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.