“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonn’ love somebody else?” This is the send-off message RuPaul Andre Charles shares with his girls, the drag queens competing to become America’s next drag superstar. Shangela Laquifa Wadley (D.J. Pierce) is a queen, performer, and most importantly, a “Working Girl Professional” who is familiar with spreading love and competing for the crown—three times to be exact. Although Shangela has never won Drag Race, it did not divert her plan to become a superstar. “It never feels good being told to sashay away, and I heard it numerous times,” Shangela says from her home in Paris, Texas. “So I went out there and started working, not only to prove it to myself but to also change other’s opinions of me from the show.” All that hard werq has paid off in abundance for the small-town Texas girl with big city dreams. Ever since her appearances in Drag Race, Shangela has traveled the world, appeared in A Star is Born opposite Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper, landed on TIME’s 100 Next List as the first drag queen ever to do so, and that’s not even the half of it.
Today the box-popping queen is celebrating the premiere of HBO’s We’re Here, a six-part unscripted series that aims to spread the magic of drag across small town America with the charisma, uniqueness, nerve, and talent of Shangela, Bob the Drag Queen, and Eureka. The show’s premiere episode makes something very clear: this show is not about makeovers; that’s far too simple a mission, and something Shangela wasn’t interested in being part of. “Being in these towns and seeing what a lot of our drag daughters dealt with on a daily basis, seeing how people still need to hear the messages of acceptance and love and equality, that was something that was a really sobering reality for me,” Shangela says. Ahead of Thursday’s premiere of We’re Here, Shangela is social distancing in Texas and having fun while at it—she recently beat her grandmother’s face for the gawds. (In heterosexual parlance, this translates to: Shangela gave her grandmother a fabulous makeover on Instagram.) Below, the worldwide phenomenon gives us her two cents (and more) on everything from El DeBarge to Zoom dating to corn. You heard it from Shangela Laquifa Wadley, so you better take note. Hallelooh!
“I think of Season Two runway of RuPaul’s Drag Race. The theme was ‘Gone With the Windows.’ My theme for my curtains was Harvest. So I wore a corn-sage for the very first time. This corn was hanging from my arm. I just knew I was winning. Honey, I had corn hanging from my arm—I was winning.”
VIRTUAL DRAG SHOWS
“Amazing, needed, relevant at this time because queens still have to make money. Because nightlife was shut down, the drag queens were one of the hardest groups hit. I’m really thrilled to see these girls being resourceful and figuring out ways to still connect with their fans and make a tip.”
“A moment that I will never forget. I think of how grateful I was to be in the film A Star is Born. To be in a film that was nominated at the Oscars and then to be there with one of my best friends, Jennifer Lewis, who insisted on holding my train out for all the red carpet photos so it could be flawless. I’ll never forget that for my entire life—being the first drag queen in drag to walk down the red carpet at the Oscars. I was the belle of the ball, honey.”
“Hey look, anyway you want to find love in this time of quarantine, you go for it. We all need to be connected at this point, so Zoom on baby, Zoom on. Wipe the lip prints off the screen when you’re done.”
“Girl, let it go. RuPaul has an apparent crush on Miss Crystal Methyd. How many times? I started thinking, is this a drinking game that we’re supposed to be playing that I didn’t know? Like, every time Ru says El DeBarge, you take a drink? I don’t understand. I get it, it’s a sideways curly mullet. But I’m also black with curly hair that’s familiar with the ’80s. I mean I can name you 14 El DeBarges in my neighborhood.”
“Honestly, my hero. I randomly met Jen as a super fan and I still to this day remain a super fan. But now I’m also her friend. She calls me her LA son and her mentee and her tenant. She’s still my landlord. I’ve lived in her basement for ten years. I will never leave. I’m a squatter at this point. I do a master class on Jennifer Lewis on the daily. I love her.”
“Death drop, shablam, yeah. I just call it the move heard ’round the world. You know, I taught it on Dance Moms. Whenever I think about that move, which I call the Death Drop, I think about me teaching nine-year-old Little Nia how to do it on Dance Moms. I think of Nia as my little sister. I’ll see her, and if she’s in a sports bra, I’m like ‘Put a shirt on please.’ Men will look at you.”
BABY DRAG QUEENS
“I’m so proud of them. I’ve always wanted to do ’10 things you should know about being a good business drag queen.’ I’m so excited to see the girls that learn at 12 how to paint their faces, how to contour, things that I had to learn by sneaking around drag dressing rooms, and picking up techniques distantly in the mirror from others. I always tell them to be a well-rounded queen. Don’t just be a queen, be a well-rounded queen. Okay? Know how to perform, invest in that. Know how to be a good business person and how to not only negotiate your own fees but also how to get out there and promote yourself. I want them to be good business people as well as great beauty people. The world is paying so much attention to drag queens right now and seems to be even more open to it than ever before. So why not take advantage of this? But don’t get taken advantage of.”
“I want to work with him. That’s all I want to do. When I think of Ryan Murphy, I think of me with a headshot slipping it under whatever door that I know he’s behind. Please! I think he’s a genius. I think he’s created such amazing storytelling, especially for the LGBTQ and allied groups. I love Ryan Murphy. And yes, I did appear on one episode of Glee with Sarah Jessica Parker doing ‘Let’s Have a Kiki.’ I didn’t even know that SJP was going to be in the episode until rehearsal the first day. She just walks in, “Okay hi everyone, where do I stand?” Bitch, I lived. She was so nice and gracious and sweet. She kept being like, “Do you mind if we do it one more time just so I get it?” She was a doll.”
“Remember that we don’t have to physically touch in order to be touched by each other. I’m here in a house with my grandma, right? Even though I have no symptoms of Corona … look I’m ’bout to go into my sugar daddy rant: I don’t have Corona, I never had Coronavirus. If I wanted Coronavirus, yes I probably could go outside and get it, but I won’t because I am what? Social distancing. [Laughs] It’s not just about me taking care of myself, it’s about everyone taking the necessary precautions so that some random person doesn’t catch it.”