Drag Race’s Michelle Visage Can’t Get Cast on Dancing With the Stars 5

Later this summer, Michelle Visage graduates from Drag Race judge to host when the longtime producer of RuPaul’s global competition takes over as emcee of the Down Under installment of the franchise.

For Visage, the multihyphenate who first made a name for herself as part of the 1980s girl group Seduction, new endeavors are something she’s seeking more and more. She recently returned to the West End, playing Morticia in The Addams Family, and acted on TV in Netflix’s Survival of the Thickest. Gabbing remains her bread and butter — she and pal Leah Remini still want their own talk show — but she’s trying to flex some muscles she hasn’t used in years. Hopping on the phone from her home in London a few weeks back, Visage talked about what’s guiding her choices these days, her time touring with Milli Vanilli and why she says she keeps getting a “no” from Dancing With the Stars. 

You’re in London as we speak. Do you just live over there now?

I’m half-and-half. My home base is L.A., but I’m here probably five to six months out of the year.

I only ask because it seems that you’ve really adopted the culture. 

Oh, hold on a minute. I do not have a fake British accent.

Not the accent! But the vernacular and the cultural references, they’re all there. 

Yes, absolutely, but I’ve always been that girl. It might have something to do with being an adopted kid, but I’m a chameleon. I want to blend wherever I am, and I try to be down with kids. Even when I was a kid, I tried to be down with kids because. It’s about assimilation. I always wanted to be like, “Look, I can do it. I’m cool.” I think that kind of traveled with me for the rest of my life. Wherever I am, I try to eat local foods, pick up on the vernacular, understand their point of view. Does that make sense?

Yes, but does Drag Race offer some kind of production boot camp or something when you launch in new territories — like the U.K. or for Down Under

Listen, I’ve always been obsessed with the U.K. — London in particular. When I was young and really into punk rock, punk rock’s birthplace was England. I didn’t grow up with a lot of money, but I took one big trip with my family when I was a kid and it was to England for the summer. When I say the summer, it was two weeks. (Laughs) When we went to England and Scotland. So, for me, there was a connection when I was very young. The only reason I did Celebrity Big Brother back in 2015 was because I knew from touring here that there was a rabid, passionate fan base for RuPaul’s Drag Race. They were watching it illegally. It took years for somebody to pick the show up here. Every meeting I took, they said, “It’s too niche. It’s not going to work here.” Big networks! Then the BBC stepped up and said, “We’re ready. It’s time.” That’s how it happened. I think it was four years I got out of that Big Brother house. 

Would you have ever done a Celebrity Big Brother in the United States — or did it feel safer doing it in another country?

It’s not that it felt safer. It felt more correct. The U.S. is different. The minute you walk in the house in the U.S.,  it’s an all guns blazing tactic. It’s a show of how you’re going to fool one another. In the U.K., it’s not like that. You’re not plotting and planning. I wouldn’t want to do that. But I would want to go and just live with people and get to know them and whatever happens, happens — which is why I did it. So no, I definitely wouldn’t do it in the U.S. I would do Dancing with the Stars in the U.S., but they won’t let me do it because I did [Strictly Come Dancing] here.

Really?

They won’t let me do it! I injured myself on Strictly and got voted off in week 10 or something like that. I’ve since had knee surgery. I beg them every year to do Dancing with the Stars, and they won’t let me. They’re like, “You got too far.” I’m just like, “But I didn’t get to the semifinal. I didn’t win!”

Ten weeks on another country’s version of Dancing With the Stars seems like less of an edge than an Olympic gymnast or a popstar going in blind. 

I say this all the time. I’m like, “Hold on a minute. Nicole Scherzinger is a Pussycat Doll. It’s a dance troupe.” JoJo Siwa was on Dance Moms. That’s not fair. They’re actual dancers. I am not. So yeah, I would kill to do it in the States, but they’re not having it. I’m like, “Guys, please. I’m still a shitty dancer. Trust me.”

You say yes to a lot these day — reality competitions, new music, acting on TV, the West End. What’s guiding this “more is more” attitude?

It’s never too late. Some people don’t even start their careers until their 50s, 60s, 70s. Do you know what I mean? I don’t want anybody reading this, to think that it’s ever too late to find your joy and what sparks passion for you. Also, I started out on this planet as a performer. I have a degree in musical theater. I just happen to be a good talker, so radio took over my life for 20 years. The acting side has always brought me fear. I always felt I wasn’t good enough. My imposter syndrome stopped me, and I’m at the point in my life where I have such a passion for performing and acting and singing and dancing that I want to do it. I want to learn how to get better. I want to show the world. I’m not utilizing my talent, so I want to formally put myself out there and say, “I’m here. I’ll audition for you. I’ll work. Let’s do it.” The same way I want to push these queens on the show is the same way I want to push myself.

Are those the marching orders with your agents like, “Acting is the priority right now?”

Yeah,I told my agents, “Hosting is something I love to do, but at the same time I want to focus more on the acting aspect of my life because it’s never really gotten me attention, outside of theater, that it deserved.” Though, Leah [Remini] and I really, really want to do our talk show. It’s been hectic for both of us to focus on that, but we still want it. 

So, any hesitation in signing on to host the Australia and New Zealand version of Drag Race? What was the conversation like?

Are you kidding me? Zero hesitation. Also, what a freaking honor. Me and some of our fabulous queens from Down Under joining me? It’s just wonderful. People are going to be so thrilled with the way we’re doing it — and to see our gorgeous, familiar faces come back. The conversation was “Ru’s got a number one bestseller on the New York Times and a tour.” When he said he wanted me to do it, I said, “Of course.”

It’s got a different vibe from the other english-speaking versions of the format that I can’t quite pin down.  

You know what I love most about it? It’s kind of raw. That’s the difference between the different Australasian queens versus America. I say this with love and respect, but I think American queens are so concerned with the aesthetic and the look and image. “She’s so fierce! Look at her.” Australasian queens are performance and heart. They lead with that. It’s not that they look bad, but they’re more about the performance and the integrity and the heart. Our American queens are strong performers, but their looks are top-notch. The U.K. leads with the performance aspect first.

You’re also seeing a broader spectrum of ages among the talent pool, as the American casts skew so young anymore. 

They do seem like they’re getting younger and younger, don’t they? These kids were raised on RuPaul’s Drag Race. They’re the ones who grew up watching it. How amazing is that, by the way? To be able to watch a show, want to be part of it and then actually be able to do it.

What’s your current relationship with the color green? You’ve given a lot of queens a lot of grief for wearing it over the years. 

This has got blown so out of freaking proportion! (Laughs.) I’m going to break it down. Yellow-based greens do not look good on me because I am yellow. I’m Mediterranean. I look sickly, like I have jaundice. When Madame LaQueer came out in a green — I believe that’s who it was — she came out in that green. It was not the right green for her, in my opinion. That critique turned into, “Michelle Visage hates green.” Then I went along with it, playing it up, you know? It just became a thing. The truth of the matter is that I love certain greens. I love jewel-tone greens, emerald green, jade green, hunter green. I steer away from anything with a yellow base. If a mustard yellow creeps into a green, I’m out. It looks gorgeous on Ru and people with some melanin in their skin. For me, it does not look good. That’s where the relationship went awry. But I don’t hate all green. I promise. 

I recently watched that Milli Vanilli documentary and half-expected to see you in there — given your group, Seduction, toured with them. 

I was supposed to be in it, but every time they wanted to film I couldn’t. Then the guy was like, “Well, we can do it this day, but you can’t have glam that day.” I’m not doing it without glam. Are you nuts? They did try a few times. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m still friends with Fabrice.

He’s a big part of it, obviously. I’d be interested to hear your take on it.

When we toured with them, we knew they were lip-syncing. We just didn’t know that they didn’t record. Everybody lip-synced. We always had live mics but we would sing live on top of it. We had a track playing underneath us when we performed. But that infamous moment with Milli Vanilli at the Club MTV Tour, that moment changed everything. Producers, they didn’t let their artists go out there without vocal tracks back then. It was very, very weird for singers to have to sing over their own voices, but OK because everybody’s done it. Janet Jackson, everybody. So, we didn’t think twice about them lip-syncing because, well, we knew.

So no inkling it wasn’t their voices?

The only thing I found odd back then was their accents were really strong and you couldn’t hear them when they sing, But that happens sometimes. It was a great time in music, I’ll tell you that. That album was fantastic. I know Fabrice really happy now.  He’s a dad and he’s just found joy doing what he’s doing.

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