Singer, ‘Drag Race’ judge and soon-to-be author Michelle Visage dishes with Topher Payne
RuPaul's bestie and 'Drag Show' judge Michelle Visage dishes on finding her inner diva and stretching beyond comfort zones
Michelle Visage is a master of reinvention. She burst onto the music scene in the late ‘80s as a platinum blonde with a serious set of pipes in the trio Seduction. Their single “Two to Make it Right” hit No. 2 on the U.S. charts, and led to a tour with Milli Vanilli (a prophetic first encounter with performers lip-synching for their lives). In the late ’90s, she was the redheaded sidekick on VH1’s “The RuPaul Show,” a gone-too-soon late night chat fest which showcased Visage’s razorsharp wit, and her easy chemistry with longtime best friend RuPaul.
But it is the most recent incarnation, the raven-haired Michelle Visage, which has truly captured the zeitgeist. Seated at the right hand of Ru, Visage throws truth bombs at the runway as a judge on LOGO’s hit series, “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
Topher Payne: Okay, so I was just on your Twitter, doing a little research. And because you posted the Honey Maid video, I had to watch it again. Now I’m all aflutter.
Isn’t it beautiful? It’s so well-done, and the message is fabulous… but of course then my conspiracy theories immediately kick in, so I don’t know.
What do you mean?
Well aren’t they owned by Proctor & Gamble or someone like that?
I honestly have no idea.
See? I don’t either, and I feel like we need to check. I hope they aren’t. It’s great to have that support, but before I get too excited I try to follow up, find out where it’s coming from and why. Because it’s so fashionable for a business to get on board with gay rights right now, and you want to check whether it’s just lip service.
It’s like when you drop 20 pounds and suddenly different guys are hitting on you at the bar.
Exactly, Topher! The ones who loved you when you weren’t popular, those are your people. Or the whole thing could be authentic and I’m just overly suspicious. Unless I’m not. You have to be careful, not thinking too much, but making sure you’re thinking enough, you know what I mean? Anyway, it’s still a great message. And I like Honey Maid, I really hope they’re not evil. I used to buy them for my kids, dip ‘em in milk before they had teeth. We go way back, me and those graham crackers.
You and Santino base all of your critiques exclusively on runway and challenges …
That’s how Ru wants it, that’s how we want it. We’re uncorrupted. I don’t get to know them until after it’s over.
You don’t see the workroom and lounge footage until it airs?
Right. And I wish some of these angry people on Twitter would keep that in mind. We’re judging the performer, not the person. That queen could be walking wounded and kicking, or, you know, on the front lines with vets digging out their own kidney with a spoon and doing a transplant with their bare hands, but I don’t know anything about all that! I just know her makeup needs work! And even if I did know her whole story, the makeup still needs work, you know? Yes, I’m tough, and I’m specific. These kids are at the top of their game. I’m critiquing pros here.
And you try to push them out of their comfort zones.
I try to. There’s usually a fight, and I get that. All of these kids are comfortable with what they’re good at. Everybody, everywhere, is comfortable with what they’re good at. But you can’t let that be enough. You’ll never know what you’re capable of. That’s why Ru sets up all these challenges— each one refines a specific skill. And oh my god, I wish you could see these performers the moment they break out of their comfort zone. I see it on their faces! They light up! It’s my favorite part of the show.
You and RuPaul have worked on so many different projects over the years. What’s the secret to maintaining a friendship while you’re working together?
That’s… hm. That’s a really good question. Because nine times out of 10, it’s the kiss of death, isn’t it? The rule is never work with a friend, never live together, never loan ‘em money. I mean, all the best friends I’ve lived with, I don’t talk to anymore. But with Ru, it works. Drag Race, and the VH1 show before that — my god, that show was ahead of its time.
You’re making your debut as an author this fall. That’s a big leap.
Oh god. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone calling myself an author, but it’s really just telling stories and giving advice, which I’m probably a little too comfortable doing. I fell into this role of mother figure doing morning radio for 17 years, listening, giving advice—I give much better than I take, but that’s true for most people. But, look. Life changes without warning, suddenly the rules are different, and you’ve got to find your inner diva and rise above it. ... It took me a while to find mine—my self-love was more like self-loathe. I wanted to write something to help other people find theirs, and Chronicle Books is making it possible. I’m calling it “Even Divas Need Day Jobs.”
Who helped you find your inner diva?
You know something? I did. My mom helped. Ru helped. But other people can just point the way. You’ve got to make it on your own, with humor, with confidence. With love. You have to find the people who will sustain you. For me, truly, that’s the gay community. I know that I was put on this earth to hold hands, talk the talk, and walk the walk alongside the gay community. Those are the people in my life who have always been there, have always supported me. Loyalty, it’s everything. And you repay loyalty with loyalty.
‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ judge Michelle Visage doesn’t hold back when critiquing makeup or style. It’s all about pushing queens outside their comfort zone, she says. (Publicity photo)