Drag superstar and working girl Shangela is heading down under later this year. Matthew Wade caught up with her to talk high school, Drag Race, and Jenifer Lewis.
Growing up as a high school student in a small Texan town, drag superstar Shangela wanted to be a cheerleader, despite the fact that men hadn’t been part of her school’s team since 1964.
There were no out role models for her to look up to at the time, and those who proudly declared their sexuality were often ostracised.
“There were challenging people in my life growing up, but I couldn’t fight the person I was,” she says.
“So in junior year I tried out to be a cheerleader and ended up making the varsity squad.
“Some people would whisper, but others could see how much fun I was having.”
Since then, Shangela has becoming one of the world’s biggest drag queens, competing in RuPaul’s Drag Race thrice and performing on six of the seven continents (“Antarctica is probably next,” she tells me).
She says the show played a major role in catapulting her popularity, and cites the doors that it has opened as being the best part about competing on it.
“The worst parts were the sewing challenges – it’s Shangela, even the word ‘sewing’ makes me take a big gulp,” she says.
“But I’ve always wanted to entertain and bring people joy. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money so I’m truly leaving my dream right now.
“To be part of the [Drag Race] legacy is an honour and I’m so thankful for the opportunity.”
She adds that the proliferation and increased visibility of drag has enabled younger LGBTI people to feel validated and inspired.
Even Shangela’s own Southern Baptist grandmother has images of Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, and Shangela adorning the walls of her home.
“Shows like Drag Race help to create conversations in homes and with families,” Shangela says.
“We get so many kids and families at our shows, and a lot of them tell me I inspire them but honestly they inspire me… this wasn’t around when I was a kid, I didn’t go to my first drag show until I was 18.
“We’re in for a much brighter future.”
Shangela will be heading to Australia later this year for her Shangela is Shook tour, a fully-seated solo theatre tour.
She calls herself a “professional working girl”, a name she’s grown into since first appearing on Drag Race, and says despite not winning the competition—on any of the three seasons—she still feels like a winner.
“I don’t have to have a crown to win,” she says.
“My icon and mentor, the supreme diva Jenifer Lewis, has been such a rock for me.
“I moved into her basement eight years ago and when I got sent home the first time on Drag Race, she said ‘well, you’re not going to give up are you’, and she taught me how to have such great resilience.”
Shangela is Shook will be touring Australia from November 30 to December 10. For more information or to buy tickets visit: itdevents.com/tours/shangela.