In Queen Of The Universe, a new RuPaul’s Drag Race-adjacent drag singing competition on Paramount+, contestants are judged based on the three WAP criteria: What they’re wearing, all-star attitude, and performance.
And while one’s “WAP” can certainly be subjective, Queen Of The Universe has assembled a prestigious “Pop Diva Panel” to oversee the proceedings—four judges with drag or performance experience (or both!) who will determine which queens have the vocal chops to avoid the chop after each week.
Panelists include recording artist/actor/Secret Celebrity Drag Race winner Vanessa Williams, Drag Race All-Stars 3 winner and self-professed “skinny legend” Trixie Mattel, former Seduction member and current Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, and “Bleeding Love” pop star Leona Lewis.
In advance of the Queen Of The Universe premiere, The A.V. Club spoke with three of the show’s Pop Divas (Leona Lewis was unavailable) to preview the season ahead. And, because we believe you can’t truly judge a successful performance unless you’ve had a few flops yourself, we asked each of them to share some of their most embarrassing on-stage moments.
Mattel, Williams, and Visage also discuss imposter syndrome, proving doubters wrong, and “the art of judging” in the full video interview above. In the highlighted transcript below, the trio discusses the times they flopped the hardest in front of a live audience.
Trixie Mattel: How much time do you have? I mean, especially in a televised competition environment, I botched one of America’s favorite Drag Race challenges, Snatch Game, in front of the world. That was pretty much one of the worst days of my life. But nothing prepares you for failure like being a drag queen!
The A.V. Club: Was that one tough to watch back? Were you able to watch that episode?
TM: Watching it back wasn’t as tough as living it, Mary, oh my god.
Michelle Visage: [Laughs]
TM: You know, if it was a sewing challenge, I could cut my left arm off and no one would remember it. If you bomb Snatch Game, it’ll be on your tombstone. So.
MV: Yeah, and I’m sure my face said it all.
You know, for me, I have—my goodness—botched so many things over the years: Auditions, even performances like some of the tours. I was out there and I performed when I was under the weather and shouldn’t [have], and shouldn’t sing live, should lip sync and do things like that. But I’m too hellbent-Virgo to not do that.
So I’ve been out there and I’d be like, “Ugh!” And, you know, there’s an audience there and you have to say, “Well, that was shit.” But the truth of the matter is: We’re all human. Even the best of the best have off days and off nights and off performances and off auditions. I think that just goes with it, and it’s how we handle it—it’s, like, the grit, you learn the grit—it’s how you handle those situations that makes you a better performer, better person, et cetera, et cetera.
Vanessa Williams: Exactly! The show must go on.
I’ve got a couple of examples. One: On Broadway you end up doing eight shows a week. And, by the time you’re thoroughly into a run, it’s almost like you can do your shopping list while you’re singing and dancing—because it’s muscle memory. And I remember one time when I was doing Kiss Of The Spider Woman, I come out with this white fedora and this ivory zoot suit. I’ve got a cigarette, I’m leaning against the drape, and I’m like, “I have no fucking idea what I’m about to say”. And I just said, [sings] “I’ve got some chocolate to give!” And I just made it up because I could not remember how to start the song. And people are like, “I’ve got some chocolate to give? What? Where is she going with this?” But, you know, that’s what you do.
Another one that I had was at The Apollo, and it was me and Paula Abdul. We both had singles out at the same [time]—mine was “The Right Stuff” in 1988, and her’s was like “Straight Up,” or something. And we knew that we had to sing in front of The Apollo audience and they were going to be rough. So she decided not to sing live and “sang track,” I was like, “I’m singing live.” So, I come out and I am giving it my all with all the choreography. And I danced so hard that I had zero breath to actually sing, and I just basically froze my diaphragm, choked up, and it was the worst vocal I’ve ever had on television. But, you know, that’s what you do. The show must go on and you just motor through. And I didn’t, like, cry and say, “I need to do it again! Stop the tape! Let me do that.” You know, I ate it.
Queen Of The Universe begins streaming on Paramount+ on December 2.