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

GA Voice - - Contents - by To­pher Payne

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.

Michelle Vis­age:

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)

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