Alexis Michelle credits RuPaul with her own coming out — as a drag queen at least.
“I’ve always been a performer,” says the New York City native, born Alex Michaels. “I grew up on movie musicals and going to Broadway shows, and wanting to be on stage. And dressing up was sort of just there in tandem with those dreams.”
However, until recently drag was never more than an occasional thing for the graduate of the University of Michigan’s top-notch musical theater program. “I would still dabble in drag, but I kept it kind of secret because I was afraid of being pigeonholed in musical theater,” Michelle says. “It was really seeing RuPaul’s Drag Race that made me bring it out and become more proud of it.”
After throwing her wig into the ring for eight straight years, Michelle was finally cast as part of the ninth season of Drag Race. “It was wild,” Michelle says of the show, where she placed fifth. “I think the best way to describe it is unpredictable…. It’s hard to articulate what it is exactly, and what’s different about it than your expectations. It’s a bit of a mystery.
“I’m glad I did it,” the 35-year-old continues. “It’s allowed me many incredible opportunities. I’ve traveled the world performing. And it’s also the first time in my life that I’m exclusively pursuing my performance career, that I don’t need to be doing any kind of work on the side to supplement it.”
That’s not to say it’s been an easy sashay down the catwalk ever since.
”What people don’t realize is, the bigger the wig, the bigger the hustle,” she says. “That’s the showbiz thing — you have to keep working at it for it to sort of pay you back. And it usually takes a greater investment before you see the payback.”
Performing with the American Pops Orchestra this weekend offers Michelle one of those incredible Drag Race-fueled opportunities: The singing drag queen is among several featured performers for the APO’s tribute to a living giant of the musical theater.
“Jerry Herman is one of my favorite composers,” Michelle says. “Of course I feel a particular affinity to the material from La Cage Aux Folles — I’ve always dreamed of being in a production of it.
“You can definitely expect to see me do some of the hits from La Cage,” Michelle says, adding that the whole evening offers “an incredible assortment of some of Mr. Herman’s greatest songs from the theater.” And all of them will be bolstered with symphonic accompaniment. “This is [going to be] such a thrill. There’s truly nothing quite like singing with a full orchestra.”
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