Shangela—Dancing with the Stars Diva
Whether she is stomping the runway on RuPaul’s Drag Race or hitting the dance floor as a groundbreaking contestant on Dancing with the Stars this year, Shangela continues to bring a megawatt smile and talent to spare to every project she dives into. In the midst of rehearsals, Shangela took some time to chat with me.
Michael Cook: You kicked oﬀ this season of Dancing with the Stars as the first drag queen contestant cast, and you and your partner Gleb Savchenko have scorched the dance floor during your first two weeks!
Shangela: Well, you know I’m from Texas, so I’m more used to chips & salsa, but this one I was living for!
MC: What is it like being on Dancing with the Stars? It must be absolutely surreal to put it mildly.
S: It really is—it is a surreal dream come true! I always dreamed about being able to do something that I love on a major platform, and I have gotten that with drag. I never thought that I would get it with this particular opportunity. I am just living each moment, working really hard, and hoping to inspire others to know that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from baby, there is place and space for you to show up authentically.
MC: Competitors from past seasons have spoken about the grind of Dancing with the Stars and how it truly is the hardest thing that many of them have ever done. Is that how you feel?
S: It is, definitely.… I can’t take away from the fact that it is one of the hardest things that I have ever done because it is one of the newest things that I have ever done. Shangela is a performer, but I am not a technically-trained dancer, I am just a diva that loves to dance. Being in a competition space where I am being judged on a technique or a style of dance, I am putting in a lot of work over here because I really want to rise to the occasion.
MC: You were judged on your first season of RuPaul’s Drag Race when your drag was still newer, and now you are being judged on Dancing with the Stars on completely new skills. Does it ever get easier to be judged?
S: No one wants to be judged, but I knew what I signed up for over here, the same as Drag Race. I feel that at least on this, we get a little bit of time to learn and work with a partner. With Drag Race, I was a solo fish all by myself. Here I have a wonderful partner like Gleb who is training me on these new dances, to teach and rehearse with me, and it makes me feel great that I am not just up there by myself.
MC: What is it like to work with the other celebrities on your cast? Meeting some of them truly must be like a pinch-me moment!
S: I mean honestly, I feel like somehow I got a ticket to the backstage meet-and-greet. There are so many. Selma Blair, who is so kind, phenomenal, wonderful, and sweet. Jordin Sparks, someone who I voted for when she was on American Idol, I ran up all of the standard text messaging rates, I am so thrilled to be in a space with her. Wayne Brady who I know, it is so phenomenal to even think we are in the same competition together knowing what a fan I am of his.
MC: Since your last turn on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3, you have catapulted and gotten to experience so many monumental opportunities and truly showcased your talents in so many spaces. Is there anyone that along the way gave you some true words of wisdom that gave you your own “a-ha moment”?
S: Yes—my mentor and good friend, Jenifer Lewis. I talk to Jen daily; we literally got oﬀ the phone about an hour ago. She is one of the most encouraging, aﬃrming people in my life besides my mother. She has truly guided me with her wisdom, not just for this experience but for every experience. She says to me, “This is what all of the work that you have put into your journey and your career, it has all built up to this moment.” She reminds me all the time to focus, save, and deliver. What she means by that is to focus my mind and save my energy. Because you know we love to entertain, we have a full day and start makeup at 7:00 a.m. and the show doesn’t start until 5:00 p.m. here. She always tells me, save my energy and then deliver, baby. This is your world, you know how to do this, you got this; so, deliver it.
MC: Groundbreaking has become a bit of an overused word, but for you it truly seems like it is applicable. From We’re Here to A Star Is Born, you have shattered stereotypes and glass ceilings on almost every project you have worked on.
S: I have to thank God and the universe because honestly, I feel like a lot of those projects found me. For RuPaul’s Drag Race, the producers found me at Here Lounge at Mickey’s in West Hollywood and thought it was a great idea for me to audition. For We’re Here, the creators of the show, Steve Warren and Johnnie Ingram, called me and said, “Shangela, we’ve seen your energy and your work throughout your career, we love you and we want you to do this show.” There was no audition. Even for A Star Is Born, Lady Gaga’s manager, Bobby Campbell, called me. He mentioned that he had heard that I didn’t come in for the audition because it was for a Marilyn Monroe impersonator, but “LG (Lady Gaga) would really like to see you.” I’ve also done my part, though, by staying prepared and having a great love for my craft and my art. Also, being authentically me; showing up with the energy and the positivity that I had innately within me. I would give to the person at the Walmart check-out the same as I would give on a major television or film project.
And I am just so grateful. When people are attached to these projects that I have been able to be a part of, whether it’s Drag Race, We’re Here, A Star Is Born, and now Dancing with the Stars, when they see me, they get the same person. I don’t have to code switch or turn into a character—it’s just me. Of course, Shangela has five hours’ worth of makeup, and wigs, and all those extra things, but at the root of it, it is still who I am as DJ Pierce. It’s who I was born into in Paris, Texas. I am the same person from Paris High School that I am over here at CBS!
MC: Is watching your own career evolution sometimes like watching a movie that details someone else’s life?
S: You know, I love movies (laughs)! It is sometimes surreal and watching my life is like watching a movie, because these are the things that I dreamed of. I dreamed of them, but I never knew that they would come true in this way. I was willing to go out and work for these moments. I believe them and am grateful for them, but they do seem unreal sometimes. I laugh as if I was watching a movie. Or I feel joy, like when you’re watching a movie and you see the character get the win at the end of the film and you cheer for them, I cheer for myself. I’ve watched this movie from the beginning and where we are now. There have been so many great moments—an emotional rollercoaster of moments. There have been low lows, like when I broke my leg on stage and I didn’t know if I would ever perform or dance again. But—ta-da! Here we are on a competition show for dancers, how about that? ▼
Follow Shangela on Instagram: instagram.com/ itsshangela/?hl=en
Michael Cook has been a part-time resident of Rehoboth Beach for over a decade. He is currently a contributor to Instinct Magazine, World of Wonder’s WOW Report, and South Florida Gay News.