Michelle Visage on Casting ‘Drag Race’: Don’t Worry About Weaponizing Your BFA

Video Source: Youtube

The following interview for our Spring 2021 BackstageFest, a virtual celebration of the year's best and buzziest TV, was compiled in part by Backstage readers just like you! Follow us on Twitter (@Backstage) and Instagram (@backstagecast) to stay in the loop on upcoming interviews and to submit your questions.

“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has only found increasing success over the course of 13 landmark seasons. The 19-time Emmy winning reality competition series has not only changed the scope of television, but has also inspired and given hope to many in the LGBTQIA+ community. Managing editor Benjamin Lindsay sat down with producer and judge Michelle Visage, producer Mandy Salangsang, casting director Goloka Bolte, and Season 13 contestant Olivia Lux to talk about filming during the coronavirus pandemic, casting each new season and what they look for, and how you too could become RuGirl royalty. 

While casting, Bolte looks for authenticity above all else.
“The tape and talent are everything, social media following doesn’t matter. It doesn’t factor into casting decisions at all. We are looking for amazing, authentic voices and we are looking for talent. We’re looking for queens who can be all around competitors because the show is like every talent competition rolled into one, so it’s really more about what they show us on the tape and how much of themselves they reveal. A lot of the queens who do well really put themselves out there and don’t leave anything on the table.”

Though building a diverse ensemble is important to Salangsang, each individual queen’s voice is more consequential.
“We are looking for queens who are from different parts of the country and represent a different style of drag and bring a different energy or voice or experience. It’s all the colors of the drag rainbow, if you will, and certainly that is something that we look to build in an ensemble. But [if] you got the talent, you got the chops, you cut through, and you show up.”

Lux shared advice on how to stay true to yourself from the audition tape to the competition process.
“I really feel like it is an important thing to separate yourself from everyone else and think about it as your own individualized journey. Everyone gets on the show for a very different reason and everyone has their own journeys in life and in their artistry. As long as you remember those key things while you’re creating your audition tape, I really think it’ll be effective. Those elements that I put together for my audition tape, I feel like I packed them in my luggage when I went to California to film because they really helped me be authentically me. If you pack up your favorite wig or costume, you’re always going to be you.”

And Visage doesn’t believe in the idea of “weaponizing your BFA” to be successful—no matter what the internet says.
“I think that’s ridiculous. I’m a musical theater major—BFA weaponizer, if you will. I don’t think that exists, because I don’t like only one type of drag. I like weird freaky club kid drag, musical theater drag, pageant drag, spooky drag—you name it. Before I’m a judge, I’m a huge drag fan, which is why I’m sitting in this position. I grew up around it, I was weaned off the cotton teats of drag queens. All of it is relevant. All of it matters. That’s some Reddit crap that you’re going to hear, and I don’t buy into that. I don’t think it’s fair. I see all the threads, you don’t need to be rich. What you do need to have is an aesthetic, taste, focus, direction, and an open mind. When you come here you could be the fiercest musical theater queen and the challenge has nothing to do with that and you aren’t able to deliver. So you need to focus on the challenges at hand, and do it the best that you know how to do. No matter what genre of drag that you do. Versatility is key.”

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