Drag Race season nine’s “Broadway Queen” dishes on her unique road to Ru.
Alexis Michelle is a New York-based drag performer who placed fifth in the most recent season of RuPaul’s Drag Race but ruled the infamous Snatch Game episode with her memorable turn as “Liza.” She spilled the tea with Metrosource about how she ended up racing with the queens.
Can you remember the moment when you first encountered a drag performer in person?
There was a very pivotal moment for me. I can’t remember the year, but I do know I was under age, so I shouldn’t have been where I was. Those were different times: you could get away with it back then. It was a post-Wigstock party at Webster Hall, and the the drag entertainer Edie performed. She wore a little black dress, a little black bob and black character shoes and did a lip-sync and dance routine to Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” with two boys dancing behind her. It set my mind and heart aflame. It was amazing, beautiful, theatrical, very Fosse and just made me feel like there was this opportunity to express myself in a way that I had yet to put into physical practice.
What draws you to performers like Liza and Judy?
My drag beginnings go to those iconic women. I really think my love of acting and performing grew out of watching movie musicals as a kid. I always wanted to emulate these powerhouse women: Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Bette Midler, Barbra. Whenever I go through their material, it’s a loving tribute — not to mention just plain good material.
What was it like winning Snatch Game for your Liza?
In some ways that was the big dream come true for me. In auditioning for the show for the past eight years, performing Liza was a big part of it, going back to that first tape eight years ago. There were a couple years where I didn’t include her in my tape, but I often did … and every year that I didn’t get on the show and watched Snatch Game I would pray, “Please nobody do Liza!” Everything happens for a reason, and this is what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to get on the show and get on Snatch Game and hopefully do her proud. I’m still waiting to hear if I did. I’m hoping I hear from her soon.
You two should go on the road together!
That would be amazing.
Or at least a show at 54 Below…
That sounds great. Let’s do it.
Speaking of 54 Below, how did you put your show there together?
I have styled many Broadway ladies for their shows there and have always fantasized about doing my own show there. I wanted to put something together that encompasses my experience and how dressing up in drag contributed to making my dreams come true, but I also wanted to make sure there are things that show the political climate that we’re in and the fact that the world is very mixed up, and there’s a lot of unrest for many people.
What was it like getting that call to be on Drag Race?
When the phone rang, and I could see it was a Los Angeles number I just felt that it was good news. There was a first phone call that was an interview. In that moment, I felt a tremendous combination of feeling recognized but also a huge weight off my shoulders. After so many years of auditioning, I’d wondered if they even noticed me. Was I wasting my time? Was I wasting their time? And in this phone call, they asked me something about my audition tape from four years ago and right away it was that beautiful feeling that they have been watching and paying attention — they did notice.
How’d your Drag Race journey begin on a cruise ship?
I went on the “Drag Stars at Sea” cruise, and I got to meet a lot of my heroes in the first year. The second year I approached Michelle Visage and asked if I could sing a song at her cabaret. She hosts this cabaret where she and some of the queens sing and do some numbers. I thought it would be so amazing to go and sing. She said she would have to check on it with some other folks but didn’t mind.
I showed up at the dressing room without having been confirmed — because so much in life and show business is just showing up. I think there was some question about whether I would be [allowed] to do it. I think my determination — in showing up and being ready to go on — spoke to people. I was actually asked by someone running the entertainment why did I feel that I should be able to perform? I was not a Ru Girl, I was not scheduled to perform, why do I think I should be there performing. I thought about it and said, “Well, I’m not a Ru Girl yet, but I will be. I want to sing with these people.” You know, some people might find that brazen, but it was bold and something I felt like it would come through in my heart. And I was right.
Yas! And what did you perform?
“Rose’s Turn” from Gypsy.
Alexis takes us back to her first entrance into the Drag Race workroom and looks to the future
Do you remember the moment you realized this kind of performing is what you’re meant to do?
It might have been one of those nights that you came to see my show at the Green Room at New World Stages, Jeffrey. It was a very small stage right in the heart of the theater district in New York. There are just these magical moments that happen when you’re onstage sometimes: You just feel like you’re living to your fullest, and people are witnessing it. When those moments happen is when I go, “Oh God, this is my happy place, it’s what I’m supposed to be doing.”
What was it like walking into the Drag Race workroom for the first time?
It was nuts. The producers are very careful not to let you see anything before you have that initial experience. Just walking into the building is a trip because you’re like, “Oh my God, I’m recognizing things!” And then when you walk into the workroom: I wasn’t the first one in, so I could feel there were people to my left. The important thing is you have to walk in and hit your mark and make a good impression; so I’m trying to do that, but I really want to turn my head and see who was there!
You didn’t have any idea who’d be on the show with you?
No. The producers are so careful at protecting the secrecy of who’s getting cast. The moment you walk in the room is the same moment when you actually see who is there. They do a great job with that. We really had not physically seen each other until we walked into the room.
Was it hard to come back and not talk about the show?
It was very hard, and of course a lot of people had their suspicions based on [who they noticed] dropping off of social media. Some people would cross the line but most were respectful and didn’t ask me things I couldn’t answer. We were encouraged by the producers to treat it like our little secret, something to protect.
What is something you learned about yourself from being on the show?
I learned that — as strong as a competitor as I might seem to other people — I’m very sensitive and a big softie. Even though I’m at this place [in my career], there’s still more wisdom to be gained. One of the wisest things I’m taking from RuPaul is to not take everything so seriously. I’m trying to laugh at life.
Can you take us through the experience of moving from being on the show to being on tour?
It’s been extremely gratifying, of course. I’ve been pursuing performing for my entire life. It’s also rewarding, to suddenly be thrust into a travel schedule full time. It’s one of the most incredible opportunities that’s actually the least glamorous. It’s amazing how glamorous we look on the outside when we’re basically living on airports and airplanes.
How does your time on Drag Race change the course of your career up until now?
I’ve definitely been paving the way for quite some time. Now that I have this platform, I hope it will continue to open more doors in entertainment. I want to be on stage. I want to be on Broadway. I would love to be on film. Stage is always my first love, but there’s an intimacy that can be achieved on screen; I find it intriguing. Delicate, subtle, nuanced work is alluring. I just want to be a real show biz queen. I want to make music, act, entertain. There’s a lot I want to do.
What hast it been like connecting with all of these new fans all over the world post-Drag Race?
It’s extremely humbling and puts a new sense of responsibility on your shoulders. The thing I was not anticipating that I’m hearing from everyone is what an inspiration we all are. At first I didn’t understand it, but now I see that it’s all about living an authentic queer life. It’s meaningful to young people, and it’s meaningful to their parents. I had a woman that I met at DragCon with her son and he was probably 6’5’’ or 6’6’’ in the high heels that he was wearing,and he had a beautiful face of makeup on and he was there with his mom at DragCon. I took a picture with them in my booth, we talked, and I told him he has a beautiful mom and thanked her for bringing her beautiful son.She had such an emotional response. She just cried and we hugged each other. There’s such a tremendous responsibility for us to be their role model and to continue to do so, and to thank them because their support keeps us going. It’s a two way street.
I’ve seen your family quite a bit at your shows.
My family is on board now, but there was an adjustment period. There was definitely a progression, and things continue to evolve. That’s all the more reason, when I see a young person accompanied by their parents, I’m really moved by it.
Do you have any advice for someone who wants to get into drag but is concerned with what their parents might think?
If you really feel that dressing [up as] this part of yourself could do you some harm from someone who is not a friend or even — God forbid — a family member, you need to be safe: Put safety first. My bigger advice is to find a place, an avenue, a way to express that part of yourself. If it’s in you, you have to let it out, it’s not good to keep it in. I would encourage you to try living authentically. By living this way you can change people’s perspectives. People can [turn their lives] around by living so truthfully.
What else is on the horizon for you, Alexis?
Stay tuned for upcoming music, and my solo show — in New York and around the world.
Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexislives.
Last modified: August 16, 2017