mIchelle Visage has never liked the rules. Raised in an adoptive family in New Jersey in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the TV personality learned that the only way to stand up for what was right was to swim against the current. “I got into trouble about certain things, but I was always like, ‘But mom, if I didn’t do it [do] X, Y and Z, if I hadn’t fought for that person, they would have been beaten up,’ or ‘If I hadn’t tried to get this job, I would never have gotten this job,'” she tells me. “Things were definitely not handed over to me.”
Throughout her career, Visage has refused to fit into a neat little box. In 1988 she rose to fame in the girl group Seduction, then joined and performed with SOULSYSTEM as the lead singer The bodyguard Soundtrack. She then boasted about a radio job, simply telling the station, “‘Oh yeah, sure. I did radio.’” There were stations on reality TV, such as Be sure to come dance and Celebrity Big Brother. But to most fans, she’s undeniably best known as RuPaul’s sharp-tongued, green-hating right-hand man RuPaul’s Drag Raceas well as his All stars Spin-off and UK and Australian international versions. Visage has two daughters in their 20s with David Case, her husband of 25 years. However, it’s also an honor to consider yourself the adoptive parents to the show’s millions of LGBTQ+ fans around the world.
Visage feels a similar connection to many of the show’s contestants, having been a producer Drag Race since season 11. Since she’s a producer, I ask her about a song recently released by RuPaul called “Blame It on the Edit,” a reference to reality TV contestants who complain that their words get twisted in the editing process were made to unfairly portray them on screen. “Go ahead and take the credit b****, you were the one who said it b****/ How can you regret it?” RuPaul sings on the track, which some fans loved while others called it “petty” and “dodgy.”
“Everyone blames the cut,” she says. “I was on Big Brother Of course they could complain about me whatever they wanted. And that’s how it is. But to be fair, if you’re filming for 24 hours or 13 hours, do you think anything will be cut? If you do a 12-hour show and think it won’t get cut, then you’re in the wrong business because no one watches a 12-hour show. You can’t see everything.”
Visage’s longtime friendship with RuPaul originated in the 1980s New York City ballroom scene, the birthplace of fashion and a haven for LGBTQ+ people, recently immortalized in the TV series pose. Many members of the community were cast out by their families and established their own families, or “houses.” It doesn’t seem like the most obvious spot for “a little white kid with blonde hair” clutching a fake ID, but it gave her “a sense of community I’ve never felt before.”
“You heard these stories about people being spotted in these nightclubs, so I went to the Palladium with a fake ID, danced and did my thing, and then I was somehow found by the LGBTQIA+ community and brought into a house,” says she. “I was the only Caucasian person in a house full of colorful, beautiful people… There was no hate, there was no cancel culture. If you had to fight, you fought it out in the ballroom, you fought it out on the dance floor.”
Drag Race is permeated with references to the ballroom scene and the 1990 documentary that captured it, Paris is burning. “If we don’t keep the story alive, then who will?” she says. “Queer culture and queer history are already under threat, people are trying to take them away [and] undoing everything we’ve worked to and our elders have fought and pioneered to do.” At a time when LGBTQ+ rights are being rolled back, with measures like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law imposing the Prohibits sex and gender education, Visage says, “It’s important to know the credentials, it’s important to know about Stonewall, it’s important to know why there’s Pride Month. Those things are important.”
When Visage first met RuPaul, the drag queen wasn’t internationally known with her song “Supermodel (You Better Work)”. The two often work together, with Visage joining them RuPaul’s Drag Race as a permanent judge in the third season. Of course, she could never have predicted that the reality TV show would grow into the giant it is now (at the time of writing, there are 11 different international versions, as well as All Stars seasons and various other spin-offs). . But she knew it was something special.
“When they told me about it, I was like, ‘Oh my god, that’s the most amazing idea,’ I couldn’t even believe it,” she says. “But it was made by queer people, for queer people, on a very queer, very small network, LogoTV, who believed in it from the start… It was this little tiny engine that could do it. It took us until season 9 to even get an Emmy nomination.”
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At this point, the self-confessed Anglophile visage is also a mainstay of the British media. As well as Big Brother and Strict (where she got to perform a routine on her heroine Madonna’s “Vogue”), she appeared in the stage musical Everyone’s talking about Jamie (Sheffield accent and such) and presented on Radio 2. She made it with the latter rule breaker, her interview podcast series for BBC Sounds. She hosted the podcast What is the tee? with RuPaul, but this time it’s going it alone.
Listen to the podcast and it’s clear that Visage is a great listener, able to connect effortlessly with her guests (like Cameron Diaz, Dawn French and Marc Jacobs). “I’m honored that you want to speak to me because when you think about it, with 70,000 podcasts in the world, probably more than that, people get asked every day.”
In the first episode, a rare post-acting interview with Diaz, the two discussed their experiences of “heavy, heavier misogyny” in Hollywood, especially as they get older. “You’re like, ‘Oh my god, show business is so sexist,’ it really is,” Visage says. She has watched women “fall victim” to industry pressures only to regret fillers and surgery. “You’ll see them say, ‘I wish I hadn’t done that,’ but we feel like we have to keep up with that,” she says. “It’s not right, but ageism will always exist in Hollywood.”
Visage is very aware of the pressure of having surgery. She had her first boob job at age 21 (and two more over the years), with her boobs being a regular source of comic book material Drag Race (“Michelle was in a group called Seduction. What this b**** really needs is reduction,” jokes Season 6 winner Bianca Del Rio in a video). “I was at a house where my father was a subscriber playboyand I would see these magazines and penthouse and the common denominator was that they all had huge breasts and [was] very skinny and I’ve never been one of those things,” she says. “The first thing I did when I got my first paycheck when I was in a girl group was run and get breast implants.”
In 2019, Visage announced that she had struggled with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease, for many years and had her implants removed and documented the process in a film called explant. She had long suspected they were the cause of her illness, but in a story many women will recognize, doctors didn’t believe her. “It took me years to figure it out, but I did it on my own. I was the best murder, she wrote Person… did my best Angela Lansbury to find out what was going on in my body.”
A big part of releasing the documentary, she says, was showing young people the realities of plastic surgery. “I think it’s important that the message gets through so we can make an informed decision because no one will stand up for you more than you do,” she says. “Once you have the information, you can know what you’re getting yourself into … I’m not against plastic surgery, I’m pro-transparency.”
Michelle Visage’s Rule Breakers is now on BBC Sounds
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/features/michelle-visage-interview-podcast-rule-breakers-b2050481.html Michelle Visage: ‘I’m not against plastic surgery, I’m for transparency’