Ever since it was announced that she would be joining the roster of queens competing for the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 crown, Shea Couleé was a fan favorite to take the entire competition. Her fellow competitors had reason to be alarmed from the moment this Chicago dynamo walked into the workroom, and whether she was walking the main stage runway with stunning costumes or performing as Flavor Flav in the Snatch Game Of Love, Couleé elevated the competition and soared to the top, grabbing the All Stars 5 crown. I caught up with Shea to discuss her All Stars experience, reconciling her past (and legendary) lip sync experience, and why leaving a better community for those behind her is crucial.
Michael Cook: You returned for RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 5 and have snagged the crown, congratulations! What made you wait to return for All Stars?
Shea Couleé You know, I knew that I wanted to come back and return for All Stars, but I feel like a really important part of All Stars is showing how much you have grown. I knew that I needed to take the opportunity to really grow. I did not want the fact that on Season Nine I had four challenge wins to affect my ego and let me think that I could just go in there right after and just snatch a crown. I knew that I would have something to prove, so I wanted to go take the time to become the best Shea that I could be and be realized.
MC: Looking back on the All Stars experience, how do you feel as a whole now that you have snagged the crown?
SC: I am over the moon. It was such a special time filming All Stars, I remember leaving feeling such a sense of happiness. Drag Race spoils us in a way; I have not been on many professional sets, but nothing is quite like the family of World of Wonder and Drag Race. It is a really magical place and All Stars is nothing short of that. I left feeling so happy and in such a great place and I think that is what anyone wants when they leave this competition
MC: It was refreshing to hear about not just how you felt about your now legendary lip sync with Sasha Velour during the Season 9 finale, but how the fans actually reacted to you afterward. During that Season Ten lip sync, what was actually going through your mind and what were you thinking?
SC: All I was thinking was ”well there goes my dream”. The audience had such a visceral reaction, everyone stood to their feet just screaming! At that moment, I knew that I had lost. Coming to that realization and still having to perform on stage in front of nearly two thousand people is unlike anything that I could possibly describe. Not only that, but then to leave the experience and have that moment weaponized against you to make you feel like you were not worth the accolades that were given to you…It was almost like some days, the fandom had turned. I was not quite prepared for that and it took me for a while to be able to separate the things that they were saying about me from the actual truth of who I was as a drag queen.
MC: Many things during the All Stars 5 competition, including the stunning main stage runway costume paying homage to that moment, truly make that lip sync a moment that you can finally put in the rearview mirror now, is that fair to say?
SC: Yes, absolutely, It is such an impactful moment, it changed so much. It made Sasha become one of the most iconic lip syncers in the shows history and it gave me the opportunity to come back. What I found out and what I did not know at the time, is that I had to go through that complete experience in order to really fully be able to understand and appreciate being in the position that I am right now.
MC: You have been one of the queens in your own Chicago community that has spoken out about racial discrimination and inequality in your community by participating in a Town Hall and change has been promised. As you have seen some of the Town Hall experiences pop up over the nation, do you realize that you are at the forefront of making change all over the nation?
SC: It is really humbling because I am not outspoken for the sake of attention and headlines. It is because I believe in my city, I believe in my community, and I believe we have a capacity to do better and be more inclusive for the people that have really laid themselves out on the line for this movement. I just really care about equality, I care about equality for black queer people, I care about us being safe in these spaces. It really did not take much for me to want to participate and to do all that I could to affect positive change. I have drag daughters and I want them to feel empowered and to grow up feeling capable of going out there and changing things and making it better for themselves.
MC: Ok, once and for all; with All Stars in the rearview mirror, who’s side are you on for that never ending question; do you think Alexis Mateo and Mayhem Miller conspired to have you eliminated as India Ferrah said?
SC: I am on the side of the truth. I would say that in my heart of hearts, as to who I thought who has been truly earnest with me, I think Alexis. In watching it back, Alexis did say what Alexis said. But she was leading the witness your honor; she was leading it in a way that I would feel that this was happening to conspire prior to the vote, but then found out later that Alexis didnt ask her that until after everyone had voted. Unless Alexis just wanted to know the tea and was asking if “we were getting rid of Shea” because she knew that she had voted for me and that Mayhem had voted for me as well. Mayhem and India had their alliance that none of us knew about, so that was complicated also. It was really hard…
MC: Your music is absolutely stunning consistently. When do you think we can expect more music from the new All Star winner?
SC: Thank you! And here I am, three years later not even putting out one (laughs). The thing is, I am extremely picky and detail oriented when it comes to the music. I don’t want my music to just be novelty songs. I want it to be something that people really are going to be really wanting to listen to. I think my journey has been finding the right producers who understand exactly what it is that I want. I think I am finally getting to that space and I am getting a chance to work with people that really do get me and the type of music that I want to do. I am very excited about some future projects and can’t wait to release them and take them on the road in a show; it is going to be epic!
MC: What have you been doing to stay creatively fueled during quarantine?
SC: I have been gardening. That has been my little escape. I love just cultivating the earth. My grandmother had a really big garden and she had full on watermelon patches, and grew so much food that she could provide not just for our family, but for other people in the neighborhood. I have so many fond memories of her and being out in my backyard has helped me feel connected to my grandmother, as well as my father. He also had a green thumb and that has been really nice.
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