a little bit from it, so people were still expecting everyone to be on a floor at the same time and go back and forth. And we were still under those rules [when we filmed it]. So, it was a little tough, but we still managed.
I’m hoping there’ll be a third season. Would you like the audience aspect to come back, or do you like the fact that it sort of worked the way it did on season two?
Again, there’s a plus to have the audience there. With ballroom [events], we manage anywhere. We have balls in New York City; we have them in L.A., we have them in Texas, we have in Atlanta, we’re all over. So, we’re used to environmental change. But for this one, particularly for itself, I’ll just say I got my fingers crossed for season three, and I want to audience there. I want the people to be excited about what’s happening. And I want the Houses to understand what it’s like to be on stage in front of an audience, to get that vibe back.
Do you think the Houses came in with a different mindset this season since they’d seen the first season already? Do you think that they had an advantage because they knew more of what the show was compared to the first time around?
It kind of gave them the kickstart of what they could probably work towards or how to sort of prepare. I know every House is at home right now. They still have an opportunity of cooking, like how to strategize this. This is why we have to come up with very unique and interesting [changes] for the challenges every week. So, you’re making sure you’re getting the best out of people before they get on stage, and they got it in a bag. We got to keep things going that way, you know?
Absolutely. People love the show, but there has been some criticism that in the judging, at least for people watching it, it seems like the main performance doesn’t count as much as the individual battles afterward. And that the battles can really swing it more than some people would think. Do you feel like moving on into season three, there needs to be an adjustment, or did you like the fact that the battles could really swing it so dramatically?
I guess again, it adds a little bit more excitement to see how the scoring system can go and how one person can win by one point, or it can go over by five points. So, I know everyone is not going to agree with what’s happening when it comes to judging,” Wesley says. “No one ever agrees when it comes to judging. We watch plenty of shows where things go left, but hey, why didn’t it go right? As you can see, as the judges make their decision, I react naturally. I’m like, “O.K. Oh, wow. All right.” Just to keep it going. But my thing is when it comes to being here the “Legendary” balls, what happens at these balls, it’s happening for that one moment. So, I guess everyone will always have what they like, what they don’t like, and that comes [with the territory] across the board. So people like different Houses for the reason that they do like so when they get bad critique…? I always say good luck to the judges. I am the host.
So, were you surprised, though, when the frontrunners, the House of Tisci, got eliminated in the episode? Or that’s what happened at this ball; it just is what it is?
The funny thing is actual balls that happen all over; when something happens dramatically, it is what it is. And the outcome is either you can get dramatic outcomes or good outcomes. [As for] walk-offs, some people say how they feel so… I was shocked at many people going home at a certain time because you just never know. This is what we say at balls; it’s sort of like a gamble, it’s a 50-50, either you’re going to win, or you’re going to lose. And sometimes, losing is a much bigger outcome than actually winning.
Many of these Houses perform all across the country. You’re part of the community; you’ve seen them many times. Are you ever surprised that some performers, dancers maybe freeze or don’t do their best under the spotlight of cameras?
Yes, because now we’re completely shifting to a completely new phase in our ballroom community. Now it’s to a point where we have a show that we can audition for, go to, and have a chance to bring that talent to the runway. But many people don’t understand when you get on the runway, you have to either transform, transcend, or put your best foot forward. And you’re correct; some people freeze up sometimes because they had never understood the pressure. That happens. And with ballroom, it does teach you to face up with that. So, this is just the opportunity to see it in a big platform space. So yes, people freeze up all the time.
One question that my friends always want to know about the show is, do the Houses pick their own music? Or are they just given choices for each assignment? How does it work?
I’m not too familiar with how the side with the music goes to the Houses and stuff like that. But I know, the majority of the stuff when you hear them talking and chanting on top of it, that’s them creating their own vibes to it. Now, I know many people have selections between going between DJs or within the music side; they can choose between a list of songs that are proven songs, making sure they’re correct, and they can go on a show type of situation.
But when it comes to how they choose, I don’t know. I see the Houses as they come on stage and do their performances. So, I just see everything happen as it happens.
So you don’t ever go behind the scenes? You like that aspect of; I’m on the stage, I’m experiencing just like the judges?
Yes, definitely. I love the fact that because, again, these are the people that I know well. Who are all part of my community? So, to have this chance to see them and see the work they have done behind the scenes and then come on stage? You’ll get a natural reaction for [the viewer] from me.
Speaking of you being in the community and having your own House, the House of Basquiat performed in the finale episode. Can you participate in future seasons without you? Is that allowed? Do you want to see someone sort of guide your House through the show?
As of right now, I mean, I wouldn’t want my House to jump on the next season or the season coming up right now. I’m formulating everything to make sure about just enjoying being up there on the runway, on the floor. And also doing what we have to do in the community. But right now, no, I wouldn’t throw my House out there yet. No, not right now.
I’m sure you’re aware of this, but I don’t even know if you can answer this question but; how did the show get the Democratic National Committee Master, the Oscar Maestro, Tony Award, Emmy legend Glenn Weiss to direct the season? When I saw his name in the credits, my jaw dropped because he never does competition programs like this. He’s a director who always does these insane live events. And can you talk about working with him?
When I tell you…working this season has been a complete adjustment from season one. As you can see, the spacing is done differently, the lighting is done differently, the cameras are done differently. You can go in [when you have] the best in the world. He’s so cool and checks in with me, and just to have the opportunity to be in the same room? So, as much as I’m learning about and have this opportunity to know what this man does, we’re still in a learning environment as well. But every episode, when I tell you we were into it, so connected and making sure everything goes off fine, so Glenn and the whole team on those days has been awesome. So, this season was filled with fuel to the highest extent. It was awesome.
Sweet. Obviously, you guys are hoping for a season three renewal. Are there any Legendary Houses that you’re hoping who didn’t participate in the first two seasons will participate in a third? And are you actively, as part of the show, trying to recruit them at all to take part?
Well, I’m never a part of the casting or when it comes to the Houses or bringing them to the show, but I always encourage the people I do know who runs them to ask Because there are so many Houses out there that the world still hasn’t had a chance to see. Also, we’re getting heavy-hitting Houses right now, and they still have to beat them. Going home is what they do, but we got more Houses to come that are still ready for seasons to come. I’m just hoping “Legendary” helps a lot. [inaudible 00:13:56], maybe House of Xtravaganza come through, and you also have new Houses out there like the Haus of Mason Margiela, who may have a chance to step out there as well. It’s so many Houses out there, so I’m just hoping they bring it even more next season because, baby, those Tiscis set a standard.
“Legendary” season two is now completely available on HBO Max.