Queen of the Universe judges reveal how they'll mold drag divas into 'the best of the best' pop stars
Well, they did it, mama; the crew behind RuPaul's Drag Race made Eurovision even gayer with the announcement of a fabulous roster of judges set to preside over mainstream TV's first drag queen singing competition. Looking at the material, how did they manage to up the queer factor across a format inspired by the world's most flamboyant musical contest?
"You just add Michelle [Visage]. It makes anything gayer," drag superstar, recording artist, makeup mogul, and freshly announced Queen of the Universe judge Trixie Mattel exclusively tells EW (in the video interview above) of the new Paramount+ series, which she joins alongside longtime Drag Race judge Visage, Grammy nominee Leona Lewis, and iconic "Save the Best for Last" hitmaker (and RuPaul's Secret Celebrity Drag Race winner) Vanessa Williams among the show's pop diva panel. "I called Michelle a couple days ago and I was like, 'What's your golden rule of how to do this?' And she told me something I never realized even when I was a competitor: The judges really are your only lifeline for figuring out how to get closer to the end.... I really want to help these people, because I've won, and lost [Drag Race] twice."
Fiercely styled and firm in their convictions in pursuit of excellence, the royal roundtable will hold court over the hybrid pageant, which pits drag queens from 10 countries around the world against each other in a duel for vocal supremacy.
Queens hailing from the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Denmark, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, France, China, and India, are set to unite on one stage before the panel to prove that, despite lip-syncing prowess popularized in the mainstream by RuPaul's Drag Race, Queen of the Universe is all about finding the voice of a queer generation.
"It's a singing competition first, it's a drag competition second. What you think you know is going to be out the door because, yes, it's singing, but it's definitely different," Visage says, while Williams adds: "It's a global aspect that we've never seen before, and it's a singing competition; no one is lip-syncing, they're all singing their own tunes. We'll be judging them not only on the quality of their talent and musicianship, but also their star quality."
Lewis is excited to help the panel find "the best of the best" in an entertainer whose voice "fills the stage" as much as their body (ody-ody) fills out a glam look, with the end goal being not only to make great television, but to uncover a hidden gem who can "cross over" to mainstream radio.
Trixie — perhaps the most successful Drag Race graduate to date, thanks in part to regularly sold-out musical-comedy tours and three profitable albums of folk-pop material — has helped lay the groundwork for that to happen, as have fellow successful drag musicians like Brazil's Pabllo Vittar, former American Idol singer turned Drag Race finalist Adore Delano, and, of course, Billboard Hot 100 trailblazer RuPaul and her 1992 smash "Supermodel (You Better Work)."
"Drag queens in general are stealth producers, so even at like a low-budget local drag show, drag queens are worried about the costumes, the words, the choreography, what are people eating at the Hamburger Mary's while the number goes on, so, giving drag queens the key to the car and saying, 'Go give me a great number,' it's a recipe for success," Trixie explains.
While Queen of the Universe has legitimate sights set on changing the industry in favor of drag artists, host (and RuPaul's Drag Race UK panelist) Graham Norton explains that the uninhibited, renegade spirit of the countercultural art form will still rage through the contestants' collective soul — especially when some of the contestants come from regions where "just existing as a gay or queer person is very hard to do," which adds emotion atop the inherent theatricality of drag that often makes us "laugh harder" and "cry more" as it is, he says.
Fighting for the right to be seen on a global stage as recording artists instead of simply queens who do music — despite "setting the trends that pop stars follow," Trixie observes — is the final barrier, the group feels that Queen of the Universe can break down.
"To say that house music or dance music or a bitch track or a drag queen track is not real music is problematic to start with," she continues, with Mother Visage finishing with the first ruling decreed by the queer world's new branch of government: "It's all music, not to be negated!"
Queen of the Universe premieres Dec. 2 on Paramount+. Watch EW's exclusive interview with the new judges and host in the video above.
Subscribe to EW's BINGE podcast for full recaps of RuPaul's Drag Race, including our new season diving into all five All Stars seasons, featuring exclusive interviews with Jujubee, Alexis Mateo, Shea Couleé, Alaska, Detox, BenDeLaCreme, Kennedy Davenport, and more. And be sure to catch up on our BINGE recaps of RuPaul's Drag Race seasons 1-13 with Symone, Jaida Essence Hall, Trixie Mattel, Katya, Peppermint, Bianca Del Rio, Bob the Drag Queen, Sasha Velour, and more!
Drag queens from around the world compete to become glam pop royalty on the global music charts.
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