Interview: Michelle Visage Talks Her Favorite Challenges On ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’ ‘Whatcha Packin’,’ And Taking Over ‘Down Under’


RuPaul’s Drag Race finished its 16th season in April, a juggernaut in the competition reality shere. Since the third season, Michelle Visage has been a permanent fixture on the judges panel, also lending her talents to other iterations of the series including All Stars and Drag Race UK. She will be taking over as host of Drag Race Down Under when its next season airs.

Drag Race fans know Visage as someone who gets right to the point of her critiques, offering constructive and helpful criticisms across seasons of the show. She also usually helps the queens prepare for at least one challenge in the season (the current All Stars season airing had Visage assisting the queens with jokes for their roasts) and brings valuable experience as a panelist on the show when speaking to the competitors about their challenges. Fans will also remember Visage as some of the best moments on the show: her reaction to Roxxxy’s wig reveal in season five, her finger wag and disapproval of Kandy Ho’s makeup in season seven, telling Derrick Barry her outfit is “a piece of fabric” in season eight, and any time she gives the audience her infectious laugh. She also hosts the Youtube series “Whatcha Packin” that sees her sitting down with eliminated queens and having a quick chat with them.

I recently sat down with Visage to discuss expectations she has for queens, what it means to her to host Whatcha Packin’, and her excitement for the new season of Down Under.

Tyler Doster: Do you have any set expectations when you begin a new season of Drag Race or are you prepared for anything when the girls arrive to compete?

Michelle Visage: I’m prepared for anything, but I expect them to be good. Is that too much to ask for? But I’m always down for anything. I’m prepared for anything, but they’re at this level and at this level I expect good.

TD: Yeah, for sure. It reminds me of what you said on All Stars 2, when you told them you were going to bring all the T for them.

MV: I mean, for me, I know these kids not usually before, but All Stars is different because I had worked with a lot of them, so I know what they can do. I know what they can bring to that stage. So if I see them performing less than, I’m going to call them out on it.

TD: Over the course of Season 16, who surprised you the most and in what way?

MV: I don’t think one [specific queen] surprised me. I think they all surprised me. When they listen to the critique and they don’t… Okay. I know it’s hard when you’re young. I’ve done a lot of auditioning. I still audition. When I was 18, 19, even 15, 16, I heard I got a critique, whatever. I’d be like, “Whatever, gross. They don’t know what they’re talking about.” That is the wrong attitude to have. When I got older and I realized, I started asking for critiques when I didn’t land the job, and I’d say, “Can you just tell me why I didn’t get it? What do I need to work on?” And then they would tell me I’d go home and I would work endlessly on that. So what I’d love to see is them listen to the critiques, go back in that workroom, the next show, immediately I can see when they took on a critique, especially if the critique was from me, so I can see them trying.

That is what I love. I live for that. So that surprises me every time when they listen to me and they surprise themselves. It’s the most rewarding thing. Not for me. This is never for me. When they leave the show, they’re not with me. They’re for them, and they have a whole career out there waiting for them. They surprise themselves when they look in the mirror and they go, “Oh my goodness, that little tweak changed everything. Thank you. I’m never going back.” I love that.

TD: It reminds me of you saying something to Dawn about the elf ears and then immediately she came back without them.

MV: And how great! And now you can wear them whenever you want, but show people that you can do something other than that, because you get stuck in that one thing. I try to change my look every single show. Every single one I switch it up, because if I’m telling you to do that, then I have to do that.


TD: How have you found the balance between celebrating the Queen’s strengths while being constructive about the opportunities they have?

MV: I think it’s a fine line. I think it’s important to be able to do that, though. I think that constructive criticism is what this world is all about. I feel like I’m a mother to them in my heart. They’re all my children. Being a mother to my own kids, I can’t help but to feel motherly. I’m a maternal person. But I think constructive criticism is so important. That’s how we grow. We have to fail in order to succeed. If you go through life with just succeeding, it’s going to be boring and probably won’t last.

TD: How has Whatcha Packin’ affected your experience as a judge with you doing that as well as judging?

MV: So it doesn’t affect my experience as a judge, but what it does do is my favorite part. But the first episode is always my favorite, where I meet the Queens, the first episode of the season, and then Whatcha Packin’. Because a lot of people don’t know that I don’t get to talk to them. I do not know them. I have never met them. So when I get to Whatcha Packin’, it’s the first time I get to hug them. It’s the first time I get to talk to them. It’s the first time they get to see me face to face and tell me if they were upset or whatever. We get to have these moments. Whatcha Packin’ is really important to me because it’s raw, it’s authentic, and it’s basically a first time meet.

TD: Are there any challenges that you find yourself looking forward to each season?

MV: Well, I love the Rusical. Everybody knows that. I love the Rusical. It’s my favorite. I love girl groups and I love Rusicals. The writing team, they’re just so freaking good. We’ve gotten to a level now where they’re out of control good. I love a lot of challenges, but that’s my favorite.

TD: What do you hope to achieve in taking over the reins of Down Under?

MV: I hope to achieve integrity. I hope to keep the integrity of the show. I hope to show Ru. Ru knows. That’s why Ru gave it to me. But I want Ru to be proud of me. I want the Queens to feel comfortable. I want the Queens to feel at home. I want them to love their experience and not feel like they’re missing out because Ru isn’t there because Ru entrusted this to me. Ru handed me the reins. They knew they were told beforehand and they were still there. So I feel very honored that they entrusted me at the reins, and I think people are going to love it. It’s an incredible, incredible cast, and we had some fun.

TD: I’m excited to see it.

MV: You’re going to love it, Tyler.

TD: Ru, as host, sometimes gives us performances. Will we ever see Michelle Visage get on stage and vogue?

MV: I don’t know. I never even thought about that. Maybe. Maybe one day now that you brought it up. Perhaps I’ll start, do another album and get it in there.

TD: Oh, if we get another album just for me bringing this up, I mean, we should just keep talking and see what else can happen.

MV: You’re so sweet. Thank you. And thank you for loving our show.

Michelle Visage is Emmy eligible in the category Outstanding Competition Program as a producer on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction Or Reality Series as a producer of Whatcha Packin’ with Michelle Visage.