Michelle Visage: ‘Whatcha Packin’ is ‘the first time I get to hug’ the queens [Exclusive Video Interview]

“I do wanna say that it’s such an honor and I know it sounds so cheesy,” declares Michelle Visage, producer and permanent judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” about the slew of Emmy nominations for the hit competition series. “We never ever take for granted that, ‘oh, we’re, we’re gonna be nominated.’ We don’t know that, and I say this with all due respect, you know, we didn’t get our first nominations until series nine, so you never know what’s gonna happen. It’s been an amazing ride from the beginning, never knowing anything!”

The multi-hyphenate producer and performer was also thrilled that her popular online companion series, “Whatcha Packin’ with Michelle Visage,” scored its first Emmy nomination for Best Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series. For our recent webchat she reveals, “I literally got out of my car. I was screaming up and down. I beeped the horn,” she laughs. “I am so honored and so grateful. And did you see the company that I’m in? I’m like, Trevor Noah, ‘Saturday Night Live,’ Samantha Bee, ‘Top Chef,’ and little old me from central New Jersey! Wow!” Watch our exclusive video interview above.

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“RuPaul’s Drag Race” has become a global phenomenon and an Emmy powerhouse over the last few years, having won Best Competition Program the last four years running (nominated again this year), with legendary drag icon RuPaul having won the last six consecutive Emmys for Best Reality Host (with a possible seventh next month). The “mother ship” series is up for eight Emmys this year, while its behind-the-scenes offshoot “RuPaul’s Drag Race Untucked” is up for Best Unstructured Reality Program (which it won last year). Popular spinoff “RuPaul’s Drag Race Allstars,” which brings back fan-favorite queens to battle it out all over again is up for reality series picture editing, in addition to Visage’s short form series also scoring its first nomination from head-over-heels Emmy voters.

Visage has been with the “Drag Race” empire from the get-go, when it started out as a little-known mini-budget niche reality competition for drag queens. Over the years, as the show has become bigger and better and after its switch from LGBTQ-focused Logo to mainstream cable outlet VH1, it has skyrocketed in popularity to become arguably the most successful and popular competition program on the air. The concept is relatively straightforward: a group of talented drag queens compete in challenges to win over host RuPaul to win a cash “tip” of thousands of “doolahs” (i.e. a big cash prize) along with a crown and the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” Each episode of the show features a main challenge, after which the queens perform in a themed runway show, where one is generally declared the winner, while usually two others are announced to be up for elimination. The bottom two must then go head-to-head and lip-sync for their lives, where the winner may “shantay you stay” instead of the dreaded “sashay away.”

SEE 2022 Emmy nominations: Complete list of contenders for 74th Primetime Emmys

Over 16 episodes Season 14, 10-time Emmy winner RuPaul put 14 queens through their paces with comedy roasts, game shows, mini and maxi challenges, musical numbers, soap opera spoofs and lip-sync smackdowns to find “America’s Next Drag Superstar.” In the end, only five queens remained with a chance to snatch the coveted crown, and in the breathtaking climax of the dazzling grand finale episode, it was Willow Pill that triumphed over Angeria Paris VanMichaels, Bosco, Daya Betty and runner-up Lady Camden, as she proved to Mama Ru that she had the right mix of “charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent.”  “Untucked” also perfectly complements the main show, as an access-all-areas pass to the drama that you don’t see on the runway — the backstage bitchiness, catfights, struggles, tears and secrets. It has become essential viewing for fans because it allows a glimpse into each contestant’s mindset. We then ultimately follow each eliminated contestant as they pack their belongings, write a goodbye message in lipstick on a mirror in the “werk room” and leave the set.

As for Visage’s passion project “Whatcha Packin’,” the one-on-one short form talk show started out as a way for each eliminated queen to chat with Visage about their experience as a contestant and reveal some of the outfits they would have worn on the runway had they remained in the show. Over the years it has blossomed into a genuinely revealing and often heartfelt glimpse into the stories that each of the queens bring to the show, from discussing their childhood and hardships, to their drag and their aspirations for their post-“Drag Race” future. Looking back at the beginnings of the beloved after-show, Visage recalls that she fought for it as a way to give the audience more insight into the amazing performers that grace each season of “Drag Race.” “For me, the idea was always to do an after-show to talk with them, to get really what the vibe was and what they were feeling and what the experience was like and what they’d been through. But we needed a conduit, and that was the fashion. And it’s morphed into this proper sit down, interview space,” she explains. “It’s the first time I get to hug them. It’s the first time I get to talk to them. It’s the first time I get to share the space and the air and breathe it together and just let them know that they are safe with me. And, let’s talk about their story. That’s why it’s super important to me.”

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