She might be from New Jersey, but it’s in the UK that Michelle Visage’s career has found a second wind.
The presenter, 53, who has a flat in Belsize Park, London, for when she visits the UK, has just been announced as a regular host on the BBC Radio 2 summer line up after a reshuffle of the station’s programming.
The Drag Race judge, who stepped into the limelight in the late 1980s in the States as a member of the girl band Seduction, endeared herself to the wider public in the 2010s as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
But after crossing the pond to the UK in 2019, Visage, who’s joked that she was ‘a gay British man’ in a former life, found a new fan base, taking part in Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother UK and remaining in the house for 30 days.
Four years later, she became an instant favourite when she strutted down the Strictly stage with Giovanni Pernice in 2019 after making a noted cameo on The Only Way is Essex where she surprised her long-time pal Bobby Norris.
The launch of Drag Race UK saw her rub shoulders with Graham Norton and Alan Carr and cemented her as a honourary Brit in the eyes of the public.
Visage, who stopped working as a host for CBS radio to become an in-house judge on Drag Race, is now set to win over more fans on Radio 2.
Here FEMAIL charts her rise from R&B singer to aspiring British national treasure.
Michelle Visage, 53, who keeps a flat in Belsize Park, London, for when she visits the UK, has just been announced as a regular host on the BBC Radio 2 summer line up after a reshuffle of the station’s programming. She rose to fame internationally as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and also appears on the Drag Race UK version with Alan Carr and Graham Norton
FRIENDSHIP WITH RUPAUL AND DRAG RACE
The beauty and the drag queen immediately hit it off when they met in New York in 1996 while working on the radion station WKTU.
The pair moved on to host The RuPaul show on VH1, where they had Diana Ross as a guest.
Their friendships has translated into countless professional collaborations, including RuPaul’s Drag Race and its international spin offs, several of which Michelle has been a judge on or a special guest.
Michelle joined the show at the start of the third season in 2011 and has been a staple since, acting as RuPaul’s trusted right-hand woman.
Right from the start, she was portrayed as a straight-talking judge, bordering on harsh.
In 2018, she told EtCanada: ‘I’ve been called the “Simon Cowell” of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’. To me that’s a compliment.’
‘Simon is the only one who cuts to the chase, he tells you what he’s thinking, he tells you what needs to be fixed, and you wanna please him. So that is my role on RuPaul’s Drag Race, you wanna please me! I’m gonna tell you the truth,’ she added.
In the same interview, she gushed about her friendship with RuPaul, writing: ‘We can complete each other’s sentences, we get exactly what each other are saying.’
RuPaul himself said of his long-time friend: ‘After seeing her so many different places, I realised, “Wait a minute, we were supposed to be together.” It’s like the universe saying, “Hey, I’m trying to tell you something”.’
Before RuPaul’s Drag Race was launched on BBC Three in the UK, Michelle became the show’s enjoy, promoting the programme with Graham Norton and Alan Carr, which helped her ascertain herself as a TV personality in her own right.
Michelle’s love for drag and the LGBT+ community precedes her friendship with RuPaul.
She told the Times in 2021: ‘When I first met drag queens and queer people, I knew immediately that I had found my family. And I don’t know how to explain it. Being this kind of cisgender, heteronormative, lower-middle-class girl from central New Jersey, it doesn’t make sense.
‘But here I was fully immersed in the gay community and not only the gay community but in a house with all people of colour. I was a lonely little single white girl who was welcomed into this family and never felt lonely again,’ she added.
And speaking to the I that same year, she addressed the fact some people said she does not belong in the queer community.
‘People have said that I’m not really part of the community or that I don’t belong – I’ve been fighting it my whole life. You just have to carry on and do what makes you happy,’ she said.
SEDUCTION AND SINGING CAREER
Michelle’s career began as part of the girl group Seduction in the late 80s, pictured, before she became a radio DJ in the late 90s
Michelle’s first foray into fame came in 1988, when she joined the R&B group Seduction.
The band rose to fame with Two to Make It Right, but after only three years together, Visage and her bandmates went their separate ways.
This led her to join the S.O.U.L S.Y.S.T.E.M in the early 90s. Their R&B cover of Bill Wither’s Lovely Day, titled ‘It’s Gonna Be a Lovely Day’ featured on the soundtrack for the Bodyguard, starring Whitney Houston in 1992.
The song became a number one dance single and reached number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1993.
While Michelle has been focusing on her TV and radio career in recent years, she has rekindled her love affair with singing more recently too.
In 2021, as part of her UK invasion, she partnered with Steps on a reworked version of their hit Heartbreak In This City, and sang with them on several live performances,
Michelle was very enthusiastic about the collaboration, saying in a statement at the time: ‘After years of dreaming about it, for at least a moment in time, I can officially be “Michelle from Steps”! CAN SOMEONE PINCH ME PLEASE? I hope everyone loves listening to it as much as I loved recording it!’
FRIENDSHIP WITH LEAH REMINI AND FLIRTING WITH SCIENTOLOGY
Michelle is a long-time friend of US TV host Leah Ramini who rose to fame in 2013 when she left the Church of Scientology
On top of her 30-year-long friendship with RuPaul, Michelle is also very close with the American actress and TV personality Leah Remini, whom she met in 2002.
The pair were introduced by the US comedian Sinbad and became inseparable.
Leah, who was a member of the Church of Scientology from childhood, never pressured Michelle to join the Church.
However, Michelle admitted to dabbling with scientology in the early 2000s.
She told blogger Tony Ortega in 2013: ‘I took some low-level, four or five courses. Leah never forced it on me. And when the heavy sales pitch came on, I was out,”
When Michelle left Scientology, she said Leah, who was then still a member, was supportive.
‘That’s what I like about her. She said, “Make up your own mind”, and I did. And she said that she’d love me no matter what,’ she said.
‘She’s rescued so many people. When I moved back to Los Angeles, she was there helping me unload boxes for eight or nine hours,’ she said.
Michelle was one of the only people who remained friends with Leah after she left the Church of Scientology in 2013.
She said: ‘She’s trying to be as strong as she can. “Sad” is the best term. It hurts. All of these people she thought were her friends are scattering,’ she said of Remini when she left the Church.
‘It’s like roaches, I’m not kidding. And it’s very difficult for her. Under the tough chick there’s a human being.’
In 2013, she also credited Leah for pushing her to accept RuPaul’s invitation to become a judge on Drag Race.
The pair are friends to this day and last year, they stepped in to co-present the Wendy Williams show when the host was ill.
CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER, STRICTLY STINT, TOWIE AND TV WORK
In 2019, Michelle became a fan favourite when she appeared on BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing with Giovanni Pernice
The presenter made a noted cameo appearance on The Only Way is Essex to surprise Bobby Norris
Michelle was one of the US contestant who appeared on the UK series of Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 5 in 2015 alongside Perez Hilton.
Ahead of the show, the presenter said she was going into the house ‘for the gay community.’
‘They are my lifeline, they are my blood, they run through my veins,’ she said at the time.
Michelle had a successful run on the show, entering the house on day one and finishing in fifth place.
And in 2021 she admitted her presence on the show was to widen her UK network so that Drag Race UK would be made.
She told the I last September: ‘When I did Celebrity Big Brother 100 years ago [in 2015], I didn’t have a fake tan line or a calendar or a book to promote – I was there to get Drag Race UK made.’
‘We went to various channels and everyone said no. It’s so ironic that it’s ended up with the BBC, but it feels like home,’ she added.
Michelle appeared on Strictly in 2019 and finished in seventh place with her partner Giovanni Pernice
In 2019, Michelle doubled on the charm offensive when she appeared on Strictly Come Dancing and was paired with professional dancer – and fan favourite – Giovanni Pernice.
After weeks of delighting fans with fox trot, salsa and cha cha routines, Visage exited the show in seventh place and having cemented her presence in the British TV landscape just in time for Drag Race UK to launch a few months later in late 2019.
She was so beloved by the public after the dancing stint that she was considered to join the Strictly tour, however, she was eventually dropped by the production.
In 2019, she also made a cameo in the TV reality series The Ony Way is Essex, when she paid a visit to her long-time pal Bobby Norris on the show.
RADIO 2 SHOW
Michelle was one of the surprise names to come on top of the BBC 2 reshuffle last week.
While stalawrts like Craig Charles and Tony Blackburn’s shows were axed, it was announced the presenter would permanently join the station with a Friday slot from 7-9pm.
The presenter is no stranger to working on radio, having worked as a successful DJ from 1996 to 2011.
It was just announced the presenter, pictured in 2018, is set to present her own Radio II show after a station reshuffle
She worked for several stations in New York, Los Angeles and Miami after debuting on R&B radio WKTU in NYC from 1996 to 2002, where she met and befriended RuPaul.
When the Drag Queen began his reality series RuPaul’s Drag Race in 2009, Visage was his first pick to be a judge, however, she was on a five year contract with the radio station CBS in West Palm Beach at the time, and was told by her boss she couldn’t join the show.
She later put it down to CBS’s conservative views on homosexuality and the fact drag race s an LGBT+ show.
While she’s is now more known for her work on TV than radio, Michelle has made a few appearances on the airwaves since coming to the UK.
From December 2019 to August 2020, she hosted Michelle Visage’s Fabulous Divas on BBC II.
She also covered for Rylan Clark-Neal on his show Rylan on Saturday in October and November 2020.
British friends! Michelle has been rubbing elbows with the likes of Danny Dyer, pictured, since relaunching her career in the UK
The presenter is now a regular on British TV and has appeared on Lorraine as well as Loose Women on ITV
Away from the limelight, Michelle has been in a happy marriage with David Case since 1997 and the couple have two daughters, Lola and Lillie.
Speaking on the podcast she hosts with RuPaul, she said she dated both men and women before she settled down with David.
She said: ‘I’ve been with women; I’ve had sex with women… But I realized I never wanted to have a relationship [with them].’
Visage, who is a vegan and lives in California when she is in the US, opened up about suffering from an eating disorder growing up.
Speaking to the Mirror ahead of her Strictly Stint, Michee said: ‘I couldn’t handle puking – bulimia in the traditional way wasn’t for me. I thought that by taking laxatives the calories would be flushed out.’
‘I was relying on my body for happiness. Your body is not your happiness. Even if you lose those last five pounds, all the things in your life that suck will suck after you do,’ she added.
Speaking to the Daiy Beast in 2021, Visage opened up further about her body image and how it led her to go for three sets of breast implants throughout her career, getting the first set aged 21.
‘I spent my whole life battling eating disorders and always feeling less than because boyfriends, you know, would play bongos on my chest or make fun of me because I was so flat chested,’ she said.
‘Now, I listen to my body, I feel a million times healthier and much more confident in my skin.’
Michelle also revealed she lives with Hashimoto’s Disease, an auto-immune condition that gradually damages the thyroid gland.
In 2019, she removed her breast implants and said she believed her Hashimoto’s had been triggered by the silicone in the sacks.