'RuPaul's Drag Race' winner America's Next Drag Superstar speaks out: 'We figured possibly that RuPaul would keep the crown for herself'
RuPaul just announced one of the fine drag queens pictured here as America’s Next Drag Superstar, the winner of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 4. “The race for the crown,” RuPaul said at the top of the hour, “has never been this tight.” And, indeed it was! The run-up to the crowning has been long and drawn out, to say the least. Luckily for you all out there, EW has an exclusive interview with the crowned queen — which we’re keeping super spoiler-friendly here, in case you haven’t seen the episode — and you can read that below.
Now — as you know if you read EW’s on-the-scene report from the taping of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Reunited — each queen filmed an ending of the episode that depicted her winning the crown. The interview here was completed just after said taping — last Thursday afternoon — which is why the reaction from Sharon Needles here isn’t exactly the most genuine, mostly because she didn’t know whether she had really won the crown yet.
Here, Sharon talks with EW about her reaction to the odd way the ending was taped, her fights with Phi Phi O’Hara, her platform as America’s Next Drag Superstar, and her one regret from the Drag Race season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your reaction to how everything went down at the taping? Was it shocking that they did three endings?
SHARON NEEDLES: I wasn’t really surprised at all. Being a drag queen is all about pulling out the stops and freaking them out. With season 4, it really was the season of teasers and shockers and, you know, just constantly asking the audience to expect the unexpected. Chad and I, early in the morning, were pretty much figuring that Willam would win or we would have to go back and do the process all over again and Alisa Summers would take the crown. We had no idea. We figured possibly that RuPaul would keep the crown for herself. In all honesty, though, Chad and I were expecting a tie between me and her and that we would crack that crown in half, which would have been almost more of a pleasure and it would make more sense than to just have one of us beat Phi Phi.
Too bad that didn’t happen.
There’s never been a season where there’s been a real demonstration of real fifty-fifty, but in two different spectrums of the world of drag. I exaggerate and promote the flaw of drunken nightlife living and outsider art, and Chad Michaels is the industry standard of perfect. If I was Ru, I just wouldn’t know how to pick.
How are you going to react if Phi Phi wins?
Oh, I’ll gag! RuPaul’s Drag Race is my favorite show on television, and I’ve never missed an episode. With season 4, I watched it as if Sharon Needles wasn’t me but was just another character. I love the unexpected, and I love to gag. Do I think she deserves it? I don’t at all. It’s drag people have seen before, and her attitude toward a sisterhood amongst fellow drag queens is just absolutely evil. But for the gag factor, I would just say, “Halleloo, RuPaul, you sick f–k!” Why not?!
When Willam was coughing “bulls–t” while Phi Phi was chatting during Reunited, were you there with that sentiment?
I mean, in terms of entertainment, I was gagging and Willam’s type of personality is the kind of personality I look for in friends. You know, she says whatever the f–k she wants, she’s not afraid of an audience, she’s not even afraid of RuPaul, or afraid of getting kicked off this damn show. That is something to really be applauded, but at the same time, I made a conscious decision about a month ago that this Phi Phi bashing thing has gone a little too far. As someone who’s been bashed and misunderstood my whole life, I wanted to take the backseat on that and just let Willam say some things I think in a Willam way. But it was hard to keep a straight face!
I loved what you were wearing at the reunion — the look from when you were being interviewed. How did you pull that all together?
My brain is a great fashion designer. Unfortunately, I don’t have the skills to do it. I drew that gown up on bar napkin in one of the dive bars of Pittsburgh that I haunt when I’m home. I knew I wanted it to be laced and distressed and see-through, and I wanted a Ouija board oracle hand on my head, and I knew I wanted to have two-toned hair. That’s when I happened to have a great business meeting with Brian Bustos, who is the designer and fashion constructor of Priscilla Queen of the Desert on Broadway, and he whipped that sucker up for me. I initially didn’t want rhinestones on it, but he goes, “Come on, girl, you’re a drag queen, it’s a formal event, put some stones on there!” I’m really glad that we did that. In the original design, I drew it with a big red cap on it with a “D” on it, because I wanted to go from “dunce” to “queen,” but we decided that the new generation of viewers might mistake that for “David the Gnome,” so we nixed it.
The shimmering effect was great. In fact, everyone looked great at the reunion.
Everyone at the reunion looked like old-school drag. It was like taking a time machine to 1996, where it was all about rhinestones and headpieces and shoulder pieces. I think that’s what this season embodied: It might not be TV drag, it might not be supermodel drag, it might not be young, couture, fishy drag, but this is what drag is in America, and I’m glad that season 4 is demonstrating what it really is and not what TV says it is. With season 4, the standard has been set with reunion shows. Everyone showed up with their teeth done, a little botox. With our season being a little rough around the edges and definitely in need of some dental care, it was a responsibility — if not a challenge — to show the world that we can be these beautiful creatures, if only for one night.
Anything you would have changed about your time on Drag Race? Anything you would have done differently?
I guess the only thing I regret is not trying to invest more of a friendship and time with Willam. At the time I did have some hesitation — and maybe even some hostility — toward Willam because I knew that there were things going down. I was so stressed out. I’m not a rule follower, and I’m not someone who does what someone says, but in this competition, I was a prisoner, and I was listening to the warden. It did bother me to slither through a competition without really following the rules. But after the show ended — and me spending some time with her — she’s one of the most giving, relevant, funny, witty, and — regardless of what Phi Phi says — one of the most talented queens I’ve ever met. With a beard or without.
Have you forgiven Latrice for when she said you should have gone home before the Top 3?
No, it didn’t bother then, and it doesn’t bother me now. People in the competition tend to get real upset when that happens — like I told the Princess I thought she should go home. She got all upset. I knew exactly what it was. It was getting toward the end, and I think she used excuses to say my name. I think it was really probably because I was a big threat to her, in terms of competition. She did have some hostility. She looked at my costumes as sloppy and not as outsider-art couture. But you know, I looked at her costumes as tired, pageantry show gowns. But I never would have dared said that to her because I respected her so much. It didn’t bother me. Someone’s name had to be said.
Do you think all the build-up around what Willam did was worth it?
Well, what did you hear?
Well, he told everyone he got “banged out” by his boyfriend every night, who was in the hotel, basically.
So, that’s the story that she’s going with? I see, well that’s disappointing. Um.
That’s not the full story?
I’m not going to elaborate. I take the confidentiality contract that I signed very seriously, but we’ll roll with that. Um, I guess my thing is that it seemed a little odd that being kicked off this competition has only elevated her career, and it has even given her maybe even bigger opportunities than some of the girls who really followed the rules. I don’t know if that’s the right message to send, but you know, I guess if you ever want to co-host the NewNowNext Awards, just make sure you get kicked off a reality show.
Can you anticipate your reaction if you win on Monday evening? Will it be better and more authentic? Especially since you won’t be filmed for the show?
I don’t think so. I was a little disappointed in the producers’ decision not to do it live because I’m a firm believer in documenting the truth. I’m a pretty good actor, but I signed up to be on a reality show and to put my life — as real and ugly as it is — on screen. I went into RuPaul’s Drag Race saying, “I’ll never cry.” Because they make fun of every queen that cries on the show. And I did cry, and I did scream, and I did have doubt, and I did have great, victorious moments. I’m so proud of that vulnerable, very real, very virgin take of what was going on set that I really wished that whatever would have happened, whatever my body would have emoted at knowing that I won right there on stage in front of my family and friends and boyfriend — and a ton of my fans that were there — I would have loved to have documented how ugly I would have become in the fit of emotion with that crown. Unfortunately, I feel it’s going to appear very trite, but I’m just speaking from the point of view of knowing that it was fake. I think that’s why when they asked if there was anything I wanted to say, I just said, “Happy Halloween!” Because I wasn’t demonstrating… I didn’t feel anything. It was very fake to me.
Say you win — do you have a platform? What are you hoping to accomplish with that crown?
Well, I like to think of the crown as a one-year responsibility. Of course, only one f–king year, because it’s never been treated that way. I come from regional, small-city drag, where if you won Miss Des Moines, Iowa, and you did something bad, or you were being a role model, your crown was taken away. I’m really shocked that that forced responsibility is not placed on this title because you’re in the media spotlight, you know? So I would like to take some responsibility. I do have some charity work I would like to do, because I think there are very individual needs of change in this country. I would love to work with gay and bisexual and lesbian and transgender prisoners. That’s what I’d like to focus on — raising awareness on incarcerated transgender and gay people. I’ve been incarcerated and gay, and it was terrible, and I think it’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention. I want to separate myself from something like the “It Gets Better” program, because it doesn’t. I want to find way to involve myself in bullied kids. It would have to be in the right way, though. Every way I see it, it’s always so self-serving. But then again, I hope I’m not eating my own words because I’m so f–king busy. At this current point, my own time isn’t my own time. We’ll see, we’ll see.
Anything you want to say to fans or folks out there?
I just want to thank everyone who identified with my character. I think you’re all bats–t crazy because it’s just 42 minutes of clowns fighting and crying and playing dress-up, but whatever they see in me, it has allowed me to see something more in myself and I never sought to be a role model, but it’s a responsibility that I’m willing to take. And: Hail Satan!
Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky