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Superstar drag queen Shangela on Beyoncé, Emmanuelle, and her We’re Here spinoff pitch

Superstar drag queen Shangela on Beyoncé, <i>Emmanuelle</i>, and her <i>We’re Here </i>spinoff pitch
Graphic: Natalie Peeples, Photo: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images
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In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

Everywhere you look, there’s Shangela to greet you with a friendly “Halleloo!” The alum of Drag Race seasons two, three, and All Stars 3 is one of the biggest names to come out of the house that RuPaul built, popping up in everything from Lovecraft Country to Community to that dive bar where pop star Ally Maine got her big break. In other words, when Hollywood needs a stunning drag queen to glam up a production, they give Shangela a call.

Just last month, Shangela debuted a new series with Spotify called Halleloo Happy Hour, a hybrid spoken-word/music program that plays like a classic radio show for the streaming era. Each week, Shangela puts together a playlist built around a specific theme, and then invites some of her famous friends (like Nicole Byer and Latrice Royale) on for fun, freewheeling conversation. “I’m a drag queen, of course I love music, I communicate through music. Sometimes my friends and I just communicate through song—we don’t even talk to each other.”

Before too long, Shangela’s planning to hit the road again with Bob The Drag Queen and Eureka O’Hara for the second season of HBO’s Emmy-nominated We’re Here. In the meantime, she’s continued to hustle during quarantine, launching the Feed The Queens initiative to help fellow drag performers who are out of work, and unveiling Shanitizer—her own line of hand sanitizer—donating a portion of sales to the Feed The Queens fund. Shangela discusses it all—as well as Beyoncé, Emmanuelle, and her performance from the 2019 Spirit Awards—in another rousing round of The A.V. Club’s 11 Questions. You can read the full interview below, or hear the conversation on this week’s episode of our podcast Push The Envelope.

1. If you made a candle, what would it smell like?

Shangela: Oh, this is good because I’ve been in the scents business recently. You know, I just developed a brand new hand sanitizer called Shanitizer, right.? In using regular hand sanitizer, wanting to be safe out there, I just found—they didn’t smell good! And, you know, I’m a drag queen! We walk in the room, you got to smell like the doll, okay? So, I would tell you, if I made a candle, I would probably make it in one of the scents that I just made for the new Shanitizer because I’ve been sitting here smelling scents for the last couple of months developing this.

One is like a strawberry scent that I call Sugar Daddy because, you know, Shangela don’t have a sugar daddy, she never had a sugar daddy, if she wanted a sugar daddy, she could go out and get one. But now she can spray it on. I also love a fresh scent, so I have one called ProFRESHional, which is a very linen-y scent. And then another one, if you’re feeling very citrus, I have one called Hallelemon, and that is, obviously, a lemony scent, but with a lot of halleloo infused in it, okay? So those three are really what I would go for. Next I guess I have to make a candle to go along with my Shanitizer.

I think the best one suited for a candle is the Sugar Daddy scent. Because if you put on a candle, I want to definitely smell it. Some people like lighter scents, but I want to walk in a room and just be blanketed in the scent. I want to feel it—when I leave your house, I want people to think that I took that particular candle and rubbed it all over myself.

2. What’s your favorite album from high school?

S: Oh, my gosh, my favorite album from high school would be Destiny’s Child, The Writing’s On The Wall—no, no no. My favorite album from high school would be Beyoncé’s first solo album, Dangerously In Love. It’s the one with her on the cover, and she’s like this [poses] with that sparkly diamond top. You never forget a good album cover, honey! Dangerously In Love was my favorite because I could click through every single one of those tracks and get my whole life.

AVC: Beyoncé’s evolved so much since this, but that album still feels so fresh and exciting.

S: For sure. Come on, “Crazy In Love,” “Naughty Girl,” “Signs,” “Me, Myself And I,” “Baby Boy”— just like, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!

AVC: And Beyoncé plays into some of your Halleloo Happy Hour playlists, right?

S: It’s Beyoncé! She couldn’t stay out of my thing—you know I live for Beyoncé. They’re lucky that it’s not just called Shangela’s Halleloo Happy Hour: Beyoncé Songs.

3. What conspiracy theory do you think is the most plausible?

S: Well, people have big conspiracy theories about the existence of aliens and the whole Area 54—

AVC: 51?

S: Oh! There you go, 51. [Laughs.] Studio 54. You know, where the aliens are dressed in their ’70s clothes, and they go dancing to disco music? Yeah, Area 54!

But, yeah, Area 51, I think that could actually be real. I think that we couldn’t—I honestly don’t feel like we are the only existence of life in the entire universe, we can’t be.

AVC: Well, I think you’ve just cracked open a new conspiracy theory: Aliens were behind Studio 54.

S: I mean, I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen photos! So, I don’t know; maybe!

4. What’s the first time you were disillusioned by politics?

S: Ooh, I would say the first time that I was disillusioned by politics, it didn’t last very long. It was in 2016 when Hillary Clinton did not win the presidency. I really wanted to see America have its very first female president. I think we’re overdue, and that style of thinking—that a woman can’t do the same job as a man, or do it as well—should be gone, right? I voted for her and I campaigned; I really wanted her to win. She didn’t win, and that was disheartening and almost disillusioning to me; however, that quickly turned into a reignited passion for politics. I hadn’t been super involved before and this ignited something in me that said I’ve got to be a part of—not just November 3rd on election year—it’s something that you have to consistently build into your conversations, build into your existence, build into what you are supporting. And just encourage people to vote! And that’s what I did over the last four years—and really ramped it up this year—encouraging people to know that your voice matters, your vote matters, and you’ve got to be involved.

AVC: Spinning that disillusionment into a positive!

S: Right? You can’t do that, otherwise you’ll just be in your room like, [Screams.]

5. Who would you call if you needed help burying a body?

S: Oh, you know, I would probably call my costars from We’re Here—I would call Bob [The Drag Queen] and Eureka because we’ve been through enough together while filming with people in these very conservative spaces, that don’t always agree with what we’re bringing to the town. So we’re no stranger to being in trenches together, and I know that the two of them, they’re sturdy! They could help me carry that body, and we would make it [work]. I’d feel so bad though—I don’t know what happened to this body, and I would feel so bad about the burial, but they would keep me entertained.

AVC: That sounds like a spinoff series right there! There’s We’re Here, and then there’s—

S: “We’re There.” [Laughs.] That’s what you call it: “We’re There Now.”

AVC: Can I ask about season two? I know COVID-19 would’ve delayed some of the production plans.

S: Yes, we are starting back with filming the second season of We’re Here—our show is currently casting right now for the second season. I’m excited to get back to work—in a very safe way—and producing the same emotional, powerful, impactful, touching content that we had from the first season. And, you know, it’s a time in the world where we really do need something that can remind us about the importance of unity, [especially] in some places that you would think would be divided. There’s ways that we can have conversations with each other; if we can listen to each other, and we can respect each other, we can learn to love each other again. And this country really needs to love each other again. So I’m excited to be a part of that.

6. What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

S: I was Anubis [this year]. I didn’t get to really go anywhere, but I had had it made earlier, so I was thinking we were going to be out of the pandemic by Halloween. [Laughs.] What was I thinking? So I kept telling everybody I was “a brand new bis.”

But that’s not my favorite costume. My favorite would have to be the year that I went—gosh, you know drag queens, some of us don’t really do Halloween because we dress up every day. Okay, let’s go back to my sixth grade year: I dressed as Sheneneh Jenkins from Martin. My mother had gotten—this was before the braids wigs—so my mother had gotten black yarn to do my hair. So I went in, like, sixth-grade boy drag, which basically was lipstick, yarn, and booty pads. That was my look!

AVC: Is there photo proof of this?

S: Let’s all hope not! It’s definitely not on Google—you would have to call my mother for that. And don’t you call my mama!

7. If proximity to your industry was a moot point, where would you most like to live and why?

S: I know where I’d want to go—I would live in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I just have so much fun in Mexico. Puerto Vallarta is right on the beach, and I love being close to water. I love being able to watch a sunset over the ocean or the bay. I love the beauty of nature in the world, and that part of Mexico has like, “go one hour this way you’re in a jungle, go one hour this way you’re on the beach.” But you’re in a city, and there’s so much culture. I love Mexican food, I love margaritas—halleloo! So that’s where I would live; I would live there.

AVC: And have you performed there before? How’s the drag scene?

S: I have! It is one of the most gay-friendly cities in all of Mexico, and they have a whole gay district called the Romantic Zone—“Zona Romantica.” And I’m practicing my Spanish, so you never know! I might live in Mexico one day! You haven’t been?

AVC: Never been!

S: Oh, it’s a nonstop flight from L.A. It’s less than three hours, and, all of a sudden, you’re in a whole other world that is beautiful and amazing. You know, once the nightlife is back open, you have to go.

AVC: Speaking of nightlife, these are pretty tough times for drag performers, so could you talk a little bit about your Feed The Queens initiative and how that’s helping your community during the pandemic?

S: I just saw my drag community hit so hard. You know, nightlife was like [gone], and that’s where the girls work! So I joined up with The Actors Fund—this idea was inspired by Jenifer Lewis, and her activism, and Lady Gaga coming and saying, “I’m going to raise $35 million dollars by calling 35 people I know with a million dollars to give.” I was like, “Well, I don’t know a million dollars,” but I know people that would love to help take care of our community, and I would too. So I teamed up with The Actors Fund and kicked off a new charity organization called Feed The Queens, through which we have fundraised over $80,000 to provide food grants to out of work drag entertainers—drag queens, drag queens, our trans drag entertainers. Any of them can go to FeedTheQueens.com and, if you face any work losses, they will send you a $200 food grant to go to the grocery store and buy food with, because hunger is a big issue. Not a lot of people talk about hunger in the LGBTQ community, and especially not in the drag community, but it’s a real thing! And we don’t see a time where this pandemic [could end] right now—we don’t have a cutoff date, or an end date—so unemployment is through the roof. I’ve always, thankfully, been helped in my life, and it’s nice to be able to pay that forward with this program called Feed The Queens.

8. How did you learn about the birds and the bees?

S: Oh, my god. You know, I grew up with a single mom—well, I grew up between my grandparents and my single mom, right? I was the first-born boy, so I don’t think they’d ever had that conversation with any other boys. My grandparents only had girls. My mom gave me the convo, but it was very loose. I think I got most of my “birds and bees” conversation from school, you know, but it was very like, “Don’t do this or you’ll get a wart here.”

That was my first introduction to the “birds and bees” story—I think it was between that and our subscription to HBO.

AVC: Oh! So was there specific stuff on HBO then?

S: There used to be—oh my god, now I’m really telling—actually it was Cinemax. There was a show called Emmanuelle. Honey, if you stayed up past a certain hour… Emmanuelle! So I was very into period sex—oh no! No no, that’s not the phrase [Laughs]. That’s another thing!

9. What’s the pettiest hill you’re willing to die on?

S: Capitol Hill. Over the last four years in particular, that Hill has gotten quite messy, so I don’t think there is any other option in the world that’s a pettier Hill to die upon. And, hopefully, I would be dying in a fight for our democracy, our unity, and the equal respect for every American.

10. What pop culture or art do you turn to when you’ve had a bad day?

S: Music! Music puts me in a good mood. That’s why I’m really happy to have this particular Spotify show because there’s something about song that can just really impact how you feel, you know? I can tell you, if I’m feeling in a great mood— or a bad one, and I want to feel better—I’ll put on “A Deeper Love” by Aretha Franklin, or I’ll put on Tina Turner’s music—I love her music. Or Broadway music. I love Broadway, like I will sir there and listen to it—even sad songs from Broadway make me feel better because I think I’m a singer in my head. Like, I’ll do Les Misérables, “I Dreamed A Dream,” or I’ll do stuff from Kinky Boots, or from Gypsy. I love all that music. Or, I can put on a Jennifer Hudson or Demi Lovato song, if I’m in a moody-mood, and it’ll take you through. If I want to be sad, I’ll put on Sade’s music and I’ll just walk around like, “Woe is me!” But music is my art that I turn to to really move me.

AVC: This is a complete tangent, but something of yours I watch to lift my spirits is your drag medley performance from the 2019 Indie Spirit Awards—the tribute to all the nominated movies. I just think it’s the funniest, most brilliant thing.

S: Oh my gosh [begins singing], “Eighth grade, baby. The grade between seven and nine.” [Laughs.] It was so good… Aubrey Plaza had the idea, she was the one that made it happen for me. She was like, “I want Shangela. What do we need to do to get Shangela?” And I was like, “Girl, it’s in two days!” And I had never been to the Spirit Awards. I went to the walkthrough, and I was like, “Oh, this is legit.” I was looking at the tables, they had the little name plates: Glenn Close, Regina King—“Ohh, I need to—okay!” I got the dancers like, “Uh-uh, we need to do another rehearsal call, come on! I’m not going to mess this up, not in front of Miss Close!” It was great. I got to sit at the table with John Waters after my number, and he was so nice—it was just it was really great.

11. If you could find out the day you were going to die, would you want to know?

S: Ooh, you went real dark—turned the lights out on us!

No, because I feel like I would constantly be thinking that my time is running out instead of living right now, as if I have no limit on my time. You know, every day I want to enjoy, every day I want to smile. And, if tomorrow is my day, then all y’all—including you and all my friends—can say, “Shangela lived, honey! And she enjoyed every moment of it!” Most every moment of it. “She knew how to enjoy—she worked on learning how to enjoy every moment that she could.”

Bonus 12th question from Paul Reiser: When we floss and something ends up on the mirror, what should we call that?

S: Yeah, I wanted to blend the words “projectile” and “residue.”

AVC: Projectidue?

S: Resitile! You know what? It would have to be like—I have to see it happen. [Mimes flossing.] Like, “Oh, look at that…” Shawarma?

I’m going to say shawarma, so it’s probably “Shawarmadue.” Because I like shawarma—I really do. And I will eat those little gyros—I love shawarma. And so that’s the kind of stuff that will get stuck, lamb and all that. So, if I saw it, I’d be like, “Oh, that’s shawarma.” But, it’s also residue, so it’s “Shawarmadue.”

AVC: So, the final part of this is, then, that you get to come up with a 12th question for whoever our next guest might be!

S: Okay, tell them: If you have to leave the country, and you don’t get to return, you have five minutes to pack your bag, but you can only really take three things. What three things would you take from your home?

AVC: That’s always a tough one—they could be stumped.

S: They’re going to be Shawarmadue’d! No, honestly, I know one I would take would be my laptop, because it has my pictures—it has all of my photos. Poor thing, I had to get the memory extended because I just I don’t know how to delete things. So all my photos are in there, and those are the things that hold my memories. I can forget a whole bunch of stuff, but, if I look at a photo, I’m back in the moment—I know the funny story. So I would say my laptop is number one. The others would be like—I don’t really need anything—so, a bottle of water because I don’t know when I’ll be able to drink again. And probably a bag of gummy bears because I love gummy bears.

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