Performer Alex Michaels walked into the Werk Room for RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 9 and introduced Alexis Michelle to the world. Giving us full Liza Minelli, he won the coveted Snatch Game and ultimately placed fifth in his debut season. Six years later, he returned to the most recent season of All Stars with a more refined look and a far-from-subtle determination to win. In both seasons, he caused a social media storm of fan comments – whether fans loved her or dished her, she was on everyone’s lips. He has expanded his brand beyond Drag Race by performing in theatre and releasing new music. A drag queen who can legit sing? That is a commodity. With a wink to Queer Eye, Alex was part of a drag queen team for TLC’s Dragnificent! helping brides get ready for their big day. Whatever Alex does, he does it big. He was born for the spotlight.
Alex’s relationship with drag started very early on, playing professional gigs way before Drag Race. Becoming a diva herself, she learned from the greats.
I have been playing dress-up since I was about three. Halloween is the ‘gateway drug’ to drag and my first Halloween in drag was at 12. My first professional gigs came around 19 years old for me. Dressing up stemmed from adoration of powerhouse female performers like Carol Burnett and Judy Garland. Something I’ve only realized more recently is I was also starting to tap into the femme/female energy I identify with.
Not concerned about heeding societal pressures and being defined by his drag as a boy growing up, it was the theatre world he was most worried about being judged by. Early on, their drag and theatre worlds would remain separate, something that would change in later years.
My biggest concern wasn’t so much about gender identity as it was about being typecast within the theatre community. I was very secretive about doing drag until I started auditioning for Drag Race, which was sort of my second coming out. It was very liberating.
His theater career would include off-Broadway stints in Big Apple Circus and Field of Mars, Chapter One, and in both regional/national tours for Hair, Little Shop of Horrors, and Oklahoma! As his acting credits grew, so did his professional drag gigs. He auditioned for every season of Drag Race from Season 2 on, finally being cast in Season 9. He learned the winning formula not just for his audition tape, but for how he would deal with the other queens and Drag Race fans.
I think I finally figured out that a ‘this is me, take it or leave it’ energy works best. Years later, I was told by the highest-up folks that I could’ve been cast many times before and that they’d been watching.
And what does he think sets him apart from the other queens?
My theatricality and performance chops. There are incredibly gifted performers in this industry, and a lot of the drag artists from places like NYC especially, come from a performance background. So, I’m not alone in this category but it is part of what makes me special. I’m also pretty polished for a theatre gal.
His debut season taught him a lot, not just about his actual drag, but how reality TV is edited and perceived by the audience.
I learned that I’m tenacious. I also learned that if you don’t figure out your abandonment issues in therapy, you maybe blame people on camera for your poor fashion choices … misplaced expectations [laughs].
Declaring ”Broadway is back in the house and ready for action” and ”I want that crown, I want that title, I want that legacy,” Alexis returned to the Drag Race franchise for All Stars. Fans noticed immediately that her level of drag was on the up and up, and she came to slay. Publicly stating her disdain for the voting process, the lipstick drama and how Alexis played the game would make for much fan chatter. What was it like returning to the show?
Knowing how the machine works is a blessing and a curse. You know how to handle yourself (sometimes) but having that information can make staying out of your own way and out of your head even harder [raises hand].
As to the subject of drag’s evolution and the Drag Race universe expanding, Alex doesn’t limit the growth to blatant commercialism.
I think the beauty of it becoming more commercial is that more artists can make their livelihoods and careers in this business. Of course, that has an impact on the art. But then before you know it, something wild, like the current right-wing attacks on the drag community surface, and we are thrust back into activism. This art form will always be slightly fringe. Emmys and all.
Unlike Alex’s earlier years, his music career, his theatre career, and his drag can now all coexist.
I used to see them as separate and as I’ve become more and more myself, I realize their connection. I’m an actor first. It informs how you sing and how you tell the story. Drag is a tool in my kit for telling stories. It’s also deeply about self-expression. So, these are all intrinsic parts of who I am and just a diverse garden to tend to.
The truth is, while there are two names, they’re one and the same Alex/is. Just the attire changes. But Alexis really is my female side and Alex is my more male side. I’m fluid. I’m in between. Navigating the two is really about finding my most authentic self.
Alex, under the Alexis persona, released Lovefool under Broadway Records. Featuring 10 tracks with music ranging from The Cardigans, to Blondie, to Cy Coleman, it’s campy yet sincere and presented unabashedly. Alex co-produced the album with popular musician Brandon James Gwinn, who has also produced for Trixie Mattel and Pandora Boxx. The energy is Alexis, and the skill and passion for music is Alex.
In Lovefool, Brandon James Gwinn and I created the album that I would make if I was already a leading lady on Broadway. It is a loving tribute to albums I grew up on from the likes of Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, and Christine Ebersole. Music removes the separation between people. It brings our humanity closer together. Art is a universal language and music is the medium I find to be the most common ground experience people can share.
Alex’s immediate focus is music, with her summer anthem, “God is A Queen,” an electro-pop bop that swerves just south of musical theatre. She had a direct mission with this song, taking a stand against the political oppression of the drag community.
The attacks on drag happening now are merely diversions from the real dangerous actions the GOP is taking on trans people and stripping the queer community of equal rights. We saw it with the recent SCOTUS decisions. So, focus on the real issues at hand and VOTE, and trust that drag will be fine because it’s always been about celebration.
Alex’s summer anthem follow-up is “Heaven on the Dance Floor,” where we are presented with a sultry Alexis, purring her way into the dance beat. This is just a sample of more new music that is on the way.
Of the four pop/disco songs I created with 808 Annie and Mason Rose this year, we really built “Heaven on the Dance Floor” from the ground up. Building the feeling layer by layer. It’s about how joy and release can be born out of the dark crevices. That’s the essence of queer joy and this is meant to be an anthem for our community.
There are so many different directions that Alex can explore next. Music? Theatre? Drag? Yes to all. She hints that there is a lot more theatrical goodness coming our way, and perhaps even some more kitchen content. Have you seen her spots on YouTube’s Cooking is a Drag? It’s never a drag chatting with Alex, and he left us with a message for the LGBTQ community for this Pride year.
Celebrate loudly, visibly, and always safely – not just now, but all year. Visibility is more important than ever, as a constant reminder that we’re not going anywhere, but forward. And protect trans people!
You can follow Alex on IG: @AlexisMichelleOfficial and check out their music, streaming wherever you get your music.
Last modified: August 1, 2023