Michelle Visage on the "Magical" Future of 'RuPaul's Drag Race'

The team from 'RuPaul's Drag Race' — minus an absent RuPaul and sick Ross Mathews — took over the Wolf Theatre in North Hollywood Thursday night for a panel, performance and party.
Randy Shropshire/Getty Images

Thursday night's For Your Consideration panel and reception for RuPaul's Drag Race was a lot like the VH1 hit show. Drag queens hit the stage (season 11's top five contestants collaborated on a group lip sync) in front of celebrities (actress Constance Zimmer had a prime seat next to her daughter), while there was plenty of humor (quips courtesy of Michelle Visage and Carson Kressley) and, of course, heart, thrown in for good measure. More on the latter later. 

But after 11 seasons, mainstream acceptance, high-profile media coverage (hello, Vogue and New York Times) and last year's Emmy win for outstanding reality competition program — the show's first in that category — it's a fair question to ask, "What's next?" And that's just what moderator Dino Ray Ramos did, in a way, when he tossed out a "what does the future hold"-type query for the night's panelists towards the end of the Q&A portion. There were plenty of people to catch it, too, as the panelists included judges Visage and Kressley, costume designer (and Emmy winner) Zaldy, and executive producers Randy Barbato, Tom Campbell, Tim Palazzola, Mandy Salangsang and Steven Corfe. RuPaul was in New York doing promo for his self-titled talk show and could not attend, nor could an under-the-weather Ross Mathews. RuPaul did appear in a taped segment to thank the TV Academy for last year's five trophies and to kick off the festivities. 

"Ten more seasons, 12 more seasons?" offered Visage to huge applause from the standing-room-only crowd inside the Television Academy's Wolf Theatre in North Hollywood. "Maybe a face lift in between there?"

Kressley then had a pitch for a celebrity guest. "Maybe Zac Efron could come one day?"

He'd join a long line of A-list guests who've appeared opposite Ru and the judges, a roster that includes Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Christina Aguilera, Kacey Musgraves, Troye Sivan and Lena Waithe, just to name a few. 

Visage had other ideas. "I'll take Jon Hamm. You've seen those pictures." 

In lieu of Hamm, attendees had plenty to gawk at Thursday night. Members of the pit crew made the rounds inside the lobby after the panel, showing off gold metallic Speedos, while this season's top five performers — A’keria Chanel Davenport, Brooke Lynn Hytes, Vanessa Vanjie Mateo, Silky Nutmeg Ganache and winner Yvie Oddly — made rounds and granted selfie requests. The Emmy-winning work of Zaldy was displayed on glittering mannequins while hosts Nina West and Plastique Tiara proved to be great ambassadors for an absent RuPaul. 

Salangsang had another idea for how long the show could run. "If we could just go on until I'm gray and old," she said. "You're surprised year after year with the nerve and tenacity and talent and drive and the bravery that all of these queens have and bring with them with their hearts bursting to be a part of this moment."

Kressley agreed, praising the roster of talent they've been able to cast this many seasons down the line. "It's about their art and art is always reflecting whats going on in society and that’s why it always stays so fresh and can always continue on because the queens will always have something smart and beautiful and sassy and bitchy to say about what’s going on in the world."

The queens are "obviously the magic," Visage added, but she said it was impossible to ignore the fact that there was one glaring absence from the night's festivities. "This show is what it is, yes, because of World of Wonder, yes because of VH1 and Logo and everybody supporting us, and the queens are so magical, but guys, this show is what it is because of one person and that is RuPaul, for sure."

Ramos followed up her comments by asking the panelists why the show has been able to crossover and find mainstream success. 

Kressley went first. "It’s really a story of people just trying to be the best at something that they love," he concluded. "And humor doesn’t hurt. The show has such a great sense of humor and that’s very endearing. The culture has caught up to the show. It’s always been about celebrating these amazing individuals who color with all the crayons in the box. ... People have caught up to that idea. It's a joyful show."

Then Visage countered the claim, just a bit, by saying that mainstream might not be the most appropriate term. 

"This is a show about queer people, made my queer people for queer people," she said, adding that because she goes out on tour with the drag queens, she has noticed that the audience has broadened from middle-aged gay men to include families, mothers and children. Now, as those children, some of whom may feel alone or left out, "they have a family and they are not alone" when they tune into Drag Race.

Said Campbell: "It's a show for sweet, sensitive souls. Drag Race underneath it all, is about the tenacity of the human spirit — people who against all odds become the realization of their imagination." There's that heart.