Arts

Life's a drag in best possible sense for Ireland's Got Talent judge Michelle Visage

Michelle Visage has taken Ireland to her heart as one of the Ireland's Got Talent TV show judges. Ahead of a stage version of hit reality show RuPaul's Drag Race coming to Ireland this summer, the US star tells Joanne Sweeney about her partnership with the world's most successful drag artist

Ireland's Got Talent judge Michelle Visage will be hosting the RuPaul's Werq the World tour show in Belfast
Joanne Sweeney

IT'S hard not to notice when Michelle Visage, the undisputed 'queen' of drag, is in the house, with her big hair, her big laugh and her even bigger personality.

The best friend and cohort of legendary American drag queen RuPaul – he of Emmy award-winning reality television series RuPaul's Drag Race fame – has just finished her first stint as a judge on TV3's Ireland's Got Talent. Judging by her reception, it won't be her last.

With her 'fabaliss' style and diva persona, Michelle had Irish viewers eating out of her hand with her glam looks and razor-sharp wit. Nicola Coughlan, who plays Claire Devlin in Channel 4's Derry Girls, is one personality who has tweeted her love for the feisty American.

Along with X-Factor judge Louis Walsh, performer Denise Van Outen and comedian Jason Byrne, Michelle helped to steer the acts to the live finals, with Cork dance troupe RDC finally emerging as the show's inaugural winner last weekend.

She has also gained a lot of new fans and kudos by giving Irish designers a major platform through wearing local dress and glass designs on the show.

Like most Americans, Michelle tells me she has some Irish blood in her and feels a certain connection with us, despite being New Jersey born and bred: "I'm 25 per cent Irish. My great, great granny was from here and I am just trying to locate where from.

"It was so much fun to do Ireland's Got Talent. And my favourite quality about the Irish? That they don't give a s**t!"

A known LGBTQ supporter and campaigner for equal rights, the only rain on Michelle's Irish parade is the lack of same-sex marriage in the north, as the south introduced equal marriage rights in 2015.

"I have stated it publicly many times. It's ridiculous that Northern Ireland still doesn't have marriage equality. It literally blows my mind, considering the UK as a whole is way more progressive than even America in some ways.”

However, Ireland's Got Talent is not the last we will see of Michelle as she and the stars from some of the previous seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race are on tour with a stage show called Werq The World show, which features drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race. It's coming to The Waterfront in Belfast and Dublin's Olympia Theatre in early June.

Anyone who knows the TV show (Drag Race's Season 10 has just aired on Netflix) can expect to see their favourite drag queens, such as season 8 winner Bob The Drag Queen and other favourite queens Alyssa Edwards, Shangela, Detox, Kim Chi, Valentina, Peppermint, and Latrice Royale when Werq The World comes to Ireland.

It promises to be a mixture of glamourous costumery and make-up with outrageous mime, dance and live singing performances all hosted by Michelle, who used to be a pop singer in the US.

The 49-year-old says that no matter what queen appears on the night, the audience is in for a treat.

"The girls do whatever they want to do, no holds barred number wise, and though I do host, I also perform. We try not to let the line-up vary too much, but other commitments sometimes override and you can't help it. But I can say that no matter who you get to see on the night you are going, it will be so much fun."

She says the live show helps reveal new sides to the drag queens not previously seen: "On the show they are doing particular challenges and not necessarily something they would do normally, so I also get excited to see them do what they feel they do best."

Michelle, who also finished fifth in Celebrity Big Brother in 2015, has been a judge with RuPaul on the Drag Race TV show since 2009 but the duo have also co-hosted a radio show from the 1990s.

Their friendship began years before that in the gay clubs of New York where RuPaul was an up and coming young drag act, still very much in the early stages of her career and creation, and Michelle used to 'vogue'. Vogue, made famous in the 1990 Madonna hit, is a style of dance which is essentially adopting various model-esque poses. Apparently Michelle was so good at giving 'face' – striking a great facial pose – that she was nicknamed Visage; hence her name today.

RuPaul and Michelle hit it off and have since become gay icons with RuPaul running a multi-million-dollar business as a drag queen, TV star, singer, actor and author. Apart from Michelle's recording and broadcasting career, she is also a writer, having written her part-memoir, part-inspirational book The Diva Rules in 2015.

What she says she loves best of all from the tour is the reaction of fans.

"I get some pretty great gifts and heartfelt letters which are my favourite and it's all fun and love."

Known as tour 'mother', a title she says she wears with pride, Michelle has two daughters with her screen writer husband David Case, who has become a stay-at-home parent where they live in Los Angles to allow his wife to follow her career.

:: For tickets for RuPaul's Werq The World show at The Waterfront, Belfast, on June 1 see waterfront.co.uk

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