For anyone who’s ever seen an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Michelle Visage is a superstar. The singer, actress, producer and television personality has served as a judge on the hit drag competition series since season three, and, since coming on as a producer in season 11, she has picked up three consecutive Emmy wins for outstanding reality competition series.
This year, she’s nominated in that category for the fourth time. And, for the first time, her aftershow interview series, Whatcha Packin’ With Michelle Visage, is nominated for outstanding shortform nonfiction or reality series. She heard the news while getting ready at home with her husband, and was absolutely ecstatic. “I started beeping the horn in my car in my garage. My husband was like, ‘What is wrong with you? Why are you beeping at 8 o’clock in the morning in this neighborhood?’ I just felt like a kid,” Visage tells THR. “But also, I never wished my mother was with me more. Because yes, I have my husband. He’s my best friend. He’s my everything. But to be able to call my mom and tell her would have been the most incredible thing.”
Visage pitched the idea of an interview series with Drag Race‘s eliminated queens during the show’s sixth season. What began as a low-budget web series filmed inside hotel rooms has evolved into a fully produced studio series tackling, at times, quite heavy subject matter. “These kids have been through a lot, and then coming off a competition show, having done it myself a few times, is mentally and physically draining,” says Visage. She approaches each conversation differently. “I can feel their energy immediately, of how this interview can go, where I shouldn’t go, where I’m not welcome, where I’m fully welcome.” Some episodes focus mostly on moments from the past season. Others tackle more serious topics (season 14 contestant Kerri Colby unpacked her childhood spent navigating homelessness, transphobia and hunger).
The desire to create an interview show was born out of Visage’s own natural curiosity to speak with the girls. “I love to interview people, [and] I feel like I do it a little bit differently,” she notes. “There was a part of me that always felt, as a judge, I don’t get to talk to any of them. I don’t get to meet them — because, contractually, I can’t. I don’t get to tell them how wonderful they are as human beings until the show is aired and over.”
Visage’s reign is just getting started, and she’s branching out in many different directions to show the world her brilliance — in 2019, for instance, she made her West End debut in the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie! But she hesitates to call it a renaissance. “I have been trying to be a superstar my whole life, and a lot of it has to do with not giving up,” says Visage. “I haven’t gotten a quarter of the way to where I feel like I should be. I think what happens a lot is: Most people who want to do exactly what I’m doing give up. Since I was a kid, and Madonna entered our sphere, the only thing I ever wanted to be was the next Madonna. It took me to my 40s to realize, ‘I don’t want to be the next anybody. I want to be the first me. Am I too old?’ My best friends were like, ‘Why do you limit yourself? Why do you think because you’re 50, you can’t do this?’ I think what you’re seeing is years and years of therapy, years and years of self-doubt — but not giving up.”
Of battling impostor syndrome, Visage says, “I’ve gotten to the point where I’m going to do what I was put here to do. This is what I was put on this earth to do — talk, sing, laugh, entertain. I can’t picture myself doing anything else. So if it’s a comeuppance, at this point in my career, then I’m going to frickin’ grab it by the horns, and I’m going to ride it until that bitch dies.”
This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.