The second season of the drag singing competition Queen of the Universe is set to debut on Paramount+ on June 2nd. Hosted by former RuPaul’s Drag Race guest judge Graham Norton, the judges include Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, Drag Race All-Stars season 3 winner Trixie Mattel, as well as legend and former Drag Race guest judge Vanessa Williams. Joining the panel this season is Spice Girl icon Mel B… who was also a guest judge on Drag Race! That’s a whole lot of Drag Race…and the more drag the better.
This season feature talented drag queens from around the globe flexing their lewks and vocal chords to win the titular crown and a cash prize of $250,000. This season’s queens include Aura Eternal (Palermo, Italy), Chloe V (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), Jazell Royale (Orlando, Florida), Love Masisi (Amsterdam, Netherlands), Maxie (Manila, Philippines), Militia Scunt (San Francisco, California), Miss Sistrata (Tel Aviv, Israel), Taiga Brava (Cancun, Mexico), Trevor Ashley (Sydney, Australia), and Viola (Coventry, England, U.K).
For the judges, singing and lewks are only part of proving their prowess to win the crown. GLAAD’s Tony Morrison talked to Williams, Visage, and Mattel about the new season and what they are looking for when it comes to the titular “Queen of the Universe”.
“I’m looking for stage presence…feeling confident in what they’re gonna sing and how they look [and] how they relate to the audience,” Williams says. She also points out that the audience are the ones voting most of the time as they partake in the process of choosing who goes home.
Williams also looks at how the queens react to the work, the audience, how they handle their own talent and also being comfortable on stage. “You got to sell it,” she says.
As a judge on Drag Race since season 3, Visage doesn’t see a difference between judging the iconic drag reality competition and Queen of the Universe. Don’t get it twisted, she takes her job seriously.
“I’m looking for a star,” Visage tells Morrison. “That is in performance; that is in vocals; that’s appearance – that’s all together. It’s a little bit of each.”
As anti-drag and anti-trans bills continue to be introduced and signed into law across the country, the mere presence of shows like Queen of the Universe are an act of activism – and a damn fun one to watch.
“We have people at my shows who haven’t seen Drag Race or Queen of the Universe,” says Mattel. “They randomly found me on a Spotify playlist.” She adds that sometimes music is a good way to make people fall in love with drag.
“Great singing like they do on Queen of the Universe is a great way to trick your homophobic uncle who’s not sure about drag,” she says. “He might love the singing and might come around.”
Visage asks, “What is the difference between a drag queen and Dolly Parton?” It’s also worth saying that Visage has said she is a drag queen, following RuPaul’s mantra, “We’re all born naked and the rest is drag.”
“These are just artists who are singing, and music is the great equalizer,” says Visage of Queen of the Universe. “Quite honestly, when I go to see the Madonnas and the Janet Jacksons, I don’t even care if they sing live. I want to see a show. This is why we love them.”
She continues, “This is a live singing competition, so we need to hear them sounding great and performing great and looking great. Drag is just something that’s on top of all that. That’s the crazy thing about it – it’s not like they’re out there peddling their wares, they’re out there singing! That’s what they’re doing and they just happen to do drag. So, music is the great equalizer here and that’s what’s so special about it.”
With a global cast of contestants, Williams talks about the international queens and the struggles they have to go through in terms of legal issues and being seen in drag. “We realize the dynamics of what are happening worldwide, not just within our country in Florida, but the danger that could possibly be brought to these amazing talents worldwide.”
She adds to Mattel and Visage’s words about music being a universal language. She says we are there to watch these amazing artists sing and showcase their musicality and nothing else.
“There’s so much that is fear-based right now and so much of what people have been able to control are crumbling that they’re panicking,” Williams points out. “They are scrambling for control and that’s just another avenue for them to try to clamp down the reins and be in control and it’s not gonna last.”
Visage encourages the queer community that there is an army of siblings out there that have been fighting this fight with them and they will not stop fighting. “It’s the most important thing for me to never shut up because this world has to be a better place for the sake of my child and possibly my grandchildren and so on,” says Visage, who has a queer child.
Williams adds, “It’s a fight and the reality is we’re not going anywhere.”
“I love women’s tennis [and] no matter how much women’s tennis I watch, I won’t become good at tennis,” Mattel explains. “Seeing a drag queen on TV doesn’t make your child turn gay. Honestly, I just invite people to appreciate this show for what it is… which is fabulous artists performing.”