In a RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars season full of gag-worthy moments, the final twist that shut out front runner Shangela from the top 2 in favor of Kennedy Davenport and Trixie Mattel left some viewers floored and ignited a firestorm on social media. Shangela’s journey from being the first eliminated queen on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race to nearly snatching the All Stars 3 crown has been one filled with ups and downs, an incredible work ethic, fierce drive and determination, and through it all Shangela has never lost her superstar smile or sense of humor. We were delighted to be able to chat with one of the hardest working queens in the Drag Race sisterhood and get the real Tea!
Interview by Chris Cali
As the only queen to return to the series 3 times, what do you think has made your story so compelling to RuPaul and the RPDR audience?
Well, I definitely think viewers have basically seen me grow up as a drag queen on television throughout the years and that really resonated with a lot of fans. First of all, when I first got onto Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race I had only been doing drag for five months. And when I came back on Season 3, I had been doing drag for one year. I stayed in the drag race audience’s eye over the last six years, and they really have not only watched me grow but also helped me grow.
The RPDR audience has watched your drag evolve a lost since Season 2. What’s some advice you would give your Season 2 self when it comes to your craft?
I would say, “Continue to watch, learn, grow; be open to lots of different types of drag because there are so many that exist in our world. Also, embrace all the love from the fans. Don’t pay attention to negativity, whether in the industry or on social media; just focus on getting better and continuing to enjoy what you do because that’s the most important thing about it.”
Looking back on your RPDR experience from all 3 seasons you’ve appeared on, what was the hardest maxi-challenge for you?
Oooh! Anything involving a sewing machine, okay? I’ve never been the craftiest person when it comes to creating costumes from scratch or picking fabrics for that matter. Any challenge that involves me using a sewing machine has always been just that—A CHALLENGE. But even with me taking sewing lessons, even with me learning how to work the machine, there’s just something that is wizardry about it to me; so that’s always been the greatest challenge.
Your “Untucked” fight with Mimi Imfurst, and the “I’ve never had a sugar daddy…” monologue therein, has become something of a legendary viral moment as has spawned countless memes. Are there any moments from RPDR that you look back on and regret?
Well, every moment contributed to who I am as a person and as an entertainer today. So I don’t think I have any regrets; I do wish that maybe I hadn’t tossed the drink at the end of my sugar daddy speech because I could have saved good alcohol honey. But honestly, that’s pretty much the only moment. Otherwise, everything else has been a part of my journey and it made me who I am today. I wouldn’t change any of it.
Some of the queens who have appeared on RPDR have developed conflicts with one another that have played out over social media, but you’ve seemed to avoid those sorts of public skirmishes. How do you feel about queens coming for one another via social media?
Well every queen is different and they deal with conflicts online differently. I’ve always tried to focus on looking at the positive online instead of feeding into the negativity. Our fingers, sometimes, move faster than our minds. I’ve always tried to live by “Think Before You Tweet”. I don’t always get it right, but that’s always been where I try to put my head. I had a fan once who, after I responded to something negative online, said “ Well Shangela I’ve been tweeting you sweet things for months and you never responded to me but you responded to the troll”. And I was like, “you know what, you’re exactly right”. I should be spending more time giving love to those who give love to me, and that’s what I’ve continued to do.
Speaking of social media, the RPDR following & online community has only increased exponentially with each new season, to the point at times individual queens have been targeted for abuse by fans. How do you think the often rabid online fan base has affected or changed the RPDR competition?
Listen, everyone with social media has an opinion and it’s a lot easier to share some rough or mean opinions when you’re behind a computer as opposed to in someone’s face. The queens in later seasons, I think, have been a lot more guarded and more aware of what they’re saying during the show to try and stay away from any major fan backlash. However, I think the most interesting characters are the ones who are un-filtered, un-edited, and almost un-aware that the cameras are on. That’s when we get those real moments and I think there’s nothing wrong with showing yourself as a real human who has ups and downs, who doesn’t always say the right things, but learns the importance of just being you.
You’ve been involved with HIV/AIDS activism for much of your career. With the growing prevalence of PrEP the LGBTQ community’s relationship to HIV/AIDS is undergoing a period of transition. What are your thoughts on the future of HIV/AIDS activism?
I just think that we all should continue to be involved in creating awareness around HIV/AIDS and creating awareness around the new development within our community. It’s important to just be involved in solutions in our world and not just be contributors to the problem.
You’ve been able to parlay your RPDR fame into many other aspects of the entertainment industry from acting to music to endorsements. Was it always your plan to work the industry from multiple angles?
Oh god yes! Well, I’m a multiple-angled person; what can I say? I’m a multi-tasker for life. I’m just very thankful to be able to bring all of the aspects of my life into my drag and that’s everything from business to entertainment to creating fun online content, working in television, film and music. All of those things that I love to do, I feel that if I can dream it I can do it. I’m so thankful that drag allows me to be creatively free in so many different avenues.
What do you think was the most shocking moment in All Stars for you this season?
For me, specifically, the most shocking moment would have been when BenDeLaCreme chose to send herself home. I was incredibly shocked because I know how much this competition means to me; as someone who has always dreamed of being an All Star, being recognized by RuPaul, and being able to showcase what I’ve learned over the last six years—quitting this competition is something I would never even consider doing because it means so much to me and to my fans. So I was really shocked when she did that for her own personal reasons. I just knew it was something so foreign to where my head was at the time because I was just so dedicated to this competition and so in-it-to-win-it. Unless they said, “Shangela you’ve been sent home”, there wasn’t no way I was leaving.
You are a part of the House of Edwards, how important was your drag family to your development? Would you recommend a “new gurl” joining a drag family?
Alyssa and I have known each other for a number of years as well as Laganja. We toured the world together and even created a holiday album together. I love them very much and I think that having a drag family is very important. But I feel like all my sisters in RuPaul’s Drag Race are also part of a special drag family as well, and I think that having people who have gone through similar experiences as you, who can lift you up when you’re down, and also just identify with your situation because it’s very unique. I think that is super special to have people that you can call family in drag; that is definitely something that I treasure. Now, would we add someone new—of course! A family is only a family as long as it’s growing. I think we would definitely always welcome new girls, but you know they have to pass that House of Edwards standard first. In addition to charisma, you have to have nerve and talent. Honey you’ve got to have that X-factor. You need to be able to tongue-pop; you need to be able to death-drop; and you need to be able to turn the party.
Had you known that your chance at [joining] the top 2 would be played in the hands of your competitors, would you have played the game differently?
Well, it’s hard because sending people home plays a large part in making the final decision. In order to send people home you have to win, and I would have never played the game to not win, I always wanted to do my best in the competition. It would be very difficult to play it any differently, I feel like I played it the best way possible in being fair and honest.
It has been amazing to know that so many people were so invested in my journey throughout RuPaul’s Drag Race and not just this season but since Season 2. I would have love to bring home the crown for them, but just because I didn’t get it in this competition doesn’t mean I won’t wear it for life.
Since you’re a queen of multiple talents and numerous projects, do you have anything on the horizon we should look out for?
Yeah for sure! With regards to television and film, first of all I will be appearing in the sequel to Hurricane Bianca, Hurricane Bianca 2, out this summer. I have a role in the new film, A Star is Born, with Lady Gaga and Bradley cooper that will be out this fall in theaters, so I would love for people to go and check that out. Also, I have new music starting with my newest single, “Pay Me”—a dance track featuring producer Ryan Skyy—which will be available on iTunes, anywhere music is sold. In addition to that, I’m going to be continuing touring the world this year and I have a brand new comedy show called “Shangela is Shook” in which I’ll be touring in the U.K. and later this year in Australia with more to be added.