Two’s the charm for diva Chad Michaels, this year’s Purple Party headliner
Chad Michaels didn’t start out a winner, but ended up that way.
Michaels was one of the frontrunners in Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it was neck and neck most of the season until Sharon Needles proved the victor. But that didn’t deter Michaels: He went on to take the crown as the first-ever All-Stars winner, and the legend was born.
Michaels will be headlining the opening night of the Purple Party this week with a performance Friday at the Rose Room. We connect with the fierce diva before the show to talk about series, his Cher impersonation and why Texas queens are still the pioneers.
You were runner-up in Season 4 but the victor in the all-star season. Was that a vindication? Winning All Stars was truly an honor and one of the most memorable experiences of my life. But I have never felt vindicated because I have never had any issues with Sharon Needles winning Season 4. I have no need for vindication because everything is as it should be! I respect RuPaul’s decisions. Sharon has done big things with her title and I am proud of her and know that she will always be a legendary representative of RPDR. The only regret I honestly have is not presenting my impersonation of Celine Dion during the “Gay Pride Boat Float” challenge in Season 4. I should have painted that boat to look like the Titanic and gone down with the ship!
Reality shows often feature “the usual suspects.” Did you feel your seasons accurately portrayed the contestants or were you stereotyped? I agree that in reality TV, there often are the “usual suspects,” [but] I feel that we were all portrayed fairly accurately. There is a degree of editing, but the editors don’t put words in our mouth. They may be rearranged a little for dramatic effect, however, if a person [comes across as] an idiot on the show, they only have themselves to thank.
In the world of drag, you’re along the lines of a true female impersonator, especially for portraying Cher… I only did Cher one time in two seasons of RPDR. It is completely unfair to box me into one category as I have proven to the world that my tricks are boundless.
Do you think, though, that there’s a hierarchy in the drag world — impersonators versus camp, etc.? Each person lives in their own delusion. If someone thinks they are better than another queen because they dance, or they do comedy, or they do impersonations, or they are a “pageant queen,” they have gotten it twisted. Aside from out transgender counterparts, the majority of us are men in dresses, so get it straight in your heads. No one is better than anyone else, just different shades of gray.
Tell us about your Cher impersonation. My drag mother, Hunter, got me started doing Cher in 1992 and I will be forever grateful. It has been an amazing journey and a labor of love. Cher is to many of us the ultimate diva and I have always felt it important to do her justice and never make my work a parody. Lots of practice and many years of character study have gone into my work and still feel like a work in progress. Cher loves her impersonators and I had an opportunity to meet and work with her in ’03 at a fundraiser.
My other impersonations include Celine Dion, Marilyn Manson, and more recently, Florence Welch. I have been enjoying the fact that my fans got to know me much better on RPDR and now expect more from me than Cher.
Most drag queens go by a campy or female name, but not you. … Chad Michaels is my real name! I started using my name for stage during my run with La Cage in Las Vegas. I simply have never identified with a female name. I am the same person in and out of drag and don’t put on some big contrived personality. I’m real and I want people to know that. I want credit for my work and I want them to remember my name, Chad Michaels, not Missy Misdemeanor, or blah blah blah.
Have you been to Texas before? What are your impressions? I love Texas and always have a blast! I’ve performed in Houston, San Antonio and many years ago, Dallas. I have friends in Texas like Lawanda Jackson, Onyx and the legendary Cher Mother, Wayne Smith. Texas has a big heart and always rolls out the hospitality. I am really excited to be working at the Rose Room — it will be an honor to play where so many legends have been born.
The last few months have been tragic in the drag world, especially here in Dallas, with the passings of Sahara Davenport and Erica Andrews. How have losses like that impacted the community? The passing of these two legends has absolutely affected everyone in the drag community. Differences aside, we as a community are very close. When one passes, we all feel it. It’s like a shock wave. I didn’t know either entertainer on a personal level, but I certainly did feel the loss of their light and talent in the world.
Do you have an opinion of Texas queens in general? Texas Queens are a special breed: Big hair, big costumes, and big personalities! I feel that keeps the traditions of drag alive. Pageantry was born in Texas. Texas legends abound and often set the standard for drag in our country. I have a lot of respect for these Southern divas! Texas men are some of the kindest gentlemen … and biggest scoundrels … I have encountered! Texas has it all — super-sized. I can’t wait to see Dallas. It has been too long and I aim to let you have it. Mother Dust is coming!
What’s your favorite part of performing? Simply affecting people. I love live performance and onstage is where I am truly happy. What we do as entertainers is unique and we have the ability to make people feel strong emotions. It is important to me to leave people with something when I am done with my shows. Happiness, intrigue, sadness, whatever. My hope is that I change someone’s point of view or lift them up from a heavy place if only for five minutes. That’s how we as entertainers change the world one performance at a time through our art form.
Have you enjoyed touring the country in your Drag Race victory lap? Touring has been the big payoff for me. I love to get out there and meet my fans and all the people who have supported me through this long journey. The only differences I see in audiences are the faces. They are all very much the same in the respect that they are hungry to be entertained and they love their divas. It is an honor to be respected by so many and I take making them happy when I entertain very seriously. Without our people and fans, we are nothing — believe that.
Tell us something no one knows about you. People don’t know I have a wooden leg — I lost it in World War II and have become quite adept at walking in it in heels. It has only fallen off onstage once and I certainly hope it won’t happen in Texas because the girls will read me! God, that feels good to come clean!
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 26, 2013.