It’s hard to imagine now, with Season 10 premiering on March 22, but the first two seasons of Drag Race judges, there was no Michelle Visage at RuPaul‘s side. She chatted with New York magazine’s E. Alex Jung and answered a range of questions about Ru and their unbreakable bond how they first met 30 years ago and more.
When did you meet RuPaul?
1987, ’88. We can’t really pin it down. I was voguing with my kids. I was the first biological female to vogue in the ballroom scene and compete.
Susanne Bartsch found me with the queens that I vogued with at the club. She came over and said,
‘Darling, I want you to vogue at my parties.‘
Ru would work the Susanne Bartsch parties, and I would always see him and it was kind of like a
‘Hey, girl, Hey, girl.‘
Then post Seduction, we’re doing a new music seminar in New York City together, and I see Ru in the greenroom. I walk over and I go,
‘I don’t know if you remember me.‘
And he was like,
‘Bitch, I have been watching you for years…. You are a fucking superstar, of course I know who you are.‘
Why were you not on the first season of Drag Race? I read that there was something about a contract.
I was signed to a five-year deal with CBS Radio in West Palm Beach. When you sign a contract, as you probably know, I’m liable if I break the contract. It was year one, my husband is a stay-at-home dad, I’m the sole provider for a family of four. World of Wonder called me. They told me,
‘It’s not going to be a lot of money, but we think it’s going to be a game changer.’
And I said,
‘I’ll do anything that Ru does. You know that, anything.‘
I go to my boss the next day — this was a new boss — and he says no immediately. I said,
And he said,
‘Honestly, I don’t think it’s the right look for our radio station.‘
And I went,
‘Where’s the camera? Am I being Punk’d? What are you, homophobic?‘
And he’s like,
‘No, I just don’t think it’s our listenership.‘
And I went,
‘Oh my god, you don’t like gay people.‘
I was so offended that I had to call Ru and tell him. And there was disdain. He was upset, and I was upset. He wasn’t mad at me. He understood. But this show was conceptualized with me next to him, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. So then I sat there and watched the first two episodes, and I was like,
‘I can’t watch.‘
It was painful. Later, I started this event to raise money for breast-cancer awareness called Pretty in the City. It was a really fun night for girls and gays. It made a shit ton of money. My boss then said,
‘Do you think RuPaul would perform at the next one?‘
And I went,
So then season two came and I emailed Ru and I was like,
‘I’ll do whatever it takes. I want to do this.‘
He was like,
‘Baby, the formula works. We can’t change it.‘
I was devastated, but I understood.
How did you come on for season three?
I get a call from World of Wonder and they said,
‘Ru really wants you for season three.’
And I was like,
‘Okay. I’m going to do whatever I can do to get on the show.‘
I asked my boss. He said no. I called Leah Remini, this is no joke, lamenting to her. She goes,
‘Give me the number of the president of CBS Radio.‘
And I said,
‘No, mom, you’re not calling CBS Radio for me.‘
She was on King of Queens at the time, which is CBS. She goes,
‘Michelle, you are a star.‘
‘Leah, I’m in market 47. They have no idea who I am.‘
‘If you don’t do it, I’m going to fucking call Les Moonves. They do not drop TV shows in people’s laps. I don’t care if it’s on Logo. You need to do this.‘
And I was like,
So I picked up the phone and I called the vice-president because I knew him, and he said,
‘I absolutely have no problem with you doing it.‘
And I said,
‘By the way, this guy doesn’t want me to do it because it’s a gay TV show.‘
A week later, the boss was fired. Now, I don’t know if me saying that did it or if it was the nail in the coffin because our cluster had dropped a lot financially.
Then when I was able to do season three, I sat next to Ru, he looked at me, and he goes,
‘Now we can start.‘
And it was a moment of, Oh my god, this is it, this is where I was meant to be.
Do you have a favorite season?
It’s season three. And the reason it’s my favorite season is because it’s where the magic started for me, for Ru, and for the journey. Season four changed the game. Season three is when it started to turn.
What about a favorite lip sync?
There are so many brilliant ones. It’s hard to do just one. Roxxxy Andrews, ‘Whip My Hair‘ with the wig reveal was definitely one of my favorites. Latrice, ‘Natural Woman.‘ Manila and Delta, ‘MacArthur Park.‘ Dida Ritz, Natalie Cole. Jinkx with that ‘Malambo.‘
Do you think you’re too tough?
I am tough, but I’m tough for a reason. I’m not Paula Abdul, and I love Paula Abdul. I don’t even know if there’s one of those on our panel. I think everybody’s really honest. Me pushing them to be the best they can be is not going to benefit me. I don’t get a cut of their money when they leave the show. I’m doing it to benefit them, so they can make the most money they can make in the next year, because the year that you leave the show is your money year. I want them to get the most money. What if they’re actors?
Let’s use Jinkx for an example. If Jinkx stayed the way that she was, Jinkx Monsoon won the fifth season of Drag Race and was known as the lovable weirdo who could do comedy, but was often critiqued for not being able to show “glamour.” Maybe casting directors wouldn’t have put her on Blue Bloods. I knew that there was more in her, and I wasn’t buying what she was selling, so I pushed, pushed, pushed, and she delivered. And she’s to this day one of my favorites.
This might be editing, but it feels like glamour has more weight for you than other kinds of looks.
I’ve heard people say that before.
Do you think that’s true?
No, I don’t agree, because if you are giving me glamour, then I want it to be the glamour. And if you’re giving me camp, then I want it to be campy. But if you’re just going to be sloppy, then it’s sloppy.
So it is important to you that they can do glamour.
Correct. They don’t have to do it. Let’s say you’re on there and you’re a glamorous girl and I go,
‘I want to see something other than pretty.‘
It’s not that I want to change you. RuPaul can do everything and has done everything. I want to see other sides to your personality. I know that you’re going to show me what you do best most of the time. But what else can you do? Let’s use Christina Aguilera for example. How many times have your eyes rolled when she does that [vocal run sound] again and again and again? And then when she sings the song straight, you go, Oh my god, that’s why I fell in love with you. Even when she changed her hair to red, I was like, Oh my god, this is amazing. I was so sick of seeing the white hair with the red lip. It’s about switching it up.
Do you think that there will be a winners’ season?
No, I don’t. I’ve seen that before, and the idea is titillating. I just think there are too many people who have too many things going on and wouldn’t want to do it again. There are hard-core egos at play here. But you never know.
It would be exhausting, but it would be great television. I also like the idea of villains versus congeniality. Body queens versus big girls. Pageant queens versus camp queens. Of course, a U.K. season. I like the idea of a season made up of the first queens sent home [during their seasons].
How do you think the show is changing drag culture?
Listen, it has changed drag culture. There’s no doubt. And there’s a lot of bitter, older people who think it’s ruining drag. Let me just say that I do get both sides. Let’s say you’re in Key West and some tourists go in because they see there’s a drag show, and none of the people look like the contestants on RuPaul’s Drag Race. They’ll just say it’s shitty, sloppy drag when that’s not true. What that is is true local drag. And I encourage people to not just like Drag Race when it comes to your local bar — go get to know your local queens who are working their asses off every night of the week and they’re amazing. And maybe they don’t even want to be on Drag Race. Maybe they’re happy just the way they are.
With that said, I think what Drag Race is doing for drag culture is a positive thing. Mainstreaming is happening, but we’ll never be mainstream. We are a queer-centered show. At its core, we’ll always super serve the queer community. The fact that there’s more cisgender, heteronormative young girls relating to it, I understand, because I was that girl who self-harmed, who didn’t believe in myself, who didn’t fit in, and maybe if I had had a show like Drag Race, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder and I would’ve loved myself more, and I would’ve known that I wasn’t alone.”
This is just a excerpt, there’s lots more. She talks about how she got started in the club scene at 17, her self-image, labels in the LGBT universe, and even what she thought of BenDeLaCreme‘s shocking departure. It’s a great interview. Check it out in the latest issue of New York here.
(via New York)