‘Drag Race’ returns & the 1st out is …

Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race revved up last night, with 14 new queens competing on what is, for my money, the best competition show on TV. And was it just me, or have the girls upped their game?

Think about it: On Project Runway, professional designers are given a decent budget and days to do nothing but design a gown for a fit model to walk in; on America’s Next Top Model, girls just have to walk and chew gum at the same time. Both skills are legit — but the girls on Drag Race do all those things, and they have to lip-sync and do their own makeup and … well, it takes talent, grrl.

And these 14 seem to have it. Among the contestants were Texan Alyssa Edwards, pictured, who made it to the middle-ground in the first outing (neither in the top nor bottom). Honestly, she was lucky not to be in the bottom, as her red carpet look seemed scattered. Still, with one of her nemeses also on the show (that’s a story that will surely develop), she made an impact.

Also making an impact: Alaska, the partner of last year’s winner, Sharon Needles. As with Sharon, the queens underestimated Alaska’s creativity because her style of drag is more shock than illusion. But her Saran Wrap mermaid gown was astounding.

Still, it was the wonderfully named Penny Tration who got booted first off the 90-minute extended season premiere. Penny Tration was already known to viewers — she was the queen voted onto the show through an online poll last summer … in other words, the fan favorite. But no one can say she didn’t deserve to go: During her lip sync for her life, Penny forgot the words and looked awkward and surprised to have to perform.

We’re hooked. Again.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Carnival backtracks, allow drag on ‘Drag Stars at Sea’ cruise

Last week, it was Carnival Cruise Lines that seemed adrift.

They had booked a (non-exclusive) tour called Drag Stars at Sea on one of their ships, featuring queens from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Bookings began months ago. Everything seemed fine.

Then a week before they were set to weigh anchor, Carnival issued a letter to attendees (pictured), explaining that drag would only be allowed by performers onstage — no passengers would be allowed to dress in drag in any public areas.

The letter caused a furor. It almost made no sense anyway, since it begs the question: “What is drag?” Could a female passenger wear a tux? Could a man wear a floral bikini on the Lido deck? How flamboyant does a boa have to be before it crossed the line from “bachelor party” to “female impersonation”? Folks were outraged — even those who didn’t plan to wear drag.

In case you missed it, Carnival has since rescinded the ruling, allowing drag. More than that, they apologized and have even agreed to give no-hassle refunds to anyone who wants to back out now as a result of the prior policy.

Sounds like they, like their gay passengers, are finally on board.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

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

Manila remembers Sahara

The sudden death earlier this month of Antoine Ashley, known to his fans as impersonator Sahara Davenport from RuPaul’s Drag Race, is still reverberating in the community. Sahara, who lived in Dallas, was on the mind of fellow contestant Manila Luzon, who will be competing on the upcoming All-Stars edition of Drag Race, starting next week.

Manila talked briefly about her late boyfriend at an L.A. gala this week. Here’s the story.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sahara Davenport update: Cause of death, fundraising for burial

Antoine Ashley, who performed as Sahara Davenport, died “of heart failure” at Johns Hopkins Hospital, according to a post on Sahara’s Facebook page. No other details were reported.

Also on Sahara’s page was a request for fans to make a donation to “give Antoine Ashley a burial he deserves. We encourage you to donate even one dollar via PayPal to: saharadavenportmemory@gmail.com.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Former Dallas Drag Racer Sahara Davenport reported dead

The Twitterverse is abuzz with reports that Sahara Davenport, the dancer and female impersonator who was a favorite on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, has died.

Reports are non-specific; one blogger, in a piece calling the reports “erroneous,” offered as his sole “proof” that is sounded like a hoax to him — and that Sahara’s death was not reported on her Wikipedia page (a crowd source site anyone can edit — yeah, strong evidence). Another commenter noted that now her death is on the Wiki page, so it must be true.

So far, though, despite hard facts, it appears to be true. Jujubee, a fellow Drag Racer, posted an “RIP” notice on her own Facebook page late last night, and, in response to questions of “what happened” said merely, “It’s not important what happened. Just send prayers.” Avoidance of the cause of death, of course, only fuels suspicions of a hoax, although it is not uncommon not to announce a cause of death immediately, especially if the reason was something considered “shameful” (suicide, a drug overdose), though at this point there is no evidence of that.

Jujubee isn’t the only colleague of Sahara’s to note the passing; the official RuPaul Facebook page also offers condolences for her passing. (Oddly, there is no mention of it yet on any official Logo channel websites.) It has also not been refuted on the many offers of sadness of Sahara’s own page and that of her partner, fellow contestant Manila Luzon. Within the past few minutes, People magazine online and the gay blog Towleroad have also reported the death.

When we know more, we’ll report it.

On a personal note, Sahara and I were friendly. She got her start in Dallas, and she would often message me when she was coming to town; I also interviewed her on a few occasions (most recently here). It’s very sad in any event.

Davenport was born Antoine Ashley. He was 27.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

The big news in theater this weekend is the opening of The Producers from Uptown Players. The massive musical stars B.J. Cleveland as a sleazy theater producer who tries to mount a huge flop — with disastrous consequences.

Over at Sue Ellen’s Friday night, drag kings Mustache Envy perform a benefit show. And you can move from kings on Friday to queens on Sunday: Drag Brunch at Dish in the ilume continues to grow. This weekend, there are three seatings for the Sunday Funday meal-and-a-show: 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. Four queens — Jenni P, Erica Andrews, Jenna Skyy and Krystal Summers — will perform while DJ Paul Paredes fills in the music the rest of the time. A three-course meal is available for $25; add $10 for bottomless mimosas for 90 minutes. Reservations can be made at 214-522-DISH or on OpenTable.com.

Lots of groups are putting the “fun” in fundraiser this weekend, too. AIDS Interfaith Network’s Great Gatsby party takes place Sunday, with Jazz Age chic encouraged. Legal Hospice of Texas is also having its big benefit this weekend — a casino night at Edison’s Dallas on Saturday. You can even get discount tickets if you email events@legalhospice.org before 5 p.m. Friday. The kickoff party for the Boyish to Bearish calendar, which includes a bachelor auction featuring most of the models, is at The Round-Up Saloon on Saturday, starting at 6 p.m. And the Texas Gay Rodeo Association is hosting a barbecue at Woody’s Sports & Video Bar on Sunday with food being served starting around 6 p.m., then live entertainment at 8.

On Thursday, you have to choose between the Newcomer of the Year contest at the Rose Room, or seeing Drag Race winner Sharon Needles perform at It’ll Do Dancing Club. Of course, you could try to do both …

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

This week’s takeaways: Life+Style

This week’s edition is The Food Issue, and we cover a lot (check it out), but the big news this week is that Monica Greene has, exactly five years after closing Ciudad, reopened in the gayborhood. Last night was the first service for Monica’s Nueva Cocina, her revision of Aca y Alla now at the ilume. The formal grand opening won’t be for two weeks, but you can get a sneak before then.

Theatre 3‘s new season officially kicks off upstairs on Monday (following previews this weekend) with Present Laughter, a comedy by gay British icon Noel Coward. Avenue Q will continue to play its extended run downstairs until September 16 (although I heard a rumor it will go even longer). Mark-Brian Sonna Productions’ The Importance of Being Lovely continues its successful run at the Stone Cottage in Addison, having just been extended as well to Aug. 18. Across the way, WaterTower Theatre’s Smokey Joe’s Cafe has also been extended, to Aug. 19.

Liz Mikel is also performing an extended run in Joseph as DTC, but you can see her out of one character and into another as she performs the songs of Moms Mabley, Ma Rainey and more on her night off. Her cabaret show will be at the South Side on Lamar Blue Room on Monday night.

On Thursday night, two more Drag Racers come to town to perform at the new I’ll Do Dancing Club on Elm Street, with music from DJ Redeye.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Sharon Needles at the Rose Room Thursday night

Photo by Patrick Hoffman/Dallas Voice

Last night, Sharon Needles, the spooky drag queen who won season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, wished the roughly 300 people crowding S4′s Rose Room a happy Halloween. Though she performed at S4 and JR.’s as part of the requisite Absolut summer Tour that all Drag Race winners must do, Needles did so with her trademark mix of shock, defiance and darkness.

By 8 p.m., a line of people wrapped around the block from S4 to Throckmorton and by 8:30 p.m., all the unreserved seats in the Rose Room had butts in them. The audience, including many who stood along the walls and beside the bar, waited about two-and-a-half hours for the show to even begin; the room growing hotter, the pre-show music thumping ever louder and the lines to the bar getting longer with each passing minute.

For photos of Needles at JR.’s, click here.

—  Daniel Villarreal

Well that takes the cake: “Drag Race’s” Carmen Carrera receives apology from TLC’s “Cake Boss”

Carmen Carrera, the self-identified trans woman who appeared on Season 3 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, got a bit of a shock on Monday night. She made a guest appearance on the TLC show Cake Boss, where she apparently thought she would be portrayed as a role model for trans youth. Instead, it turned out to be a prank between the eponymous cake boss, Buddy Valastro, and his cousin Anthony. Anthony hit on Carmen in a bar, only to be told later — incorrectly, of course — that “that was a man!”

Carrera was outraged and complained — not the least of her complaints was that Anthony referred to her as “it.”

—  Arnold Wayne Jones