She certainly has come a long way from the hallways of South Plainfield high school in Central New Jersey. From the stages as part of the group Seduction, to the airwaves of 103.5 KTU (where she co-hosted morning drive with RuPaul) she has taken her rightful place next to RuPaul on the judges panel on the LOGO juggernaut, "RuPaul's Drag Race". Michelle is taking her life lessons and Jersey sass and putting it into "The Diva Rules", which will truly help every gorgeous girl and boy channel their inner strength.
Michelle sat down with us to chat about the sometimes bumpy road to "The Diva Rules", where her undying love for the gays comes from, and her dreams of being on the Great White Way.
You've gone from one of the members of Seduction to a being paired with RuPaul on 103.5 KTU radio, and now you're a judge on the wildly popular "RuPaul's Drag Race". How's it feel to add "author" to your extensive resume with "The Diva Rules"?
I can't even believe it! It really feels weird that I have actually written the book and can actually hold it in my hands. It's definitely kind of awesome. You know, being in radio for so long, every time a book would show up at the station, we would all be like "ugh another book". The only ones that we would really consider were the celebrity books. Now that I have actually written one and seeing the extent and passion that really goes into the process when you do it yourself, it literally is like a child and it's like it's part of me. Now I know why people are so passionate about their books. It literally takes over your their lives.
Throughout "The Diva Rules" you sprinkle in stories about your time in Seduction, sitting on the "Drag Race" panel next to RuPaul, and of course the legendary ball scene. The book is tons of fun dish, but also lots of life lessons. Where does all this knowledge stem from?
With me, it really came from bumps in the road! It came from me being down and and being told I can't and won't and never will. I was so naive when people were telling me those things. I had to finally say "Yes I am. I am more than good enough".
I want not just the kids who read "The Diva Rules" to get this message, but I also want the people that gave up their passion to get it as well. Those who gave it up to chase the almighty dollar, or maybe forgot what their passion actually was. Maybe they wanted to be an astronaut, or even President of the United States, and someone like their parents or maybe a teacher told them that they weren't good enough; eventually they started to believe that. Look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being a laborer or something like that, but the part that is wrong is that you gave up on your dream.
It's never too late to reclaim your inner diva and reclaim your inner strength. You get one go round in this life. Why are you going to settle for second best when you can get everything you want out of it? Sometimes it takes a reality check and someone saying "she did it, I can do it too". Sometimes you need a swift kick in the ass to get up and go, and chase after what we are truly supposed to get.
For "people of a certain age" going back to the glory days of New York City during the "Paris Is Burning" ball scene must have been like opening a gorgeous time capsule. What was it like to revisit those times?
You know, when I started reliving it again and I started talking to Cesar (Valentino)there was a lot of going "Oh My God" when we relived it. I definitely had to go over it with Cesar because I totally would have fucked it up chronologically, even though the facts all remained the same. Going over things with him, those times were so important and so special to me, that when I relived them again, it made me kind of melancholy in a good way. I missed that feeling of freedom that I had all the time. I knew that I could go out of my house and be loved and welcomed by these boys and lady-boys all the time, every single day. There is absolutely nothing like that.
I had great friendships my whole life, I mean, my best friend from childhood I'm still in touch with now. But those boys; what they did, how strong they were and what they came from, and how they're lives were affected because they were living with their grandparents because their own parents didn't accept them. They had to fight to eat every day. Some of them didn't know where their next meal was coming from, which is why I always had a houseful of gays. I had myself and my two roommates in a one bedroom apartment, and a gaggle of gays waiting for me to go to the clubs every night. Now of course, I let them eat my food also!
You speak a lot about your mother, Arlene in "The Diva Rules" and it looks like she was almost like the original "Diva".
My mother was incredible. She made sure that every single one of those boys that I mentioned earlier were fed. Cereal, hot dogs, everything. She would come in every other week, or I would see her at her house and she would send me home with bags of groceries; it's just the way we were. My parents both worked, I was a "latchkey kid". We were lower-middle class, and they did everything that they could to give me anything I wanted, within reason. We were not rich by any stretch of the imagination, but being an adopted kid, I think we had a different connotation. My parents tried extra hard I think.
I think adopted kids feel chosen because their parents could not have biological children, so the parents kind of go above and beyond, you know? My parents did everything that they could. When I would get bullied, it was the kids who thought that I was this rich Jewish girl and it really could not have been further from the truth. Outwardly though, it was what it appeared to be to those bullies. For me, my parents made sure that people and my friends had food and were taken care of. My mother was an absolute trip and I miss her so much. She was so so funny!
In short, the gay community have been absolutely everything to you. What do you think is at the root of this mutual admiration society?
The only thing I can surmise is that I was both gay and British in a former life (LOL)! I really can't explain it, you know? I talk about Glen, the guy that I stuck up for that kind of changed the trajectory of my life. It was bullied and a weirdo in school and was picked on. This was someone who not only was being bullied, but who did not have a voice. I realized that I have such a loud voice, I can use it! Trust me, I didn't concisely say that I was going to change everything, it was more that this kid was being picked on and no one gave a shit about it. That's really where it all started.
When I moved to New York City, I lived with these two spoiled rich girls and they didn't mesh with me at all, it wasn't who I am. I didn't run around talking about the dinner theatre I did "here" or "there". I grew up kind of like this broke-ass ghetto girl in Central New Jersey, who did regional theatre. It wasn't swanky at all over in Dunellen, N.J. My acting coach was actually in Dunellen and he absolutely changed my life and helped me in so many ways. I also went to the School of the Arts in Edison, N.J. for parts of the week to do music theory and art classes. You had to audition to get in, it was a pretty cool program. My parents really would find ways without going into New York City all the time; things like that and the experiences like that really changes and shaped my life.
All of those places in New Jersey shaped my life really, all the teachers and all the people. They weren't all women, they were also gay men. There was always some sort of gay connection. Actually, the first report I ever wrote was when I was eight years old; it was about Mae West! I was actually going to do it on Mark Spitz, since i was a swimmer also. I guess somewhere among the "Marks" there was "Mae". I looked at it and went "Whaaa"? I mean, what second grader writes a report on Mae West? I remember looking back on it and when we dressed up for Halloween I would dress as Miss Hannigan from "Annie". I mean, I was a big music theatre nerd and wasn't into all that standard stuff growing up. It's always been there you know? You really can't say why, it's just always been there.
What we draw inspiration from can be so fluid. You may have drew inspiration from the ball scene and the voguing community back in the day, and today it may be something different. What inspires Michelle Visage today?
Those days are gone, they aren't like that any more. I only go to gay bars when I do appearances, I wouldn't know a straight bar if it hit me in the face. Any time I have gone to anything that is "allegedly" a straight bar, I would literally rather chew through tin foil; its torturous! I'm so glad that I'm married eighteen years and have my gorgeous children; they're constantly my inspiration. I'm a club kid and going to gay bars and clubs is still so energizing. It makes me so happy to still see (legendary New York City and nightlife personality) Suzanne Bartsch and still see that she's doing what she's doing. I mean she changed my life, she changed so many people's lives. She's still being a fierce fucking diva doing what she does today. Any party I went to today in New York City would be a Suzanne party. The parties just aren't like that anymore. That beautiful moment in time is captured in a celluloid moment now; it's not reality anymore. It's not necessarily the worst thing that it's not, it's evolution. Trust me, I don't need to be gluing glow sticks on my face at this point in the game. The fact that it still exists sometimes is fabulous. We were so lucky to grow up in a time that is remembered that way. Geraldo (Rivera) used to have the club kids on his show and it was amazing! I am so glad I grew up and experienced the generation that I grew up in.
Season Eight of "RuPaul's Drag Race" just wrapped up filming correct?
Is there anything you can say at all about the new season?
You know, everyone asks me that and I value my job way too much to say anything at all LOL! The only thing that I can say is that it is so dynamic and so so good! The queens are so amazing. I think the people are going to be really excited this season!
From "RuPaul's Drag Race" to "Celebrity Big Brother" in the U.K. last year, to the "Battle Of The Seasons" tour that you host, you've truly done a little bit of everything recently. Any interest in dipping your toe into the reality genre on a show like "Celebrity Apprentice" or "Dancing With The Stars"?
I don't think I would do "Celebrity Apprentice", I don't think it would show be in that great a light. I'm not this powerful businesswoman. I'm strong willed and strong minded, and I definitely could do it, but it's just not my thing. As for "Dancing With The Stars", I've been there to support Leah (Remini) and it scares me to death, so usually when something scares me it means I should do it. I probably would not do it only just to challenge myself, but to be a voice for the gays, so that would be a big reason to do it.
I would not want to become one of those people who is like "hey look at me, now I'm on Couples Therapy". No disrespect to those that do it, as there is something for everyone, I just don't want to be that person. For "Celebrity Big Brother" I did the show because a)I'm a huge anglophile and b)I'm obsessed with "CBB" and I have been watching it for years. It's the only show I actually sought out and was wanting to do for a long time. It's like saying I want to be on "American Horror Story" or "Glee"; I'm not being seen for those shows though. I need to go where my people are, and my people are grass roots; I go where the gays are gonna want to see me. I think "Dancing With The Stars" would be a great representation and to say I'm here for the gays.
What's next up after "The Diva Rules" hits the bookstores?
Well, it's been my dream since I am eight years old to get on Broadway. I haven't pursued it because I got in Seduction, then the radio, then VH1, etc. I want to do a real revival, a true one. I'd rather wait for a revival of "Follies" or maybe play "Miss Mona" in "The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas". Those are the things I want to do, to commit to doing a show. RuPaul also has a holiday album coming out, "Slay Belles", and we have a brand new duet on it, "From Your Heart", it's so good!
What one quote or thought would you give that little kid reading this article who truly is reaching out?
Your life is beginning right now; it's not ending now. You can change anything you have done up until this point. People sometimes think they're stuck, they have no chance, they have no choice. You can change anything, any situation you are in right now. You have the ability and the capacity and wherewithal to change the direction of your life right now. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't.
Photo courtesy of Mathu Andersen