'Drag Race's Shea Couleé on Bringing Black Excellence to 'All Stars 5' (Exclusive)
By John Boone
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"My name is Shea Couleé, and I didn't come to play. I came to dismantle white supremacy, defund the police, return power and resources back to the people, uplift and amplify black voices and get that crown."
While Shea initially sat out the All Stars 5 press day in order to dedicate their time to spreading the message of Black Lives Matter, they wrote, "I do feel that sharing successful black stories is an important tool in creating hope for the younger Queer POC who watch the show looking for inspiration and escape."
In conversation with ET's Brice Sander, Shea spoke about using their platform to fight for change and ways to be an ally right now, as well as what they hoped to Rudeem coming back for All Stars, that lip sync assassins twist and whether we can expect any sort of rose petals-esque stunt this season.
I want to start by talking about this moment in time. You have amazingly stepped up to use your platform to shine light on this movement, so I want to give you the ET platform to amplify that and talk about next steps. Where do we go from here?
Shea Couleé: I think next steps and what's important is to continue to amplify the voices of black people -- especially while we're in Pride Month, black trans people -- because when we really want to talk about movements and making advancements forward and we want to talk about equality, the thing that's most important is thinking about the most vulnerable members of our community and finding ways to make life easier and safer for them. Those are the first people we should be having conversations with. How can we find legislation to make this world more inclusive for them?
From there, once we have these conversations, then it is up to us to hold white people and people of privilege accountable for taking the necessary steps to help eradicate systemic racism and oppression. The best thing that I can do is to speak about my experiences and utilize my platform, but the work is now being placed into the hands of white people. Because if we are going to undo racism, then we need to do it from the root. We have to look at where it started and white supremacy is something that has been created by white people, so if we're going to dismantle it, then we need to talk to the creators.
What has it meant to you to see the Drag Race community really step up in this moment to help educate and spread the message? I mean, you're putting in the work, so are your Drag Race sisters like Bob the Drag Queen, The Vixen, Peppermint.
We've always been girls who have really been outspoken about racial injustices. It's something that has definitely helped [us] to develop such strong bonds with one another. But I think right now, in this moment of time, the microphone has been turned around to the people that have not been listened to in the past and now we have to really take this opportunity as people with platforms to come together on a united front and help educate the masses on how we can break down these barriers.
You touched on the intersection of these protests and Pride Month in your first answer. Can you speak on that, about how this is coming to a head as Pride Month is starting?
I think it is very interesting that this is coming to a head during Pride Month, specifically because Pride Month came about because we were protesting police brutality. And when we thing about the community leaders at that time back in 1969, the people that were really out there organizing on behalf of the people were trans women of color like Marsha P. Johnson. So if we're going to go forward in this current political climate that we're in, it's really important to acknowledge that before we were even here, it was black and brown trans people that were really championing for us to have the ability to march in the streets hand in hand, celebrating our love.
We have to look back at how far we've come and how far there still is to go. This can feel like déjà vu, because we've had these protests and we've called for action. But it feels like people may finally be listening and learning this time. Does it feel different to you?
I definitely do feel like there has been a shift, and I feel like there are a lot more people that are listening. We just have to continue on this path. Yes, this has been a crazy and really intense two weeks, but we're talking about over 400 years of systematic oppression. And though we've made some strides this past two weeks, we still have a very long way to go. And I want to be encouraging for our allies, but I also want to challenge white people to understand like, yeah, we've done some things and spoken to some friends but we have to continue the momentum. We have to keep going. I understand that people can get tired and it's good to take a break from social media, but we still have to stay in this fight and continue on for equality. Because that's the only way that it is going to happen. One thing my mom always said growing up is the squeaky wheel gets the oil.
Let's pivot now and talk about your All Stars 5 journey. It's so exciting to have you back on TV, because you were an all-star on your original season. What did you feel you had left to prove coming back?
I feel like the only thing I had left to prove is to carry off a successful lip sync. [Laughs] That's where I stumbled last time. But coming in this time, I really wanted to make this journey one about personal growth. When I came in, I had decided that the competition I was going to be playing was going to be against myself and against my own inner saboteur. One thing I love about All Stars is you're coming together with people that you already know, that you've already developed relationships with, so I feel like there's a deeper level of fundamental respect that exists there. Having the ability to be with such amazing entertainers and make some really amazing television was wonderful for me, and it also helped me to overcome a lot of personal issues that I was dealing with after season 9. It was a really big ego blow. I had to go through an entire ego death in order to come back and rebuild myself and be in a position where I really could say that I can handle the responsibility and the privilege that comes along with being in the Hall of Fame.
Do you have PTSD anytime you see rose petals now?
No, I love rose petals! You know, my friend grows them in her yard, we boil them down, make rose water out of them. Valentine's Day is always a little bit confronting -- because they're everywhere -- but besides that, no. Me and rose petals, we're all good.
Did you feel pressure to come up with a stunt that would be your answer to that?
There's definitely all this pressure to be like, "Oh, what's your answer to that?" But again, I had to focus on what was going to be best for me and what was going to uplift me in this experience. And it's crazy, because rose petals are something that the fans tried to weaponize against me after the season 9 finale, to be like, "See! You're not all that. You got your ass kicked by rose petals." But I have a huge green thumb. I have a big garden in my backyard. I'm a botanist. So I embrace florals, I embrace roses, I embrace petals, but you're gonna have to see what I continue to pull out this season. I don't want to give too much away.
You were the first one to walk into the Werk Room, so you got to experience everybody walking in one after the next. When you saw the full lineup, did anybody give you pause? Like, "Oh, this b*tch is here! I have to step it up."
No. Because I already came ready to be fully stepped up. There's so many amazing, talented girls that have come through the show, so I knew that I needed to be in a place where I was confident that I could take on absolutely anybody. And there's some fierce competitors this season, but nobody that I didn't already be like, "OK, do I think I can honestly, truly beat her?" And we'll just have to see.
As the season starts, you are a fan favorite. When I talked to the season 12 queens, you were the overwhelming choice to win this season. Does that add pressure?
No, because at the end of the day, it's all said and done. I've done absolutely everything that I could do and I'm really proud of what I did. And I just hope that my performance on All Stars 5 lives up to the expectations of the fans and all the people that support me. And if for any reason I do disappoint people, then I'm going to say, "You do it, goddammit."
That's the attitude. Now, you come in thinking the show is going to be one thing and they flip the script and change the rules up on you. How do you really feel about the lip sync assassin twist?
I knew there was going to be a twist. Look, here's the thing: We had All Stars 2, 3 and 4 with the format of the double winners and I said to myself, "There is no way we're going to do All Stars 5 and they're not going to find some way to switch this up." Because at this point, the girls felt like they know what to expect and that doesn't make for interesting competition. So I already had my guard up of when I came in, because I was like, I know RuPaul. There's always some shenanigans. But when they revealed the lip sync assassin plotline, I realized this is a great opportunity to redeem myself as a lip sync assassin, because that means I gotta be able to take on someone who is notably an amazing lip-syncer. And once RuPaul revealed that the cash prize would be rolling over if they girl didn't beat the lip sync assassin, that was when I was all like, "Now this is the game that I want to play."
It's also the game your bank account wants to play.
Hello! Hello! My bank account was looking at that like, "OK, miss ma'am, let's do this." [Laughs]
I really loved the statement you put out about your thoughts of the state of the world before the premiere. Talking to your sisters, it sounds like some of the conversations you had in the Werk Room are going to speak to this moment in time, little did you know. What can you tell me about that?
I think about this Maya Angelou quote where she says, "People may not remember what you said or what you did, but they'll always remember how you made them feel." There were so many people involved in this process that were committed to uplifting one another and making sure everyone did their best, because everybody understood the importance of this show and that it provides hope to a lot of people around the world. I think now more than ever, it's really important to communicate and carry that message, so I'm really hoping that it does show through on-camera the way that we felt off-camera.
I'm excited to see the journey of Shea Couleé 2.0. If you had to boil down the experience to one word, what is your word for All Stars 5?