After 11 incredible seasons and the 12th now streaming on Netflix, RuPaul’s Drag Race is making it’s British debut as the British version of the popular reality show premieres this month.
Joining RuPaul on the trip to search for a queen with the most charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent judges Michelle Visage, Graham Norton and Alan Carr will be keeping you on your toes in anticipation as 10 fabulous contestants compete to impress them – in a bit to glide away with the title of UK’s First Drag Race Superstar.
Ahead of the show’s debut, we chat to judge Michelle Visage on what fans can expect on the first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race UK.
You’ve had a long association with Ru. Do you remember when you first met?
I first met Ru in 20BC. We met in New York City in a night club in the 80s, but we didn’t start working together until we were put together magically in 1996 by a radio boss. He put me with Ru for Fashion Week in NYC and we started working on the radio in New York. They brought Ru in, not knowing he knew me, and they didn’t tell me and he walked in to the room, he looked at me and said of course it’s you sitting here, who else would it be, all paths lead to Michelle! Then he brought me on to be co-host for his VH1 show at the time and that was 1996. And the rest is history.
You haven’t always been a resident judge on Drag Race though…
No, I started on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Series 3. So Series 1 and 2, I’d been a morning radio presenter for a very long time, Ru left three years after the gig, and I stayed on for 17 years. And I had a radio boss that was homophobic and I didn’t realise that until after the fact. My husband’s a stay at home dad, I’m a working mother and I’m the one who feeds my family so when I went to the boss and asked to be let off for a few weeks to film Series 1 he said no. And I was year 1, of a 5 year contract so I couldn’t do anything and I was devastated. And then Series 3 and they asked
me again and I went to the president of the company and they said of course, yeah! So I started series 3.
You’re often described as a ‘bio queen’ – what does that mean? Would you say that’s what you are?
I think the term bio queen is for gender purposes whether you believe in gendering or not. I don’t really believe in gendering but at the end of day a bio queen is a woman who was born a biological woman, and she performs in drag. So technically yeah I am that – but I just call myself a drag queen.
And you’ve had a long association with drag queens haven’t you?
Yeah, my association with LGBTQIA+ community started when I was in high school and it was defending a gay kid who had nobody to defend him. And I didn’t for any other reason except for it was the right thing to do. At that point I realised I had a voice that was very big, very loud and it was going to be put to very good use. When I moved to NYC to go to Uni I went to a drama college, a theatre college, I got involved with the community there and that’s where it all started and most of them were – we didn’t call them Trans back then – they were just queens and gay people. And the people I associated with were gay men, not many gay women, this was 1986-87, and Trans women too.
Drag Sister, Drag Mama, you’ve got a number of lives and you’re a real life mummy?
I am – I’m a play mummy to hundreds of thousands of queer children out there that don’t get the, years of a loved one at home or in their life, but I’m a biological mother to two girls, 17 and 19 years old.
How do you marry both lives?
Both of my lives really don’t marry. I think my husband loves what I do. He’s my biggest supporter and he manages my company, he is a stay at home and has helped raised our beautiful daughters. I couldn’t do this without him. And he supports it – he’s an ally. But he takes care of the business at home and having two teenage daughters is a big handful and my daughters love me as mum. They don’t really care what I do for a living. I have one queer daughter and one heteronormative daughter so to speak and they both think what I do is cool, but they don’t care. I’m mum!
You have an allegiance of fans all over the world, what do you think it is about Drag Race that makes it so special?
I think the thing that makes it so special is, especially with young, gay kids and young girls, they see something that maybe in the queens they don’t see at school… like my 17 year old daughter, Instagram means a lot to her and she looks at the Kardashians and do squats hoping to get a butt like that when really that’s not going to happen. I think that if you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race it brings you into something that’s a bit more realistic. These kids have all fought through something – there has been some sort of something that has been put in their way an they’ve overcome it. It’s about determination, grit and heart and I think these kids, like me, I never fit in growing up. Never – I was always made fun of, I was the weirdo, misfit, I couldn’t help it, I just was. I was really into Sex Pistols, padlock around my neck, nobody understood it, but it took me until I was about 18-19 years old to realise, oh I don’t want to fit in. So I think it helps these young kids realise they’re not alone. It’s more than okay if they don’t fit in and if they’re weird and we celebrate them.
What do you think the difference is between Drag Race UK and Drag Race?
There’s a big difference between the UK drag scene and the US drag scene. There’s a huge impact around the world from RuPaul’s Drag Race. There’s a whole new set of Drag Race queens. Those are the Instagram queens, who just care about being passing, being fishy, horrible term, that’s that generation. I think we couldn’t do RuPaul’s Drag Race UK without celebrating all types of
drag because there are tonnes of drag cultures in the UK. From bearded to the drag race polished, cabaret and bio. There’s a whole bunch and I think that’s what Drag Race UK will really celebrate.
What struck me is that there are still cultural differences and you’ve been translating a little bit for Ru. What’s the funniest thing you’ve had to explain to Ru?
There are a lot of things you say differently in the UK – the greetings, colloquialisms. That’s a tough word but I did it. Where we would say hi how are you, you say ‘you alright?’ That makes us as Americans, why do I not look alright? Us Americans would always think something is wrong. But then you get someone on with a Geordie accent, or a scouse or someone north, anything and it could be hard on the ear. Then you go to Glasgow, deep accents, those are fun things to translate. It is fun – even just a normal sentence is fun!
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HAPPY BIRTHDAY to my ride or die. This world is a better place because of your love and wisdom. Everyday I thank God for you. Thank you for all that you have done, for all that you continue to do and for what's to come. You are magical, Ru and I couldn't possibly love you more. X @rupaulofficial
What’s your standout moment from Drag Race? What’s one that made you cry?
I’m not a crier darling. I haven’t cried since the seventies. There have been some beautiful moments and I think the moments for me when the girls have realisations on that main stage when they know that they could’ve done better or they know when it just wasn’t good enough. Or they know they did a good job and they didn’t expect it. Those are the moments that move me, and that’s why I’m a tough judge because I know they are more than what they give themselves credit for.
Finally, do you think hard core drag fans will like the UK version?
I think they’re going to love this version! They went crazy for the Thailand version. I know for a fact that they’ve been waiting for this probably more than the American version. Every season is just bigger and better than the next but this is the first, you only get one first. And this is it – I think it’s a stellar cast and a stellar production. It looks just like I’m sitting at Drag Race at home. I’m just so excited and so proud of the girls and I can’t wait for them to get bookings and make loads of money.
Catch RuPaul’s Drag Race UK every Tuesday at 9pm on BBC Brit from 21 April 2020.
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