Jan. 18 2012 02:34 PM

Local queen is going to ‘drag Disneyland'

Enrique Limon
Forty-year-old Chad Michaels' destiny was sealed from inception. Local lore says he was rhythmically conceived to “I Got You Babe” while his dad was rocking a fur vest and his mom donned nothing but an Indian headdress, and that after his birth, a gypsy, a tramp, and a thief made a pilgrimage to Encinitas to lay gifts before his tiny, porcelain-like feet.

Lo, the messiah of drag had been born, and now, his heavenly talents will be displayed on a national platform in what's sure to be a scene-stealing stint as “the senior member” on Season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race, or, Michaels calls it, “drag Disneyland.”

Most ho's can put on a $3 wig and lip-synch to a pop song, but anyone who's caught one of Michaels' weekly Dreamgirls revues at Urban Mo's knows that what he does is elevated to performance-art status.

Making my way backstage last Wednesday, I wiggled through a narrow, mirrored corridor where the girls were getting ready for their opening number. Michaels looked up from his vanity, smiled and offered to pull up a chair for me.

Chad Michaels
Photo by Enrique Limon

He was serene and in the zone during conversation, unconsciously doing the trademark tongue-to-lip gesture for which his legendary muse is known. Unlike most of his counterparts, Michaels also insists on being referred to as a he, a trait that was picked up early in his career.

“I had a drag name when I first started. It was Brigitte Love, and I always felt weird about it because I didn't identify with the character but figured it was what people expected of me,” he recalled. “When I went to Vegas in '97 and toured with La Cage, they insisted that you be introduced at the end of the show by your male name, so it just stuck.”

A 20-year veteran of the drag scene, he says San Diego has long been a hotbed for top-notch entertainers, including his drag mother, Hunter, whom he considers to be “the all-time best drag queen ever.”

“I don't know if it's the weather, but everyone is just generally in a good mood and things just flourish here. I have always flourished here.”

Asked about the drag scene in North County, he quipped: “You're looking at it.”

A child of divorced parents, Michaels was drawn to strong female role models at an early age, citing Bea Arthur, Carol burnett and, of course, Cher as influences.

“It's not like we talk to each other on the phone every day, but she definitely knows who I am and what I do, and she's never tried to shut me down, which I really appreciate,” he said about Cher.

Reaching for his wig cap, he said he hopes his run on Drag Race will lead to something. “It's always been my dream to tour with her and do some sort of a fake-out onstage. Who knows? It still might happen.”

Standing well over 6 feet tall in heels (closer to 7 with the right hair), his presence is imposing, and halfway through his transformation, the similarities between him and his idol are uncanny.

Part of the illusion is smoke-and-mirrors, but Michaels is sincere in admitting some is scalpel-enhanced. “It's no secret that I've had some surgical procedures: injectables, fillers and whatnot, but I think you must have the basic facial structure to do any character,” he said as he accented the crease in his eyelids. “No plastic surgeon can magically make you look exactly like somebody else.”

When asked to complete the sentence “If I Could turn Back Time…,” his answer was immediate: “I would have never had silicone injected into my face.” And he warned aspiring divas to avoid underground “pumping parties.”

“It's a really bad scene, and if I need to be the poster child against it, I will be,” he said, taking a serious tone. “It's dangerous, and the problems that people who have silicone injections will develop can't ever be predicted. The people who pump at these parties are not your friends, and they'll leave you dead on a table if something goes wrong.”

Lightening the mood, I switched the convo to the makings of a good tuck.

”It's a trade secret that I'm not going to share with you, because it's messy,” he laughed. “It's called a gaff, and it hides all the special nuggets back to where they came from.”

As for what to expect on Drag Race, he assured that the tone and feel of the show are more intense than before. “The cash prize is $100,000, so the girls were out for blood,” he teased.

One of those girls was Pittsburgh's Sharon Needles, a goth princess with a dark edge. “Sharon Needles is the spookiest bitch I've ever met,” Michaels said. “You're gonna have to watch the show to see how things pan out between her and I. All I can say is that you will not be disappointed.”

Michaels said that being the more seasoned performer of the bunch worked to his advantage. “I can't disclose too much, but I'll just say I fared well for the time I spent there, and it is what it is.”

Aching for a spoiler, I asked him to let the cat out of the bag and just reveal that he'd won.

“I would love to let the pussy out of the bag, but I can't do that,” he said with a smile. “You're all just gonna have to watch and see what happens. All the people that have been anticipating it will not be disappointed—trust.”

Season 4 of RuPaul's Drag Race premieres Jan. 30 on LOGO. Write to enrique@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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