Besides RuPaul, has the world ever witnessed the journey of a drag queen as glorious as Shangela’s?
After rising to fame in the second and third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, the self-described “professional hoe” has been a Werqin Girl (available now on iTunes and streaming services) with guest appearances in television shows such as Community, 2 Broke Girls and Dance Moms. (She even appeared alongside Mulder and Scully in The X Files.)
“You never think of a drag queen walking into the first season of Dance Moms teaching a nine-year-old how to death drop, but there I am!” Shangela tells Gay Times (over the phone, we self-isolating). “What I’m really excited to see is how drag continues to go into these different rooms, and seeing drag queens being represented and visible in so many different walks of life.”
In 2018, Shangela’s star reached new heights with an iconic run on the third season of Drag Race All Stars and a role alongside Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in Oscar-winning drama, A Star Is Born. Now, she’s fronting her very own HBO series, We’re Here, alongside fellow Drag Race stars Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka. Is there a television network she hasn’t conquered yet?
The series follows the three sickening icons as they “inspire and teach their own ‘drag daughters’ to step outside their comfort zone” whilst travelling across the United States and empowering local communities. Think Queer Eye meets Priscilla.
“The idea resonated with me because I grew up in a small town, and I’m back here in a small town!” Shangela continues. “I’m familiar with the experience and knew what it could be, and how important that it was to showcase this life experience.”
To celebrate the release of We’re Here, and her new role on The CW’s Katy Keene, we caught up with Shangela to discuss the importance of queer and Black representation in the mainstream, how she’s coping in self-isolation, and her journey from being a “baby drag” queen on Drag Race season two to becoming an inspiration for a whole new generation.
Hi Shangela! So, self-isolation. Tell me, how’s it going?
I’m wonderful! I’m socially distant, quaran-Tina Turner. You would think that I was just sitting up watching Netflix and eating ice cream, that’s what I wish I was doing, but you know I’m a working girl and a professional, okay? I just don’t stop. The great thing is, right now, I have this brand new show with Bob and Eureka that we’re promoting, which is thrilling. In addition to that, I’m just trying to stay connected with my fans and friends online. I’ve just released a one-hour standup comedy special called LaQuifa is HALLELOOSIN’ IT! over on my YouTube. I’m also having a great time reconnecting with my family, like I said I’m quarantining down here in Texas with my mom and my grandma, so we’ve been doing in-house glam and fun little renovations.
Right? The upside to all this is spending more time with family.
Yeah, I’ve just always been on the go. In 2018, I toured 184 cities around the world. Now, I’ve been home for a month and it’s the longest I’ve been here in… years. It’s been really nice.
How would you say the drag community is handling the impact of the coronavirus right now?
Well we have to acknowledge the fact that so many drag queens around the world have been hit so hard by the nightlife being shut down. That’s really heartbreaking, to know that our industry is being hit. Here’s the thing about drag queens – we are some of the most resourceful people in the world. I’m excited to see how we adapt as a community, and I love seeing how girls are getting really creative now with online shows, festivals, and ways they are connecting with people from inside their homes. I hope that fans find ways to support their local queens.
Digital shows have had such an amazing reception – do you think they’ll live on past the coronavirus?
Yeah! Honestly, when it’s safe to go back out, I can’t wait to tour and perform. I think that people are finding that they can also be entertained by these individual drag shows. If queens wanna make money, they can do it in all different kinds of ways and stay connected with people. I don’t think the digital shows are going to go anywhere. I think having this much entertainment out there is always going to be great.
The more the better! Condragulations on We’re Here – how did this show come together?
The creators of the show, Johnnie Ingram and Stephen Warren, reached out to me, Eureka and Bob with this idea; three drag queens travelling across America, specifically to small towns, to partner with new drag children and help them realise their best selves and transform through the power of drag. Also, to produce a one-night drag show in places they’ve never had them before. Immediately, the idea resonated with me because I grew up in a small town, and I’m back here in a small town! I’m familiar with the experience and knew what it could be, and how important that it was to showcase this life experience. I’m thrilled.
What was it like doing this experience with Bob and Eureka?
[Laughs] Well when we’re together, I don’t know how we can get any work done! We just have so much fun together. You get the craziness of Bob, the unbridled spontaneity of Eureka and then you know, I’m just all around. Shangie’s a good time! So we do have a great time together. But do you know what I also learned? We built a greater sisterhood between each other because we were going through these emotional journeys with our drag children. It can be very taxing, it can take you on a real emotional rollercoaster and I would find there would be days when I felt just a little overwhelmed, also because I was producing the show. They were great people to lean upon and they lean upon me as well.
It’s very interesting watching you three together because you’ve never been in a werkroom at the same time – except for you and Eureka in the Christmas special.
[Laughs] Right! Wasn’t I going for another crown? I never got it!
Well you all got one, apparently!
I’m still waiting for that one in the mail.
We’re Here is groundbreaking because it’s fronted by three drag queens, two of colour, on a highly respected network. How important is it to have that kind of representation?
Visibility really does matter. I think for queer people, for drag queens, and definitely queens of colour, it’s very important to see that visibility and to know that there is room at the top for everyone. This is another example of what that looks like and hopefully it will inspire other drag queens of colour and people of colour to go after what they want in the world and chase their dream; not let the colour of their skin hold them back from really pursuing it to the best of the abilities. And you know what? Not just in front of the camera. I was thrilled to look around to see that our team, behind the camera as well, is so inclusive and diverse.
You star in the show and produce it – how did you find juggling those two roles?
Oh my gosh, well Bob, Eureka and I are credited as consulting producers. We definitely had an amazing production team that leads the show, but working as consulting producers… I was so thankful that HBO honoured us with this title because it shows their commitment to wanting the drag element of this show to be as authentic as possible, in front of the camera and behind the camera. Drag queens are consulting producers in their lives everyday, especially if they’re doing shows. A lot of times they’re pulling together the look, what the music is going to be, editing the music and creating the entire production. That’s what we wanted to do with this show. This is not something where we go, ‘This is what we want’ and hand it over to someone else. We were completely involved in every level of creating these moments.
A true collaborative effort!
Yes it was, and it comes up so magical! I’m so happy for people to be able to see this. You guys have always been so supportive of me, so it’s great to have another project like this, especially in a time where the world needs to be reminded about compassion, humanity and our need to be connected.
It couldn’t have come at a better time.
Yeah, I know! None of us could have anticipated this moment, but we’ve got to make the best of it.
You visit a lot of places in the United States to empower local communities – were there places you visited that weren’t so accepting of the LGBTQ community?
[Laughs] Yeah, you’ll see that. In Missouri, there’s a scene when the police get called on us.
Oh yes. A gentlemen didn’t want us outside of his store promoting our upcoming drag show. We were like, ‘Really? The police?’ But what we’ve realised is that this is the experience of drag entertainers and queer people in primarily conservative places. This is not anything new or unfamiliar to them. I think that’s great for people to know and see, that despite the progress that we’ve made, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to move us forward for full acceptance and equality. And people around the world, whether they’re queer or not, will be able to identify with a lot of these stories. Hopefully, they’ll get a greater understanding about the need for us to be more connected.
What have you learned about America’s views towards queer people and queer people of colour during this experience?
I think a great thing that I’ve learned is that, sometimes in the most unlikely places, you can unearth the support of communities that have always been there but not had the chance to congregate or be visible. That’s what we’re hoping to highlight in some of these places.
Did you learn anything new about yourself?
[Laughs] That I have the ability to cry a lot more than I thought I did! This show really takes you on an emotional journey, it’s like a rollercoaster. There are all different types of feels, but as long as we got that little security bar – that’s me, Bob and Eureka – you’re going to be safe. Let loose and enjoy the ride!
Do you have a favourite moment from filming the show?
Some of my favourite moments are between me and my drag daughters, seeing their emotional evolution and knowing their backstory. Sometimes you meet them and it feels like there’s no way they’re going to be able to be on stage in front of their community and be at their best. That moment when you see it, and it happens, it’s like… I don’t have a real kid, but it feels like watching your child graduate. You’ve invested so much time and energy into them and wanting them to be their best, and they make it.
Are any of these drag daughters ready for the next season of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
You never know! They’re going to be flooding that show with brand new audition tapes. A whole brand new crop of Wadley’s coming through.
How has filming We’re Here compared to everything else you’ve ever done in your career?
I’ve never filmed a real life docu-series for a network like HBO. The biggest difference between this show and the other things that I’ve ever worked on, is that it was connecting with other people and really going on a journey through their lives. I’m Shangela, I can run me. You come to a Shangela show, you know what to expect; high energy, I’m going to turn it no matter what. I’ve been on stage when I was not feeling well and I still pushed through because I’m committed to bringing the best show. For We’re Here, I had to put my faith in the amount of work that I have done with my drag children and trust that they were going to deliver it to the highest ability they could. I couldn’t go out there and do it for them, they had to do it. It’s a scary feeling sometimes, putting your livelihood or your ability to succeed in the hands of someone else. But, I was so thankful and I think people will be excited to see the commitment that people made and the trust that they gave me in doing this.
Your on-screen journey is incredible, from starting out as a baby drag queen on season two to having your own drag daughters on We’re Here. Shangela’s come full circle!
I’m always so busy in the moment and onto what’s next, that I sometimes forget to take a moment to really enjoy what’s happening. I’m grateful that I have great friends, family and fans that have been behind me in this journey. To be in this moment right now, I’m so thankful and I have so much gratitude. I can also sit back and think, ‘Wow. I really worked to get here. It wasn’t handed to me.’ I’m so thankful to be who I am in this moment, because if I had this moment when I was at a different stage in my career, I wouldn’t be able to be as present in it and do as great a job as I am right now. It’s such a cool thing to know that my fans have watched me grow up in front of their eyes from the time I was a baby drag ten years ago. Here we are on HBO with this new show, and I hope ya’ll feel a part of this journey as much as I do.
Also, I think condragulations are in order for your new role on The CW’s Katy Keene!
Aww thank you! Yes! My biggest goal always, and one that I will never let go of, is to continue to work as an actress in television shows and film. So, working on Katy Keene… and you never know, I might be coming back through, as well as for another show on HBO that I will be guest starring on later this year. I’m just trying to explore every opportunity I can honey, halleloo!
You’ve done VH1, The CW, HBO… you’ve conquered all the networks!
C’mon, let’s keep going! NBC – Community. FX – Terreirs. Fox – Bones. CBS – 2 Broke Girls. Lifetime – Dance Moms. The X Files! Child!
Never in my life did I think RuPaul’s Drag Race and The X Files would collide?
[Laughs] Yeah, I’ve been excited to take Shangela and myself as an actor to so many unlikely places, you know? You never think of a drag queen walking into the first season of Dance Moms teaching a nine-year-old how to death drop, but there I am! What I’m really excited to see is how drag continues to go into these different rooms, and I’m so excited to see drag queens being represented and visible in so many different walks of life. I’m so thankful.
Now we just need on a blockbuster film with a drag queen star.
No, don’t say with a ‘drag queen’ – say Shangela as the star!
Shangela in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. We need it!
I’ve always been one to look good in an alien-inspired catsuit. You’ll see that in episode three!
What’s the first thing you’re going to do when lockdown is over?
[Laughs] Well let’s see honey! I had a new series that I started producing, it was a Drag Race viewing party and performance show down in Mexico, and I really enjoyed producing and performing that show. I’m excited to travel internationally again. I want to be able to travel to all the places, whether it’s the UK or it’s Thailand, Australia, Mexico, anywhere. I just can’t wait to get on the road again. I’m Shangela, a girl on the go!
A professional hoe!
We’re Here airs every Thursday on HBO.