chat room

Sharon Needles on Winning RuPaul’s Drag Race, the ‘It Gets Better’ Generation, and Taking a Brick to the Back

Sharon Needles. Photo: Andre Tartar

RuPaul’s Drag Race season four finally has its “winnah.” Monday night, at XL Nightclub, the show crowned shock queen Sharon Needles America’s Next Drag Superstar. (For those of you who didn’t get to watch, she balanced her tiara over an optic-patterned witch’s hat.) In Sharon’s words, “Happy Halloween, New York City.” The next morning, we sat down with Sharon over Bloody Marys and strawberries at Bond 45 Times Square to discuss her win, her Pittsburgh roots and politics, and that time she was assaulted by a woman with a brick.

[Full disclosure: I share mutual friends with Aaron Coady, the boy beneath Sharon’s black lipstick. He used to work at my local Pittsburgh coffee shop. In fact, he still poured coffee for minimum wage there less than a year ago.]

Because the names of previous seasons’ winners have been leaked in the past, RuPaul decided to tape three alternative endings last week and not announce which was the real one. Did you really not know you had won until Monday night’s screening?
Absolutely no idea. I had a feeling, though. This season has definitely respected its fan base. It might not be the most popular show, it might not be on a channel that everyone has, but the fans that it does have are so loyal and literally obsessed.

You’re talking about the Facebook popularity contest, which you won, right?

After your name was finally called, how did Chad and Phi Phi react?
Backstage, Phi Phi was chanting my name. She was Team Sharon. And Chad, I was almost embarrassed to look [Chad] in the eye, because in my heart she deserves this crown more than anyone on this planet. She has spent the last twenty years devoted to being such a professional, being the industry standard, and being such a warm heart and a voice of reason. That’s hard to find in a seasoned queen — to see someone who’s gone surgically overboard in the name of vanity, but who has such a warm heart.

Have you experienced any backlash from the show’s viewers?
A woman threw a brick at me through a window of a car — I was sitting in the passenger side and it clocked me in the back. This was two days before my DragU episode. [Drag Race’s makeover-themed spinoff.] Thank God she missed my face. We called the police. She’s like, “Call, you’re just creating more angst between the queer community and the police.” I just said, “I’m not creating a problem between the queer community and the police. I’m creating a problem between you and the police, you little fucking c–t.” She spray-painted “racist” on my house, broke its windows, put superglue in my locks. There’s like four ticked-off lesbians convinced Sharon Needles is a writhing racist who thinks the Holocaust never happened — because I use a swastika or reference Hitler [in my performances] ironically. It’s gotten a lot of attention online, and so certain people have started re-posting things, re-blogging things, in trying to push me in the direction of a racist, insensitive character. Intent trumps vulgarity and ta-da!

Bullying is something you’ve talked about a lot this season. When you accepted your crown, you even dedicated it to “anyone who ever got picked on as a kid.” How will that play out with your enhanced visibility as “America’s Next Drag Superstar”?
I turned 30 this year, and now I’m elevated in the industry, and with that comes a nagging voice in my head to take a little more responsibility for my fans and try to be an example of what you can do with practically nothing. I probably get 100 messages a week from kids — who knows how exaggerated these are —who see something in me that I don’t see in me. Really, I’m just a punk-rock brat transgressional artist who likes to have a good time.

Did all of this resonate for you when Dan Savage, who started the “It Gets Better” video campaign, came on the show?
I’ll be honest with you, when he was a guest judge on the show I was the only fucking queen who knew who the hell he was. I’m not speaking for all drag queens, but a lot of drag queens are not interested in … I guess I’m just so obsessed with media and celebrity that the nightly news — the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the New York Post, and NPR just happen to fit into my repertoire.

Speaking of the nightly news and NPR, let’s talk politics.
I used to be so proud to call myself a Democrat, but everything’s so polarized and leotarded. Politics remind me a lot of RuPaul’s Drag Race. It’s real but it isn’t. And what’s sad is, in this day and age we’re set up with so many tools, we have so many great ways to communicate and really get involved, but it always seems so self-serving on both sides.

I guess with all your interviews and media appearances today, you’re not signed up with the May Day strike. How do you feel about that and the greater Occupy Wall Street movement?
To me, the Occupy protests looked more like a rainbow gathering than they did an actual demand for change. I would have been more cool with it if people said their platform was just, “We want to live downtown and make a scene.” Making a scene is cool, hippies are cool, punks are cool, but the mark was definitely missed. It got so much press and it went on for so long, but we all knew it was going to do absolutely nothing. Whatever happened to May Day where you take a Styrofoam cup and put a pipe cleaner on it for a handle, fill it with leftover Easter grass and candy, and put it in front of your friend’s door and run away, but if they answer the door before you run away then they kiss you? I loved it. I walked as slow as I possibly could from those boys’ doors. Guess it’s a total Iowa thing.

You grew up in Iowa but really came into drag after moving to Pittsburgh eight years ago. How much of Sharon Needles is Steel City–bred?
Sharon Needles is definitely Pittsburgh — always rough around the edges, a little ignorant, a little uneducated. And she’s dead. And Pittsburgh is, after all, the zombie capital of the world, a little financially lower class, and just all-around a gritty, rough city. I don’t think Sharon would be the way she is if I’d chosen to create this character in another city.

Was Sharon always this dark?
Sharon used to want to be more like a prostitute. The 412-724-Whore video was the original concept, to make her a ditzy hooker. But the idea didn’t fly, so she got a rewrite — she was beautiful, she was stupid, but it was missing something. In this case, a sense of death and macabre that you don’t really see much in drag. When you add [those elements] to sexuality and eighties bimbo stupidity, it’s just the third layer that really makes it work. It allows you to get away with a lot more, too. A man in a dress can get away with a lot. A man dead in a dress who’s stupid and beautiful can get away with anything.

What are your plans for the $100,000 prize?
I’m going to buy [my boyfriend and fellow drag queen] Alaska Thunderfuck a car. We’re going to get a hearse! We’re going to get a hearse or a pink El Camino, I can’t pick. I’m kind of against car culture — I’ve always been a cyclist.

In drag?
Never! Well, maybe once or twice when I needed to get to a show and nobody would take me. But we need a car. We need to get to Target. Plain and simple.

You talked about Alaska on the show, and how she’s tried out all four times for Drag Race and yet you got on after the first try. How’s she been taking the win?
Alaska said she’s going to audition every year until she gets cast on, like, RuPaul’s Drag Race’s eighteenth season. I couldn’t ask for a more giving, loving, and completely non-selfish boyfriend. And if the tables were turned, I can’t say I’d be this enthusiastic.

Sharon Needles on Winning RuPaul’s Drag Race