Arts & Entertainment
'Drag Race' winner on life after show and upcoming Detroit appearance
By Kate Opalewski
Originally printed 5/3/2012 (Issue 2018 - Between The Lines News)
In a drag world of pretty feather boas, bedazzled attire, full-face makeup and voluptuous body shapers, Sharon Needles is embracing her scary side as the controversial Queen of Darkness. This earned her the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar" on season four of Logo's crossover hit reality show, RuPaul's Drag Race, hosted by none other than RuPaul Charles. Needles will headline the network's drag tour and receive $100,000 plus cosmetics and other pretty prizes.
RuPaul kept fans hanging on during Monday night's reunion episode as he teased whether Chad Michaels, Phi Phi O'Hara or Sharon Needles would be taking the queen crown. Then he shocked everyone when he said the fate of these queens lies in the viewers' hands. For the first time in Drag Race history, the winner was chosen in front of a live audience.
Self-described as beautiful, spooky and stupid, the horror drag queen introduced millions of television viewers to something way outside the box on season four of Logo's crossover hit reality show, "RuPaul's Drag Race," hosted by none other than RuPaul Charles. In competition with 12 other queens for the title of "America's Next Drag Superstar," Needles has earned her reputation as the gothiest character the show has ever seen.
"It's so bizarre to be on your own favorite TV show," says Needles, a 29-year-old from Pittsburgh, Penn., who grew up performing in the dive bars of Des Moines, Iowa. "You know, if I ever have a chance to sit down and reflect on it, I'd probably combust with overwhelmment. It's almost numbing. It's overnight success. It's going from punk-rock brat to someone who holds a lot of responsibility and merit. One of these days it's all gonna hit me."
The people of Metro Detroit will have the opportunity to experience her outrageous, offensive, but wildly entertaining act on May 5 at Reunion Nightclub in Pontiac.
"I love Detroit. Me and Detroit are a lot alike: dirty, broke and underappreciated. I've been thinking about buying a house there. I heard they're like $52," says Needles.
Donning size-12 high heels and her Marilyn Manson contact lenses, the 6-foot-tall queen is pulling out all the stops to further shock her audience. "I will pop out of coffins, there will be ridiculous costume changes and anything that can hide the fact that I have absolutely no beauty or talent. Expect to see me embarrassing myself live on stage for everyone else's amusement," she says.
Cracking jokes has always been Needles way of protecting herself as she was bullied at a young age. "It's hard to punch someone that makes you laugh. All drag queens have a machine gun. Jiggly Caliente used her sense of hood rat and sexuality as her machine gun. We need protection and we've needed it since we were kids," she says. "My wit and my humor and just my sense of pop culture references, those are my weapons and I use them really fucking well. I have more wit than Phi Phi O'Hara has eye makeup!"
But there were things she had to live without during the shoots, which often ran for 16 hours a day, six days a week. "They take away your nicotine and they don't give you any fucking alcohol," says Needles. "What I really wanted to do when Phi Phi would yell at me was laugh because it was funny, but she did get on my last nerve every once in a while.
"The reason I would retaliate against her is because I didn't want my fans to see me take it like some of the other funny, campier girls from past seasons - who will go unnamed - who allowed themselves to be abused and roughed up by the cool girls or the pretty girls. I just needed to make sure my fans knew that no, no, no, we don't take this shit, not anymore, not from you. And why are you calling me weird? You're a man in a dress!"
Needles likes to wear what she calls "Goth Couture" and puts her personal New York nightlife club twist on it. "I don't really have fashion. That's why I did so well on the main stage, because I didn't dress like me, I dressed like the occasion. As long as it meets the criteria and stands out from the rest," she says.
But Needles found herself in the bottom two during episode eight and was almost asked to "Sashay, away" when she had to lip-sync for her life to "It's Raining Men - The Sequel" by Martha Wash and RuPaul.
"I didn't suspect that my chances were good going into that lip-sync and figured I would lose. Out of any of the songs, that was the one I really didn't want, but I was standing there and realized I've been here for so long and why am I treating lip-syncing like a punishment when that's always something really fun, so let's have fun and treat this like a prize. It wasn't, lip-sync for my life. It was, lip-sync to the fucking death. Goddamn Willam taking away my victory! Isn't she great?" says Needles, adding that she's the kind of person that tends to believe everything about the show no matter what anyone tells her now that the process is over. "It just makes it better. On the last day of filming, I didn't know there were cameras behind the makeup mirrors. I live in a constant state of ignorance."
Being from the Steel City, Needles has never had a taste of Hollywood until the show. "It was so surreal. It was like being in one of the most intense dreams you've ever had where it's so real, but it possibly couldn't be. The first time that door opened and you hear, 'Hello, hello, hello, my 13 dolls!' - it's just phenomenal and RuPaul has such a motherly, warm way that within a day it just felt like you were hanging out with a really good friend."
And for those who are wondering, the queens' accommodations were taken care of. "They made sure we were fed. They want to fatten you up. The food is something they give you for comfort," says Needles, adding that during the show she missed her famous boyfriend Alaska Thunderfuck. "I'm a vegetarian and they have really bad vegetarian crap in Hollywood, I have to say. So, I just ate bread and toilet paper."
As a token, Needles stole 20 pairs of Pit Crew Underwear, five wigs by Risque Wigs, and four pairs of RuPaul's Drag Race Shoes by Iron Fist. "I don't mind saying this, but on our last day, if there was something in the studio prettier than something you already owned, we would toss what we owned and stuff our bags full of stuff."
When asked where she is keeping all the goods, Needles said she bought a new apartment now that the show has ended. "It's called an airport. I moved in a couple months ago and don't plan on leaving for some time. I gave up my favorite drug. It's called sleep. I'm basically touring America, letting every city have the opportunity to watch me embarrass myself late at night. I recommend you get drunk. I get prettier after every beer."
After 13 episodes, complete with 42 minutes of laughter, tears and cat fights, Needles shares a few last words. "I really appreciate that I'm as popular and successful as I've been on the show, but I just don't know where they're getting it. There must be something about my essence that reminds them of what they're going through. I can be a reminder to just tough it out and do whatever the fuck you want to do and don't bend for anyone. I've said it before, I'll say it again: For all you bad drag queens, beginner drag queens, and all you 'booger-down' drag queens, I love you. Bad drag is more inspiring and interesting to watch than any polished queen. And remember, being booed off stage is just applause from ghosts. Happy Halloween and Hail Satan."
40 West Pike St., Pontiac
Doors at 10 p.m.
Cover charge starts at $10
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