EXCLUSIVE: Shangela 2.0: For North Texan D.J. Pierce, life is a drag

Drag Race alum Shangela has had a crazy few years — but is still a Dallas girl at heart.

Pierce dishes about Glee, reflects on the Carnival Cruise controversy and his dear friend Sahara Davenport, and weighs in on the crowning of the new Drag Race All-Star.

CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS FROM SHANGELA’S VISIT TO BJ’s NXS ON TUESDAY

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor

It’s been a crazy busy week for Drag Racer Shangela — and she’s not even on the show right now.

A native of Paris — that’s Texas, grrl, the second biggest city named Paris in the world — the drag diva known professionally as Shangela Laquifa Wadley (but, like Cher and Charo, goes mostly by just “Shangela”) still spends a fair amount of time in Dallas. That’s where D.J. Pierce (his real name) attended SMU with fellow Drag Racing Mustang Antoine Ashley, aka the late Sahara Davenport. But it wasn’t until Pierce moved to Los Angeles that the dresses called out.

“In college at SMU, I was a back-up dancer for [many drag queens], especially my girl Alyssa Edwards,” who will be on the upcoming fifth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race … “just never in drag,” Pierce explains. When he moved to L.A., he was set to do a show at Here Lounge when one of the queens didn’t make it in. That’s when a producer suggested he go on for her.

It was just a last-minute thing — Pierce knew all the moves and some friends had, as all good queens do, some extra dresses and wigs — so with very little planning, they made up the name Shangela and Pierce went on.

“The M.C. announced me as Shang-Ella,” he laughs. “But hey — it was just a one-night thing. What did it matter?”

Oh, it mattered. Someone at the club recommended Pierce return later for amateur night, which he did. Eventually, a talent scout saw him perform and suggested Pierce audition for the second season of Drag Race. Five months later, he was on the show — still the newest queen ever to compete.

Shangela didn’t go far that season — she was voted off in Episode 1, after lip-synching for her life against long-time friend Sahara — but that was only the start of a remarkable transformation.

I wanted Sahara to go on,” he says over sushi in Uptown this week. “We knew it was coming, because we really were friends. You could tell. But she came up to me and said, ‘You bring it!’ I’m a performer, so I did, and she did.”

Shangela then made history (again), becoming the first contestant to return to compete in Season 3, when she went much further. But winning the crown has not seemed to make a lot of difference in Pierce’s career.

On Thursday, Pierce will appear in drag as Shangela on Glee, an experience that he enjoyed on many levels.

“When I was on the set this summer, Chris Colfer [who plays Kurt] and I sat next to each other. He’s also a small-town boy, though he never did drag. I told him a new way to come up with a name was your favorite color and favorite flower, so that makes Colfer The Lady Chartreuse Bougainvillea. He also got to meet Sarah Jessica Parker, whom he loves.

The small role also gave Pierce a chance to demonstrate his many talents. (“I was hired [in part] because the role required a drag queen who could dance — we do a number to ‘Let’s Have a Kiki,’” he says.) Glee, though, is hardly Pierce’s first TV appearance. He did two pilots — one for NBC and Michael Patrick King, one for HBO, neither of which was picked up — as well as shots on Two Broke Girls (also produced by King — “he’s been great to me”), The Mentalist (“Simon Baker is fine! … Halleloo!”) and Community — sometimes in drag, sometimes out. He did have a featured role in a short-lived FX series called Terriers playing “a transgender with a heart of gold.” And of course, you can see Shangela hosting “Drag Network News” spots on Logo during Drag Race.

But this week is especially crazy for even more reasons. Pierce found himself in town for the holidays visiting family (and to celebrate his birthday, Nov. 22), so he made appearances at BJ’s NXS Tuesday night, where he sneak-peeked his new video, “Werqin’ Girl,” which drops on Saturday. He also has two live performances — one in Massachusetts, one in Fort Lauderdale — before the weekend, when Shangela goes on a week-long Drag Race cruise on a Carnival ship. That alone has caused a stir.

Earlier this week, the Carnival Cruise line released a letter to attendees warning against “inappropriate conduct in public areas” … which they defined as anyone (other than the performers while onstage) appearing in public in drag. The message was clear: Drag is shameful and not proper conduct. It has sent shock waves.

“I cringed when I saw it,” Pierce says. “My background is in communications and P.R. — for two years, I did crisis communications for TGIFridays — and they’ve dug themselves a hole. First was the Carnival letter. The AlandChuck.Travel [sent out a followup] which I thought would [settle things]. Instead, it said, ‘We’ll show them that we can follow the rules.’ I’ve been on Atlantis cruises, and those are let-loose parties where anything goes. But [everyone understands this is] a family cruise. Yet life is a drag — people have paid their money, they want to have a good time and you gotta let them be. What are they gonna do? Make you walk the plank?”

Pierce did feel some pressure to withdraw from appearing, but has opted to go on. After all, his fans expect to see him there. And there is an upside. “Maybe this experience will cause [Carnival] to reevaluate their policies. The reaction seemed extreme.”

Also this week was the reveal that Chad Michaels was crowned the first Drag Race all-star. While Pierce knows Chad some, she was not his pick to win. “Jujubee is my grrl,” Pierce says. “In my mind, I had not picked [Chad] as the winner. His illusion is good, I just never get that excitement from [watching Chad live].”

And then there’s Sahara, who died suddenly this fall. Pierce is still a wreck about it.

“It was rough — it’s still rough — though [her death] was not as big of a shock [to me] as for people who hadn’t seen her for a while,” he says somberly. “For [18 months], she’d been losing weight, looking tired — she didn’t look well. It was a downward spiral. My sister worked herself to death. She was a Dallas girl through and through. So am I — I may have done my first drag in California, but I’ll be a Texas queen forever.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Dallas “gay sex symbol” will be new “Bachelor”

To be honest, I’ve given up watching all reality shows except Drag Race, Project Runway and Top Chef, so the fact Dallas businessman (and, according to my friends at Instinct magazine, “gay sex symbol”) Sean Lowe was the hottie of the summer on The Bachelorette escaped me. But Lowe won over America’s heart, making the top 3 before being dumped; how, he gets to do the same to 23 girls in a row.

Starting in January, the local abs model will be The Bachelor, according to ABC. Hmmmm…. maybe I’ll start watching again.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Luna launches Kickstarter campaign “For Jesus”

I imagine that Israel Luna’s resume lists three skills: (1) make movies; (2) throw parties; (3) stir up controversy. It’s not enough that he pissed off a few members of the trans community with his campy blaxploitation-esque grindhouse Ticked Off Trannies with Knives (even though the movie was all about empowerment); now he’s doing his best to anger the Christian right with his latest. The title? Kicking Zombie Ass for Jesus. (We imagine the zombie libby won’t be too happy, either.)

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Pride Power Hour & Sharon Needles fill up the night

Double header of Pride

Resource Center Dallas gets Pride off the ground — way off —with its Pride Power Hour on the Wet Deck of the W Hotel (that’s the 16th floor, folks) tonight. An open deck looks over Dallas providing a grand backdrop and DJ Avenger as your music guide. You will also be automatically entered in the prize drawing of a free night’s stay at the hotel. Fun for sure.

DEETS: W Dallas Victory Hotel, 2440 Victory Park Lane. June 28 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at the door.

In the most recent season of Drag Race, Sharon Needles immediately stood out as an early favorite for her shocking, Elvira-like makeup and equally bizarre behavior and dark humor. Even her name proved divisive among the viewers.

So when she made it to the final three, almost every fan of the show was rooting for her to win. And she did.

Now you can see her do that shock-drag in person tonight.

DEETS: The Rose Room at Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road. 9 p.m. $5. Caven.com.

—  Rich Lopez

In defense of Chik-Fil-A (sort of)

Drag Racer and my former roommate Willam Belli was kicked off by RuPaul this week for still mysterious reasons related to a rule violation (Adderall addiction? Improper phone use?) but he turned lemons into lemonade by releasing at the same time this hysterical music video parody that asks: Is it still an endorsement if drag queens like your product? Enjoy!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My life with a Drag Racer: Willam Belli

A NEW pic of Willam, who didn't like how he looked in the last one.

I didn’t get a preview screener of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Season 4, which premiered last night on Logo… probably because last year, they were pissed that I spilled the beans a few days early that Dallas’ Shangela would be the series’ first returning contestant. Maybe to get back at me — maybe to toy with me — this season began with Shangela again jumping out of a box as if she’d be the surprise 13th contestant… only it was a fake-out: She was in fact booted instantly with Ru reminding everyone this is her show, her rules.

Fair enough.

The premiere was pretty good, with lots of other past queens returning as drag zombies. But what really piqued my interest was the appearance of my former roommate, Willam Belli.

I wrote about Willam living in my house for two weeks (scroll down) about three years ago, when he was in Dallas filming Ticked Off Trannies with Knives. Aside from the “drag bomb” that turned my guest room into a clothes hamper, Willam was a very agreeable roommate with lots of experience as an actor. (I remembered seeing him on My Name Is Earl.) But he has already become “the bitchy one” on Drag Race, irritating the other queens by, apparently, reminding them that he is not a club dancer, but a cross-dressing actor who has worked with Oscar winners. You really get a sense for how much he antagonizes the more insecure queens on RuPaul’s Untucked after-show.

Still, I have nothing negative to say about Willam. But it will be interesting to see how the series plays out. Watch the first episode after the jump.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Logo announces cast for Season 4 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’

The new season won’t kick off until late January, but Logo has already announced the 13 contestants competing on Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race … and none are from Texas.

Of course, that was true last season, too … until Shangela made a surprise return in the season premiere, so don’t write anyone off yet. But it looks like the producers concentrated on Chicago, Florida and the Caribbean more than Texas. Joining Ru again will be judges Santino Rice and Michelle Visage, and the winner gets a healthy $100,000 cash prize, plus the title of top drag superstar.

Here are the contestants, and their cities:

Dida Ritz, Phi Phi O’Hara and The Princess (all from Chicago), Kenya Michaels and Madame LaQueer (both from Puerto Rico), Alisa Summers and Lashauwn Beyond (both from Tampa), Latrice Royale (Fort Lauderdale), Milan and Jiggly Caliente (both from New York City),Chad Michaels (San Diego), William (L.A.) and Sharon Needles (Pittsburgh — who wins my award for best drag name).

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Cowboy up!

Full schedule of events planned around IGRA Finals Rodeo in Fort Worth this weekend

Cowboy-1

HANGING ON | One of the most popular events in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is bullriding. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

The “best of the best” in the world of LGBT rodeo are coming to North Texas this weekend to dress goats, decorate steers, wrestle steers and ride wild horses and bulls, according to Randy Edlin, president of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association.

A total of 90 competitors will be competing in the 25th World Gay Rodeo Finals, being held Saturday and Sunday at the Watt Arena in the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth. They will be representing the 27 local International Gay and Lesbian Rodeo Association affiliates around North America, including two from Texas — Texas Gay Rodeo Association, which has five chapters around the state, and Red River Rodeo Association, based in Aubrey, northeast of Denton.

Edlin said that participation in the IGRA Finals Rodeo is by invitation only. Contestants earn points through the year at regional rodeos, and the top 20 in each event are invited to the World Gay Rodeo Finals.

Edlin will compete in the chute-dogging event, sometimes known as steer wrestling, and in two camp events, the wild drag race and steer decorating.

Dan Nagel, president of the Dallas chapter of TGRA, said the camp events are one of the things that distinguish gay rodeo from traditional rodeo, adding to the entertainment and fun. But the inclusion of the camp events, he said, shouldn’t fool anyone into thinking gay rodeo contestants aren’t as tough as the mainstream rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.

In fact, Nagel said, the caliber of participants in IGRA’s 10 more traditional events are equal to those in any rodeo, and a number of members of TGRA also enter other rodeos.

Another difference between the gay rodeos and mainstream rodeos is that in gay rodeos, men and women may compete in all events.

In mainstream rodeos, you usually only see women competing in barrel racing. In gay rodeos, men race the barrels, too. Chute-dogging is usually a men’s event in the mainstream, but the women are out there wrestling steers, too, at the gay rodeos.

Nagel called those two events two of the most competitive on the circuit.

Gary Miller, owner of Dallas’ Round-Up Saloon who is also a former TGRA president, explained that while men and women compete together in chute-dogging, the top male competitor and the top female competitor both get first place trophy buckles.

Miller encouraged people who might be interested in participating in rodeo come to Fort Worth  to see the sport’s finest athletes and recommended the camp events for those just starting.

“Try goat decorating,” Miller said. “You won’t get hurt and you don’t have to have the skills of riding a horse or roping.”

Nagel agreed that some camp events are great for newcomers. But he called the wild drag race — in which teams of three, with one of the three in drag, work to get their member in drag on a steer and across the finish line in the fastest time — one of the most dangerous events on the circuit.

Miller and his partner, Alan Pierce, have been named honorary grand marshals of the rodeo. Miller joked that it was a role he was getting very used to filling. Two weeks ago, the pair were grand marshals of the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade.

“It’s an honor for us since we’ve been involved since the 1980s,” Miller said.

Miller was among founding members of Texas Gay Rodeo Association in 1985 and served as its first president. Pierce helped form the Houston chapter while working at Bayou Landing, a country-western bar in that city.

The couple met through their work with the rodeo and became owners of the Round-Up in 1998. They celebrated their 26th anniversary this year.

Miller said the Round-Up Saloon sponsors five participants by paying their entry fees. He said rodeo can become an expensive sport, especially
for those traveling with their horses.

“It’s a big deal to trailer one in, especially from the coasts,” Miller said.

He said the trip takes several days because they have to stop every few hours to exercise the horses.

Events connected with the rodeo begin at the Crowne Plaza Fort Worth South, the host hotel, on Friday, Oct. 7. The honorary grand marshals will be presented at a dance at the hotel that evening.

The finals rodeo events begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 8, then again at 9 a.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9.

“Peak spectator time is noon to 5 p.m.,” Nagel said. “They’ll run slack in the morning.”

“Running slack” means that rather than have all 20 competitors take part in one event twice in one day and declare winners, some of the entries from a variety of events will run in the morning. That way people attending during the peak afternoon hours will get to see the full variety of events.

Winners won’t be named until Sunday evening after each competitor in each event has been scored in that event twice.

In addition to the competitions taking place in the Watt Arena, a vendor area and an entertainment area will be set up in an adjoining building.

Edlin said each regional association has “royalty” — association members who have competed throughout the year and raised money for their associations to claim the Mr., Miss and Ms. Titles — and they will be entertaining throughout the day.

Nagel said that IGRA’s archives of the 35 years of gay rodeo and 25 years of international competition will be on display at the arena as well.

Dance has always been a big part of gay rodeo. Saturday night, a dance competition takes place at the host hotel.

Despite the fact that a Nevada sheriff shut down the finals in 1988 because area residents didn’t want “those type of people” in town, Edlin said the rodeo is a great place to bring kids.

“Gay rodeo is very family-oriented,” Edlin said. “It’s not cut-throat competition.”

Edlin has been involved since 1999.

“Friends took me to a gay rodeo in Calgary and I was hooked,” he said. “I’ve been involved ever since.”

Edlin said gay rodeo is so welcoming and family-oriented that a number of straight people participate in gay rodeo — including his straight son, a two-time Iraq War veteran who competes in chute-dogging and junior bull riding.

Nagel said TGRA has a number of straight members who enjoy the close friendships and fun.

“But the other side of all this is that we give money to the community,” he said.

Last year, the Dallas chapter of TGRA gave $30,000 to eight local groups including Resource Center Dallas and Youth First Texas. This year, he said, they’re already ahead in the amount they’ve collected. They’ll distribute  those funds in March.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: ‘Drag Race’ winner Raja premieres her 1st video, ‘Diamond Crowned Queen’

As Drag U gets under way, how perfect that last season’s winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race would have her debut video premiere. Raja (Sutan Amrull) debuted the video for her new single “Diamond Crowned Queen” on Friday. Even though the video is rather simple, it’s not shy on racy and sexy. In a myriad of outfits, Raja runs with the edgy drag shtick and even shows up without it. Although that I didn’t like. It kinda took me out of the illusion and Raja creates striking looks that are easy to stare at.

The song itself reminds me of a cross between early Nine Inch Nails and Jeffree Star. I think the song lacks some hook, but she’s definitely not delivering the obvious, which I can appreciate.

—  Rich Lopez