Michelle Visage On The Surprise Emmy Nod For ‘Watcha Packin’ [Interview]

Dec 28, 2022

There are a lot of hard-working people in Hollywood both in front of and behind the camera. It’s hard to find one as busy as Michelle Visage, however. The star of late 80’s girl group Seduction spent over a decade in morning radio gigs until 2011 when she became a permanent judge on the third season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Since then she’s toured the world, won an Emmy Award, won a PGA Award, appeared on “Celebrity Big Brother UK,” co-hosted “Drag Race” franchises on the BBC and “Down Under,” and, frankly, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Last month, she saw herself earning another Emmy nomination not just for her contributions to “Drag Race” season 14, but for the program’s official interview aftershow, “Watcha Packin’.” A sign of just how much the Television Academy loves and respects the World of Wonder production.
READ MORE: Yes, “Drag Race’s” Symone would do an All-Winners season…eventually [Interview]
Visage is so busy she’ll be slotting in attending the upcoming Emmy Awards around filming the second season of Paramount+’s “Queen of the Universe.” Oh, and VH1 just happens to have the second season of “Secret Celebrity Drag Race” now on deck. Keeping all this in mind, it was no surprise Visage also teased that she and her good friend Leah Remini are working on a new daytime talk show. How will she pull that off with her schedule? Just one of the subjects that popped up during our conversation last week.
The Playlist: I’m going to take a wild guess that you weren’t that surprised by “Drag Race”‘s overall Emmy nominations. But what was your reaction when you saw that “Whatcha Packin’” had gotten nominated?
Michelle Visage: Oh, my God, Greg, I just wrote it off because this isn’t the first time we submitted. It’s our little sanctuary, “Whatcha Packin’,” where we get to candidly talk to these girls and see a bit of who they are after going through the show. Very raw. And I really, I put it up on a pedestal, very proud of that show, but I just thought, “O.K. It is what it is.” It’s our little baby. So we watched the main announcement. I was getting my hair done at home before I left to go film. And I get in the car and I get a text from our publicist and he says, “OMG.” And I’m like, “I know, eight Emmy nominations.” He was like, “No bitch. ‘Whatcha Packin” was nominated.” And I was like… Literally, Greg, I had no idea. I had no clue, completely clueless. By the way, the eight Emmy nominations for the main show, there’s not one that goes without being almost in tears because we get nominated. It does not go unappreciated anytime. The acknowledgment is there. So I started beeping my horn and I live in a very sleepy town in a little community. And my husband comes running out. It’s eight o’clock in the morning and Case is like, “What are you doing? And I was like, “‘Whatcha Packin’ got nominated.” I got out of my car and we were jumping up and down in the garage. I could not believe it. And then I saw the company that I was in and I was like, “Oh my God, I’m in company with ‘Saturday Light Live,’ Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, ‘Master Chef.’” To be in that group of people, I know it sounds ridiculous and I just finished listening to Betty White‘s audiobook and she was talking about how stupid it sounds when you say just the nomination matters, but really could be nominated in a category with those people! I wish the first person I told obviously was my husband, but I hadn’t missed my mother more than I did at that moment. And I wish I could have called her and said, “Mom, my little show is nominated for an Emmy.” It was just one of those moments that was like, “Holy crap. I miss my mother”, and also, “Holy crap.”
That’s awesome. I remember watching ‘Whatcha Packin” when it first started and it’s really evolved over the number of years to be much more of an interview program than about just what they were going to wear on the show.
Yeah. It was always in my mind. It was always about the interview and the clothes were just there as a catalyst so to speak. For me, it was always trying to get to them and talk to them about their experience, not just on the show, but what brought them to this place in life. And that’s what I love to do when I interview people. I have a podcast out with the BBC called “Rule Breakers.” I like to know what people have been through to get them to where they are today, because when they are there, we know where they are there. I want to know what obstacles you ever came to get there. So when it first started, it was me and literally one camera, which was basically a GoPro and I’d sit on their beds at the hotel. And Greg, thank you for watching it all these years. And that’s what it was. And then it was doing so well, but they were like, “Let’s put some money into it and make it into more of a…” Then we switched to bar stools in the hotel room, I’m not kidding. I think for “Whatcha Packin’” for “All-Stars” one, it was like that. We elevated it by literally elevating me and putting me on a bar stool. And then we moved it on to a proper interview prop show moment. And that’s what it is now. I’m so happy that VH1 and Viacom love it as much as I love doing it. And I love when I see the Queens and I’m like, “Oh my God, I couldn’t wait to talk to you. I couldn’t wait to do ‘Whatcha Packin’.” It’s so nice because that’s my one moment when I get to meet them because most of them I’ve never met before and I don’t get to talk to them when we’re filming. It’s not allowed. So, I don’t get to meet them for the first time until “Whatcha Packin.” So that’s why there are so many emotions.
Let’s talk about season 14, which just earned eight nominations. When you saw the rest of the season outside of your experience, what struck you the most? What made you think this was its own special “Drag Race” season?
To be completely honest and fair, every season is a special season because each season has different journeys of these girls and these Queens are what makes it special. And these Queens are what makes it different every year. So this one, when you’re in it, you can feel it, but then when it’s done and you watch the whole package from their journeys and I don’t know anything even as a producer. We know a little bit I know of what’s going on in the workroom, but really not. And I really don’t know people’s stories [or] journeys. I don’t even ask to see the cuts before they go out, because I want to watch it with everybody else. It’s so much more fun that way to see the live reaction of how everybody’s feeling, how everybody’s taking it. So, it was a special season for so many reasons. I just feel like Drag has grown so much and it continues to grow. And seeing these kids come into who they are as individuals and then put Drag on top of that is very rewarding for the world to see, and very validating for kids and maybe not kids that are watching it and never felt they had a place where they belong or fit in or to see anybody like them represented on television. It’s a beautiful thing to see all of that out there and happening.
RuPaul put out a statement which he doesn’t always do after the nominations. And it struck me that he was really speaking to the challenges going on with the LGBTQ community, with the crazy “Don’t Say Gay” laws, attacks on trans kids, etc. I know that this season in particular and even his past “Whatcha Packin’” season were shot a little bit away from that. But you have been shooting new upcoming seasons currently, and I’m wondering what the mindset of production has been. Do you feel like that has affected your guys’ mission in making the show shows going forward at all?
I don’t know if it’s affected our mission, but I will say that from the beginning, the show is a show for queer people made by queer people. And it was first on the queer network. It was first shown on Logo and it’s always been our little engine of love that could and will change the world. And I feel like the mission has never veered. It has never changed from that. It’s always been about Drag, fun, and about queer people’s stories. We have to hold up the legacy of the people that came before us. And this show has a great way of doing that by getting all of these stories out there, good and bad because they’re all trials and tribulations of what queer people go through. And again, we are facing a really hard time now in the United States of America in 2022 is actually unbelievable, what is going on and turning back time. It’s really, really crazy. You never thought that this would happen, but yet here we are. So, I don’t know if the mission has changed, but I will tell you that the voices have become louder.
You are probably the hardest working person in media next to Ru. I know that you’re about to shoot “Queen of the Universe’s” second season plus you have “Drag Race Down Under” and “Drag Race UK.”
And you even took time out last year when you could have been having a vacation to cohost “The Wendy Williams Show” with your good friend Leah Remini. Does your husband, does your family ever say, “Hey, let’s take the one month off you have off?” Or is that just not in your blood?
So, I learned how to work from Joan Rivers. I’m one of those people that has to keep moving because I feel like a piece of me is wilting away when I don’t work. I love using my brain and my mind all day, every day. Even on the days that I’m not working, I’ll take a dance class or I’ll do something just to keep myself not sitting. Now, my husband hates it at times. So, that was a good question. We just had our 25th anniversary and I was filming on that day. So I was like, “We’ll find a time to do our anniversaries in June, but we’ll have to go away.” And [now it’s almost] September and we’re trying to find a way, but luckily I’ve been married for 25 years to a man who loves me and is my rock and my other half quite literally. And I couldn’t do any of this without him. But to answer your question, I can’t sit still. I fear for myself because I was watching Joan in her documentary at the end of it. And she was talking about, “Here’s my book. And if I see any blank space on I feel like I’m dead.” It was very dramatic. But I relate to that and I always want to do something bigger and better and funner and just things that don’t stop. And Leah and I have big plans with our talk show. So we’ll see.
Oh wait, are you guys working on your own talk show? I thought I’d read something, but I wasn’t sure.
I will just say yes. Yes.
O.K., now I’m being the realist. With your scheduled commitments already, is that actually possible to do?
Yes, it is.
Wow. O.K.
There are ways around things. You can film two and three talk shows in one day.
That is cool.
So there are ways around it. And everybody takes hiatus. So when one show’s on a hiatus, you fill up the schedule and you make it work because don’t forget, Leah’s got her “People Puzzler” and she did “So You Think You Can Dance.” So, sure thing, you figure it out if you want it bad enough and if a company wants it bad enough and if it does well enough, you make it work. I’ll just have Christmas and New Year’s day off. That’s about it.
Having been part of the “Drag Race” world for so long now, and again, you talked about the fact it started on a really small cable channel. The things that the Queens are doing today, even as someone who is the biggest fan, I never would’ve guessed that Shea Coulee would be cast as a series regular in an MCU series, or that Symone would be in a Universal Studios movie with Billy Eichner. Are there things that you’ve witnessed that even you are shocked by?
I don’t know if I am shocked as much as I am through the roof, to the moon, whatever analogy you want to do that I just messed up. Because understand I’ve been a fan of Drag since I was 17 years old when I first moved to New York City. And I grew up in the Harlem ballroom scene and being a kid that was in a house, it was definitely all gay people. And I would say to them, “Let’s go to a Drag show.” And Drag was marginalized within the gay community. They’d be like, “Ew, why are you so stuffed up with Drag? It’s not a big deal, this thing.” And I’m like, “No. Drag is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. How could you not think it’s a big deal?” So for me, it’s me sitting in the sidelines as all of their mothers clapping and being so thrilled for them because this is what they deserved. This is what I thought they deserved 30 years ago. So the world is just catching up to what I already knew. So, I’m never shocked. I am thrilled. That’s the difference.
Speaking of the Harlem ballroom scene, I have to ask you just this weekend, I know you’re a super Madonna fan and Beyonce just came out with The Queens Remix, what would someone have seen on your face when you heard it for the first time? What was your reaction?
For some reason, I couldn’t find it on my Apple Music. I was like, “What is going on? Why can’t I find this?” I was freaking out and then I found it on SoundCloud and I just blasted it. And my husband was like, “What are you doing?” I was blasting it like I was 16 years old in my 1979 Buick LeSabre boombox, windows open. Ridiculousness is what was showing on my face. Both of them together with the “Vogue,” mix, it’s everything I wanted it to be. It’s everything. This is a good moment in queer pop music. Full stop.
The last question for you is regarding “Secret Celebrity Drag Race,” what can you tease people? What’s exciting about it?
First of all, they think they know what it is, but they don’t. This is on another level. Have you seen any of it, Greg?
Oh, I’ll see it when it airs.
Oh My God, Greg. It is on another level of glossy and fabulous. And with mentors like Juju, Monet, and Brooke Lynn Hytes, there’s no missing for these secret celebrities. They learn so much about themselves, but the drag, and the performances are on another level. You are going to be blown away by this. And I’m telling you if we could work this in every single quarter, forget about once a year, every quarter, I am obsessed with it because I’m obsessed with the celebrities getting into Drag and finding themselves, finding a part of them that they never knew existed. That’s the fun and the beauty of this. You’re going to freak out. I promise you. It is such a fun ride.
I hope you have all have a great time at the Emmy Awards.
Aw, thank you, sweetheart. I think I will. I’m excited. No matter what, it’s such a moment. This little kid from South Plainfield, New Jersey, it’s such a moment to be able to be like, “I’m going to the Emmy Awards and I’m going to see this person and that person.” And I’m still a fan before anything else. I’m still a fan of these performers and they might not know who I am, but I’d run up to all of them and be like, “Love you”, and go away. So when they do know who I am, it’s even more of a shock. It’s like, “Oh my God, you know who I am?” So you take for granted what you do. At least I take for granted what’s that people watch what I do and like what I do and it’s like, “Oh my God, you know who I am?” It’s always shocking to me, but it’s the most amazing night. I love getting pretty.
“RuPaul’s Drag Race” season 14 is available on “Watcha Packin’” is available on YouTube.

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