by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
WAR ON THE CATWALK
August 20 & 21 @ 8pm
Before a contestant is selected to appear on 'RuPaul's Drag Race,' they have to compete against thousands of other performers around the country, and Puerto Rico, as part of a long audition process that promises a spot to only 13 or 14 girls. If you're fortunate and talented to get picked for the show, you then enter into a whole new battle against a group of ladies who are as hungry for that title as you are. Which is why a fifth-place finish is no small accomplishment and something Alexis Michelle can rightfully claim from her appearance last season. The New York native was a week away from making it to the finale, though was eliminated just short of it. Still, being on 'Drag Race' raised her profile from Big Apple club act to international entertainer, a journey that really has turned her into a star. Touring regularly these days, Alexis Michelle will perform here in Seattle with other 'RuPaul' notables - Sasha Velour, Trinity Taylor, and Shea Coulee, to name a few - on Sunday and Monday, August 20 and 21 at The Neptune. For tickets, visit www.stgpresents.org.
Phoning in from her New York City apartment this week, here's what Alexis Michelle had to share with Seattle Gay News:
Albert Rodriguez: Have you been to Seattle before?
Alexis Michelle: I have been to Seattle once. It was sort of the first stop I did once I started touring nationally and internationally. It was my first stop when the show had started airing.
Rodriguez: Do you have fond memories of anything you did or saw while you were here?
Alexis Michelle: It was really gorgeous. I happened to come on a day when I got both sun and rain, and it was a really pretty day. I visited with friends, saw a beautiful lake and got to go to Uncle Ike's dispensary.
Rodriguez: Can you give us a snapshot of 'War on the Catwalk'? What are audiences going to experience during these performances?
Alexis Michelle: The really amazing thing about this tour is that you're going to get a nice sampling of different kinds of drag performance, ranging from theatrical to dance to more artistic style. It's a really nice, wide spectrum of performance styles; aside from the awesome talent that is on this tour, there's also a great variety, so you'll get to see a lot.
Rodriguez: Does everyone perform individually, or is the show entirely collaborative?
Alexis Michelle: As far as performance numbers, everything is solo. And then there's just little bits of extra interaction that are also part of the show.
Rodriguez: I had a feeling you'd win Snatch Game last season; it was such a natural, effortless impersonation of Liza, which I think some people would say is easy, but I imagine it's actually difficult to nail. How long did you prepare for that?
Alexis Michelle: My whole life. I've been auditioning for the show for the past 8 years, and going back to my very first audition tape Liza was there. I didn't necessarily present it in the audition every single year, but most years there was at least a suggestion of it there and I can't even say that's when my love and study of Liza started. I think I really, really became interested in her in high school, so that's already like 15 years ago.
Rodriguez: I asked BenDeLaCreme recently about the rivalries we see between the girls on the show and she said that it's mostly editing that makes us believe they don't like each other. Is that the case, that what the audience sees as feuds between the contestants is really non-existent?
Alexis Michelle: I certainly can't speak to girls' experiences on previous seasons; I can mostly speak for my season and the interactions I had. I think if you see tension, then the tension is probably real. But what you don't see is all of the in-between time and any other discussion that was part of that, just because they film so much footage and they had to boil it down to a time that'll fit for each episode. There is something lost in translation as far as just context, but I can't say for everyone if that's the case, if they were having a fight with someone how much of a fight it was. I can say from my season that there wasn't much of that, it was pretty congenial and friendly for the most part.
Rodriguez: You mentioned auditioning for 'Drag Race' more than once and I know other performers who've submitted their audition tapes every single year. Was it a difficult process?
Alexis Michelle: It's a grueling audition tape that you have to make and after the past 7 years of making one, when it came time to make my tape last year I almost didn't. I said, 'I don't know if I have the will for this. I've tried so many times. I don't know if I'm wasting my time.' The audition tape is a lot of content that they ask for and part of the challenge is getting it to fit within a time limit, and from that point there's a series of phone calls and interviews before you're actually cast. But it all starts with that tape and it is a grueling audition to prepare, for sure.
Rodriguez: How did you celebrate Pride this year?
Alexis Michelle: Pride was wonderful. I was here in New York City and on Friday night we got to celebrate Sasha's crowning at Stage 48 and the top seven of us performed, which was really great, and then on Sunday I got to be part of the parade telecast and I was announcing up on 23rd Street, first with Bianca Del Rio and Dina Delicious, and then I got ushered around on a golf cart down 5th Avenue and came down to 5th Avenue and 8th Street and got to announce the parade with my best friend, Dusty Ray Bottoms. It was a beautiful celebration and it was such a highlight getting to see Sasha come by on her victory float.
Rodriguez: Back when you decided that you wanted to be a drag performer, what was the first thing you bought, or tried on, or borrowed - was it a wig, a pair of high heels?
Alexis Michelle: I cannot remember, but I think the shoes came first. They were a pair of red acrylic stripper heels, and it was the only pair of shoes I had for the longest time and they were like cats, they had nine lives. They were red and then they were painted black and then they were covered in glitter, so they had to work for a lot of different years and looks. So I had that pair of red acrylic stripper shoes - I think the shoes came first - and then a wig, but needless to say they got a lot of action in my early drag days.
Rodriguez: When you're not performing, when you're back in New York and you have a night all to yourself to do whatever you want, what do you do?
Alexis Michelle: The truth is downtime doesn't really exist in the truest form anymore. For example, I have two days off from our crazy tour that we're doing and I'm using this time to order things online that I'm running out of and I'm arranging merchandise orders for DragCon, which is coming up, so the truth is that downtime is hard to find. But if I truly had a night off, I'd probably be watching TV on my couch and ordering Chinese.
Rodriguez: For anybody interested in pursuing a career as a drag performer, do you have any tips or advice - should they go buy a bunch of clothes, should they go out to the clubs and watch some drag shows?
Alexis Michelle: I think that the beauty of technology is that there's a lot out there on the Internet - as far as information, as well as there's so many makeup tutorials now. Even at our meet n' greets, I'm astounded at how good everybody's makeup has become, and you know that it comes from people studying pictures on Instagram or makeup tutorials on YouTube, so there's definitely a lot that can be done behind closed doors, which is sort of how mine [my career] started, too. That being said, it takes time to learn the techniques and to sort of master them. So, don't be worried if you feel where you're at isn't a finished product. Even where I'm at, 14 years later doing drag, I still don't feel like everything is finished. There's always room to keep going and to get better and to grow.
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