Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Provided/Instagram/@MichelleVisage
It's 20 years since ITV's Pop Idol made a star out of Will Young - and introduced the world to the notion of the TV judge.
But judging panels have evolved considerably in the ensuing two decades. So much so, in 2016, concept pioneer Simon Cowell of Pop Idol and The X Factor fame even admitted he was"embarrassed" by his Mr. Nasty persona.
Step forward Michelle Visage, the former Seduction singer who has been a RuPaul's Drag Race mainstay since 2011.
The 53-year-old has the best judging style in the business: sharp and direct but also, crucially, compassionate and intelligent.
Here the showbiz veteran and noted animal lover - who recently served as a celebrity judge for the Pokémon Presents Super Pet Contest - reflects on the art of judging, rescuing animals and why Pokémon is popular with LGBTQs.
You have recently judged the Pokémon Presents Super Pet Contest - how do you identify a star? How did you pick the winners?
For starters, every single pet was a superstar! This was the hardest contest I've ever had to judge. For me, I let the category lead the way and whoever fit the title the most, won!
You're genuinely one of the sharpest, most observant, and eloquent judges out there. What's your secret? Are you a voracious notetaker? A naturally good memory?
First of all, thank you! Yes, I absolutely always take notes! I can’t remember everything, so I write it when I see it!
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How has your judging style evolved/improved over time? I'm sure even in fun contexts like this, you must be wary of your own biases, habitual thinking...
I truly am who I am. I speak freely as to what I see and I try to operate from a place of love to help the person - or creature - to be the best that they could be!
Have you ever given feedback or a critique that you've regretted or even retracted?
I do my best to not do that. When I say I try to operate from love, I mean it. We all hopefully evolve as humans emotionally, as have I, so my judging style has evolved as well.
Have any specific experiences of being on the other side of the judging panel informed how you judge competitions?
I definitely judge as I’d like to be judged. When I compete I know what to expect and I welcome all critiques because I always want to improve and know where I could do better.
If you and Ru were a Pokémon who would you be?
I always think of myself as Lopunny but let's be honest, Ru would win that contest hands down.
If you are Ru were breeds of dog, what would you be?
Ru is an Afghan. I am a Pekingese
Why do you think Pokémon is so popular with the LGBTQs? Some trans and non-binary fans identify with characters who have no confirmed gender...
I think it is the freedom to be whomever you want without any boundaries. It's freeing.
What role does Pokémon play in your family life in 2021?
My daughter Lillie is the biggest fan ever, and has been since she was in single digits. She is 21, so it is very much a part of my life still. We have been to many places, including college tours where she was nearly late because of Pokémon GO!
What animal welfare issue is closest to your heart and why?
All of them, but I am most involved with dog rescue and adopting over shopping. [Michelle has two dogs named Romeo and Daisy]. Too many animals, not just dogs, get euthanized daily because of [the] cost to feed and house them. If people rescued, so many lives would be spared!
What do you have coming up in 2022?
Queen of the Universe [out now] is a brand new drag queen singing competition on a global stage where queens sing live to win the title of Queen of the Universe plus a quarter of a million dollars! It airs on Paramount +.
You'll be working with Vanessa Williams on Queen of the Universe. How far back do you go, and do you have a close relationship?
We have known each other for quite a few years now and we are personal friends so we are so excited to be working together! I love that diva!
Michelle Visage picked the best from the rest in the Pokémon Presents Super Pet Contest for the release of Pokémon Brilliant Diamond & Pokémon Shining Pearl, out now on Nintendo Switch.