‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’: Michelle Visage on the ‘Perfection’ She’s Seen Throughout Franchise History
For so long, RuPaul’s Drag Race wasn’t recognized by award shows at all. The competition series was one of the only shows made specifically for LGBTQ+ audiences for years, but thankfully, the TV landscape has evolved to catch up with its viewers. And Drag Race now has 24 Emmy wins under its belt with 11 nominations at this year’s ceremony alone, and judge Michelle Visage‘s online Whatcha Packin’ has received its first ever nomination in the Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series category. Quite the evolution.
RuPaul and Visage both rose to fame in the 1980s. While they both shot up in popularity thanks to their respective music careers (RuPaul’s solo work includes “You Better Work (Supermodel)” and Visage was in the groups Seduction and The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M.), they met in the New York City nightlife scene, brought together by the iconic nightlife personality Susanne Bartsch. As RuPaul’s legendary legend star rose, Drag Race later followed. The first season premiered in 2009 on Logo. Ru brought his squirrel friend into the fold in Season 3, and Visage has been a staple of the franchise ever since.
As a judge, Visage is known for some gloriously shady commentary. Despite the occasional blunt critique, Visage tells TV Insider that “perfection has come across in front of me many, many times on RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Here, she breaks down what that drag perfection looks like, her favorite moments from Drag Race Season 14 and RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 7, and the emotional reward she gets from Whatcha Packin’ ahead of the 2022 Emmy Awards.
Secret Celebrity Drag Race Season 2 brings back some beloved queens like Brooklyn Heights, Juju Bee, and Monét X Change as Queen Supremes. What do you think each of these queens brings to the table as a mentor?
Michelle Visage: The beauty about drag is how an individual does drag their way. And with the secret celebrities, they have these incredible mentors to guide them. It’s so amazing to watch somebody who has never done drag find their own drag voice. And that’s what a good mentor does.
A good mentor is not telling somebody how they have to do it, but maybe how it would look better or feel better or work better to bring out their personal experience first time in drag. So people like Juju, Monet, and Brooklyn, they’ve been doing it so long and they’ve grown and changed and gone through the roller coaster that is drag, so they’re wonderful mentors in helping to bring out the best that person can be.
This season will also have guest appearances from Eureka, Gottmik, Katya, Morgan McMichaels, Silky Nutmeg Ganache, and Violet Chachki. How does it feel when queens return to the show, be it on this series or the other spinoffs?
We’re a family. That’s the beauty of RuPaul’s Drag Race. And I’m not saying that to be cheesy and pageant-y. When you go through that machine, you have a kinship with the cast and crew that you really can’t explain. You just feel comfortable. And our crew, most of us have been together since Season 1. I started Season 3, but it’s the same camera people. It’s the same audio people. Everybody keeps coming back, because we all love each other and want to do this experience together. That’s the beauty of it. So when the queens come back, it’s because they had an incredible experience. And of course, another opportunity to be on TV is never a bad thing, my darling.
Can fans expect to see any jaw-dropping surprises when the secret identities are revealed?
Oh my gosh, there are so many. There are so many jaw-dropping everythings in this. I was blown away by the level of what these secret celebrities are doing, because some of them, you might be like, “Oh, OK, that makes sense.” Some of them you’re going to be like, “What?! No!” And the way they do it is incredible. I am so excited about everybody that’s participating in this, because they give all of themselves to it. You’re going to be obsessed. I didn’t want this to end. I want to do this all year round.
Going over to Season 14, what was your favorite challenge, and what was your favorite lip-sync?
There’s a lot of different challenges that I love through the whole thing, not just Season 14. And every season I have my favorites. I can’t wait for Snatch Game, good or bad.
My favorite, because of who I am, is the Rusical. “Moulin Ru” might have been one of the best ones, if not the best ever. I’ll just say it might have been, because there have been some incredible ones and it’s really hard-pressed to pick a favorite, but it’s the freshest in my mind. It’s so damn good. Everything about it. That was definitely a highlight for me for Season 14, like big time. But also the catwalk episode where we did that whole George Michael/Thierry Mugler kind of tribute.
And then what about All Stars Season 7? What stood out to you from the first ever All Winners season?
Well, the whole thing. The whole thing of not going home, having All Stars: All Winners. That season was about their relationship and interaction and navigation of who they are as stars themselves. We were flies on the wall watching that season, and that was so much fun watching it, because again, it’s something we’ve never done.
They all have their own set of rules, their own egos, their own ways of doing drag. They’re all winners. How are they going to navigate that? I think they all did an incredible job of navigating. And congratulations to our queen supreme, Jinkx Monsoon.
Her Judy Garland impression in Snatch Game killed me.
Oh! Did you see me and Ross [Mathews]? Literally, we couldn’t breathe, we were laughing so hard. And of course, you didn’t even see all of it! The whole thing was great, to be honest. Raja’s was great, too. Monet’s. There’s a lot of great ones in there.
Trinity’s Leslie Jordan — I cried. It was so good.
Oh my God. I was my pissing my pants. Agreed. And her devil, her Satan. All of it was great.
I also really loved the format of this season. Was it a nice change keeping everyone on for the full run instead of having to say goodbye to queens every week?
It was fun! It also made it lighter for them. There wasn’t the threat of the guillotine. I think that it made it so, even though they wanted it and they wanted their legendary legend star in those moments, they still fought hard for it. And I love that, because you might think, “Well, nobody’s going home.” But no, none of them sat down and took it. They were fighting for it. So there was a little bit of a respite, but not much, because they all still are competitors and they all still want to win.
I loved having a final lip-sync between Monét X Change and Trinity in the finale, because they got to have their final Twinner showdown.
Both of them are incredible lip-syncers. How are you going to lose with that one?
For you as a judge, what makes for a perfect drag performance and has anyone gotten close to perfect in your mind on the show?
I think a lot of people have their perfect for them, because there is no such thing as perfection. I remember telling Symone quite a few times there wasn’t anything I’d ever change.
I am never out to make somebody do drag that I think they should do, or change the way that they do drag. It’s just, “This is how this could have been more polished and perfected.” There have been many, many over the years, going back to Season 3 when I started, that have been as perfect as it could be in that moment. Perfection has come across in front of me many, many times on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Many times.
To you, what makes for a full package in a single drag performance?
It depends if you’re talking about performance or if you’re talking about a look. I think they all go hand in hand. I think the look makes the performance, and the performance makes the look. They really do work together. So it’s a matter of, instead of the look wearing them, them wearing the look and being in charge and being in control and owning it. Stage presence, confidence. Confidence can sell and can cover many a flaw.
I remember over the years seeing looks that were maybe ill-fitting and not right, but the confidence was so there that it was like, “I’m going to let that go because I am fully enjoying this realized moment.” They do complement one another, a look and a performance. It’s so important to have the ultimate goal be being able to perform and present the look all in one go.
What do you love most about making Whatcha Packin’?
I don’t know if people realize this, but the only time I get to see the queens that are competing is on the main stage. I never have any one-on-one time with them. I never have any hugs, any kisses, any telling them how great they were, cuddling them and taking them in my arms and saying, “Ah, I can’t tell you how you inspire me and how amazingly perfect you are as a human being” until I see them on Whatcha Packin’. So, nine times out of 10, I have never met the majority of them. And I get to sit down and say, “I love you, I think you are remarkable.”
Most of them think I hate them on the main stage, because that’s my face or I’m telling them what they could do better, whereas Carson [Kressley] and Ross’s approach isn’t quite as direct as mine. Whatcha Packin’? is the first time I get to sit and get to know them. And it’s almost like a release for both of us, where they can just breathe and say, “Oh God, thank God I’m getting to talk to you about this.” And I get to say, “Oh my God, thank God I get to explain or talk to you or ask questions!”
That’s my favorite part is literally meeting them for the first time, hugging them, and letting them know not only how amazing they are as a performer, but as a human being and how much they inspire me.
RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, Fridays, 8/7c, VH1