Over the years, Michelle Visage has become synonymous with “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” The Seduction singer-turned-variety show judge’s sharp wit, and no-nonsense attitude has also made her a fan favorite, as well as a complacent drag queen’s worst nightmare.
We caught up with the Drag Race judge before tonight’s season 9 finale to get her thoughts on the series’ highs and lows, the top four contenders, and taking the show abroad.
Let me start by asking you what you thought was the biggest highlight from this past season.
Michelle Visage: It wasn’t the Michelle Visage roast… I don’t know if there was a highlight because for me going through every episode, and all the seasons, something happens differently every week. Somebody surprises you every week. To pick out just one highlight is kind of diminishing the impact of the show. There were great moments, great lip syncs, shocking moments, but the highlight is the show every week.
It’s interesting you say that because one of the first stand-out moments was when Lady Gaga walked into that workroom. Nobody expected it! How did you guys pull that off?
MV: That was her idea, Gaga’s idea. When she wanted to do it, everybody was like, “Oh my God. Are you kidding me? That’s a dream.” She pulled it off, and World of Wonder is good at making stuff happen. We like to keep stuff quiet. It’s the other people that like to flap their gums. World of Wonder is crafty at keeping stuff quiet. We did, and we pulled it off. It was brilliant!
It was so good! They have viewing parties all over NYC, and I remember being at one. People were just freaking out. I couldn’t tell you how crazy it was when she walked out.
MV: It was a moment. Trust me! Sitting next to her, I was like, “I am totally sitting here like Gaga is my best friend.”
And then there were the lip syncs this season. Charlie Hides was the first one that was sort of, “Wow. Is she really going to stand there and do that?” What was going through your mind when you watched it?
MV: The first time I had that feeling was in season three when Yara Sofia gave up when she was lip-syncing against Alexis Mateo. I was sitting there going, “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? You’re so good! Why are you letting this happen?” I felt like we saw it happen again with Charlie because we know Charlie is more than what she gave us. But I looked at her feet and was like, “Those shoes are going to be really hard to lip sync in. You know you’re going to stink eye from me if you kick your shoe off.” There was that conundrum. I wouldn’t say she just stood there and did nothing, but she did the minimal and didn’t move her feet once from place A to place B. That was a letdown. The excuses that came to follow… I don’t know what’s true or not. We’ve all have a bad day. I’m not here to publicly shame her, but you know that when you’re on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Listen, I sang live and did so my whole entire career. But when I was in production, if our producers didn’t think we could handle live singing, guess what we did? We lip-synced over our tracks. Point being, I’m a live performer, but when it calls for you to do the job, you’ve got to do it. And the job was not done. She didn’t let anyone down. She let herself down.
In some ways, Valentina’s lip sync and elimination overshadowed the Charlie Hides thing. I was in total shock because I was rooting for her. I think a lot of people were. She kept that mask on and then was forced to take it off.
MV: Yeah, because it was a lip sync. That wouldn’t be fair to the 113 other queens that came before her if they said, “Sure, keep it on!”
I think that as a Valentina fan, obviously, she didn’t know the words, but you try and make excuses for it.
MV: You just said it, Gary. She didn’t know the words. She thought she was going to be saved because she did do great. She is beautiful. She is fun. But again, at the end of the day, you’ve got one job at that moment, and she failed to do it. That’s what it came down to.
Let’s talk about the top four. I don’t know who is going to win. They’re all so good.
MV: I go on a journey with these girls the same way you guys do. I get surprised the same way you guys do. I don’t know anything about them in the work room. I don’t know their backgrounds. I don’t know their personalities. All I know is that I judge the challenge that they’ve been given. That’s all I know. World of Wonder made it that way for a reason because I watch it the same time you do and they want me to get to know them the same way the public does, which is brilliant. When I watch the TV show unfolding, I’m like, “Oh my god! I love that person. I love what she’s about. I didn’t know she went through that.” At the end of the day, these four that are standing have all earned it and are all very deserving of the title. They all represent something different which is fantastic. Any one of them could take this title and I’d walk away feeling very fulfilled. I think this is the first time I’ve felt that way.
We’ve got season 10 coming, and I think you’re already doing auditions and getting tapes. Hopefully, “All Stars 3” down the line. What is it that you look for in a queen? What do they have to have that makes them season 10 material or “All Stars 3” material?
MV: I have nothing to do with casting. I will say, “Ru! I’ve seen this queen.” I’ll then give my suggestions. That is not a golden ticket. That’s me saying I’ve seen them and know what they can do. I give my opinions. They’ll ask me who I’d like to see on “All Stars.” I give my opinions on that too. Sometimes they go through, and sometimes they don’t. For me, this is Ru’s show and game. If Ru thinks they’re good enough to be there I sure as shit know that they are, 100 percent. Ru looks at every single audition tape. Every single one! He’ll compile them all and watch them all. He has watched them for seven or eight years, sometimes repeatedly saying, “They’re not ready. They’re not ready.” But when it’s their time, he knows. It’s not just about being pretty. There is so much more to this game as we found out many times over.
What’s next for you? Obviously “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is in the cards, but I loved watching you on “Celebrity Big Brother” overseas. I waited up each night for it to hit on YouTube. Would you ever consider something like that here? What projects are you thinking about aside from Drag Race?
MV: Listen, I love everything that’s out there. I don’t know if reality TV is my future. I wanted to do that because I was a huge fan of the show and it was for me. I wanted to do it. I had no ulterior motive or calendars to sell. My book wasn’t even conceived at that point. I didn’t have a book deal. I did it because I wanted to be there for the voice of the community because I was a fan of the show. For me, I don’t know if reality TV is my future, but I’ve seen a few shows that I’m pitching right now. They’re either going to happen or not. Some are over in the UK. Some are here. At the end of the day, Ru and I want our talk show to happen, and that’s what I see for our future.
Do you see drag race ever going overseas? I remember Ru tweeting something like, “If Michelle wins CBB, I’m bringing Drag Race to the UK.”
MV: We’ve been trying for a while, and it’s just a matter of a commissioner understanding what our show is. I don’t really know if they understand the impact that our show has. Our show is a movement. It’s not a TV show. It’s so much more it. It just takes one commissioner to bite the bullet and say, “We’re going to do this.” Ru and I are ready to go. We’ll pack our stuff and go straight over.