(This interview was originally published January 29, 2012 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Michelle Visage. Her '80s connection is that she was a member of the girl group Seduction which debuted towards the end of 1989, just making them still qualify as part of that decade. Seduction’s biggest hit single, “Two to Make It Right“, was released in late 1989. After Seduction, Visage went on to perform in other groups including The S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. and has become a popular radio and television host and personality. You’ll find out more about her time with Seduction and all the rest as we get on to some selections from my interview with Michelle Visage…
Q: I read that you wanted to be an actress coming out of high school. When did you decide you wanted to be a singer instead?
Michelle: Let me just say that I have always wanted to do both. I majored in musical theater in college (yes, I am a total theater geek and I wear it with pride!), so singing and acting were pretty much my life with dancing thrown in there as well. But I’m not that great of a dancer. I can pull it off and street dancing worked out better for me than technical though I spent 16 years of my life in ballet classes that proved useless.
Q: Please tell us about The American Musical and Dramatic Academy. Did your time there prepare you for your career?
Michelle: AMDA was literally a joke, a farce. The school has come SOOOOO far, now it’s an actual school with credentials. When I went, all they could boast about was having Tyne Daly as a student. They didn’t mold me in any way and I know I’m sounding harsh, but recently Tyler Ferguson was on Drag Race as a guest judge and he graduated from there as well. We spent hours discussing the ridiculousness of that school. I am SO glad they have improved it. At the time, everyone got in if they could pay their bills. The one positive it gave me was proper diction. I was a kid in central Jersey being raised by a Mom from Brooklyn. I made Snooki look like a poet laureate.
Q: Please discuss your personal musical influences and who molded and inspired the artist you were at that time.
Michelle: My vocal inspiration has pretty much always been Teena Marie, Madonna, (don’t laugh), Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone, Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, Cyndi Lauper and... you get the point.
Q: Please tell us all about how you ended up auditioning for and getting a spot in Seduction. What do you remember about the audition process?
Michelle: Seduction came about simply because my best friend at the time, Idalis Leon, auditioned for a girl group, told me about it and I asked, “Do they need a white girl?” I then called Robert Clivilles and scheduled an audition (I was always ballsy) though they already had a white girl. I proceeded to blow them away by singing Teena Marie’s “Deja vu” and Jennifer Holliday’s “I Am Love”… BAM, I was hired then and there!
Q: What were the expectations when the group was first starting out? Do you know why you were chosen to be in the group?
Michelle: The expectations were simple and fast. They had already put a Seduction single out, “(You’re My One and Only) True Love” and they needed to get a face out there for the single. C&C [Robert Clivilles and David Cole] had always wanted to do a multi-racial girl group, so that’s when the auditions happened and they happened FAST. I am sure I was hired because a) I could sing and b) they were scared to turn me down. LOL
Seduction was originally intended as a studio project and after the surprising success of the single “(You’re My One and Only) True Love”, producers Clivilles and Cole decided they needed to assemble a group. Idalis de Leon, April Harris and Michelle Visage were chosen for the three coveted spots in the group and they immediately began working on the rest of the album. Nothing Matters Without Love was released in October of 1989 and would be certified platinum and reach #36 on the album charts.
Q: What can you tell us about Robert Clivilles and David Cole [who many remember most as creators of C&C Music Factory] and your experience working with them in Seduction and on later projects as well?
Michelle: David Cole was a musical genius. Being able to work with him in the studio was an honor and a privilege. I loved watching his brain work and seeing him play the piano/keyboard but most of all, I loved him. He gave me tough love. He didn’t put up with my shit… EVER. Robert and I had a different kind of relationship. We were very close, almost brother/sister like. People don’t give him the credit he deserves either. David was a musical genius, but so is Robert in his own street way. He gets beats and he gets how music mixes together. He also writes kick ass pop songs and I wish he would accept that and get back to doing it!
Q: Seduction is probably best recognized for your hit single “Two To Make It Right.” Please take us back to when the song was written and recorded. Was it written specifically for Seduction to perform? What memories do you have from recording what would end up being such a big hit?
Michelle: The song was written for us by David Cole and when they gave it to me, David gave the specific instructions of “sing like Paula Abdul” (she was dominating the charts at the time). I looked at him like, “Really???” He said, “Trust me” and I did and the rest is history. I can tell you that I did not like that song from day one. Ahh, irony.
Seduction released the hit single “Two to Make It Right” in late 1989 and it would peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in February of 1990. The single also spent 12 weeks on the Dance chart and reached #1 on January 13, 1990. This song always reminds me more of the '80s, but helped make the transition to the '90s. Here is the video for “Two to Make It Right” by Seduction…
Q: When you first recorded “Two To Make It Right” did you have a feeling it was going to be something special? Could you have ever anticipated the reaction this single would have?
Michelle: I could have NEVER anticipated that song going to the top of the charts, not in a million years.
Q: What changed for you personally and for Seduction after this huge pop success? Were you prepared for all of the attention?
Michelle: I am ALWAYS prepared for attention! Have always been ready for it. I worked at it since I’ve been in the womb, are you KIDDING?! Quite honestly? NOTHING CHANGED because we didn’t make a DIME off of that group. It was a great learning experience. We were able to tour the country, but nothing changed. I still struggled to pay my bills the same way everyone else did. It was a shame actually.
Q: When you have a big hit song like that, do you (or did you) ever get sick of playing it?
Michelle: Yes, the fact is you do. You are eternally grateful for it (probably more if you made money off of it), but it gets old… fast. That’s just me telling the truth, but I get realllly happy when people love it!
Q: What are your feelings regarding “Two To Make It Right” today over 20 years later?
Michelle: I still don’t like the song. LOL I much rather listen to “Heartbeat”, “True Love” or “Breakdown”.
Q: What do you remember about your live performances? I am sure you had to go on an exhausting tour to promote the album.
Michelle: I LOVED/LOVE PERFORMING. It’s everything to me. The rehearsals were long and grueling but we had to be fierce coming on to an already crowded girl group landscape and we made it happen!
Q: Please tell us about your tour with Milli Vanilli. Can you describe the feeling of playing to those large audiences in packed houses?
Michelle: There is NOTHING that can describe playing in an arena filled with 50,000 people singing YOUR songs. The energy fired you up and its and instant high. I totally get why Gaga wants to keep touring. It’s literally a drug.
Q: Did you get to know Rob & Fab from Milli Vanilli at all during that time and what can you tell us about them? Did you have any idea that Rob & Fab were not the real singers of those hit songs previous to the news breaking?
Michelle: We knew since the first night of the tour when we went down to watch the first night’s dress rehearsal and the track was playing but the boys were no where to be found. Fabrice and I had a beautiful love affair for the length of the tour and to this day we remain very good friends. I adore him. Rob (RIP) was a pain in the ass. Drugs ruined his life, it’s quite the tragedy. He hated the fact that Fabrice was getting off drugs and happy in love with me because it took him away from Rob and the ladies that threw themselves at them on a nightly basis. There is a book in me, trust that.
Q: Did you get along well and become friends with the other girls in Seduction? Do you still keep in touch with them today?
Michelle: Like I said, Idalis and I were best friends and when they fired her, it was devastating for me. It of course ruined our friendship for a while as I stayed in the group, but our friendship was deeper than that so of course it remains in tact today. She is my sister and I love her. No comment on April. She never liked me, she never will. All I can say is I tried. Life goes on, you know? Not everyone likes everyone, I get it. Energies are off, vibes don’t match. It was just never right. C’est la vie.
Idalis de Leon left the group in mid-1990 and she was replaced by Sinoa Loren. Seduction released a remix album and stayed together a little while longer before disbanding in 1991. Michelle Visage continued her singing career and would later begin another career as a radio and television host.
Q: You went on to sing on and help write the Bill Withers remake “It’s Gonna Be A Lovely Day” by S.O.U.L. S.Y.S.T.E.M. which was on the hugely successful 1992 soundtrack for The Bodyguard. How did this opportunity come your way? What do you remember about recording the song and how it ended up on that soundtrack? Did you have any exposure to Clive Davis during this process? If so, what can you tell us about Mr. Davis and that experience?
Michelle: Yes, Clive actually signed me which was great. The opportunity to be around him and his genius was amazing. C&C asked me to do this. It was supposed to be a project to finally highlight me. We recorded an entire album that was never released and no one seems to have the master of… sucks, right? I would LOVE to hear it.
Q: In addition to all of that, you have gone to have a thriving career as a radio host. How did you end up getting started in that industry? What do you love most about the job?
Michelle: Radio is something I was always interested in but I basically pushed my way into it. I’ve been a morning show DJ for the past 17 years and I truly love it. It is something I see myself doing in some capacity for the rest of my working life. It’s just so rewarding for me to be able to talk to so many people on a daily basis, make them laugh on their way to work or drop the kids off at school. And the biggest compliment to me is when someone tells me they feel like they know me or like I’m one of their girlfriends.
Q: Do you have any concerns over the future of commercial radio with the growing satellite radio market and other ways to get news/music?
Michelle: The future of terrestrial radio right now is pretty grim. It’s unfortunate that all of those great thinkers that used to be in radio are now stifled and it’s all about a company’s IPO or how much money they could make. It’s a CREATIVE medium that’s not so creative anymore BUT once they realize that all of this over-analyzed, homogenized, one-size-fits-all radio thing isn’t working, it’ll be back to the magic it once was… you can quote me on that.
Q: You started your radio career hosting a show with RuPaul and have gone on to also co-host the VH1 talk show The RuPaul Show as well as being a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I imagine you two have become close friends over the years? What can you tell us about RuPaul and your experiences working with him?
Michelle: Ru and I actually knew each other before 1996 when we were paired to do mornings on WKTU in New York City. We knew each other from the New York club scene. I ran a vogueing troop and he performed at the same nightclubs so when the KTU thing happened, it was fate! He then brought me on to his TV show and the rest is herstory. Ru is one of my best friends and spiritually one of the more advanced people I know. I adore everything there is about that Scorpio.
Q: I saw that you co-hosted a radio show in L.A. with Sinbad for 6 months in 2001. What can you tell us about Sinbad and your short experience working with him? Why did the station decide to make a change and have you host the show by yourself?
Michelle: Sinbad is a great guy. Just as funny in person as he is during his stand-up. He is super nice and extremely generous. Sinbad, however, is NOT a morning guy! Like I said, radio is limiting and I think most comedians that think they want to host a radio show get in there and see what it really entails then they kind of go “this isn’t what I thought it was gonna be”.
Q: You had to have grown up loving some music from the '80s. What do you remember best about the decade of '80s music?
Michelle: '80s music has had the most impact on me because I was an '80s kid. To sum it up, it was FUN. Nothing was heavy, everything was just bubblegum and love affairy. LOVED IT.
Q: What is the current status of your singing career? Do you still sing at all? Any new music from you coming soon or down the line? Any chance of the original Seduction ever performing together again or releasing new music?
Michelle: There is a new Seduction that April formed, but I don’t know anything about it. Singing for me is something I do whenever I want to; in the bath, in the car, when someone asks me… but I don’t know about trying to re-launch a recording career at this point. Seriously? A 40-year-old new pop star? Really? Does anyone wanna see that?
Q: What else is Michelle Visage up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Michelle: Are you kidding? Soooo many ambitions! That would be sad if I had none. I try not to live with regrets. I live life looking forward not in the rear view mirror. I just moved the whole family to Los Angeles to focus on my TV career, so that is getting all of my attention these days. Keep your eyes on your TV for more Visage in 2012!
I am so happy that Michelle took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. You can keep up with her on her official website MichelleVisage.com. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Michelle Visage for her contributions to pop culture especially through Seduction and, even more, for going back to the '80s with us here for a little while as well.