The RuPaul's Drag Race all-star makes his television return alongside a couple of his Drag Race sisters, Eureka O’Hara and Bob the Drag Queen, for HBO’s new docuseries, We’re Here. The show follows the trio of drag superstars as they travel the country to add a little sparkle to small towns by way of pop-up drag shows featuring the cities' residents, who might not exactly fit in.
"I remember growing up in my small town and looking around and going, 'Maybe there's no one else like me out here…'" Shangela (real name D.J. Pierce) tells ET. The premise hit home for the 38-year-old, who grew up in the small town of Paris, Texas.
"To be honest with you, there probably was, but there was no visible community," he adds. "There was no place I could go to find those people, to see them, to unearth that community of support. So, you start to feel alone sometimes and outcast almost, but I will tell you something: In doing this show, I get to be a part of unearthing these communities like that in places that you would never think that there was a community of support. What better to bring people together than drag?"
While drag makeovers are a part of the series, Shangela isn’t down to call We're Here a makeover show. He says it's bigger.
"I love makeover shows -- I love them -- but that's not what We're Here is. We're Here is one of those transformative shows," he says. "We're producing one-night drag shows in the middle-of-nowhere communities that may be accepting to them, or may not."
"After this show, this experience, I've given birth to new drag daughters all across America," he adds. "That's really beautiful. I think, in the end of a lot of these episodes, whether my participants and people I've mentored and worked with, whether they achieve what they're fully going for or not, I feel the moment with them. If it's something to celebrate, I feel the celebration right there along with them."
"I didn't think I was going to get this vulnerable with this show," he admits. "I hope that people really join into these stories as much as we have because this isn't a makeover show, OK?"
Shangela says the series was a bit of a culture shock for the professional queens, too. They never knew what to expect when they arrived in town; each episode begins with Shangela, Bob and Eureka exploring the town they're in for the week, in full drag.
"A lot of us, especially in large cities where it's very progressive, we think we've made it so far with regard to acceptance and equality for the LGBTQ+ community, but honestly, in a lot of places in America, the sobering reality is that we have not," he says. "That people still feel empowered, especially under the current administration, they feel empowered to go into a store and say, 'I'm not gonna come back here with these freaks.' Or they feel empowered, as you'll see throughout the season, to call the police on us. We got the police called on us just for being drag queens out on the sidewalk."
"But it also was a surprise to see where and if we find communities of support in the most unlikely places, right?" he adds. "That's what the show is all about. … It is an emotional roller coaster, but I tell people, ‘Don't worry, honey, it's like going to Six Flags. You got that security bar. Trust us!’ Trust me, Bob and Eureka, we're your security bar, so you can just scream, cry, close your eyes and everything. It is gonna be the ride of your life."
Shangela calls the We’re Here trio the "Charlie’s Angels of drag." While they all knew each other before filming the series, the experience bonded them in a totally new way.
"Something I really found out about Bob and Eureka, they both crazy!" he offers with a laugh. "They are absolutely crazy and I love it. It's my kind of crazy. We have so much fun together. … But also, I learned these are two people that I can lean on emotionally. You know, I'm an only child. I do a lot of group touring, but I also tour a lot as a solo artist and drag entertainer, and in this show ... our drag daughters are going through an emotional experience and a journey for themselves, but we're also on that journey with them. So, when they're hitting their lows, we're hitting low right there alongside with them."
"Some days, when we'd finished filming, I would just need to, like, either vent or let it out, and Bob and Eureka really were right there for me," he says. "So it was nice to have that sisterhood."
In each episode, viewers will get to see Shangela, Bob and Eureka dig into the why behind their new drag daughters wanting to do drag in public, exploring everything from religious opposition to LGBTQ+ life, unaccepting families, straight people looking to understand the culture and more, all while training them in the art of drag.
"I have to applaud every drag daughter that we had in our series," Shangela says. "No matter what journey they went on, no matter which way we took them, they were committed. And that's what meant the world to me. I can only do so much, but if you're not gonna do your part, then we're not gonna get to the mountain top together."
"You know, the drag guys sometimes look at you like a deer in headlights like, 'Oh god, what am I about to get?'" he adds. "I said, you know, Shangy, Shangy's very sweet, big heart, but get ready because, for this rehearsal, I'm gonna be very Joan Crawford, OK? Very Joan Crawford."
Fans can actually watch the premiere of We're Here for free and interact with Shangela, Bob, Eureka and special guests during a pre-show event that starts streaming at 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT on HBO’s YouTube channel. Shangela will be tuning in from Paris, Texas, where he’s currently isolating alongside his mother and grandmother (affectionately known as "Gran-gela") amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"I am fully socially distanced, locked down, quaran-Tina Turner'd over here," Shangela quips. "I'm following what I'm supposed to be doing, staying in, wash your hands."
Fun fact: Shangela recommends reciting the iconic "I don’t have a sugar daddy" speech from season three of RuPaul’s Drag Race while you wash your hands to time out the recommended 20-second washing period.
"I've been able to really reconnect with my family," Shangela adds of quarantine life. "This is the first time I've ever been home, in my family’s home, actually in a house that I bought for my grandma as a surprise last year, but I never spent more than a week here. So, now I've been here for, like, a month, repainting walls and doing glam while I'm with my gram. She's so cute!"
Shangela has been keeping busy with digital gigs; he recently uploaded his comedy special, LaQuifa is HALLELOOSIN' IT, to his own YouTube channel for fans to watch for free.
"Our community of drag queens has been hit severely, like a lot of other communities, because nightlife completely got shut down, with the closing of bars, restaurants and places where drag queens make their entire income, their lifeline, you know? Their livelihood," he notes. "So it's important to keep supporting these queens. One thing about a drag queen, honey, is she is one of the most resourceful people out there. So queens are having to adapt and they're starting to do shows at home, online or on social media. If you know a drag queen, you can maybe go online, find their social media, tip them, support them, and keep the queens eating honey, OK?"
And along with tuning into We're Here, fans can also watch RuPaul’s Drag Race every Friday on VH1. Shangela says he's currently rooting for Heidi N Closet to take home the season 12 crown.
"Heidi N Closet is hilarious to me, she is so fun to me," he shares. "I think I'd love to do a project with her at some point. We're both southern girls, you know, we have a good time. She's fun to me and … it feels like a Shangela story. You haven't been perfectly there for the judges yet and, finally, you get celebrated by the judges. I know what that feels like, so I was very happy for her."
New episodes of We're Here premiere Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on HBO. The premiere will be free to non-subscribers.