Shangela: The Socialite Life Interview
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The most shocking moment in the season premiere of RuPaul’s Drag Race occurred when season two contestant Shangela (a/k/a Shangela Laquifa Wadley, the Debutantess of the Deep South) returned to compete for the title of “America’s Next Drag Superstar”. Although she may not have as much experience as her fellow competitors, she’s surely got just as much heart and passion for performing. You can’t not be in a good mood when you talk to Shangela! We chatted with Shangela about her return to Drag Race, how she got her start as a drag entertainer and her future plans. With her infectious personality and homegrown charm, it’s easy to see how this queen got a second chance to compete for the title!
Shangela: Halleloo, somebody!
Socialite Life: Halleloo! Hi Shangela! How are you?
Shangela: I am fabulous! How are you today?
SL: I’m great because I’m talking to you!
Shangela: Aww, yay! Thank you for that, I appreciate that.
SL: I was so happy to see you come back on RuPaul’s Drag Race
Shangela: Well, honey, only half as happy as I was to be back!
SL: On the premiere, they made sure to let the viewers (and the other queens) know that you had to audition again to get on Drag Race 3.
Shangela: That’s right, just like everyone else! You know, there were tons and tons of applicants – even more than the first two years – this year, so the competition was stiffer. But, you know, I felt like I worked so hard over the last year and why not? I really wanted to come back and show that I am America’s Next Drag Superstar – not because I’m specialized in one specific area, just because I work hard in all of the different areas. I feel like I’ve been in “drag boot camp” over the last year! So, I was excited to put in an audition tape and hopefully come back and I was just lucky that RuPaul felt the same way.
SL: What was it like to get that second chance?
Shangela: Girl! I’ll tell you this, the day I got the call, I really, really almost didn’t believe it because, going on the show, doing the second season, I’d only been doing drag for five months – and to get a huge honor like that to compete with 12 other of the best divas out there, I already had such a great opportunity. And I was only on one episode, you know this, but I worked it as hard as I could over the next year, just to get better and take what I learned from that one episode and go farther. So, I was like, “I’m going to try this” and to get that call saying “We’re going to bring you back” and you get another shot at this – it’s a second chance at life really. And you play it in your head like, “Okay, what am I going to do better? How am I going to turn this time?”, but it’s so much more pressure too because when you get a second chance, I feel people judge you more critically.
SL: Was the reaction of the other girls when they first saw you this season creative editing or did they really have those expressions on their faces when they laid eyes on you?
Shangela: Girl, if it was creative editing, I need to hire that person to get the reactions for everything I say in life! Those were the most real expressions on their faces – you know, I jump out of a Christmas box – first of all, I look like “jack-in-the-box Shangela” – and I come popping out of this box and to see all of those faces, their jaws were just on the ground. And I thought that – you know me, I’m Shangela, I hug everybody – so I’m like “Hey, I’m back! How is everybody?” and everyone’s looking at me like, “Who? Oh, really?”
SL: Do you feel like the competition is stiffer this season?
Shangela: Well, you know, I was only there for one episode last season and this year’s girls are a completely different batch from last year’s girls. I can’t really comparatively judge them – but I can tell you that this year’s girls were sickening! Because as more people are competing, Ru and the judges – and everyone who chooses the contestants on the show – they’re having to see everyone pulling out the best of the best. So, definitely, it was a tough competition and these girls are stiff competition, period.
SL: So, let’s talk about you. How did you get your start in drag?
Shangela: Well, you know, this is pretty much my anniversary month. I’ve been doing drag now for exactly two years but going on the show, I’d only been doing it for 4 months. I kind of fell into it, to be honest with you. I was choreographing a number, Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”, for these three guys who were doing a charity event here in West Hollywood and, the night before the guys were to go on, one of them got sick. So they called me and said (of course, I wasn’t Shangela yet), “DJ, is there any way you can help us out? You know all of the steps and we really want to do this as a trio” and I’m thinking, “I don’t have any wigs, I don’t have any makeup.” But…well, you know, I’m gay, honey! So, just a man around the corner has a wig, a dress, something in your size, a bra, some pads…and the next thing you know, I was filling in for him. And the guy who runs the show said, “I would love for you to come back and I would love to book you for our show” and I said “Oh, this isn’t my thing. I’m not a drag performer, I was just filling in” and he said, “You can win money” And girl, you know we’re in a recession! (Laughs) But, to be honest with you, I’ve always been a performer. I’ve been a backup dancer for some of the best drag queens in the business back in Texas and I always watched them and I learned by watching but I just love to entertain. So I say it chose me and I fell into it and now I’m just loving it.
SL: How did the character of Shangela come to life – and how would you describe her?
Shangela: Well, she’s evolved, okay? (Laughs) I’ll tell you this – Shangela is a little bit bougy, but she’s also your homegirl. I’ve always stuck to that and I also have affectionately titled myself “The Debutantess of the Deep South” – and that speaks a lot about Shangela. Shangela is sweet, she’s somewhat refined but she’s also your girl from the block. Anybody you want to call or go out with – the party girl who’s going to tell it like it is – that’s Shangela.
SL: I saw you do stand up on Logo and I thought you were hilarious! Is that something you had done before you started doing drag?
Shangela: Well, you know, the really cool thing is – and I don’t know if you know this – but before I went on Drag Race, I’d been working a 9-to-5 office life in PR for the last couple of years and, you know, sometimes you just feel – I don’t know if you ever feel like this – but I felt like this just isn’t everything that I want out of my life. It’s great, it works for a lot of people but, for me, I felt almost trapped. I was getting up at seven to be on the road by eight, be at the office by nine and then leave at six, get home at seven, go to bed at ten to get back up at seven – you know? And that was every day of the week and I just felt like when I got the opportunity to go on Drag Race, this was my shot. And my job told me, “If you go there, we’re not going to be able to keep your job for you”, so I quit – in the middle of a recession – and that’s not an easy thing to do but when you have a passion, sometimes you’ve got to step out on a little bit of faith – halleloo! So that’s what I did, and luckily, it worked out really well for me. It opened the door for me. I didn’t go back to work…here’s the thing, when I left to go on Drag Race, I was like, “Baby, yes, I’m going to win this. I’m going to take care of my family and I’m going to be the next drag superstar” – and I went home after the first episode. And I kind of had a little moment of shock like, “Oh my God, what have I done? I quit my job. I don’t have any checks coming in. What’s going on?” – but that opened the door for me to really do what I’m supposed to do with my life – and that’s being an entertainer. I started doing stand up comedy at a couple of clubs here in Los Angeles and they picked me up at The Comedy Store. They said, “We think you’re funny. We want you to come every two weeks.” and from there, they cast me to do stand up comedy and host the Logo comedy special. So all of that’s kind of come as a result of me following my dreams – and starting it with Drag Race.
SL: Do you think being able to do stand up is a benefit to your drag career?
Shangela: Oh my God, yes! Any time I can be on a stage and perform is a benefit to my career. Any time that I can make someone else laugh or touch someone’s life – because you really don’t know how much laughter impacts our world, it really does. And that’s what I think I bring to my everyday life…you ask my friends, honey, their stomachs are hurting all of the time because we just sit around and laugh! But I love to bring that to the stage so I think that, yeah, being in drag definitely helps me have more experiences that are crazy and funny – and I can take them right to the stage.
SL: When you’re on stage, what do you enjoy the most about performing?
Shangela: It’s the connection that you get with the audience. You know, a lot of people can put a great look together and get on stage and they look gorgeous and they do their song – if it’s a lip sync – or they do their form of entertainment; but if you don’t connect with the audience, then the people in the audience don’t get the full experience of being at the show. And that’s what I bring every time I hit the stage – that’s what I really want to bring is an experience. It’s not just, “I’m going to see Shangela”. It’s “I’m going to experience Shangela” and that’s what you get! That’s what I love about being on stage, the way you can really connect with people in the audience and have a good time!
SL: As far as inspirations for your drag performances – do you have any?
Shangela: Oh, definitely! I have so many because I’m new – so everything is so wide-eyed to me. I get so much from so many different people. I look at people’s fashion or I look at the way people bring fire to the stage, there’s always me in the performance but a lot of times – especially makeup, honey! I have a drag mother who I got after I started doing drag – but I used to dance back-up for her. Her name is Alyssa Edwards out of Dallas, Texas. Now she is the most winningest…can I say, bitch? She is the most winningest bitch in captivity, okay? She has won every pageant because she’s refined and what I have in entertainment I’ve had to really try and gather fast to meet that or match it with refinement, with makeup and the ability to sew and create costumes and just to be organized with your drag – because it can be a lot. So, I learned a lot from her. I’ve learned a little from afar by watching Ru as a businessperson – making drag, not just a past time or a hobby – but, as I said, I left my job and this is what I do full-time now. It’s now a business. It’s about marketing, it’s about branding, it’s about connecting to your fans, it’s about being fresh, new and re-inventing yourself – and that’s what I hope to continue to bring.
SL: Do you think your background in PR has helped you in your drag career?
Shangela: You know, my background in life helps it out! And, I’m just fortunate – definitely the PR piece, because you can go into a meeting and people are talking about, “We’re going to do these t-shirts with you” and you can know that there needs to be a strategy behind just putting some t-shirts together. There needs to be a business model that works with doing everything in drag – you know, a big misconception about drag queens is that this is what they’ve done all of their lives. And there are some drag queens who have – and that’s great for them – but I know drag queens who are attorneys, I know drag queens who, you know, have full, married lives and have children and I know drag queens who are creative in the arts – artists, stylists, everything – we come from all walks of life. So I think a lot of us – including myself – bring what we have from our background and put it into our drag to make us successful.
SL: Were you able to learn anything or take anything away from this season’s experience?
Shangela: A check! (Laughs) I’m telling you, what I always take away from last year’s experience on Drag Race and this year’s experience on Drag Race is not only the connection, the family with the other girls – because you know there are some catty bitches in that room, okay? There are! And they will fight tooth and nail to get to the top, as when you’re in a competition you sometimes have to. But what the viewers at home don’t get to see is that after the show and even during in the show, we develop such great relationships between a couple of us – and that’s what I love – the sisterhood of drag – because you can’t get far without helping someone else and someone else has to bump you and that’s what I really believe in. I get so many emails and so many calls from new drag queens on the scene – because I think that’s part of the genre of the group that I represent as well because I’m so new – and fierce! I really have to be a role model for them and I think it’s important that we help each other – and, on the show, you don’t get to see it, but we’ve built a great sisterhood there – a family.
SL: What kind of advice are you giving to these aspiring drag queens?
Shangela: Well, I’d say watch, listen, learn and always do you! That’s it! You can watch a lot of people – but you don’t want to become anyone else – the whole thing about drag is that its self-expression. It’s unleashed, okay? Anything that you think that can’t be done in drag…yes, it can! If you’re a nasty, stank ho and you want to get on the stage…that’s you’re drag – you do you! That’s not Shangela! But you do you! And that’s my advice to all of them. Makeup…that’s the “watch, listen, learn” part – the makeup, the putting yourself together, the hoe to be organized, the how to make it work…but when you get on stage, ain’t nobody there but you and the lights! So you have to do you!
SL: Is there a lot of DJ in Shangela?
Shangela: Yes, but Shangela takes it to the next level – a different level. In my day-to-day life, I’m entertaining, I’m funny, I love my friends, we have a good time, that kind of thing…yes! Shangela’s more of an all out-there partier. You’re going to see me on the stage at the club, having a good time, toasting it up with the girls. I’m a little bit louder – if you can even imagine that because I’m mighty loud today! But, I just take it up a notch and when you’re a girl – or when you’re putting on an illusion – it’s a full-on illusion to me. When you meet Shangela, you get the Shangela voice, the Shangela essence, the Shangela smell – I mean, I am Juicy Couture fish! I love just putting all of that together as Shangela. Now, in my day-to-day life, I’m not so glamorous all of the time. Right now, I’m just sitting here – I just helped my friend with a photo shoot this morning at the LA river, and I’m very “call me up, I’ll help anyone” and I was holding a reflector, I’ve got my hair snatched back in a bun with a baseball cap on with sunglasses – that’s the farthest thing from glamour that you can get! But you’ll never see Shangela in a pair of sweats – I don’t even show up at the club in a pair of tennis shoes, no ma’am!
SL: What do you think separates you from the other queens this season?
Shangela: We’re all very, very different. You’ve seen the first episode, you can already see a lot of the really sharp differences. I think what sets me apart is that…well, two things. One, I’ve been in this setting before, so I feel like I have something to prove this time around. So, the fire in me, I feel is burning a little bit brighter – it’s a little bit hotter because I feel like I have so much to prove…I have a huge weight on my shoulders, being brought back to represent those who haven’t been doing it for a long time, to say it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing something, you can still rock it and you can be the fiercest bitch in the room! It’s not years of experience, it’s how hard you’re willing to work, and I think that’s what really sets me apart in this room is that I’m here to work – and that is W-E-R-Q! – with the exclamation point! I’m going to work, so I think that’s what sets me apart. I don’t want to be the baby of the group this time around even though I have the least amount of experience in drag. I’m nobody’s baby. My years of experience are less than the other girls, but then again, the fire is burning hot and somebody better step back or you’re going to get burned!
SL: What would people be surprised to know about you?
Shangela: I’m a very open book, a lot of people don’t know that I’m from Paris, Texas. I tell everyone that as soon as I meet them, but they look at me and say, “You don’t have a Texas twang.” Well, you know, give me a bucket of chicken and a Coca-Cola and the next thing you know, I’m just as country as can be! But, I am from Paris, Texas. It’s a very small town and I grew up with my grandparents and my Mom came back from the military and I grew up with her in a single-family home and I really worked a lot to have the experiences in my life that I’ve had. But you wouldn’t know that I’ve worked on the hill for a year or that I studied abroad in Madrid in art history…nobody wants to know all of that, they just want to see what you have on the stage. But there are so many layers to me, and I love just sharing a lot and everything about me, so there’s not a lot people don’t know about me – if you choose to get to know me.
SL: How would you describe your look?
Shangela: Sickening – that’s pretty much the way you would describe my look! To be honest with you, I think that my look just…there’s so many looks because it’s drag…the everyday Shangela is glamour and homegirl – all together. It’s glamour girl from the streets – because, with me, I always keep it real. I can have on the Alexander McQueen, straight off the runway, and look fish sickening boots – and we can still roll in that to the Taco Bell. That’s who I am and that essence of me keeping it real just comes with everything – and I think that’s the best way that you can connect with people – there are no walls, there is no diva attitude – I am a diva, make no mistake, when I come into a room, I feel like it’s important to say, “I’m here”, but you don’t have to say that out loud to do that, you just have to walk in and be – and that’s Shangela.
SL: What does the future hold for Shangela?
Shangela: Well, specifically, on the show, I want to win – so, my aspiration is to go home as America’s Next Drag Superstar. In addition to that, I really just want to be able to show that there’s so many different talents to drag queens to me, as Shangela, that I hope I’m able to express to the full extent on the show. I’m a comedian, I’m an entertainer, I’m a host – I would love after the show to go on and represent – whether it be brands or a show host, having someone sitting on my couch every week and keeping it real and talking. Be the Andy Cohen, have a Life on the D List – I live here in Los Angeles and I am a diva on the rise. So, with all of those experiences, people should be able to see those and experience those as well and hopefully, one day, I’ll have a platform to share that with them.
SL: Do you have any interest in a singing career?
Shangela: You know, I think that a lot of girls have done great with their careers, from season two especially – and season one. I know that my sister Sahara Davenport just put out a new single “Pump with Me” which is kick-ass, it’s a dance track. And I love to sing, I’m a Tina Turner fanatic. But I think where I’m going to start is by doing a one-woman show and my calling is entertaining people, making people laugh. Whether it’s singing, putting out a hot dance track – you know, I can disco dance – and I love the Pussycat Dolls – bringing that kind of fire to the stage. But I’m really going to focus on entertaining any way I can right now. If it comes later in a song, it comes later in a song – but I’ve got to write it, it’s got to come from me because I feel that only I can really have my voice and we’re just going to work it out.
SL: Are you going to continue doing stand up?
Shangela: Yes! Most definitely. I’m bringing a show to New York, I think it’s going to be at Caroline’s on Broadway later this spring so I’m really about that. I work here at The Comedy Store and we just started a new night at Hamburger Mary’s in West Hollywood, and I’m hosting that show as well. You know, I do those shows in drag and out of drag and it’s always a good time!
SL: Are you planning on touring after the show?
Shangela: Oh, honey, I’m touring! I just launched a new website, Shangela.com – please send everybody and their grandmother to it! It has my entire touring schedule there. I’m on the move, honey!
SL: Besides your website, is there any other way fans can keep in touch with you?
Shangela: Most definitely! You know, I’m a Tweet from the street, girl! You can follow me on Twitter @itsShangela and on my Facebook fan page! Oh, my God, I have to tell you about the new film! I’m in this new film, as Shangela, called Body of a Barbie, okay? It’s a short film we produced in Los Angeles and it got picked up by BET, it aired last fall, and it’s actually now in the top seven finalists of the BET Lens on Talent program. So, they had this huge competition for short films and our film was in the top seven in the US. It’s called Body of a Barbie and it’ll be back on BET this spring and I’m really excited about that.
SL: Oh, I almost forgot to mention that I thought you were awesome on Terriers!
Shangela: Oh, thank you! That was my first guest starring role and the writers were so awesome. You know, when I auditioned, I was only on three pages of script, and when I got to San Diego to film it, they thought that the character needed more involvement in the show and it went from three pages to 28 pages of a 42 page script and I wanted to bring the fire, because that episode was directed by Adam Arkin and he was fabulous to work with and they were so great and so respectful and I got to be in drag and out of drag and it’s done a lot of great things for me. Actually, I’m going to be on an episode of this show on ABC called Detroit 1-8-7. We just shot that – me, Coco Peru and Jai Rodriguez – and it airs February 15th on ABC.
SL: Thank you so much for your time and good luck with everything!
Shangela: Aww, thank you! I wish I could give you a big hug! Halleloo!
This article was originally published on January 25, 2011.
RuPaul’s Drag Race Holi-Slay Spectacular featuring Shangela airs Friday, Dec. 7 at 8:00 p.m. ET on VH1.