1 of 5 | Michelle Visage returns to judge "Queen of the Universe." File Photo by Greg Grudt/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, May 31 (UPI) -- Queen of the Universe judges Michelle Visage, Trixie Mattel and Vanessa Williams said great drag cannot overcome lackluster singing in Season 2 of the reality competition, premiering Friday on Paramount+.
"Drag has to be good," Visage told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "We are looking for quality drag, but if the voice ain't there, mm-mm-mm."
The panel of judges, which also includes Mel B in Season 2, evaluates contestants on their singing and drag costumes. Mattel, who won Season 3 of RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars, said it is easier to improve drag than vocal performance.
"Singing -- it's almost like an athletic endeavor to improve your voice over time," Mattel said. "Whereas you can get a new outfit."
Queen of the Universe shows the contestants out of character behind the scenes as they develop their stage personas and costumes, as well as rehearse. The judges only see the final product when they evaluate the contestants.
"Just like Drag Race really, unless I'm directing them, I don't get to see them until the show is over," Visage said. "They're there to work. They're there to learn the songs, learn the choreography, costuming and all that."
Mattel, a singer-songwriter with four studio albums under her sparkly belt, said she is glad she doesn't know what the contestants look like out of costume. Mattel said she worried she would give some an unfair advantage if she saw them before and after pictures.
"I'm like, 'Oh, he's so beautiful, he wins,'" Mattel said. "Maybe it's good I didn't know. Some of them I was like, 'Are you kidding me? That person is that person?' No matter how long I do drag, sometimes it really gags me how different people look."
Season 2 follows the same format as the first season. The biggest difference is that Leona Lewis left the judges' panel for maternity leave.
Visage said adding Mel B as a judge did not change the dynamic. However, Mattel and Williams noticed Mel B brought her Scary Spice energy to the show.
"She's very animated, for sure," Williams said.
Mattel added, "I would say that the scales have tipped in favor of chaos more, but in a good way."
The judges bring their experience to the panel. Williams is not only a recording artist, but also a Drag Race winner.
"I did win Celebrity Drag Race," Williams said. "So I know what it's like to be shoehorned into a drag queen and also have to win it."
Visage also judges Drag Race and brings her seasons of experience to Queen of the Universe.
"I do what I'm there to do and I try to help these queens be the best that they can be with giving them the best advice in that moment," Visage said. "If they take it or not, that's on them."
Mattel said having been judged on Drag Race reminds her of the stakes for the contestants. However, Mattel said she must be critical for the contest to matter.
"This only means something if we critique them," Mattel said. "It only means something if we make winning difficult. Then winning the crown means something."
New episodes of Queen of the Universe stream Fridays on Paramount+.