Michelle Visage (Getty Images)
Michelle Visage has been a lot of things, from suburban New Jersey teen to voguer in New York’s ballroom scene. She’s been a girl group member and a DJ and, finally, a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now she’s written a book, The Diva Rules, to help everyone — “the book is really for girls and gays,” she says — create their own path.
The Michelle Visage who walks into an interview is not the one you view on television, who can see through any facade and is always ready with a quip about the look you’re serving. Certainly that Michelle is in there somewhere, but just as she expects the queens on Drag Race to show, Michelle Visage is no one-trick pony. Her compassion is contagious as she talks about the misfits for whom she wrote the book.
“The journey was written to help out the kids who feel like they can’t get what they want, or that they’re stuck, or people tell them they’re not good enough, or there’s someone younger, skinnier, taller, fatter, whatever,” Visage says. “I’ve been told my whole life that I could never be a celebrity or a star, I could never accomplish what I want to accomplish and I don’t want you guys to think that that’s the message. You can all get what you want to get and so my journey was to show you how many times along the way adversity has stared me right in the face and I’ve looked it right back and said, ‘No.’”
She hasn’t always been Michelle Visage. The name was something she picked up while hanging out with the ballroom kids featured in Jennie Livingston’s 1990 documentary Paris Is Burning.
“I got involved in the underground world known as ballroom culture and I used to walk a category called ‘face’ and it was a very heavily Latino culture — it’s black and Latino — and they used to call me ‘cara’ which means face in Spanish, so I started putting ‘cara’ on everything: hats, jackets,” Visage says. “And then I’d walk down the street and people would be like, ‘Cara, hey, Cara.’ [rhymes with Farrah] And I’m all, ‘Are they talking to me? My name’s not Cara,’ and then I realized, Oh my god it’s because ‘cara’ looks like Cara. So long story short, I took six years of French in school, visage means face in French, hence Michelle Visage.”
Judging from the book, however, the star quality has always been there.
Visage admits her name’s not an easy one. “It is a very difficult name, Ru and I always joke about that. Probably if I did it again I wouldn’t have chosen it. … Ru can do it no problem, which is funny because Ru messes up a lot of words, but Michelle Visage she can do in his sleep.”
Michelle Visage and RuPaul (Giphy)
Which leads us to RuPaul. The two have been friends for years and have hosted both radio and television shows together. Ru writes the foreward in The Diva Rules, a sweet love letter between two soulmates.
“I’m a very lucky gal to have such a good friend,” Visage says. “There’s soulmates on different levels, just because you’re not lovers doesn’t mean you can’t be soulmates. Ru’s my soulmate as a best friend, we complete each other in many ways.”
The two have struck gold with Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race which, in seven seasons, has become a total phenomenon.
“On paper one would think this is a niche show about boys dressing up like girls and then they fight and then there’s a winner; that’s like the littlest part of it, the art of drag is the smallest part,” Visage says. “The most amazing part of it is their journey, how they were shunned by their families, or the reunion with a mother who has kicked them out or a father that wouldn’t talk to them. And what they went through to continue their art, and the passion they have for what they do, and how they fought so hard to be who they are and come out on top.”
Visage promises season 8 will be better than ever — "it’s unreal, you’re gonna be blown away” — but where does one go from here?
“I would love to throw my own ball,” Visage says. “I talked to Ru about putting together some kind of Pride Ball where we can have categories and, you know, I’d love to work the Drag Race girls into it, and I would live to judge a ball, live to judge a ball. I’ve been judged by many a queen at many a ball. It’s a really great idea, it’s just a matter of logistics, you know time and where to do it, but it’s definitely something that is on my bucket list.”
For now, though, Visage is happy to be preaching her unique method of self-made success.
“We want to get the best life that we can, and how do we do that when we’re running here, we’re running there, we’re parents, we’re this, and how do we pay the bills, and how do we get what we want, and that’s what the book is about,” Visage says so passionately you really believe it. “You don’t have to give up your dreams in order to earn a living — they can go hand in hand.”