Sharon Needles on RuPaul's Drag Race: "They Took Away Our Booze and Terrorized Us"
Sharon Needles is coming to Tempe.
The spooky, fashionable drag queen Sharon Needles has been busy since she won season four of RuPaul's Drag Race. She's kept up with her mantra of "when in doubt, freak them out," releasing a record full of catchy songs about Ouija boards and Halloween and recently starring as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a live production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
But you don't need to pick up a Ouija board to contact Sharon Needles, she will perform live at Fetish Prom at Marquee Theatre on Saturday, May 24. And yes, expect lots of latex. Jackalope Ranch recently caught up with Sharon Needles to discuss her experience on RuPaul's Drag Race, what it's like touring with an ex, and the art of compromise.
Sharon Needles called us while she was enjoying a rare, sunny day in Pittsburgh. She considered sunbathing for a bit, but was concerned about ruining her ghoulish complexion. After all, what would Elvira think?
You've been good about performing in Arizona in the past. What keeps bringing you back? You guys have a lot of Republicans and a lot of religious people. I find that gay communities that are surrounded by political or religious repression tend to be a lot more punk rock. I think there's a big calling for Sharon Needles in Arizona. I was just in Tucson and I had a really good time. A lot of people find my show very offensive, so I like going to places where we're pushing buttons. Send me to Russia.
When you come to town this time, you'll be performing as part of Fetish Prom. Will you be doing anything extra kinky? There is something very beautiful and sexy about my character. Sharon Needles, the way I've designed her is I want people to think she's sexy, but not want to ever have sex with her. It would be borderline necrophilia. Necrophilia is a topic that pops up more than once on my album.
People who are very visually outrageous tend to be so fucking vanilla, so there will be a lot of acting. I don't know anyone who has a latex collection like my own. So you can expect a lot of latex, and of course I have to be in the hottest fucking place in the United States to be wearing full rubber, but the only way to get me to wear rubber is if it's turned into a gown.
Well, it is inside, so it won't be as bad. The air conditioning better be set to morgue. I was raised on bands like My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult and Lords of Acid, which were very heavily influenced by the fetish scene. My aesthetic is definitely derived a lot from the European, mostly German and Amsterdam fetish scene. I don't get peed on in them as they're intended to be.
That's actually the perfect transition to my next question... If I get peed on?
Oh, sure, by all means. You're asking if I get peed on? Never intentionally.
That's good, unless you're into that. It takes all kinds.
I was going to ask about your album, given your musical background, I was a little surprised that you released a pop record. Why did you decide to go that route? The bands I listen to do make pop records, they just didn't make commercially successful pop records, but it's still electronic music. The reason the album is called PG-13 is because I'm an R-rated act in a PG system.
After winning RuPaul's Drag Race, which I never suspected I would do, I realized that the goal to the longevity of my career was through compromise. Hollywood definitely demands a lot of compromising. I really like being famous, and I always wanted to be famous, and to keep it you must apply a sense of meeting the industry halfway.
I'm looking at my record shelf right now, right next to my Ministry LP is a Britney Spears LP. I like the production of pop music, and I like what pop music is. It's a candy coated piece of bubblegum reflecting the current times of technology and production and brainwashing and mind manipulating through beats I wanted to make a pop record. The compromise with me was that it was going to be written the way I wanted to write a song. I wasn't going to say "let's all go out and party tonight, tonight's our last night," I wanted to make a pretty clever, tongue-in-cheek and horror-inspired pop record.
It's not all pop, I did songs like "Why Do You Think You're Nuts," which is a punk song, I did a song called "Hail Satan" with the legendary transexual punk artist Jayne County, which is a metal song. The album plays more like a soundtrack than a pop record. I did want to make a punk record, but I also wanted to make fucking money. I also work in nightclubs that play club music, so if I'm going to be paid a retarded amount of money to be in clubs where there's club music, I thought it would be more appropriate that I had club music being played, just doused in a bucket of blood.
Last night I watched the recap for RuPaul's Drag Race. . . The RuCap. My boobs were bigger on TV. The fun thing about the RuCap was you get to return to Drag Race without competing. It all comes from a huge sense of jealousy of not being as funny as Bianca [del Rio], or pretty as Courtney [Act], or as drunk as Adore [Delano]. My fans don't like it when I read them, so I decided that I would read them à la Michelle Visage. I'm kind of known for my terrible Michelle Visage impersonation that I did on my season for Snatch Game. I thought we would revise that for the show. I didn't have anything new to wear.
But the boobs were bigger. The tits are HUGE. It looked so right in the mirror. The boobs were too big, the hair was too small. It doesn't really matter, I'm not known for my external beauty, I'm mostly known for the wit that comes out of the hole in my face. I gave myself a B+.
Were you considering anybody else for Snatch Game? Yeah, Michelle Visage was completely last minute. I had brought my female version of Freddie Krueger, I brought Pee Wee Herman, I brought Cher. Before Drag Race, I did these Cher videos, you can look them up on YouTube. It's so stupid. I kind of applauded myself for my Cher, then right when I walked in the work room, I saw the legendary Chad Michaels. I went out to the back parking lot and I burned it. I burned the costume; there was no chance of even trying.
The producers told me Pee Wee Herman is a male character, and Freddie Krueger had copyright issues, so I was going to settle on Lady Gaga. The reason I was going to do Lady Gaga is everyone has failed at impersonating Lady Gaga. The pompous concept of Lady Gaga is just so easy to make fun of. I was very confident with my Lady Gaga, and I would make RuPaul laugh with it.
Phi Phi O'Hara, as you remember my arch nemesis of season four, was going to be the Little Mermaid, then right at the last minute the day of taping, they told her that she had to scrap it, and she had a Lady Gaga costume, so she dressed her mannequin as Lady Gaga and mine was Lady Gaga. I asked Phi Phi, I was like, "Bitch, what are you doing? You know I was going to be Lady Gaga." She was like, "I'll just be, too. May the best woman win."
I knew if I did Lady Gaga and she did Lady Gaga, I think RuPaul would just have a thrill ride watching two queens dressed as Lady Gaga lip sync for their life, and I figured Phi Phi would probably send me home.
Last minute, I was trying to think of some 'do that I had in my bag, and it just popped in my head to do Michelle Visage. I spent weeks and weeks taping with her, so I kind of learned her -isms. A lot of these younger kids know Michelle as the host of RuPaul's Drag Race, but I knew their true past history. I may have gotten the years a little wrong, but I know where they came from, so I had a lot of material to pick on her with. Her being Ru's best friend, I knew if I made it funny, I would kill it. In the long run, it was probably destiny.
Speaking of Phi Phi, would you say that what we saw on the show was an accurate portrayal of your conflict? People ask me if there were more fights between [me] and Phi Phi, and I always say no, because they would have aired them. Reality television relies on your faults, your fears and your insecurities, your anxieties, and sorrow. That's what reality TV is, it's America kicking back and watching people slowly go insane. It was very real.
I don't really watch a lot of reality TV, but since I've been on it, I'll watch it when it's on, and I can honestly say it's all fucking fake, except for one reality show, and that is RuPaul's Drag Race. We never had story boards, we never had a story producer, they just took 13 drag queens, locked them up, forced them into corsets and high heels, took away their booze and terrorized us. It was a haunted house; it was prison; it made no sense. Most reality shows follow a formula that makes sense. Why were drag queens doing any of this? Why were we in dunk tanks? Why were we in boats? Why do we have dogs? Where's the booze?
Drag queens, we go out at night and entertain drunks. Here we were in drag from 7:30 in the morning to 11:30 at night. That's not normal, so the conflict was truly there. Most drag queens come from a place of pain. We love to entertain, we love to dress up, but something we don't like to talk about is we are psychologically covering up the pain and the anxiety of growing up a weird gay kid with this strong, powerful character. You mix that with 12 others, and shit's going to fly.
There are times when I thought Phi Phi was playing it up for the cameras, and when we would return to our hotel at the end of taping, I would ask if she'd like to go get dinner, and she'd say, "Don't you even fucking look at me." There were times when we had our own security guards and had to be brought on set in separate cars. I was never going to hurt her, my thing was the way she talked to me at times was the way high school bullies talked to me in school. I didn't defend myself in school, and I didn't want to set that tone or that weakness message to fans of the show, so the only reason I ever really responded was to tell other kids you have to defend yourself, you have to respond back. It was a very uncomfortable situation.
Then there's the legendary "go back to party city" fight. Look at Phi Phi's fucking neck, that vein is popping out and for the first time in my life, I was at a loss for words. You could just see the blankness of anger of my face. Like Andy Warhol once said, your worst day is your best episode. So in hindsight, after it's all said and done, I think it made legendary television.
Surprisingly, out of a lot of the castmates from season four, me and Phi Phi get a long quite well. I think we psychologically counsel each other. If you go to Phi Phi O'Hara's Facebook page, she's got crazy, giant blue hair, wearing stitches on her face, doing Marilyn Manson numbers, and me, I polished up. . . You can almost call me a tired-ass showgirl.
Courtesy of Sharon Needles
What was your most difficult challenge? That goddamned boat! Why were we in boats? Why were we painting up straight guys, and why were we pregnant? My season, I always call it the season of the freak show because the challenges were Ru-tarded. They made absolutely no sense, they didn't apply to anything that involves talent. It was a freak show. I also call it the freak show because we had the dead one, we had a Puerto Rican midget, Kenya, we had a 400-pound black Divine impersonator, we had Latrice, we had an old, silicone Cher impersonator, we had Milan, who I'm not even sure was doing drag -- it was just an odd, odd season. I'm so glad to be part of season four. I wouldn't want to be a part of any other season.
You were recently Frank-N-Furter. Can we expect any other characters from you? When I got the opportunity to be on Drag Race and after I won, I wanted to stick my toe in every pond of fame. I wanted to be a cover girl, I got the cover of Out Magazine. I wanted my own Billboard, I got one with PETA. I wanted to be a pop star, I got my album. I wanted to be an actor, I got Rocky Horror Picture Show. I wanted to be a horror host, I got to do that for World of Wonder. Anyone who throws me a bone, I will bite. I love to work and I love to do anything I haven't already done. I love adding to my résumé. Right now, my new mind obsession is playwrights. My obsession is writing a musical version of Married with Children , and I want to play Peggy Bundy, that's my dream role.
We only see so much as viewers, so an insider's perspective would be helpful. If Willam wasn't disqualified, how do you think that elimination would have panned out? One queen knew her words, one queen kept her wig on, one queen kept her shoes on, one queen was a little bit more lovable, one queen demonstrated a little bit more history and refinement, and also offered a new look at the future of drag. I'll leave that up to you to ponder. I kept my shoes on, I kept my wig on, and I didn't look like I was on bath salts, either.
What do you think of this current season? Are you rooting for a particular queen? No. I'm smitten with Bianca del Rio. I have known Bianca del Rio for years and years, but I've only seen her in the clubs. She's always been a really comedically mean cunt to me. What I love about her, she always says she works her ass off for her fame, and all we did was weasel on to a reality show. I'd like to know her opinion on that now of going through the process and seeing how liberating and challenging it is to be a part of this severely dysfunctional, yet gorgeous family known as the RuPaul's Drag Race sisters.
Courtney Act -- stunning, beautiful, majestic, mascara, beautiful voice, gorgeous. I like a queen that has a little roughness, a little vulnerability, something that identifies them, and Adore is a potty mouthed sweetheart who really likes to party, and she reminds me a lot of myself when I was in my early 20s. My gowns were never long enough, my wigs looked cheap as hell, rough around the edges, but who says that's not a fucking superstar? We've got Ke$ha, the way Ke$ha gets ready is she sits in a sauna, throws on some glitter, and rolls down a dirt hill, and she's ready for stage. Maybe the world is ready for that youthful, rough around the edges chipped nail polish look. I wish I was winning again, that was a lot of fun. I'd love it if I won this year.
I read some interviews where you said you weren't expecting to win or not even get that far in the competition. What motivated you to audition in the first place? Because Alaska did. I said if Alaska got on, and I didn't even try, then I would just be enraged with jealousy that I was dating someone severely famous [laughs]. I was jealous, so we made audition tapes that kind of alluded to [how] we're a drag couple, we want to do this together, we want to support each other, and if we have to lip sync for your life, I'm going to send my fucking boyfriend home.
Alaska was in the top 20 in my season all the way to the end, so we were strung along with all that stress. You don't just send in a tape and get a call, it is grueling, and will drive a sane man mad. In the end, they just chose me. In hindsight, it was probably a good idea. The last thing that you want is a romantic distraction when it's really that stressful in the competition. She got to be, in my opinion, the shiniest star of season five. Though she didn't win, the world absolutely fell in love with her and she did that without my help.
I'm sure you've been asked about the breakup a bunch, so I won't get into it too much, but you did tour together for Battle of the Seasons shortly after the break up. Are you on amicable terms? Yeah, we're grownups. We have too many good things in our life to try and make each other's lives miserable. When you're on the road more days than you're not in different cities, it wasn't a boyfriend/boyfriend relationship anymore. You sacrifice a lot to make dreams come true sometimes. Sometimes that's a relationship sacrifice, but you drop the word "boy" from boyfriend and what do you have? You have a great friend. She was stunning last night. I forget how pretty of a drag queen she fucking is.
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