Get To Know Michelle Visage Of RuPaul's Drag Race

In "RuPaul's Drag Race," Michelle Visage tells it like it is, and she knows that doesn't always endear her to viewers. However, she insisted to Spin that viewers who take issue with her judging style misunderstand what she's doing on the show. "When people come for me, they don't know my background," she said. "These children don't know I come from [the ballroom scene in New York], they don't know what the f*** I know x... You really think [RuPaul's] gonna have my a** on there if I don't know what the f*** I'm talking about?" 

Visage does know what she's talking about, because she has the impressive resumé to back it up. She's been part of the queer community for a very long time, going back to the birth of vogue in NYC ball culture in the '80s. Her decades-long friendship and creative partnership with RuPaul led her to "Drag Race," where she now gets to stretch her ally muscles on VH1. She knows it's a reciprocal relationship, too, telling Vulture, "I truly believe my calling is to be here for a community that's always been there for me."

Besides her bona fides as an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, there's another secret to Visage's persona on television: It's just television! She told The Huffington Post, "When people meet me, their reaction is usually both 'You're so tiny' and 'You're so nice!'" Read on to get to know Michelle Visage.

She's a Jersey girl

Anyone who has seen Michelle Visage's iconic "RuPaul's Drag Race" appearances segments like "Jersey Justice," will not be surprised to learn that she's a born and raised Jersey Girl. Anyone who has realized that "Visage" is French for "face" won't be surprised to learn that "Michelle Visage" was not her birth name. The girl who would grow up to be a drag judge was born Michelle Lynn Shupack in 1968, and she was adopted, which she told Vulture made her feel like she stood out. "Being an adopted kid, I never felt like I fit in anywhere, let alone in a peer circle," she recalled.

"I grew up a lower-middle-class latchkey kid," she told Shondaland. However, her parents encouraged her to pursue her ambitions to perform. "My mother would barter, beg, or steal to get me acting classes and voice lessons," she explained, adding that her father owned a trophy shop, so he offered the school a discount on trophies in exchange for acting lessons from the drama teacher.

She started performing early because she had so much support. At age 13, she was in a band called Obstruction of Justice (via Instagram). She also performed in a production of "The Sound of Music," and at age 16, ended up victorious in a Madonna look-a-like competition. "You won 500 bucks and bragging rights," she told Vulture. "The bragging rights were more important to me."

Her formative ballroom years

In the late '80s, Michelle Visage moved to New York City to find fame at 17. At first, she struggled to find her tribe, and her mom had an idea. "My mother told me if I was going to get discovered or recognized, I had to go to nightlife," Visage told Vulture. She protested that she was underage, but her mother had a solution for that, too. "She sent me a fake ID with a note that said, 'You have no excuses. Now go.'"

While at a club called The Underground, a boy approached Visage and told her she had the most beautiful face he'd ever seen. He invited her to join him in the basement of the club. "It was 30 or 40 of the freakiest-looking misfits doing this weird dance I had never seen before," she told Interview. The dance? Voguing. She joined the House of Magnifique, dancing with nightlife legend Cesar Valentino. "I was not too fat, too short, too white, anything," Visage recalled fondly. "I was beautiful to them." Visage was so involved in the scene that the first time voguing appeared on television in 1988 — before Madonna took it mainstream — Michelle Visage was there.

She told Yahoo that she used to compete in the "face" category at balls, and for a while, her nickname was "Cara" — Spanish for "face." She decided to go French instead, and "Michelle Visage" was born.

Fame came calling with Seduction

Michelle Visage decided to audition for a girl group she'd heard about from her friend, Idalis de Leon. She told Rediscover the 80s, "I proceeded to blow them away by singing Teena Marie's 'Deja Vu' and Jennifer Holliday's 'I Am Love' ... BAM, I was hired then and there!" She joined the group alongside de Leon and April Harris, and her next few years were spent recording and performing around the country.

The group released some hit singles over a several-year period, including their biggest smash, "Two to Make It Right." When the group was interviewed on BET, Visage explained her look, which involved curly blonde hair. "My idol, vocally, is Teena Marie," she explained. "Image-wise is Marilyn Monroe. And Madonna is high on my list too." Despite Seduction's success on the charts, Visage says her stint in the group didn't make her particularly rich. "I didn't make a dime, but I was happy," she told RuPaul in an interview for Entertainment Weekly, adding that the girls in the group were paid a salary of $1,000 per week. "At the end of the day, I did it because I was so excited to do it."

Seduction toured with Milli Vanilli, and Visage got on well with a lip-syncing popstar, Fabrice Morvan. "Fabrice and I had a beautiful love affair for the length of the tour and to this day we remain very good friends," she told Rediscover the 80s. "I adore him."

Her early collaborations with RuPaul

Before her Seduction days, Michelle Visage met someone who would become important in her life: a drag queen named RuPaul Charles, who was performing in the New York City nightlife scene at the same time that she was. "I remember seeing Ru at parties and being like, 'Who is this crazy, seven-foot-tall, Afro-wearing, short-skirt, earring-crazy b***h?'" Visage later recalled to Spin. They would first run into each other at events thrown by legendary nightlife icon Susanne Bartsch, where performance artists held shocking shows and drag queens were plentiful. They reconnected years later, after Ru's "Supermodel of the World" single had taken off, and he told Visage, "I had my eye on you for years."

They worked together in radio first, co-hosting a morning show on WKTU. "RuPaul walks in and goes, 'Oh, my God, of course, it's you ... all roads lead to Visage!'" she recalled of their first broadcast together (via Shondaland). Their working relationship led to a talk show on VH1 called "The RuPaul Show," where they acted in comedic sketches and aired pieces that sent Visage into the field to interview people. During this time, Visage had red hair to match her fiery persona. The show would last two years.

Visage told Spin that she later tried to thank Ru for bringing her on "The RuPaul Show." With his typical caustic wit, he shot back, "I bring you because you make me look better."

She joined RuPaul's Drag Race in Season 3

A little more than a decade after the cancellation of "The RuPaul Show," Ru returned to television with "RuPaul's Drag Race." He called up his old friend Michelle Visage, and offered her a seat on the judging panel. But as she explained to Vulture, she was under contract at a radio station in Florida, and the boss didn't want to let her do it because he didn't think the listenership would appreciate her appearing on a show geared toward gay audiences. "I was so offended that I had to call Ru and tell him," Visage recalled. "And there was disdain. He was upset, and I was upset. He wasn't mad at me. He understood. But this show was conceptualized with me next to him."

They managed to work it out for Season 3, thanks to a well-timed call to CBS execs about her homophobic boss from Visage's friend Leah Remini. The former Seduction songstress has been a permanent fixture on the "Drag Race" judging panel ever since. Visage is happy for the attention brought to the art of drag and especially for the show's ability to uplift the lives of drag performers. "It's always been a marginalized art form for these talented kids who never would have been recognized," she said in Entertainment Weekly. "They still would be ... doing what they do for pennies on the dollar ... but now they're getting more of what I believe they're worth.

She hates the color green

Michelle Visage's judging style on "RuPaul's Drag Race" has been compared to Simon Cowell of "American Idol" fame. In other words, if she doesn't like something, she's going to tell you. She explained her strategy to Indiewire, revealing, "My love for them is tough, but my love for them is genuine. I'm their biggest fan first, but I don't speak to them like a fangirl, because I want them to be the best that they can be."

Sometimes, though, her critiques come out of left field, attaining meme status in the community that has sprung up around the show. In Season 4, she criticized a contestant named Madame LaQueer for wearing a look with a shade of green she disliked. LaQueer wore green again the following week and was sent home. Eventual Season 4 winner Sharon Needles referenced Visage's dislike of the color several episodes later during the show's iconic "Snatch Game" segment.

Her dislike of green comes up often on the show when contestants wear her least favorite color and are afraid of angering her. Guest judge Tamar Braxton didn't understand the joke, prompting one of the best comebacks in "Drag Race" herstory: "Well, Tamar, have you ever watched the show?" However, as fans are quick to point out, Visage herself wears the color!

She authored a self-help book

In 2015, Michelle Visage added "author" to her growing list of multi-hyphenate titles. She released a memoir and self-help book called "The Diva Rules: Ditch the Drama, Find Your Strength, and Sparkle Your Way To The Top," giving readers advice to be more self-assured and fabulous. Explaining the title to Logo, she said, "To me, a diva is someone who is in complete control of every aspect of her lives," she said. "Their personality, their career — and they do it with style and dignity." She elaborated on her definition — "Never confuse the word 'diva' with the word 'b***h,'" she cautioned in a video. "They're two very separate things."

Sections of advice in the book include "Give Good Face," "Keep Your S**t Together," and "Be Thankful You're A Misfit." Visage appeared on the U.K. talk show "Lorraine" to promote the book, and she said that she hoped her advice would be part of her legacy. The book was inspired by messages she received from unhappy young people. "All they're looking for is validation and how to feel good about themselves and love themselves ... It made me want to write a book to tell them that I'm on the same journey with them, that none of us are invincible. We all have down days, and that's okay."

She's a British reality fixture

Michelle Visage isn't just a reality television fixture in America, where the flagship "RuPaul's Drag Race" series airs. She's also a mainstay on reality shows in the U.K., having appeared as a contestant on both "Celebrity Big Brother" and "Strictly Come Dancing" in addition to judging "Ireland's Got Talent." She loves British culture so much that she told The Times, "I always joke that in a former life I was definitely a gay British man. If I did life regression I absolutely would be British."

When she appeared on "Celebrity Big Brother," she got into an explosive argument with gossip blogger Perez Hilton. According to PinkNews, Hilton behaved erratically on the show, "dry humping" the furniture. "What we just witnessed is an outrage," Visage said in a confessional. "[Hilton] sets our community back fifty years. He's an embarrassment, I do not want people judging the gay community on this a**." Fans of the show created YouTube compilations showing Visage "reading" Hilton, confronting him for ignoring her when he got famous. "Don't fool yourself into thinking that you know the British public," she told him. "I spend a lot of time here and I spend all of my time watching British telly."

Visage ultimately came in fifth place on the show, and in her exit interview, she said she understood that she was the least-known of her competitors in the U.K. "I feel very honored, blessed, and humbled," she concluded.

She's a West End performer

In 2018, Michelle Visage added another impressive entry to her already-extensive entertainment resume: West End star. The former "Seduction" singer joined the cast of "Everybody's Talking About Jamie," a musical about a teenager who wants to be a drag queen. Visage played Miss Hedge, a strict teacher who tries to tamp down her student's desire to be fabulous. The choice to have Visage play against her usual type as a drag mentor on "RuPaul's Drag Race" paid off.

"For me to be on the West End stage is a big dream come true," Visage told The part took a lot of work, including perfecting her British accent. "I'm doing a Northern accent, albeit there are times when I walk offstage and I go, 'That was really American ...'" she told PopBuzz, adding that she worked with a dialect coach who teaches at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Reflecting on her experience after her run in the show ended, she wrote on Instagram, "One of the best experiences of my theatre career."

Her feud with Jessie J

In addition to judging "Drag Race," Michelle Visage also emcees various tours that have sprung up around the show's deep roster of alumni. "It's amazing to see it come from [gay bars] ... to playing these arenas," she told GayTimes. "I did not expect it to be on this level. This is next level s**t. It's unbelievable." It seems like they had a good experience, though there was that time the tour bus caught fire (via Logo). Hey, at least they were rescued by a bunch of firemen!

On one particular tour stop, Visage and the "Drag Race" girls felt slighted by a certain British pop star. Visage told GayTimes that sometimes she's hesitant about the celebrity guest judges on "Drag Race," anticipating bad behavior. "You don't know if they're going to be standoffish, not nice, a total cold person like Jessie J was to us when we did the tour in Australia," she said. "...I don't care if you put that in there. It wasn't nice."

A few years later, the "Price Tag" singer appeared on Michelle Visage's "Rule Breakers" podcast to make up. Jessie admitted that she was going through a tough personal time when they met. "Both my grandparents died, and I'd just been told I couldn't have children," she revealed, adding that she was touring through it all. "We've talked since then, and it's all good," Visage conceded.

Michelle Visage still sings

After Seduction disbanded, Michelle Visage sang on a few other music projects, including S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M., whose song "It's Gonna Be A Lovely Day" appeared on the soundtrack for "The Bodyguard." When her radio and television careers took off, however, her music took a back seat to her other skills.

That all changed in 2021 when she hopped on a track by British '90s pop group Steps. Together they released a reworked version of "Heartbreak in This City." Band member Claire Richards told Retropop that Visage was a great match for the group's aesthetic, explaining, "It couldn't be more perfect. I think if we're going to do it with anybody, then she is actually the perfect choice. She's even more camp than we are – which is a feat in itself!" Visage was as excited about the opportunity as they were. "Who was I to say 'no'? Are you kidding me?! A DREAM," she exclaimed to Clash. "To be the sixth member of Steps? I am Michelle from Steps ... officially!" 

The song would go on to be used as a Lip Sync For Your Life selection on the second season of "RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under," where contestants Molly Poppinz and Hannah Conda battled it out to Visage's voice. After dipping her toe back in the pop pool, Visage told Variety that she was considering a bigger return to music. "I was thinking about [a solo album] today," she admitted. "What am I waiting for?"

She starred in Explant

In her early seasons on "RuPaul's Drag Race," Michelle Visage's ample cleavage provided material for jokes. However, behind the scenes, she began to suspect that her breast implants were the cause of years-long symptoms from Hashimoto's disease, an autoimmune condition in which the body attacks the thyroid gland (via Page Six). "If I have an autoimmune disease and my body is attacking itself," she reasoned, "there's only one common denominator here. I have an invader."

Visage produced and starred in a documentary called "Explant" about having her experience because she wanted to spread the word. "The reason I did it is because I knew I wasn't alone," she told Variety, adding that she felt like breast implant companies, the FDA, and the medical community at large were taking advantage of women who were suffering. "We women constantly have to fight to be heard," she said. "And there are so many women that are sick and dying." When the movie was released, she wrote on Instagram, "HEAR ME WHEN I SAY THIS: BREASTS DO NOT MAKE THE WOMAN!!!! YOU ARE ENOUGH!!!!"

Along those lines, she says she didn't struggle with the decision to have her implants taken out nearly as much as everyone else. "Flat boobs and a floppy stomach is what I've got," she told Today. "I'm happy. My husband's happy, too, so screw the rest of the world if they don't like me with flat boobs. Carry on, move on, don't look."

RuPaul's Drag Race goes international

Since Michelle Visage joined "RuPaul's Drag Race," the show has grown into a cultural force. It moved from Logo to VH1, spawned multiple spinoffs like "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars and "RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race," and now includes international versions in countless countries (via World of Wonder). While many countries have their own judging panels, Visage and RuPaul preside over both "RuPaul's Drag Race U.K." and "RuPaul's Drag Race Down Under."

Given her well-documented love of all things British, it's no surprise that Visage was a major driving force in getting the show to do a U.K. version. She told "Loose Women" that it took five years to get the show exported to England. "Honestly, you have no idea the road to get here," she said. "So the fact that it happened and it ended up on the BBC is really kind of shocking in many ways, especially a queer television show about queer performers."

"Down Under" was filmed in New Zealand during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Visage told TVNZ she was glad to get out of America. "I am so grateful to this country for doing what it had to do and continues to do to keep its beautiful people safe," she said. "The fact that we're able to do [the show] here and celebrate all the incredible talent is just a blessing."

She has a husband and two kids

In addition to her thriving career in all corners of the entertainment industry, Michelle Visage's home life is thriving as well. She's been married to David Case, a writer who publishes as Jax Spenser, since 1997. She told Newsweek that they met when her husband was attending Juilliard with hopes of being an actor, and that she was drawn to his confidence. "What I loved most about him was he didn't stand for my bulls***t" she said.

They have two daughters, Lillie and Lola (per Today), who Visage frequently shouts out on her Instagram. On National Daughters Day in 2021, she wrote, "Not sure I have the words to describe how lucky I am to get to be their mom. The joy my daughters bring me daily is immeasurable." The family starred together in a reality show for BBC3 called "How's Your Head, Hun?" that chronicled their lives at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Visage was particularly proud that the look at their lives was unvarnished, without a typical crew around to ensure the dishes in the sink were clean. She told BBCThree, "I would love people to just watch, laugh and relate to us every week and not have a care or worry."

"We were young, we had no idea of what was to come," she wrote on Instagram to mark her 25th anniversary. "I wouldn't change a single bump in the road."