Shocking ‘Drag Race’ winner Sharon Needles heads to Dallas
For three seasons, one thing you could count on about RuPaul’s Drag Race was that it would always come down at the end to a battle of the glamourpusses … and the most glamorous would invariably win.
Then came Sharon Needles.
In the most recent season of Drag Race, which ended this past spring, Sharon 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.
Just don’t tell her you appreciate how crazy looking she is.
“I definitely take my beauty seriously,” Needles says defensively.
“It’s very important that Sharon have a sense of glamour so I can sell it. It’s a compromise between Hollywood glamour and true shock drag — American consumerism as underground punk performance art.”
If that sounds oddly highfalutin, you’re beginning to understand the smart appeal of Sharon Needles. And you can experience it in person this week, when she performs at the Rose Room.
“I’m still wondering who shot J.R.,” she says about her anticipation around her first visit to Dallas.
Needles won after a surprising rules change in which after the entire season aired, RuPaul took into account viewer votes before deciding the winner. So while they filmed the last regular episode last August, “I found out I’d won on TV, like everyone else.,” she says. If you think the suspense was killing her, well, not so much.
“In that whole time, I never thought about winning — it was the last thing that went through my mind. I think that was true [of the other finalists as well]. I just wanted to be the queen of the underground. Instant fame being attached to something mainstream [never occurred to me],” she says. Still, Needles thinks she knows why she did strike a chord with viewers.
“I think it was the year for it. For past seasons, we’ve had the supermodel, the beauty queen and the diva. And this was the year to remind people that drag is fun and not about being perfect. We are celebrities of gay communities because we give them something to laugh at while we let our hair down.”
“I was raised via television but I never thought about the fourth wall — the clipboards, the director, the camera, the lighting … seeing it all did take away some of the magic of Hollywood. And I have more of an appreciation for me, for Aaron [Needles’ real name]. Some drag queens put on high heels but don’t transform into another person. So to step outside of Sharon and Aaron and see how I pulled it off? I have to applaud myself.”
Needles thinks of her alter ego not just as a character, but as a real entity with which she joins to create an artistic moment — it’s just that she plies that art in the milieu of drag.
“I’m so protective over Sharon — I want her to be beautiful, spooky and stupid. So I told myself going in I was never gonna fight, and I was never gonna cry. And I think I cried within the first two hours. The fantasy [of drag] is our armor, our shield, and the show took away our weapons. We had to fight, love, live, cry and strut as who we are. I’m a sensitive guy. Being Sharon is so taxing — to be constantly on and witty, bat-shit crazy and stupid? I carried the façade as long as I could.”
The victory was accompanied by a fat paycheck and instant notoriety, but really, those have had only minor impacts on Needles’ attitude or art.
“The biggest change in my life is I’m not paying the electric bill with pennies, though I still can’t buy anything over $70 without having a panic attack,” she says. “And I can no longer go into a gay bar and talk shit with the bartender. I thought fame was a feeling, but it isn’t; it can only be felt by the people who see you.”
The show she’ll perform in Dallas “is always evolving. I tweak it for the needs of each city. In Dallas they say everything’s big. So I’m interested in seeing your big wigs and big dicks,” she laughs. “I know the Texas queens can take themselves very seriously but I want to demonstrate that there is a messy side of drag and I’m looking forward to sharing that.”
And, she says, doing what all drag queens aspire to: “When it comes down to it, I’m a grown man in a teenaged girl’s clothes entertaining drunks.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 22, 2012.