Michelle Visage chats about all things 'RuPaul's Drag Race'
RuPaul's right hand woman Michelle Visage shares all things Drag Race related from the UK queens to the difference between the British and US versions.
Why did you want to be part of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK?
Not only did I want to take part, I was the driving force behind getting it made. I have spent so much time in the UK over the past six or seven years and I knew how many people watched "RuPaul’s Drag Race", the US version.
Every single time I came to the UK to do a gig at clubs like G.A.Y. or wherever, the line would be around the corner and it would be sold out.
As a producer I thought, ‘These kids need their own version of the show. It means so much to them.’ And that’s how the whole thing started. I’ve been selling my soul to get this made.
What’s the difference between UK and US shows?
There’s a difference if we’re speaking about the aesthetic of the drag queens.
Otherwise, drag represents the same thing to everybody for the most part – it represents a middle finger to society and a safe haven for people who really don’t feel accepted or themselves in their own skin all the time.
And even though you look at it and you say, ‘These queens don’t look like American queens,’ maybe it all represents the same thing. The British sense of humour is different – it’s so sarcastic and dry and funny and that’s why I fit in here.
So the show is very British at its core but it absolutely translates, and the American fans and fans in all these other countries are going to fall in love with Drag Race UK.
Can you describe the aesthetic difference between US and UK drag queens?
Aesthetically anywhere you go, drag differs from city to city. The UK queens care so much about their performance level and have so much heart. US queens have heart and care about performances, too, but they care even more about what they look like.
In the UK they have an attitude of: ‘I did this for reasons I needed to do this, not to pass or to please you.’ But don’t get me wrong – some UK drag queens are highly polished, like The Vivienne.
Did anything about the Drag Race UK surprise you?
I’ve always challenged the queens to try to surprise me and you’ll see in episode one how I was surprised at how one of the queens used makeup – in an anti-makeup way. I’d never even thought about that happening, and when she did it, I was like, ‘What?! Mind blown.’
If you were to do a performance, what song would you pick?
It would probably be something from musical theatre because I’m a theatre kid. It would have to be a whole production as well, not just lip synching to a song! It would probably something by Liza or Judy or Patti LuPone.
Did you know the guest judges beforehand?
I know Graham Norton from "Drag Race: All Stars" in the US and we’ve stayed friends over the years, and [guest judge] Alan Carr and I became friends a couple of years ago, so working with them was just natural.
Andrew Garfield is a personal friend of mine and he’s such a huge fan of the show that when I asked him to be a guest judge on the first show, he was like, ‘Are you kidding me?!’ Jade Thirlwall is another personal friend and a lover of drag and drag queens.
Having Dame Twiggy on was a very big deal for us because she’s an absolute iconic fashion legend and then Michaela Cole – I’ve been a fan of hers since "Chewing Gum" and "Black Mirror" and I was fangirling hard with her. The best thing is that the guest judges are super fans of the show.
Do you think it’s scarier to perform before RuPaul or the judges on "Strictly Come Dancing"?
I think it’s probably scarier to perform in front of Ru and his judges because I am scary. I really am! That’s my job.
The Strictly judges are amazing; they give great feedback and are wonderful. Is it scary? Yeah, but the scary is not being judged for me, because I know what I signed up for.
For me the scary part s standing on my own two feet and doing a dance I’ve never heard of, let alone seen before, but I knew when I signed up that there was a panel of four very tough judges. They won’t forgive even a millisecond of mistakes.
Shirley Ballas is a legend, everybody wants a critique from her. She’s taught the best of the best.
Motsi Mabuse is such a great addition to the show. Bruno is so much fun and so fantastic and Craig is me, so I know exactly what’s going on. They’re all fantastic.
RuPaul’s Drag Race has an enormous global following. Why is that?
A very small part of the show has to do with drag. It took so long to get made in the UK because I think commissioners thought it was about boys dressing up in girls’ clothing. Yes, it’s got a small part of that, that’s the part we look forward to in the lip synch.
But all the stuff leading up to that moment is about grit and determination and tenacity of the human spirit and love. When the queens all get in the workroom and talk, they’re there for each other.
There are kids watching who feel like they didn’t have a place growing up – whether because of parents using religion to hide hate behind and [sending their kids to] conversion therapy or whatever – who find a place on "Drag Race".
A massive part of this audience is young – I’m talking 12, 13, 14 – and it’s not just queer and trans or gay and lesbian kids, it’s about any person who feels like they don’t fit in to the mainstream. They watch this show and realise, ‘I’m not alone.’ So the queens become their tribe.
* RuPaul's Drag Race UK on BBC Brit, DStv channel 120, from Tuesday April 21 at 9pm.