Exclusive Interview: drag diva Shangela on the return of HBO’s We’re Here “there are pockets of support for the queer community in some of the most unlikely places”

Halleloo, it’s season two! Tonight sees the return of one of the best LGBTQ+ shows on television, unscripted or otherwise, HBO’s Emmy-nominated We’re Here, just in time to shine some much-needed queer hope into our lives. Going even deeper into the moving and uplifting stories of the transformative power of drag, the three superstar Drag Race-alum, Eurek O’Hara, Bob the Drag Queen, and Shangela continue their trip across conservative small town USA. Turning out some fierce lewks, and putting on one helluva show.

Shangela arrives in Temecula, California in season 2, episode 2 of HBO’s We’re Here. Photograph by Jakes Giles Netter/ HBO.

Each episode sees the queens take on a drag daughter, both LGBTQ+ folks and allies who want to demonstrate their support, helping to make queer folks more visible and form meaningful connections with one another. Read our full ★★★★★ review of the second season of We’re Here.

While shooting the sixth episode of the first season in Spartanburg, South Carolina in March 2020, production was abruptly halted due to the pandemic. The first episode of the second season, which debuts at 9pm ET/PT on HBO on Monday October 11th, and will be available to stream on HBO Max, picks up thirteen months later when the queens returned to Spartanburg to be reunited with each other and their respective drag children.

Shangela in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

Ahead of the launch of season two, The Queer Review’s editor James Kleinmann had an exclusive chat with Shangela Laquifa Wadley aka D.J. Pierce about returning to Spartanburg, getting to see another side of her native Texas in Del Rio where she was drag mother to the town’s gay mayor, Bruno, feeling nostaligic for her first time in drag as baby Shangie, and which queen cries the most while shooting the series.

Shangela, Olin, and Patti O’Furniture in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 1. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

James Kleinmann, The Queer Review: firstly what was it like going back to South Carolina and picking up from where you were very rudely interrupted by you know what at the end of season one?

Shangela: “Well, it’s Shangela so y’all should’ve expected a come back because I’m the queen of returning! Honestly though, I was so thrilled to be able to return—not only with a second season of We’re Here which we’re all so grateful for—but when we found out that we were going back to Spartanburg, I was like, ‘Yes!’ Because I was so disappointed at the end of the first season when we had to stop filming. I’d already met Olin and his brother and I knew that there was such a powerful story there. I’d already met the family and I knew that there were some layers that we were going to be able to work through, but that it was going to take some work. Also, I knew that people would watch this story and identify with it.”

“When we had to stop because of the pandemic, I was like, ‘Nooooooo!’ Then of course there was all that uncertainty. We didn’t know when we were going to be getting back to work, or if we were going to be getting back to work. So when we found out that we were going back to Spartanburg, I let out like the biggest scream, like, ‘Yaaaassss!’ The fact that we were working with the same people and that they were all still so willing to work with us and to do this show was another amazing part of it and it all just came together so beautifully.”

Andrei, Marvin Brown, and Shangela in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 2. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

Talking about those layers that you’re working through, I wondered do you feel like you’re taking on a bit of a therapist role as a drag mother on the show?

“Not so much a therapist, because I’m not licensed in that way and I don’t have that specific skill set and I don’t claim to. What I am is a friend, and I’m a good friend. That I can be. I feel like I’m a good talker, but I’m also a good listener. Because I grew up in a small town in a conservative space, I feel like I’m a position where I can understand and identify with a lot of the people and their stories of what they’re going through. So am I qualified friend? Most definitely. That’s why I love being able to go to these towns and connect with people because a lot of times they feel so trusting and safe with me that they can be vulnerable and I am the same way with them. That’s the way that we’re able to build a real connection and a real relationship.”

You grew up in Paris, Texas didn’t you?

“Yes, which is where I am right now. Paris Texas, honey!”

Shangela and drag daughter Bruno in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3 in Del Rio, TX. Photograph by Jessica Perez/HBO.

So I imagine the Del Rio, Texas episode must have been pretty special for you, meeting Bruno, who is someone I really admire as an openly gay man who ran for mayor of the city. What was that whole experience like of encountering him and working with him on the show?

“Texas has a very special place in my heart because I’m a Texan through and through, along with the challenges that come with being a Texan in a place where a lot of people don’t think the same way that you do there are great and beautiful parts about Texas. So I love being a Texan and being able to experience the kind of melting pot of cultures and languages and communities in Del Rio was amazing. It was a part of Texas that I hadn’t experienced yet, but I was so thrilled to be able to do it on We’re Here.”

Bob the Drag Queen, Bruno, and Shangela in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 2. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

“Bruno represents so many great things about our queer community. A lot of times people stereotype us because they think a queer person can only look and sound a certain way and do a particular thing, and when we’re able to show that we can be so many different things beyond the spectrum of what they think we should be that’s really powerful. That’s what Bruno did. Like I said in the show on stage, Bruno was a drag queen on Wednesday night and he was the mayor on Thursday morning, but he was the same Bruno at both times. That shows you that we can be so many different facets of our queer identity and we shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Bruno’s competitors, when they were running against him for mayor, tried to shame him for being a queer person, for wearing a tutu and heels at a gay pride. They tried to use that against him, but he prevailed and I hope that it inspires hope in others. I hope that this show and this particular episode inspires others to know that the queer world is so diverse and deserves to be able to live out all parts of itself.”

Shangela and Bruno in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

I grew up in a fairly small conservative town the UK and I felt like I had to immediately run to London when I turned 18 to be myself and now I’m living in New York City. Even now the idea of going to live in a smaller place still probably scares me a little bit. One of the things that I really take from We’re Here is getting to meet LGBTQ+ folks, again like Bruno for instance, who stay, or even return, to their home towns where life is not always going to be easy and yet they’re finding a way to survive, be their authentic selves, and thrive; with some help from you, Bob, and Eureka, of course.

“Bruno grew up in Del Rio and as people will learn in the episode, he moved away to Chicago. He was a flight attendant so he could have lived anywhere, and yet he came back to Del Rio. Then he ran for an elected position to represent Del Rio, a town where he hadn’t always felt comfortable being himself in when he was growing up. Why would someone do that? But that actually represents a lot of the queer people in the world who go, I actually like my town.”

Shangela, Bruno, and Eureka in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

“A lot of times people will have stereotypes about places and say to me, ‘Oh my gosh, Shangela, you’re going to a conservative small town in the US, be careful, be safe.’ Or, ‘How did you guys survive?!’ But there are pockets of support for the queer community in some of the most unlikely places. In a lot of these small towns though there is no watering hole, per se, where all the queer people and those supporters can come together; there’s no gay bar, there’s no drag brunch, there’s no pride parade, there is no resource center. So therefore, everyone just lives in their own little pockets. We found a lot of times that there was a queer presence in a town, but they had no place to all come together, so they didn’t know each other. So when they’re feeling isolated and alone, a lot of times, you’re not actually alone but no one’s been there to create this moment that showcases that there is a community of support. That’s why we always say ‘we’re here’. We’re here to help shine a light on that and to help build a sense of community in a place that might not have it.”

Shangela and Bruno in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 3 in Del Rio, TX. Photograph by Johnnie Ingram/HBO.

Has doing this show either expanded or just reaffirmed your own thoughts on what the power of drag can mean for both the performer and for those who are witnessing it?

“Oh, wow, it has most definitely reaffirmed my understanding of the power of drag. You know, being a drag diva who’s been able to tour the entire world—I’ve performed on six out of seven continents, mama’s done a million meet and greets with my beautiful fans, and that has its own special place in my heart—but in working with my drag participants, because for a lot of them it’s their very first time ever getting in drag, it’s a very nostalgic moment for me. I think back to baby Shangie! I think back to that Shangie who was on stage for the first time and was really excited about putting on a show, having this moment where I was able to live outside of the box that I had created for myself based on my surroundings, those notions of who I thought I had to be as a gay person.”

Shangela in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 2. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

“Before I got into drag, I was like, I don’t think I would ever do that, that’s so scary to me. But that was only because of what other people had told me about drag and the way they made me think about being in drag. So I was fearful and my drag kids sometimes are fearful too, but really the only way to be stronger, to overcome fear, is to walk through it. You can’t walk around it, you can’t run from it, you have to face it head on and go through it. When I see them come through it, when the drag number ends and they’re there talking to the audience, it’s just incredible. It strongly reconfirms what I know to be true, that drag really does have a great amount of power because you force yourself to step outside of where you were comfortable and then you realize how strong you really are.”

Bob the Drag Queen, Sangela, and Eureka in HBO’s We’re Here Season 2, Episode 2. Photograph by Courtesy of HBO.

I noticed you shed a couple of tears on stage and I definitely did watching it myself. Before I watched the new episodes I wondered whether I was going to cry as much this season, and yes, I did!

“I know, and I’m really not a crier! When it comes to crying, Eureka usually cries the most, and then Bob, but this season, it was maybe Bob, and then Eureka, and then me. Only because I’ve always been very much like, ‘Okay, that happened, let’s put our head down, let’s find a solution, let’s work through it’. That’s just how I have always dealt with things, but I think this season you’ll see even I’m more vulnerable in the show, because there are just so many emotional moments that I can’t help but cry. I’m usually crying watching the series at home, not necessarily filming it, but this season I think I’ll be doing both.”

By James Kleinmann

We’re Here returns for its eight-episode second season on Monday October 11th at 9pm ET/PT. Episodes will debut weekly on HBO and will be available to stream on HBO Max. Season 1 is streaming now on HBO Max.

We’re Here: Season 2 Official Teaser | HBO
We’re Here: Season 2 Official Poster | HBO

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