Shangela reveals advice Courtney Act gave her before Dancing With the Stars

Shangela reveals advice Courtney Act gave her before Dancing With the Stars

Shangela is nothing if not a professional... and the Daenerys Targaryen of several RuPaul's Drag Race seasons... and Lady Gaga's hand-picked A Star Is Born actress. Okay, Shangela is (clearly) many things to many people, but her latest gig on Disney+'s Dancing With the Stars sees the entertainer taking on a fresh, new role for herself and the drag community at large as the first drag queen to compete on the American edition of the global franchise.

She walks, however, in high-heeled footsteps first trekked by fellow Drag Race alum and Dancing With the Stars Australia runner-up Courtney Act, whom Shangela says she consulted prior to hitting the stateside stage.

"I've invited her to the show," Shangela exclusively tells EW. "I hope she'll make it when she comes to visit the U.S., if I'm still there. I'm grateful that she took that torch for the global franchise, and I can push it forward in the U.S."

Below, read EW's full Q&A with Shangela after her stellar performance on episode 2, in which she discusses navigating new territory for drag artists on mainstream TV, advice she received from Courtney, Drag Race judge and Strictly Come Dancing competitor Michelle Visage, and longtime friend Jenifer Lewis, which RuPaul's Drag Race queen she'd like to see on Dancing With the Stars next, and whether or not she's feeling the Daenerys of Dance energy (and those House of the Dragon wigs).

Dancing with the Stars Shangela
Dancing with the Stars Shangela

Christopher Willard/ABC Tyra Banks, Shangela, and Gleb Savchenko on 'Dancing With the Stars.'

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I'm just so excited to see you on this show, what an experience this has been so far, am I catching you between rehearsals or is today your day off?

SHANGELA: There are no days off, but I did get a chance to catch up on the new episode of House of the Dragon on HBO.

You knew I was going to ask you about that, being the Daenerys of Drag Race. There's been a lot of chatter about the House of the Dragon wigs. What do you think of them?

I've always looked nice in platinum, bleached-blond, so I'd fit in well with the Targaryens. I know there has been conversation about the wigs, but there are some wigs this season that I'm fully living for. When they had the wedding and Rhaenyra was in her wig, baby, I don't know who put all those beautiful braids, the weaver-y of it all was fantastic.

What did you think of Wayne Brady and Vinny Guadagnino's Elvis wigs on Dancing With the Stars?

You know what, I'm not going… I think Wayne said it best when he said, "I was living my best Elvis/James Brown life," and I think we'll just leave it there. [Laughs]

We need to shift to you on this show, the first drag queen on the American edition, as your Drag Race sister Courtney Act broke ground for the global franchise on Dancing With the Stars Australia. Did you reach out to her or talk to her for advice on how to compete and represent as a drag artist on a major cis- and straight-leaning platform?

For years, I've wanted to be part of Dancing With the Stars. I'd say to my agency team, "Is there any chance you can get me a meeting?" That wasn't able to happen. I don't think the idea was on the table until this year, and they were open to having a meeting with me…. it happened so quickly, I was so grateful and excited, I hadn't had a chance to reach out to Courtney. Prior to the first episode, though, I said, "Hey, sis, I'm getting ready, I'm doing the salsa, what do you think?" and we talked. We had great conversations; she gave me good advice about the show. She said, "During the camera-blocking run-through the day before the show, put your wig on, do it with your hair," because she learned it will feel different with your partner doing it with your "boy" hair and then whipping it around in drag. I've invited her to the show, and I hope she'll make it when she comes to visit the U.S., if I'm still there. I'm grateful that she took that torch for the global franchise, and I can push it forward in the U.S.


ABC; Network 10 Shangela on 'Dancing With the Stars' and Courtney Act on 'Dancing With the Stars Australia.'

It looked like another queen watched you in the audience on episode 2. I couldn't make out who it was, because of her sunglasses.

She was my guest, hello! It was Valentina and Abby Lee Miller — both were in my friend group. We can invite around five people per episode. Girl, you know the queens have to do a stunt and pull it out in the front row.

Will you keep inviting RuGirls?

I have so many sisters that are rooting for me, I'm laying down invites and opening up spots for them. It's great to have my visibility, but now, let's kick it into high gear. Let's give them who we are.

There's another layer to the competition for you. This show targets Middle America in the mainstream. Did you feel pressure to explain your art and differentiate your pronouns, like you did on episode 1, on a platform this size to become more "palatable" to them?

I didn't feel a pressure, I felt an opportunity. It's an opportunity for me to showcase who I am in and out of drag, and who we are as a drag and LGBTQ community to many people who may not be familiar with us. It's what I do on We're Here…. I don't have to make myself any more palatable to mid-America, I just have to show up as who I am. You're going to love me or you're not going to love me, but you're going to experience me. Hopefully we'll open your mind. We're not as scary as an idea that you may have in your head and can be very lovable and entertaining.

We're Here co-creator Stephen Warren told me you experienced an increase in hatred on season 3. Have you had the same experience with backlash on Dancing With the Stars?

Honestly, yes…. I'm online a lot and I see great, supportive things, but you can't not see the hateful, unsupportive, mean, ugly comments. I'm not going to run into negativity on my page, but folks on the general Dancing With the Stars posts, there are some things like, "Why is that man dancing with another man?" or "This show is trash now that drag queens are on it," from people who aren't familiar or are homophobic. It stings, but it encourages me and motivates me to think, if I was to cower or run every time someone didn't like me or bullied me for who I am, I wouldn't be here today. I'd never have made it out of Paris, Texas, moved to L.A. to become an entertainer, or kept coming back after I was told no on RuPaul's Drag Race! I wouldn't be here in this moment on Dancing With the Stars. I may not be the best dancer in this group, but I'm the best person in this moment, with this cast…. I'm the best Shangela that Shangela can be.

Dancing with the Stars Shangela
Dancing with the Stars Shangela

Christopher Willard/ABC Gleb Savchenko and Shangela perform to Elvis on 'Dancing With the Stars' season 31.

Your partner, Gleb, seems excited to be part of the first male-male pairing on the American version, and in practice videos, he seems eager to learn. Was the partner selection process a careful one, for you?

I had zero knowledge and involvement in choosing my partner. I met him when he flew to New Jersey, where we filmed an episode of We're Here season 3. I was a little nervous. I'm a one-woman show, baby, she's going to be Shangela and give you 1,000 percent, but I hoped and prayed that the person they gave me would love me the way I love myself so I could feel free to go out there and do my best…. He's just so fun. I went to his birthday dinner, I took him to Heart, Lance Bass' club in West Hollywood, we celebrated with the drag queens, and I introduced him to the girls! We became fast friends…. I'm thankful that I met a straight man who's so open-minded and wonderful. Every now and then, I'm like, "You're too open minded, put my earrings down!" [Laughs]

Did your dear friend Jenifer Lewis have words of encouragement for you?

I call Jenifer every day. I talked to her on FaceTime before I went on [DWTS] last night. She's always been a great beacon of sound advice and comfort for me. I called her before we hit the stage, she was like, "You look wonderful, baby, zoom in on that eye!" She's always giving me great advice: "There are three things I want you to remember: Focus, save, deliver. Focus on what you're doing, save your energy, because we're big people and love to entertain, and then deliver the moment." In these first few episodes, that's what I'm doing, and I want to keep making her proud.

You said during judging this week that you want to push the doors open for others coming behind you. Which Drag Race alums would you like to see on Dancing With the Stars?

You know who I really want to see do it? RuPaul. She's not my sister, but my mother. I'd like to see RuPaul in that ballroom, she's all about elegance and grace, and I'm sure she'd turn a quick-step out…. Michelle Visage already did Strictly Come Dancing in the U.K. I promise [I asked] her for advice, and she was like, "Baby, you've got to get those shoulders down, lean back, look at that head position, and move those feet with strong legs." Michelle went far over there, so she had some great advice. She's coming to the ballroom next week, I have her down [as my guest]. I'm excited to be there in front of her to show her that I listened to her tips.

You're also going on tour. Will you work Dancing With the Stars steps into your shows?

The 2023 Fully Lit tour is a love letter to my fans. High-energy, comedy, fun, worth every cent…. Who knows, I might bring a Mirrorball. If I win, trust me, that ball is going with me everywhere I go. I've got to get me a large enough clutch to carry this thing around at the grocery store, on tour, all of it. As many times as I've been to a competition and never left with anything except my suitcases? I'll be carrying it, like, look at Shangela, she's got a wig head in one hand and a trophy in the other.

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