Michelle Visage spills the T on, well… everything.
2020 is really the year of Michelle Visage, huh? As well as continuing to serve critiques on the RuPaul’s Drag Race panel with her signature bold lip, the Seduction songstress is branching out with not one, but two spin-off series for the BBC.
Get Off Your Ass will combine Michelle’s New Jersey sass, warmth, wit and wisdom as she dishes out advice to those who need to embrace their “warrior mentality”, while How’s Your Head, Hun? aims to lift our spirits during the coronavirus lockdown.
That’s not all – later this year, the self-described “anglophile” will be sashaying back over to the UK for the highly-successful Werq the World Tour with several of the most legendary Drag Race contestants in HERstory.
Pre-lockdown, we caught up with Michelle at the Leonardo Royal Hotel London City to discuss, well, everything: Drag Race US, UK, All Stars, Get Off Your Ass, Strictly Come Dancing, Madonna, RuPaul and Nicki Minaj.
It’s a long read, but there’s a lot of T. Grab a cuppa and get your jush below.
So, Werq the World is now playing in arenas…
Can you believe it? Can you believe it? I can’t believe it.
I’m gobsmacked. Ten years ago, did you have any idea?
Not at all. No. Ten years ago, I had just started doing the gay clubs again. When I first started doing Drag Race, I walked away from 17 years of radio. I was overlapping them for a while, and god bless my partner down in Miami. I would wrap filming Drag Race at 9pm and then go to the radio station in Burbank, so I would drive 45 minutes, and he would be waiting up in Miami to record that morning, so he’d be staying up until two or three in the morning to record our morning show. After doing that for two years, Ru said to me, ‘You should really be living here. You’re a television person. You’re a TV star. You should be living in Hollywood.’ So I was like, ‘Okay…’ I really wasn’t making enough because Drag Race was still a baby show, and it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, not Michelle’s Drag Race. I had to take all the money that I had earned in radio and live off of that. I was the sole breadwinner for our family of four, still am, but because our money was so tight, my kids wanted to run track and field and I was unable to pay for it. I decided to go back to the gay clubs where I started and perform there and host anything they needed. On the off months I would host drag pageants, whatever they needed, to supplement my income. The gay bars have always been there for me so I will always be there for them. It’s amazing to see it come from that… to playing these arenas. So ten years ago, when I started back at the gay clubs? No. Not at all. I did not expect it to be on this level. This is next level shit. It’s unbelievable, and I for one, do not take any of it for granted. I am eternally grateful for each and every person that buys a ticket to come and see us because it’s not cheap. You have to fly all of us, all of our shit and all of our production overseas. That’s why the tickets cost what they do. Trust me, we ain’t getting paid a lot to do it!
From gay bars to gay arenas!
Can you actually believe it? A queer television show made by queer people for queer people is playing arenas. Like, who would have thought?
It feels like drag events are becoming the next big rock concert.
Our first DragCon here was massively successful. Too successful – we’re going to be finding bigger venues from now on! It kind of is the Woodstock of our generation, these type of things. It’s a gift to be able to be part of it, to be able to do it, to meet everybody. My line was incredibly long at DragCon and I was not only humbled, but I like to give people time. They’re paying to meet us, because again, it has to offset the price of coming and buying merchandise and all that. I appreciate everybody who waits in a four hour line… to meet little old me. That’s why I can’t just go, ‘Picture. Next! Picture. Next!’ I want to hear what you have to say. I want to hug you and I want to know how your life has been changed – if that’s what you want to share with me. Whatever it is you want to tell me, I want to be there for you. That’s why DragCon is so special.
Not only are you bringing Werq the World here again, but you’re returning to our screens with your own BBC show!
I do! Get Off Your Ass!
How did you get this off the ground?
I got on my knees! Just kidding… You know, I was lucky enough that one of the commercial owners from BBC dug my outlook on life and my take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred attitude of perseverance, being a hustler and helping people find their way through life. That’s what Get Off Your Ass is about, you can’t sit there and complain and not do anything about it. Get out of that victim mentality and get into your warrior mentality. If you’re at home and you know you want something, but something’s getting in your way, we need to help you get off your ass so you can go and get it. It’s real advice for real people and that’s really what it is about. Stop making excuses. Let’s figure out what’s bothering you from achieving what you want to achieve. Let’s get it done, so you can shut the fuck up and get off your ass!
I need this show, I tell ya. What can we expect from Club Visage?
Club Visage is part of Get Off Your Ass. It’s me, so it’s not going to be buttoned up and boring. The setting has to be fun and comfortable and allowing people to relax, so there might be a drink or two involved… It’s going to be a fun, loving, all-welcoming, all-inclusive, everybody included atmosphere. That’s just the setting of Get Off Your Ass. It’s very colourful, camp and real. It’s loosening you up so you can talk about what it is, because it’s personal.
So we can expect some tears?
It’s all of the above. It’s real talk, but it’s fun. It’s meant to be helpful, and even though I may be talking to one person, it’s also a message for everybody to go, ‘You know what? That resonates with me too.’ If it can help him, her, you, that’s what it’s about.
Why was The Vivienne the right queen to do this with?
The Vivienne is not only our winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK season one, but she’s also a style icon in the sense that part of this show is a makeover – if that wasn’t clear! It’s a talk show but also has a makeover element because you always feel better when you get a little jush! Yes, you have an issue of getting this big block out of your life, but we’re also going to jush you up so you’re ready to take on this next chapter in your life. The Vivienne is a very accomplished makeup artist, she’s incredibly skilled, and she knows style. So, who better to help us with the makeover element than Viv, our winner?
I assume you’ll be pulling out some lewks yourself?
Of course, I’m always pulling out some lewks! I’ve got my squad with me, the Michelle Visage Glam Squad, they will be there. I told you, it’s not going to be daytime boring. It’s glamorous and fun, yet real. I’m not here to intimidate. It’s not me judging a queen and telling her why she’s letting me down or why she’s lifting me up. This is me, helping you in life.
Can you tell me anything about the celebrity guests, or is that under wraps?
It is under wraps because we’re still booking! The names that have been bambied about are very good, because these are people who have gone through stuff publicly and are willing to talk about it to help people affect change in their lives. I wanna hear what people gone through and how they’ve risen above it and how that story can help somebody going through the exact same thing. Because if they’re going through it, there’s others who are as well. Not even some others, there’s hundreds of thousands to millions of people. Think about online bullying, think about alcoholism, think about addiction – whatever it is, there’s somebody going through it.
I assume you’ve sent an invitation to Madonna?
[Laughs] Madonna gets an invite to everything that I do! Anything! Madonna is always number one.
Has she ever responded?
It’s alright, she’s a little bit busy. She’s got a busted hip. When we went to see Madame X before my knee surgery, I could see the kind of pain she was in. She was doing the things that I was doing, she was compensating for her hip, whereas I would compensate for my knee. They kept saying knee but I think it was her hip because she was able to go down on her knees. Honey, if your knee was hurt like mine was, there’s no way you can down on your knees. I saw her wincing in pain and it was real. It wasn’t bullshit. She wasn’t being late to be late, it was real and I felt her pain. Poor baby. She’s my champ.
So, we have to talk about Drag Race season 12 – especially the premiere.
What did you think?
One of the best premieres in HERstory?
It was phenomenal, and then Nicki Minaj! How amazing was she? She said my name in a rap by the way. I feel so accomplished!
What was it like being on the panel with her?
Unbelievable. You know in edits, they like to do a side eye of me all the time, but we got on great. If you listen to the What’s The T podcast… it’s such a great interview. What I loved about Nicki is that she was so, I don’t want to say ‘real’ because it’s a stupid term, but she was genuine, honest and herself. When superstars come in, you don’t know what you’re going to get. You don’t know if they’re going to be standoffish, not nice, a total cold person like Jessie J was to us when we did the tour in Australia. But Nicki? She was amazing. Sometimes we don’t know how they’ll be when we ask them to do the podcast either, they can be like, ‘I’ll have to go through my manager or my agent.’ Nope. She was like, ‘Yep, I’m in. Let me get my lunch and I’ll meet you in there.’ So real. Again, did you know she said my name in a rap? If you missed it, it’s on iTunes.
I need an official remix!
I know! Somebody did it on Twitter and it was really good.
Also, Jessie J? I’m surprised.
I don’t care if you put that in there. It wasn’t nice.
Out of all the pop divas in the world…
I know. We were so excited too. She wasn’t nice. I was so excited and then I was like, ‘Boo!’ Let me tell you, there’s few voices that could hold up to hers. That bitch can sang, oh my god. It made me sad, which is why I don’t want to meet Madonna. I don’t want to be let down!
No! She’s on a pedestal, and I always talk about her being a judge on Drag Race but I think I’d be shitting my pants the whole time. I’d have a nappy on.
Let’s say she was the guest star for the Drag Race season 13 premiere…
I’d die. I’D DIE!
Which Madonna song would you like to see lip-synced to?
Express Yourself is my favourite Madonna song, for many reasons. There’s so many and people ask all the time. There’s different genres, there’s different eras, so to pick a favourite is hard. But if I had to say my all time favourite, it’s Express Yourself.
We’ve already have that lip-synced to…
I know. Okay, Borderline, Lucky Star…
Frozen. Take a Bow. Even Live to Tell. There’s so many!
Who is on your wishlist for future seasons?
Madonna. Liza Minelli. Dolly Parton. Cher. Reba McEntire. This is the list that goes out every single year and people think it’s us going, ‘Ask this person. Ask that person.’ They go out when the show gets recommissioned every year and the first thing they do is send it out to these people. The problem is, it’s a lot harder for the older people to sit there for 12 hours. It’s not easy for them. But the biggest problem is scheduling conflicts because when we film, it’s mostly when everyone is touring. Lady Gaga happened by coincidence. She happened to be filming American Horror Story and they gave her a day off unintentionally. She called up and said, ‘I’m free this day.’ It just so happened to coincide with the premiere. So, that’s what happens. The list goes out to all the people you’re thinking of, and it’s their scheduling conflicts. It happens every single year.
What about Britney?
We’ve asked Britney. We always ask Britney. She was in Vegas for the longest time. Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, same thing. Vegas. It’s hard! We ask them all. Just know it. It’s not that we’re not asking them.
I’m personally dying to see Gwen Stefani.
What You Waiting For would be an incredible lip-sync song.
Which one? “What you waiting, what you waiting, what you waiting for?” Yeah. That’s a good one. I’d like Just a Girl though. Take it back old school! I love Gwen.
This is why I hope the show goes on until season 50, so we can see all these.
Same. We’ll just get facelifts in there somewhere.
So, All Stars 5. I know you can’t say anything…
It’s being called a “special edition” – why?
Is it? Why?
The Showtime announcement called it a “special edition” of Drag Race.
Really? Oh. Maybe because it’s on Showtime? Maybe that’s why. It’s REALLY good.
What do you get more excited for? The regular seasons or All Stars?
It’s a different excitement. Regular season it’s like, ‘I can’t wait to see new queens that I didn’t know about.’ I usually know one or two, just from my journeys and sometimes the ones that I didn’t know will go, ‘I met you, girl.’ But they’ve grown or changed or I’ve met them in a dressing room, know what I mean? Or in a bathroom at a club. So that’s my favourite part about that, seeing talent I didn’t know. With All Stars, I get a different feeling because it’s like, ‘Oh right. I’ve toured with you. I’ve worked with you. I know what you bitches can do,’ which is why the whole Adore Delano thing happened. I know what they’re capable of. I’ve seen it every night for months on a tour! So don’t get up here and half ass it! That’s the different approach, because I know them. But my favourite part of All Stars is seeing them grow and show us how they’ve grown. That’s so exciting, to see someone you haven’t seen in a couple of seasons and be like, ‘Oh my god! You’ve grown so much!’ It’s like when your kid grows, it’s so rewarding. I love that, so it’s a different feeling but both are very exciting.
Do you and Adore still disagree over her talent show runway?
We understand each other and we understood each other, which is why it hurt her, I think. I love her like one of mine and it’s really true love. I adore her and she’s so fucking talented. Because I love them so much, it does pain me to say, ‘Okay. I expected more. That was not your best. I know your best.’ We all do have an off day. I look at me on some of the shows and be like, ‘Ooh Michelle! That wasn’t your best day.’ I can look in the mirror and say, ‘Today is not a good day.’ That’s life, but in life we’re not being critiqued in the way we are when we do these shows. I just got critiqued on Strictly. I adore her, and we have a beautiful relationship.
Here’s hoping she comes back for All Stars 6, 7 or 8…
I’m always open to that, because I know what she can do.
Speaking of Strictly, you turnedt it out every week.
Thank you! It was the best adult decision I’ve made in the past 10 years. I told my best friend that if I could do it in every country, please sign me up. I’ll do it anywhere. Lithuania? I’m in. I loved it so much. It combines everything that I love; drama, drag, hair, makeup, dancing, costumes. I loved it. I’m still dancing. I had to take two weeks off for knee surgery and then at the two week mark my doctor said, ‘You can dance now. Just don’t push through it.’ I went straight back. I fucking love it!
Your Vogue… I let out a Joslyn Fox-esque gasp.
Thank you. Gasp! Of course, nobody got it, but the gays did. That’s what I did it for. I said to the judges, ‘I showed you I can do Latin, I showed you I can do standard.’ I wanted to do something that’s never been done for a community that’s never let me down. You can say it’s not dancing, but it was dancing and it was fucking fierce. I don’t regret a thing and I would do it all over again, but I don’t think anyone else will Vogue on Strictly again! [Laughs] I’m so happy that I could do that for a community that means so much to me, and Gio [Pernice] was so amazing with it. Being a straight boy, he was fully in it, which was great.
We stan an ally! So if Strictly All Stars happens…
Fuck yeah! I’m in! I already told them. I went to the producers and I said, ‘Listen, I know you’ve got the Christmas special, but just here me out. If you do an All Stars, you have 17 seasons to choose from. You can go all the way back, and you don’t even need to do a full series! You can do it over the summer and maybe the final could be in Blackpool, which would be amazing. Instead of 14 weeks, we can do 10 weeks?’ I would win, let’s be real. If any of Gio’s other partners wanna come back, then they’re gonna have to wait until I win with him first! Then they can come back. Sorry Faye [Tozer], sorry Debbie [McGee], sorry Georgia [May Foote].
I’ve got my headline there. ‘Michelle Visage threatens Gio Pernice’s former Strictly partners.’
[Laughs] Sorry about it! I absolutely love it. I would do it in a heartbeat. I literally pitched it at the National Television Awards. I did. They’re not going to listen to me, obviously, but I went for it.
Well you never know, this interview might make the gays rally behind it!
Yes! Absolutely! It was the best time of my life, I loved it so much. I also dance here. I’ve got a partner that teaches me, not from Strictly, and he’s amazing. He’s wonderful and he’s a homosexual so it’s even better. A Romanian homosexual!
Oh okay… can I come dance with you?
[Laughs] And he’s so cute!
Now it’s time for me to hassle you about Drag Race UK.
Yes. Are you excited?
Why do you think the first season was such a huge success?
Because it was good! It was brilliant casting. Ru was here. It looks exactly the same except for the fact it’s quintessentially British, which was the goal all along. The only reason I did Celebrity Big Brother five years ago was to get a British version of Drag Race made. It took five years and I think it’s so ironic that it ended up on the BBC. At the end of the day, it was picked up and done where it should’ve been done and it was wonderful. The whole idea was. Drag Race US is very American and that’s great, everybody loves it, but British drag and the sense of humour is so different. I think it needed to be true to you, and it was. It’s only going to get better.
I didn’t expect to hear “gobshite” so much and I loved it.
[Laughs] It was a lot! And people have stuff to say, always. ‘Why wasn’t there Scottish queens?’ like that. Season one is always different because people hold back and say, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ Then they see it and think, ‘Fuck! I should’ve auditioned.’ So you can only go with what auditions, you can’t put actual shit on the telly. It’s got to be worthy of Ru’s standards too. I’m not saying the people that auditioned were, but my point is that maybe they weren’t ready for primetime telly or whatever the situation is. Season two was quadruple the auditioners. I haven’t seen the participants yet but I am quite sure that they’re on a different level. Boxes will be ticked. We want every part of the UK to be represented. We want the North, we want the South, we want Wales, we want Scotland, we want it all… but they have to be there to audition.
I spoke to a few queens ahead of season one and a majority said they were going to wait until season two.
See? That’s it. They want to see if it fails.
I just couldn’t imagine it failing?
You never know! But that’s okay, because it was amazing. Regionally, we got some fun accents on there. We had Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Ireland. We had them all! So hopefully we can keep going for more and more.
Has Ru picked up any of our slang?
He’s trying! He’s really trying. He’s learning all about Nando’s. We haven’t got him saying “cheeky cheeky!” yet but hopefully soon. I’m really proud of him because he’s an Aussieophile, like I’m an Anglophile, so he can tell you all the Australian slang and I sit there and look at him like, ‘What?’ It’s fun for him to look at me with British slangs and I can tell him what it means. But if I can’t, we still have Graham and Alan there too. I think I’ve gotten most of them down, but yeah. It’s cute.
This is why I’m dying to see Baga Chipz in the same room as Tammie Brown one day.
I would live for those two. Tammie Brown is one of my all-time favourites. I fucking love her.
What is your favourite lip-sync ever?
It’s a ridiculous question!
Read me Michelle!
Let me tell you why. I’m a mother of two girls and it’s a gay Sophie’s Choice when people ask me who my favourite queen is. I have to say RuPaul, because that’s true, and they all meaning something to me. I’m not going to say I love one child more than the other… There are some epic lip-syncs over the years – could you pick one?
I think I have like… three?
I always go back to Latrice Royale and Kenya Michaels to Natural Woman, Dida Ritz with Natalie Cole and Alyssa Edwards and Tatianna. There are so many! Roxxxy Andrews with Whip My Hair, I mean… that was fucking legendary. They are all so special, but there’s some really shit ones too! They continue to just kill it.
And more recently, Naomi Smalls embracing her inner stick insect against Gia Gunn.
Oh and the one in the green! She was amazing. Amazing. Nobody expected it. Nobody saw that coming.
And nobody saw her eliminating Manila Luzon…
Listen, this is life. I got eliminated for Voguing! It is what it is and this series has a very, very talented cast. Unbelievable. You’re going to be blown away as it carries on.
Werq the World will tour the UK from 29 August until 6 September – you can purchase tickets here.