Since she walked into the RuPaul’s Drag Race workroom on Season 2 (and Season 3, as well as All Stars 2), Shangela has had the much sought after “it” factor that so many aspire to. As she dives headfirst into movie stardom (a dazzling turn in A Star Is Born) and television (a diva-tastic guest starring role on the CW’s Katy Keene), this newly minted Time Magazine 100 Next rising star has only started dream her biggest dreams. As she breezes into the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa this weekend for Pride Bingo, I caught up with Shangela to discuss her recent run ins with Beyonce & Oprah, the sage advice she is taking with her as she navigates through Hollywood, and why we just might see her doing death drops on an iceberg sometime soon (?)
Michael Cook: I feel very privileged to be talking to someone on the 2019 Time 100 Next List! Congratulations on such an amazing accomplishment!
Shangela: Well thank you, I really appreciate that. You know, I have been on the scavenger hunt for the issue, we are on site in the middle of nowhere filming for HBO. I have not found it yet, but I know it’s coming (laughs)!
MC: What does it feel like to be included on that list and to be recognized in such a prominent and prestigious way?
S: What an honor. To go from the back alleys behind gay clubs getting dressed for amateur show nights in West Hollywood to Time Magazine’s 2019 Next List! Wow; I am honored and it is very surreal.
MC: You are coming to the Borgata Hotel Spa & Casino this weekend to host Pride Bingo. Are you ready to hit New Jersey?
S: Get ready, because I am bringing a fantastic show! Its Shangela, so it’s gonna be high energy, its gonna be fun, and I cannot wait to connect with the people there. It’s a casino too, so you know the doll is gonna get lucky (laughs)!
MC: You have performed in Las Vegas many times, and now you are coming to the Borgata. How different is it performing for a crowd in a casino as opposed to at a nightclub?
S: Well, I think the major thing that they both have in common is that people come for a show. The audience that we get is there to be entertained. I find that sometimes you get some of the most unlikely and fun entertainment in a casino. I am thrilled to be able to be a part of that.
MC: You are filming your new HBO series We’re Here and without giving away too much, it is definitely a departure from being in a workroom with your RuPaul’s Drag Race sisters. What has it been like working in a different environment with your sisters Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka?
S: RuPaul’s Drag Race is a competition show, so you are focused on presenting your best, and it is all focused on what you are delivering to hopefully appease and please the judges. With this show, the three of us are not only working together, but working individually with these people in small towns who want to realize their best lives through the art of drag. it is outside the work room, it’s life after the work room. I am excited to be able to connect with these people in a real and human emotional way and to help bring what I have learned over the years of traveling and performing to enlighten their lives and make them better.
MC: From Lady Gaga to Bradley Cooper (your A Star Is Born co-stars) to the iconic and divine Jenifer Lewis, you have gotten to work with, be surrounded by, and hopefully influenced by some of the biggest names in Hollywood and in entertainment as a whole. We all have certain things we take from people we encounter in business and in life that help us; is there any one thing that you can think of that someone along the way has told you that whenever a new opportunity comes your way, that you repeat it in your own mind now?
S: There are two big ones really. One came from Jenifer Lewis. She said to me “the elevator to success is broken, take the stairs”. What that means is that there is no clear, easy shot to what you want in this world. You have to work for it. I have seen that example through my own mother, growing up in Paris Texas, and I have seen it in Jenifer, who has been in the entertainment business for a number of years and really weathered the highs and the lows, and continued to make a great place for herself in that world. I am excited to hopefully inspire others to do it, as I do the same as well.
A new phrase that I have in my head now is from Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey. I had the honor of meeting Oprah at Tyler Perry’s studio opening in Atlanta last month. It was very quick; Jenifer was talking to her and when Jenifer walked off, I kind of squeezed in there and I said “Miss Winfrey I just wanted to say thank you for honoring me and the world with your gifts”. She grabbed my hands, looked me right in the eye, and gave me that classic Oprah squeeze and she looked at me and said “Thank you, Keep Dreaming”. Tyler Perry also said at the event that one thing he has learned from Oprah was at her Legends Ball and that is “she said you have to learn how to dream bigger. And I hope everyone here listening to me tonight is inspired to dream bigger. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to own my own studio. But once I learned to dream bigger, bigger dreams came”. That is what I am hoping to do, I am hoping to continue to dream bigger.
MC: What an amazing experience for you to get to have by attending that monumental event!
S: It really was; the studio was actually built on a former Confederate Hospital. It’s huge and when I say “everybody”, I mean everybody was there! From Beyonce and Jay Z to Denzel Washington, Wil Smith, Oprah, Stedman and Gayle, I mean everybody! I sat with Jenifer Lewis, and we did not even get to eat a bite. She wanted to walk around, of course she knows everyone, and she wanted to say hi to everybody. We were walking around and chatting with everyone. I went as her guest, and it was like the Black Excellence Ball that you dream of. Even Beyonce saw me and was like “hey Shangela”…Like, Be-YONCE! Bill and Hillary Clinton were there, Whoopi Goldberg, it was an amazing experience. Just breezing by people and saying “hi how are you”..Dream Bigger honey!
MC: You are so incredibly busy; when Shangela take off the glamour and is home relaxing, how do you just zone out and find some peace?
S: I love television. I grew up with television, my grandmother was a daytime soap person when I would be on summer vacation. Television is what inspired me to be an actor. I iove seeing stories played out on stories and on film. That is what I love to do to decompress, I’ll watch Game of Thrones. I will watch a series that I love over and over again. How To Get Away With Murder, Scandal, Homeland, those are my faves. And old episodes of Friends, I could start at Episode 1 and go all the way through, I love it! I am also excited to go see my friend Lena Waithe’s new movie Queen & Slim; so good!
MC: There is so much that you have done, but since we’re talking about dreaming bigger, what is on your bucket list for 2020 that you want to do and have not gotten to do yet?
S: I have co-written a film with my friend Deborah Dean Davis. It’s a fun drag comedy film and I would love to see that go into production and for me to star in a film, that is one thing that I would love to do. I want to continue to work in television, I just filmed a recent episode for a show called Katy Keene on the CW, and I am hoping to do more work in television. I also want to go to Antarctica, I really do. It is one place in the world that I have never been, and that would make me someone who has performed on all seven continents. I want to go to Antarctica, in drag. Even if its just me and the penguins, honey I’m going (laughs)!
MC: What would the Shangela of today tell that young performer who walked into the RuPaul’s Drag Race workroom for that first time?
S: I would tell her that you can have whatever you can dream, but don’t be afraid to work for it. Enjoy the ride; don’t be so stressed about the competition of life, where you want to be and feeling like you’re not where you want to be at a certain time. Just do the work and enjoy the ride.
Shangela Hosts Pride Bingo @ Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa on Saturday, December 7th; Tickets here
Catch all things Shangela @ her website;
Art Courtesy of Shangela (Facebook)