girl talk with Michelle Visage
Andrew Johnston: You grew up in central New Jersey. What are some things you’d consider typically “Jersey” about you?
Michelle Visage: My directness, my flamboyance, my attitude. Growing up in the streets of Jersey, you learn pretty quickly what you can do, what you can’t do, and how you’re gonna make it happen anyway — that’s kind of the Jersey attitude. I was Snooki before Snooki.
What was your first “gay memory” — the first time you remember being touched by the gay sensibility?
I went to high school in the ’80s and there was this kid named Glen who I always watched get picked on because he wanted to wear a pink skinny tie or wear his hair like the Spandau Ballet guy. Everybody knew that he was gay, but he wasn’t ready to acknowledge it himself. One day these work boot/flannel shirt–wearing guys were picking on him, and I had enough of it. I stood up in the class and said, “You know what? You have some nerve walkin’ around in flannel shirts and work boots every day and trying to pass that as fashion, your face lookin’ the way it does, picking on someone who has never done a thing to you, for being different.” I got thrown out of class for it, but I think that dude got the message.
Tell me about your early days in the ballroom scene. Were they immediately accepting
of a 17-year-old Jersey girl?
Absolutely, because I am who I am. I’m a big funny, flamboyant personality, and that’s what these queens loved. So of course, I didn’t miss a step and walked right into that family. I started voguing on my own. Back then it was a femme queen/butch queen thing; girls didn’t do it — I don’t know why. So, when a straight girl comes in and is like “I wanna learn this,” they were like, “Oh my god, gurl, okay.” So I started learning from legends — Willi and Cesar Ninja — and I started walking balls for face category, the first real girl to vogue in a ballroom.
You first came to worldwide attention in the late 1980s as part of hip-house power-trio Seduction, a multiracial girl group that was the brainchild of the legendary Clivillés and Cole production team. How did that come to be?
What happened was Idalis [DeLeón] was my best friend. She told me she auditioned for a multiracial girl group, and I said, “Do they need a white girl?” She said, “I think they already have one,” but I made her give me their number, thinking what’s the worst they can say? I guess something about me piqued their interest, because I went in, sang some Teena Marie, then some Jennifer Holliday, and David Cole was like, “What?! This little 98-pound white girl is gonna sing Jennifer Holliday?” And I did. And it happened. And they said, “Pack your panties; you’re going to Virginia Beach,” where Seduction’s first gig was.
When did you and RuPaul meet?
We both worked for [legendary NYC party promoter] Susanne Bartsch.
Was it exactly what Sharon Needles said when she played you in The Snatch Game? Uppers, downers and candy corns?
Pretty much! There were no train rides with baseball bats and I never did drugs, but the candy corns were absolutely true. We did an event together and I went up to him wondering if he remembered me, and he said, “Bitch, I’ve been watching you. You are a star!” After that, we were put together for a fashion week event on the radio, we really gelled, then he invited me to co-host his VH1 talk show, and here we are.
I loved The RuPaul Show!
Thank you! Ru and I often talk about bringing that back. So here’s a little exclusive . . . I don’t know if The RuPaul Show is dead.
Shifting gears to Drag Race . . . Talk about your first day on set there. Was it easy for you to settle into the judge role?
Absolutely. I didn’t have my hair and makeup together yet, but I fell right into the role because I was next to Ru, and we’ve been best friends for 20 years. Ru’s a superstar, but we are very much a tag team. We can finish each other’s sentences; that’s just the relationship that we have.
How does the judging process work? Do you actually heckle them as they walk down the runway?
We do. They walk twice — once with music, once without — so we can get the wild lines. Ru and I are loaded with catch phrases, and we just play off each other. But those queens hear it all, honey, and they know exactly what’s in store for them when they come out on the main stage.
How much fur actually flies? How much blood is spilled? What can you tease us with for the new season?
Ridiculous! Sickening, above anything you would expect. And it’s bloodshed. Multiple queens are eliminated per episode. Honey, you are going to gag when you see All Stars.