Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race know Michelle Visage as the mama hen at the judges’ table. She dispenses wisdom like a buxom, dolled-up Pez dispenser — and you’d better listen, because this woman knows what she’s talking about. Her career began as one-third of the 1980s girl group Seduction (“Two to Make It Right”), which became her entré into world of drag balls and club culture. A dear friend of RuPaul, Visage took her rightful place at the Drag Race judge’s table during the program’s third season.
I spoke with Visage in April 2014 about her career, her affiliation with RuPaul and her role as the host of RuPaul’s Drag Race tour.
Gregg Shapiro: You and RuPaul go way back. What’s the secret to your friendship?
Michelle Visage: Honesty. So many people keep so many things from each other. And not just honesty, but love and acceptance. I have kids and I see what they go through. They say they’re best friends and they’re so fickle. The next day they’re best friends with somebody else. Truly loving somebody (means) knowing all their faults, but loving them completely and wholly.
Who’s been your favorite judge so far?
Honestly, I don’t have one. There have so many great ones. Let me tell you why they’re so great: They love the show! They literally ask to be on the show.
Beyonce is often referenced on the show. What would it mean to you to have Queen Bee sitting beside you at the judges’ table?
Being in radio for a thousand years, like I was, I’ve gotten to interview Beyonce like four or five times. She’s a Virgo, like me, so we have the same energy. I absolutely get her, love her, adore her. She has never been anything but humble and amazing. There’s something about Beyonce that these queens literally live for. What I love about her is she’s loaded beyond belief, but she’s remained this real girl from Texas who loves being a mom, loves being a wife.
What do you enjoy most about being out on the road for RuPaul’s Drag Race tour?
I love the queens and spending time with them. I get to know them personally, on a different level. Ivy Winters is one I got to know better on the tour. It’s (also) about seeing the fans and seeing how much they love our show and seeing how RuPaul has touched these children in their lives and how it allows them to be free. Also getting to meet a lot of the parents who love and accept their children for who they are. It’s very moving for me. That’s what I like the most.
You recently said the Yiddish word schmatta on an episode.
I was adopted into a Jewish family. Oddly enough I don’t hear a lot of Jewish names in Milwaukee. My in-laws live in Lake Geneva.
The Milwaukee suburb of Whitefish Bay is referred to as Gefilte Fish Bay.
(Big laugh) I absolutely love it! My whole family’s from Brooklyn, so you get caught up in all the Yiddish. Ru literally has a book that he uses called Yiddish For Dummies. He’s obsessed with all things Jewish and Yiddish, so he’ll try to work a Yiddish phrase in here and there. I’ll drop schmatte and mishpucha and things like that.
Just as there is an art to doing drag, there is also an art to giving constructive criticism. What’s your process when it comes to offering criticism?
I just let it rip. I can see when somebody’s sensitive or somebody’s ready to break down, so I know when to go all the way or when to hold back. I want everybody to know when I say what I say, why I’m saying it. We don’t get the whole explanation all the time on TV, but I guarantee when I say it to them, they understand why I’m saying what I’m saying.
What was the most useful criticism you ever received?
When I was maybe 18 or 19 years old, from my friend Max, who was one of the gays that I used to hang out with down on the piers in New York City. I was really in the gay scene for the past two or three years and I was really acting like a flamboyant gay man. I was no longer a straight woman. He sat me down and said, “Girl, I love you. You’re my daughter. But please, I beg of you, I need you to stop acting like a (gay person). You have your own identity and it needs to flourish because you are so talented. You need to move on, upward and forward. Fly."
RuPaul’s Drag Race tour appears at Turner Hall Ballroom on April 29. For more, go to 414-286-3663 or visit pabsttheater.org.