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Alexis Michelle describes her run on Drag Race All Stars 8 as – no surprise here – “controversial”: “I take responsibility. I said what I said. I did what I did. Did I feel great about it then? Not necessarily. Do I feel great about it now? Not necessarily.”

From her seemingly duplicitous lipstick choices to the hysterical outbursts that memorably elicited viral death stares from Jessica Wild, as well as her perplexing stance in the Kandy Muse, Heidi N Closet and Jimbo saga, Alexis took centre stage in a majority of this season’s conflama. (Give her a producing-related Primetime Emmy now.)

While the Sister Mary Koontz star arguably deserves her flowers for elevating a rather divisive season of Drag Race, her social media has been a feeding ground for “possessive” trolls who “feel a sense of ownership” over their favourite queens: “I appreciate fans’ obsession with it. It is the LGBTQIA+ Olympics. […] Just remember that it’s a show for entertainment.”

Read ahead for our interview with Alexis Michelle, where she breaks down “the truth” behind all of her controversies, whether she had a game plan and why it’s important for online trolls to focus on “real foes from outside of the [LGBTQ+] community”.

Alexis, I would like to shower you with praise for providing us with some unforgettable entertainment this season. All Stars 8 wouldn’t have been the same without you.

So I’ve been told! I’ve got to say, I really don’t think of myself that way. I generally just don’t. It’s not to say that I don’t value who I am or what I do, or think the art that I do is not quality. But, I just don’t necessarily see myself [in a comedic way]. But yeah, I’ve been told many times that I brought the drama.

You and Alyssa Edwards both fall under the ‘unintentionally hilarious’ category, which is a great place to be, right?

And I appreciate that, too, because there’s been a lot of talk about my ‘strategy’ and my ‘game’. To be honest, I wish I had better game! Better game in competitions and dating. So, it is unintentional! I think the comparison to Alyssa is good, I agree. My god, to be in the company of such a legendary queen!

Watching you this season, I never once considered that you had a game plan.

Going into Drag Race the first time I was like, ‘I want to do it all. I want to win.’ I said to myself, ‘You’ve got to get halfway’ because that meant Snatch Game. But this time around, I said, ‘It’s going to be out of your control, so be authentically yourself.’ Obviously, it’s great to show your talents, but I felt like what I didn’t represent the first time was my values as a queen and an artist. And certainly, the queen I am now visually is very different from season nine. So, my biggest goal was to look a million bucks. I’m very grateful to my designers for the hard work they put in.

A design challenge sent you home on season nine and this time around, you conquered. Alexis Michelle is now a fashion queen?

I get the feeling that people will not consider me a fashion queen, not just for that design challenge. There were a couple other moments…

Oh, the blue dress and the fur from season nine? What I’m about to say will ruffle some feathers: I didn’t think that look was… that… bad?

You’re very generous! I don’t think it was ugly, but it was too simple. Something I wish they still did on All Stars is the rudemption runways. I was going to redeem that look. I’ve got a vision! I’ve had a sketch for years. It was going to be a fully structured, corseted satin swimsuit with breast cups, high cut on the leg and maybe a little off-the-shoulder moment. It would’ve been heightened, beyond.

What was it like for you, watching the events of All Stars 8 unfold? Did it play out how you remembered it?

Yes and no. This is not a ‘Blame It On The Edit’ moment, but people have to understand that we film all day – long days – and it’s a one-hour program, so there are moments that get removed. Context gets lost. So you’re like, ‘I remember that, but it didn’t necessarily happen like that’ or there were other things that we didn’t see that were part of the conversation. It’s a context thing, which changes how you watch it and it’s different from your memory of how it happened. I know I had a few controversial moments and I take responsibility. I said what I said. I did what I did. Did I feel great about it then? Not necessarily. Do I feel great about it now? Not necessarily. But, I do have to take ownership of it, for better or worse.

The word “controversial” in this context does make me chuckle a little bit because it’s a reality competition series with drag queens. This is what the cast and viewers sign up for?

I don’t want to minimise people’s feelings or LaLa’s experience and wanting to progress in the competition. Those are all real things. But, there’s certainly no bad blood between me and LaLa, so people should really get over it because we treated it for what it is, which is as you said, a reality competition. To look at this through the most positive and compassionate lens, I think the beauty of Drag Race is that it’s so important to people, where they feel a sense of ownership over it. Within that ownership, they see us as theirs. There’s a certain possessive quality. So, when somebody who is one of theirs is hurt or not treated the way they’d like, they take it so personally. I’m gonna tell you an anecdote that supports this. I had an experience where someone sent me a pretty ugly message and I had a playful retort back. They were talking about how bald I am and my response was, ‘You realise you’ll lose your hair for this, right?’ About a week later, they wrote me back and said, ‘I want to apologise for being terrible to you.’ They explained they were in a car accident, lost use of a couple parts of their body and hadn’t emotionally gotten over it. From time to time, they would spew hate at people and it made them feel better, temporarily. I said to them, ‘I understand why you’re doing it to me, but it’s going to eat at you. Maybe this can be the end of that cycle for you.’ I wish that person the best and hope they can heal and grow from that experience. I appreciate fans’ obsession with it. It is the LGBTQIA+ Olympics. It’s great what Drag Race has done for the queer and drag communities, bringing it into living rooms. Just remember that it’s a show for entertainment, and it is ultimately celebrating the human experience. Don’t get confused by the sensational aspect of it, and just be kind to one another – particularly within our community when real foes from outside of the community are attacking us and trying to take our rights. Particularly our trans brothers and sisters, they need all of our support right now. As RuPaul said, these are diversionary tactics. The most important thing we can do is vote, vote, vote.

With all the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and bills introduced around the world, particularly in the US, it feels insane to me that queer people are attacking each other over a show that celebrates queerness?

It’s hard. Jackie Cox pointed out to me that it’s so much easier for us as people to focus on the one nasty thing we hear, versus all of the wonderful things. As queer people, when we fear for our wellness and safety, we go into survival and protection mode. I think that’s part of the reason. It’s much easier to live and focus on positivity and love. It’s easier on our bodies and minds. We all have room to grow.

It sounds like you’re in a healthy place. The online backlash has been quite severe this season, so how are you preserving and protecting your mental health?

I’m well, thank you. It’s really important to focus on real life because we’re talking about social media, and that isn’t real life. What I try to do is focus on real things. Last week, I had two sold-out shows at the Public Theater in New York City, which has been a longtime dream of mine. To have people laughing, screaming, crying… it was everything. That’s real. Cooking for family and friends, that’s real.

Shall we talk about some of those “controversial” moments?

Let me shine some light on those rough moments! The first that people were up in arms about was me throwing Darienne Lake under the bus on our perfume challenge. Yes, I said what I said on the runway, ‘Ultimately, this was Darienne’s idea.’ I was a bit traumatised, having gone through this same challenge on my first season and thinking we had done so well as a team, and then being critiqued harshly. I froze up when we were given the challenge. So when we were working together, I did speak up. I said, ‘I’m not sure if this idea is going to translate’ but my teammates felt very gung-ho about it. I should’ve fought harder and said, ‘What about this?’ because I did have the other idea. I want to say, it was a privilege to work with Jaymes and Darienne. They are funny, talented and pros. And so I’m sorry to them, sorry for not speaking up. Contextually, it’s important for people to know that I didn’t just say, ‘This wasn’t my idea, it was hers.’ There was a lot more nuance. This isn’t cry me a river. But, if you look at some of the things I’ve been criticised for in comparison to some other shit that’s gone down on the show, I pale in comparison. It really wasn’t such a big thing, particularly in the context of how that conversation went down. Darienne and I are cool. Before the show started airing, I spent the weekend in Rochester with Darienne and Kasha and it was a grand old time.

There was a lot of confusion over what you did – or didn’t hear – in Kandy Muse’s alleged plan to eliminate Jimbo. What is the truth behind that?

First of all, this had nothing to do with me. Heidi has since apologised for dragging me into that. It set me up for more controversy because it looked like I was admitting to something, then  taking it back or backpedalling – whatever you want to call it. Here’s the truth of what happened and what you saw come over my face. Heidi was referencing a conversation between her and Kandy, where other people were present. There was an area where we would spend time while filming. I asked Heidi to remind me what she was talking about because I didn’t remember what she was talking about – even now. So, she told me about where we were when this conversation happened and she said I was in the doorway and overheard it, but didn’t say anything. Then, I left the room. So I said, ‘Okay, very possible.’ But I wasn’t going to say, ‘No I wasn’t there.’ I certainly wasn’t part of the conversation. The reason I look so confused in that moment is separate from that. Off camera, Jimbo came to me and said, ‘I feel weird. Heidi said she heard X, Y and Z from Kandy. Have you heard that?’ I said to Jimbo, ‘I haven’t heard that, but I wouldn’t be surprised.’ That’s not a dig at Kandy, it’s just that we were in a competition. Kandy is competitive. So when I looked confused I was like, ‘I heard about this, but in the way that I’m being asked.’ I didn’t feel like it was my place to speak to what Jimbo said to me in confidence off-camera. It didn’t feel like the time to be airing out Jimbo’s laundry.

After this debacle, you received a bit of flack for your lipstick choices: LaLa and then Jessica. What did you make of that?

I understood why people were upset. Again, contextually it looks worse than it was. It looks like I was like, ‘Yes I will save you’ even though I never said those words. I’ve been amazed at people’s ability to either misunderstand language or their selective hearing. I did not make a promise that I didn’t keep. I understand why it felt that way. I’m not stupid. I’m not being ignorant or dismissive of people’s interpretation. But let’s be real: I didn’t.

Didn’t you just say, ‘I will never forget this’?

And the passage of time between that conversation and when I had to pick a lipstick felt huge. When it came to that decision, there was a lot to consider. There were a couple things that did impact it on an emotional level that had to do with me and Kandy; both having a history here in New York and being perceived a certain way by Drag Race fans. That hit me at my core. But, I also looked at their comparative performance in the season. Whether or not that translated, that’s what I was going off of. And if you look at how I voted, it was the same way the group voted every single week – until my elimination. The group all chose me because of the judges’ critiques. Now, whether the judges’ critiques were based on my performance, that’s another story because I don’t think they were. I have no resentments against the top three for pulling mine. And I know Jessica doesn’t care that I picked hers because we all had to make a difficult decision. I know LaLa doesn’t either. She said it was a lot to process at first, but she said she quickly got over it.

In a previous interview, you expressed frustration with the current All Stars format, so what change would you like to see implemented in future seasons?

I think particularly on All Stars the non-elimination format would be ideal. I think the majority of viewers would prefer to see the queens present their full packages. Plus, more gals in the game equals more fun.

This interview features in the August 2023 edition of GAY TIMES Magazine. To read the full issue, click here