Over the course of the past two years, drag sensation Shangela seems to have been everywhere.
She had a role in the Academy Award-winning film A Star is Born and made a cameo appearance on the final season of Broad City. She also has been the subject of many a meme for her famous "I don't have a Sugar Daddy" speech. Now, along with fellow RuPaul’s Drag Race alumni Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara, Shangela is taking the country by fabulous storm with HBO’s new docuseries, We’re Here.
The show premiered last month and airs each Thursday at 8 p.m. In the series, Shangela, Bob and O’Hara visit small towns across the U.S. and help three individuals dress up in drag and produce a one-night-only drag show. Shangela was approached with the concept by the show's producers Stephen Warren and Johnnie Ingram and knew immediately that she wanted to sign on.
“All of that really resonated with me, because I’m from a small town, and I know what it's like to look around sometimes and think you're the only person like you around,” Shangela says. “And then I kept thinking ‘How cool would it have been to have a visible queer presence or even a drag show in my town when I was first coming out?’ That’s why I really wanted to sign onto this project immediately.”
Shangela grew up in Paris, Texas, where she is currently quarantining in her family home. During her childhood in Paris, Shangela says she was able to be a big fish in a small pond.
In high school, she was on the debate team, in student council, a member of the choir and a varsity cheerleader.
“Doing all of those all at the same time kind of set me up for a life of wanting to entertain others,” Shangela says. “But I also wanted to do it in a way that I was exploring everything that I wanted to do to the fullest extent.”
Shangela attended Southern Methodist University. During college she first experienced the Cedar Springs Strip, an area she loves, she says, because she can easily go from bar to bar, all on one street, before grabbing a pizza at Italia Express after a long night out.
In the early stages of her drag career, she would attend shows by local queens and even dance backup for the likes of Kennedy Davenport, Krystal Summers, Alyssa Edwards and the late Whitney Page. She still says that the Rose Room at Station 4 has one of the best stages in the country.
“Dallas was the first place where I was able to go to a gay club and dance,” Shangela says. “I remember the excitement of seeing two guys hold hands on the street. My mom took a wrong turn once, and I remember just looking out the window and thinking, ‘Wow, look at them. They’re holding hands.’ It was just a huge thing for me.”
In the first episode of We’re Here, Shangela, Bob and O’Hara visit Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One of the subjects is Hunter, a makeup artist who feels that Gettysburg does not have a large queer presence. Viewers also meet Hunter’s dad, who supports his son's sexuality, but he insists that he himself would never do drag, as he doesn’t want to be perceived as feminine.
Shangela says that it was noble of Hunter’s dad to acknowledge why he wouldn’t want to do drag and says that the world would be a much friendlier place if more cisgender, heterosexual men could acknowledge why they have certain beliefs and ingrained ideas.
“He definitely represented a lot of those traditional masculine stereotypes,” Shangela says of Hunter’s dad, “but he also had great love in his heart. He could see people from a different community, a different walk of life, and still have great respect for them and be open to listening to them.”
Another subject is Erica, the mother of a girl named Hailey. At the time of filming, Hailey was living with her father, as Erica and Hailey had been estranged for eight months after the latter came out as bisexual. Erica performs in the drag show as a way to make amends to Hailey, who attends the drag show, but does not speak with Erica before or after the performance.
To this day, Shangela is unsure if Erica and Hailey ever patched things up, but she believes that the scenario is an accurate representation of some people’s coming out experience.
“We’re Here is a real-life series,” Shangela says. “In real life, we have these great ups and downs, but at the end of the day, not everything gets tied up with a pretty bow at the end. That is the reality of it. I think we all kind of wanted that moment, had it been a scripted series, but it wasn’t. It did represent a move in the right direction. I don’t know if they’re in a better place today, but I do know that this moment definitely meant something to the both of them, I think.”
Over the course of the first season, the three queens visit six small towns. One of the most memorable experiences, Shangela says, was visiting Ruston, Louisiana, where she attended her first crawfish boil.
Over the years, Shangela has remained a fan favorite from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Despite not winning during her run on season two or three of Drag Race or on All Stars, many of her fans have been vocally supportive through social media, using hashtags such as #JusticeForShangela.
Shangela is grateful for the exposure RuPaul and Logo gave her, and looks forward to what We’re Here will accomplish for LGBTQ visibility.
“This is one of the first real-life queer docuseries that HBO has ever done,” Shangela says. “I will always be thankful for the platform that RuPaul’s Drag Race has given me, Bob and Eureka, with regard to worldwide exposure and how it's positioned us in the eyes of mainstream media. I think every move of visibility is a strong move. Even though I never won the show, I walk every day as a winner, because that’s what I feel in my heart.”
Although many entertainers are limited in how they can entertain fans for the time being, Shangela still wants to bring joy and laughter to people’s homes. The first episode of We’re Here is available to watch on YouTube for free. She has also released an hour-long stand-up show called LaQuifa is HALLELOOSIN’ IT, available for free viewing on YouTube as well.
Despite all of the free drag entertainment she is providing, she insists fans of drag should support their local queens.
“These are people who have brought joy into our lives for so many years, and now they’re out of work,” Shangela says. “If you want that same excitement, look up your local queen, find her Instagram, find her Facebook, and see if she’s doing live events. And don’t just watch. It’s nice to watch, but this queen is putting in work. So show her some love with a tip online.”
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