December 2021 Archives

Queen of the Universe Host Graham Norton Speaks to John-Paul Ricchio

I had the pleasure to chat with Graham Norton, host of "Queen of the Universe", the first-of-its-kind global drag singing competition now streaming exclusively on Paramount+. Enjoy, and when you are done, click over to the Kit to read my chat with the iconic Vanessa Williams, queen of the star-studded panel of judges. (Scroll down for the full transcript of this marvelous chat with this marvelous man! JP xo

John-Paul Ricchio: Hello, Graham, wonderful to meet you virtually. How are you doing?

Graham Norton: Very well, not as well as you but quite well.

John-Paul Ricchio: I happen to have a vacation that was planned six months ago and then I ended up being down here, but I thought I'd spruce up and show you guys some sunshine and some beautiful scenery. So, listen, I wanted to, first of all, tell you how happy I am that this show is happening and I'd like to congratulate you on this show. I'm a huge fan of yours and I just wanted to find out what drew you to this project?

Graham Norton: Listen, this was a no brainer, this was just singing drag queens, you had me at singing drag queen. And then to find out it was an international competition just added that extra layer to the whole thing. So, I didn't even think about this, it was just an absolutely I was in. And everything I found out about it kind of blew my mind. I was thinking-- I had no idea of the scale of this competition, I didn't understand the production values, I didn't know the prize was $250,000. So, all of that just-- and I didn't know who the panel were-- all the things I found out, it was just like, oh, more, more, more, yeah, please.

John-Paul Ricchio: Wow! Are you going to be performing yourself in the show?

Graham Norton: No. (Laughter)

John-Paul Ricchio: Aside from the singing aspect of the show, what makes this show different from other drag shows that are currently out there?

Graham Norton: Well, I think the singing is definitely a huge difference, and the performance. It's also to do, I think the international element changes it as well because we're finding-- there isn't just one drag queen dressing up box, there isn't just one form of drag, even in Canada or America, as we see when we watch the different Drag Races, there's a difference to these styles of drag. So in this, those styles are really heightened and it's in the drag, it's in the song choices, it's in the language that they're singing in, all of that. And also, I think in other drag shows, yes, there is a performance element but they're not out there by themselves putting on a show like this in front of a live audience. It was great to see them-- because a lot of these queens haven't performed in, what, a year and a half, two years, some of them have never performed, some of them are just TikTok queens just posting YouTube videos from their bedroom. So, to see them on this scale, putting on a show, and also with the production values we've got, you know, choreography, dancers, sets, lighting, pyros, you don't see that with drag so much. This is elevated to a point where people will be really astonished.

John-Paul Ricchio: I was completely wowed, I absolutely was blown away by the production value of the show, it is incredible, very refreshing to see. I would like to pick your brain on what was the selection process like, picking the queens that are featured on the show?

Graham Norton: I'm not really sure... because by the time I came to it, they had the 14 Queens, but certainly they were applying for entries, so presumably it's a bit like Drag Race, where you have to put together a show reel, you have to show your aesthetic, you have to sing. Maybe some people were recommended to apply, I don't know, but my god, they really, the found some great people. And what's interesting is, there will be queens watching this thinking why... why didn't I enter that? I think a lot of queens just didn't know, no one thought there was going to be a quarter of a million dollars at stake, so I think a lot of people kind of thought, oh, it's at the end of the pandemic, my drag isn't ready, I'll apply the next time. Now they're kicking themselves.

John-Paul Ricchio: 100%. I mean I wish I would have entered! That would have been amazing! Now, you've been exposed to drag for a long time and being on Drag Race, what are the ingredients that make a drag queen?

Graham Norton: Well, look, I think the interesting thing for me about drag and a great drag queen, I can't explain it but maybe you'll know what I mean, is that, yes, they've got to be fabulous and fierce and funny and there is something... there is something otherworldly about drag queens, but the thing that makes me love it, I think, is that weirdly, drag queens for all their fierceness and the makeup and the drag, they wear their hearts on their sleeves. There's an emotional connection I have with drag that I still don't understand, but I find myself, on this show, you just, you're laughing one minute and then suddenly, boom, you're in a really raw, emotional thing. And I don't know what it is but drag queens seem incredibly in touch with their emotions, their emotions seem to be right there, right behind the blusher is just some raw emotion. And for me, that's why I love it, that's really what I get off on.

John-Paul Ricchio: 100%. I completely agree. On top of the blusher is the contouring, severe contouring, which I am obsessed with. I may have done a little bit myself today. So, I'm from a Canadian outlet and one of the contestants on the show, she's from Montreal, talk to me about what she brought to the table.

Graham Norton: I mean, she, we-- I love her, I really love her. I'm not sure how much I can say but she, in her first performance, which I think is in show two, I think she's in show two, not show one, bu they're both on the same night, basically December the 2nd, they're back to back, and she's in show two and I think Canada will be very, very proud. Hilarious, really, really really funny. She brought the party, I remember it as being an absolute highlight of that show. Really, yeah, yeah, I have to say, I think Canada will be very proud.

John-Paul Ricchio: That's incredible. The Queens are constantly reinventing themselves and I class you as one of the most brilliant and charismatic and a celebrity favourite interviewer in the world, there's nothing like scrolling through an Instagram and finding a 20-second clip of you, I'll watch it over and over and over. Do you find any pressure to reinvent yourself?

Graham Norton: Not really. I'm lucky because although it's my show, it's never about me. So the show is reinvented every week because we've got a different bunch of celebrities. So, I mean the only reinvention I've done very slowly over 22 years, is become old. So, that's... that's my Madonna chameleon moment. Look, he's got grey hair and wrinkles, that's amazing! So, yeah, that's been my very slow transformation over the years.

John-Paul Ricchio:I just want to say thank you so much for talking with me. I adore you and thank you for bringing everything that you do to the world. Thank you so much.

Graham Norton: Enjoy the rest of your holiday, sir, take care.

John-Paul Ricchio: Thank you, Graham, thank you so much. Take care.

Queen of the Universe is now streaming on Paramount+.

Read more fabulous celebrity interviews by John-Paul Ricchio on the Kit here.


Queen of the Universe Judge Michelle Visage Speaks to John-Paul Ricchio

She's a platinum-selling recording artist, three-time Emmy-winning producer, judge of RuPaul's Drag Race and now a a member of the "Pop Diva Panel" of judges alongside Vanessa Williams on Queen on the Universe. This new series follows the world's most talented drag queens as they battle it out for global domination, and countries go head to head spotlighting their top talent as they debut a new musical performance in front of a live audience. Here's my one-on-one interview with the gorgeous Michelle. (Scroll down past the video for the full transcript!) Enjoy, JP xo

John-Paul Ricchio: My name is JP Ricchio and I'm from The Kit in Toronto. Hello, Michelle. Congratulations on Queen of the Universe. What drew you to this fantastic, fantastic project?

Michelle Visage: Well, first of all, thank you, JP, lovely to meet you. I think the obvious drew me to this incredible project. Queen of the Universe, just the title alone, but then they had me at Drag Queens and then they said a singing competition, how could one say no to that? I mean it's two of my most favourite things in life combined in one and it's such a masterpiece. It's produced so beautifully, the production value is over the top, it makes every other singing competition looks just teeny tiny. It's so amazing.

John-Paul Ricchio: I agree with you, I was floored by it. And you, that high pull, I was just obsessed, that was epic! You are the queen and the goddess, I'm obsessed.

Michelle Visage: Ah, thank you.

John-Paul Ricchio: I'm so proud of everything that you have contributed to making and putting the art of drag into the mainstream market, you should be so proud of yourself, and that comes from my heart. I'm so proud of what you have contributed to the world, seriously.

Michelle Visage: Thank you.

John-Paul Ricchio: You're very welcome. So we all know that success does not happen overnight and you've worked very, very hard to get to where you are. And I'd like to know what kind of advice did you give to these Queens, on Queen of the Universe?

Michelle Visage: I think the advice I give is-- anytime I judge anybody, wherever I am, whether it's RuPaul's Drag Race, Ireland's Got Talent, wherever I'm judging, even with my own children, the world is not an easy place, so my advice seems like it's tough love but the world is tough love, that's my point. You can't just out in the world and expect Skittles and rainbows to come raining down on you, especially as a queer performer, that's not going to happen. So I want them to hear the truth and sometimes the truth hurts, but if you listen to what somebody's saying to you, I say to my child, this isn't working for you, let's find out why or what does work for you or how we could make it better. So for me, that's the kind of advice I gave to these kids, maybe tonight wasn't your best night, so how can we make it better? Let's do this, this and this for the next week, if you're lucky enough to get through, and when they use it and they implement it, it's like a light bulb turns on. That's my goal every time I judge on any television show. So that's what I try to do, that's what I bring to Queen of the Universe. And will they use what I tell them? Well, we'll have to wait and see!

John-Paul Ricchio: So, critique me. How do I look tonight?

Michelle Visage: You know, the first thing I see about you is those gorgeous cheekbones, absolutely beautiful. What do you have green on your lap?

John-Paul Ricchio: This is a very large pashmina--

Michelle Visage: Oh, you are fabulous, JP! You have this beautiful black and white suit on with this beautiful collar on the shirt, with the pussy bow... and then a gorgeous green pashmina shawl, I mean you look fabulous, you look rich!

John-Paul Ricchio: Oh my god, you're hysterical, thank you, I've always wanted to ask you that. So, back to the competition, how was the Canadian Queen? As a Canadian outlet, I'm very proud to have a Canadian representative on your show. How did the Canadian Queen compare to the others?

Michelle Visage: Listen, I love Canada. I grew up going to Niagara Falls for a vacation because it was right up from New Jersey, you could just drive there. Canada is such an amazing country and Canada, especially in the drag community, has its quirks. Canadian drag is very quirky but it's also very regional, just like the States. Like drag in New York is different to drag in Los Angeles, it's different to drag in Ohio, it's just the way that it is. So, our Canadian entrant is an amazing talent who is quirky and fun and representing Canada beautifully.

John-Paul Ricchio: I love that. What was it like working with Michelle Williams and Leona Lewis and Trixie and her eyeliner?

Michelle Visage: Vanessa Williams was, is a personal friend of mine, so I've known her for a while, so it was great having a friend on the panel already. And then they said Trixie was joining and I was like, yes! Trixie and I have a history, I've judge her quite a few, many times and I just love her for what she is and all that white eyeliner. And Leona who is just-- I call her the good girl of the group, of the group of bad girls-- she is a sweetheart. It was my first time meeting her. But we all got along and a lot of times on these panel shows, you see panellists that just don't get along and there's no chemistry, you can't really force chemistry, it just has to happen and I think we had a lot of it. And the most important thing was we had fun, this show is so much fun because the talent is extraordinary.

John-Paul Ricchio: Amazing. It brought me a lot of joy watching the first episode, I'm not going to lie, I was blown away. I'd like to ask you, you, as an artist in your own right, you're in Seduction, you are the queen, so a singer, a huge part of the competition is singing. what are you looking for with these contestants and their performing skills?

Michelle Visage: So, it's not a huge part, it is THE part, this is a singing competition, first and foremost. It's about the voice and it's about the performance. Drag is back seat for me. You have to be a good drag queen, you can't be a Halloween kind of frat boy joke, you need to be able to be a drag performer and your drag can be improved, but the vocals are the vocals. So it's all about the way they sound and the performance of it all. And then we can get a little bit into the drag and talk about it and say these are things that you can change to make it a little bit better, but for me it's about those vocals, can you deliver those vocals. And honey, they can. People are going to be blown away by the voices they hear.

John-Paul Ricchio: Fantastic. I am a beauty and fashion expert from Toronto and what I'd like you to do now, is I'd like you to introduce yourself and then I'd like you to say, if you're comfortable, I'm Michelle Visage and this is what's in my kit. And then I'd love for you to just name three or four products that you just love and can't live without, and why.

Michelle Visage: I don't know if I'm allowed to do that. Am I allowed to do that, you guys?

John-Paul Ricchio: You don't have to mention a brand, you can just say lipstick, powder--

Michelle Visage: That I can do, that I can do.

John-Paul Ricchio: Okay. Whenever you're ready.

Michelle Visage: Hey! It's Michelle Visage, I'm a judge on Queen of the Universe, and this is what's in my kit. Now, I cannot live without lip plumper. I think a lot of people will run for injections and do stuff like that [7:22 - video/audio distortion/audio and viz out of sync]. If there's a new technique, I'm going to try it. Can't live without that. Can't live without a good mascara, not ever waterproof because it rips your eyelashes out. And the blackest of black liquid eyeliners, not felt tip pencils but liquid with a brush. Those are things I cannot live without. And a nail file.

John-Paul Ricchio:Michelle, we are done, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your time. We seriously love you.

Michelle Visage: Thank you, JP, I know you're going to love the show, thank you so much for talking to me. Bye, doll!

John-Paul Ricchio: Bye, darling!

Queen of the Universe is now streaming on Paramount+.

Read more fabulous celebrity interviews by John-Paul Ricchio on the Kit here.