GayCalgary® Magazine [copy]

The View From Michelle Visage

RuPaul’s best friend back judging Season 6

Celebrity Interview by Jason Clevett (From GayCalgary® Magazine, March 2014, page 26)
Michelle Visage
Michelle Visage
Image by: Jose Guzman
Michelle Visage
Michelle Visage
LEGO Brand Retail, Inc.

Since she became a judge on Season 3 of Rupaul’s Drag Race, Michelle Visage has established a reputation for tough love. Returning to the judging table for season 6, airing Monday’s on OUTtv, Visage chatted with GayCalgary Magazine about her history with RuPaul which dates back decades.

"We met back in the old days when we would take a horse and buggy to a nightclub. Back in the days of prohibition. We met at a club called the Copacabana in New York in the late 1980s. I had just moved there when I was 17 to go to college and was hired by a club promoter. Ru was one of her staples. She hired me to run a voguing troop and I would see Ru and we would be like hey girl. It wasn’t really serious, we would see each other every night for however many years. I went into (music trio) Seduction and then The Soul System and I had a song on The Bodyguard Soundtrack the same time Supermodel of the World came out. We did a music expo in New York City and ran into each other, I was like I don’t know if you remember me and he replied, Girl I’ve been watching you for years. You are a superstar, of course I know who you are. I used to watch your skinny blonde ass on stage in the girl group and you would own that stage, there was nobody else on stage but you. I was like, Oh my god I love you!"

A few years later the pair reconnected and the rest is history.

"1996 rolled around, I hadn’t seen much of him as I was on tour. I had been trying to break into radio because I had been a radio geek my entire life and it was a dream of mine. There was a radio station in New York launching during fashion week and I guess they contacted Ru because she was so hot and what a great way to launch a radio station. I had been auditioning with different DJ’s and they brought in RuPaul, we saw each other and it was like the heavens opened. It was like a reunion. We didn’t know we would be working together and we came in that Monday morning, looked at each other, went on air and it was magical. They hired us that first day and offered us contracts. That is how our working relationship started was at WKTU radio station. Then came the VH1 show and so on and we’ve been inseparable ever since."

It seemed logical that Visage would be part of Drag Race from day 1 but some roadblocks prevented her.

"We had been working together all those years so when it was thought up and created, I was in the mix. I was working in radio and had a boss who wouldn’t let me take off more than a week to do the show. You can’t do a show in a week so I had to say no. I found out later that the boss was a homophobe. So I had to go on with my contractual duties. They called me again when Season 3 rolled around - there was no way I was going to say no. I went above my boss’ head to the Vice President of the company and asked and he gave me his blessing. So I took my rightful seat."

There is a lot that goes into creating the hour of TV between the show and Untucked. Visage gave GayCalgary Magazine a look at a day in the life of a Drag Race judge.

"My day is a lot longer than Santino’s because I have to do hair and makeup and he just polishes his head now that he has shaved his hair off. My call time is seven, which is one hour less than Ru. I like to take my time, I get up early, exercise and go to the set. I meet makeup at 7am and hair comes at 8. I have my music blaring which is usually show tunes which drives everyone crazy but that’s who I am. It is hair and makeup for four hours before we get on set. It is a lot of work but also a lot of fun. I’m sitting next to my best friend and on the other side of me is a really fun guest judge. There is a lot of people running up asking me to stop laughing. I am always getting in trouble for that, but it is so much fun! I try not to make Ru laugh and I do and I can’t help it. We usually wrap on judging day between 8 and 9pm. It is a really long day but it is fun, I wouldn’t trade it for the world."

Out of a 14 hour day maybe 15 minutes from judging makes the show, but Visage explained it is the important parts that make air.

"Anything that is really funny always makes it on the show. World of Wonder has genius editors who know exactly what needs to be on. The stuff that you don’t see isn’t worth viewing. It is reality in the sense that I am just being me, Ru is being herself and the queens are just being the queens. They wait for those magical moments and when they happen there is no way they will hit the floor. What hits the floor is the boring stuff that you wouldn’t care about anyway," she said before talking about the guest judges. "I have to tell you they have all been wonderful. The thing about our guest judges that makes them different from every other show is they are not being paid to be there. They are super fans of the show. Khloe Kardashian is on this season and was like, I can’t tell you how much I live for this show. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is the same thing, he and his husband don’t miss an episode. Neil Patrick Harris, same thing. They are super super fans of the show. It is beautiful because it shows how impactful the show is."

The segment "just between us girls" often takes a lot of discussion before Ru declares it is time to "bring back my girls."

"It can go anywhere from half an hour to two hours depending on how many queens there are. When we are down to four or five it goes a lot quicker but when there are 14 it takes forever. Because we really talk and get into it and out of that comes those golden moments. I wish we could do some sort of special where we air full deliberations because it is really interesting to see how we go back and forth on our opinions. It is the most fun part of the show, everybody feels like they can let down their guard and say what they are feeling because the queens aren’t there. Sometimes the guest judges don’t want to say the wrong thing because they don’t want to hurt the queens’ feelings even though that is how they feel. Some don’t care, like Ross Matthews and Johnny Weir will tell them, but a lot of them, especially the girls, are like I don’t want to hurt their feelings. I am like, girl you need to go for it. You aren’t hurting them you are helping them because they might not see themselves the same way you are. Don’t just let me be the bitch back me up! It is really amazing to watch how we go back and forth and the fighting between me and Santino."

At times Visage also clashes with the queens, but takes pride when her feedback is taken into consideration.

"I hope I am helping. What I am doing is not for me, I am hoping it is having a positive influence and they are listening. When I see (Season 5 winner) Jinkx now she is like Mamma Michelle look at how big my hair is. These are moments where I feel good where they listen and it makes a positive impact on the way they feel about themselves. She knows how glamorous she looks compared to when she first came out. She just needed to be pushed out of her comfort zone. That is what it is about. I judge from a place of love, it is me trying not to change anybody. Santino will tell me I am tacky, duh. That is me, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap, to quote Dolly Parton, and that’s the way I like it. I would never ask a queen to change their esthetic or who they are permanently. I am trying to push them out of their comfort zone to try something they would never do to be a bigger, more well-rounded queen. 99% of the time when they do it, it is like, oh my god I never thought I could pull this off. It’s a moment of pride. If people ever complain to me or come after me on twitter it means they don’t get it. It’s not mean, it is tough love."

Season 6 has already had its share of surprises. The 14 queens were split into two groups for RuPaul’s "Big Openings." The other bombshell dropped? No immunity. Every season has twists and surprises that stun the audience and queens, and Visage herself.

"You’d think being RuPaul’s best friend I would get some sort of heads up. The first episode that we shoot I grab my tea, I go into his dressing room and we talk about the queens and who’s who. I don’t otherwise see them until they hit the stage. I really like the whole shock of first impressions. Sometimes if they do a challenge, the producers ask if I want to see the finished product before I get up there. I always wait because I like my reaction to be organic and genuine. So I find out at the same time as the cast. I had no idea about the no immunity, or if he is going to save 2 queens or let 2 go. I know nothing and I like it that way, for the surprises to happen organically. They keep me really far away from the queens during the show. This is the first season I met them all before the show aired because I did host premier parties this year. The time I spend with them is very limited, when we are taping I don’t get to meet them. I don’t know what they are doing backstage or in the work room, I am completely segregated from them which makes sense. In Season 3 when I lived in Florida I stayed in a different hotel from them. The thought is that if we all get together and kiki I will start having a love affair with the queens. I could judge and stay unbiased...if I am not allowed to hang out with them until the season is done. Then we all get close. But for the most part I don’t know any of the season 6 girls. It is pretty funny when they meet me for the first time after I have judged them, you never know how they are going to react. I do love them all, anybody who gets in a pair of heels, big hair and a dress, it takes nerve."

The show features a lot of drama and emotion as well. A few moments stand out as really affecting Visage in the judging room.

"For me I am a stoic bitch, I am a Virgo and not a crier. It takes a lot to move me. The one that pulled out the most tears for me because it was so close to home was Roxxxy being left at the bus stop by her mother when she was 3. I am an adopted kid so I know what it is like to feel abandoned. Being a mom I couldn’t imagine leaving my child on a bus bench to never return again. I think because I am adopted and a mom, that cut me to the bone. They didn’t even show how much I was crying because it was ridiculous. Then Ru started crying, and it was trying to get it together - we didn’t want to take away her moment. That is the most powerful moment for me. When Yara Sofia just gave up and broke down, that one hurt me a lot for her."

RuPaul continues to inspire fans, queens and friends. This includes Visage, who through the years has had advice and moments with Ru that made an impact.

"Ru is one of the most evolved human beings I know and he has worked really hard at it. I have been there for a lot of phases of Ru. To see how he evolved spiritually in his life is inspiring. Two things he has said will always ring true to me. One was about our friendship during VH1. It was always a dream of mine to be a VJ on VH1 or MTV. I thought I would be a perfect fit on MTV but it never happened. He brought me to VH1 and they started using me for other stuff like red carpet interviews. He was driving us back from the radio station and heading into the city to shoot.  He does as much for me as he does for himself, and people don’t do that. Especially in our business people are so selfish, nobody wants to help anybody ever. He always looks out for me and says how can I get Visage involved. I looked at him and said, Thank you so much for helping this dream come true. He said bitch, I bring you because you make me look good. That was his way of saying I will always be looked out for. He feels completely comfortable around me, I will never let him fall or leave him dangling and no one will get to him, they would have to go through me, and vice versa. We are very much that way still. It was his way of saying you’re amazing and I wouldn’t do anything without you. I have had my ups and downs over the years through many things in life. I go to him for everything; that is what you do with your best friend. He said to me at the radio station, I am not surprised at all that you are the one that they paired me with. You are a hustler, the universe has never and will never let you down. You will never fail you will always succeed at everything you try to do. Any time I feel down or this is it I am going to stop trying - there are other people more talented or better singers - I think of him saying that and that is what keeps me going a lot. He is the only one who ever said it that way. A lot of people may not know it but I have been making a living professionally since I was 19 years old, and I am 45. There has got to be talent there somewhere it can’t all be luck."

Although it is already taped, Visage is on the roller coaster that we as an audience are on, having not yet seen Untucked or other aspects of the shows. Expect another amazing season as the queens race to the finish line.

"You can see right out of the box we are changing things, Ru and World of Wonder is like that because they don’t want it to be predictable and boring. I love that they think that way. For season 6 I think for me in particular - and I said this to Ru as we were taping it - I couldn’t believe how strong of a group it was this time. Usually you can see three that are like sacrificial lambs. A lot of the time their audition tapes are incredible because they had someone do the tape for them or edited the shit out of it, it doesn’t even look like them. They get there in person and you are like who’s that? They can’t live up to the tape. I tell the queens when you make your tape make it real, because if it is all smoke and mirrors, what’s the point. This season there is not a lot of that, if any. They all bring something really strong and seasoned to the table. This is the first season I’ve looked at the whole crew and went this is really strong, it’s going to be nitpicking to judge, they are that talented. That gets me excited."


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