Q&A with Sharon Needles

all photos courtesy of Sharon Needles

We Love DC Music Editor Alexia recently got the chance to chat with new drag superstar Sharon Needles, the most recent winner and reigning Queen of the super-campy Logo reality-contest show “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” She will be appearing at Town this Friday, June 8th as part of DC’s Pride celebration. Sharon chatted with Alexia about music, Queens, and growing up goth in a small town.

Sharon Needles: Hello Alexia!

Alexia Kauffman: Hiiiiii!

Sharon: How are you?

Alexia: I’m great! Thank you so much for talking with me!

Sharon: I would like to apologize for my tardiness- I was buying my first big purchase with my prize money- a 1972 Bonneville Hearse!

Alexia: Oh my God! That’s amazing!

Sharon: It’s my first car! I decided I’d buy a mint-condition, beautiful, gorgeous, vintage black hearse.

Alexia: I want to see pictures!

Sharon: Don’t you worry about that! There’ll be more pictures of this on my Facebook than me! It’s my baby- I named her Peggy!

Alexia: That’s awesome. So I love your style, I love that you mix the gorgeous and the grotesque, that you’re on the fringe of the fringe…

Sharon: Thank you! I put the gore in gorgeous, darling!

Alexia: I’m so happy that you won RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Sharon: (laughs) Thank you! Me too!

Alexia: So how did you get started in Drag?

Sharon: You know, I grew up in a small farming community where there weren’t a lot of avenues for artistic, imaginative children like myself. So I basically just studied pop culture through television. You know, people like Elvira and Peggy Bundy, and all the horror movies that I was in love with as a kid were so inspiring to me. I’ve always played with costumes and I’ve always played with feminine fictitious characters. You know some kids played house, I played Night of the Living Dead in my backyard. So yeah, I’ve always been interested in costumes, makeup and hairpieces, and shoes. So at the age of fifteen I would lie to these nightclubs and say I was eighteen, because I looked older than I was, and started performing at a really young age.

Alexia: So you started performing while you were still in your hometown?

Sharon: Yeah, I was in Newton, but I had much older friends, because I didn’t really connect with the kids at my school. I hung out with all the punk and the goth kids, and they would drive me up to Des Moines, which was the closest city, and I started doing drag shows in the smaller nightclubs there.

Alexia: So then you moved to Pittsburgh?

Sharon: Yeah, when I turned twenty I left Iowa and kind of became a transient kind of punk, and was living in art collectives and punk houses, and anarchist cooperatives, and you know I might not have gone to college, but I definitely got my education in subculture, and a different way of living. I got to learn how exciting being a punk bitch with no money in her pocket could be, and I think it gave me an upper-hand in my character.

So I was just living city-to-city, and someone said they were going to Pittsburgh, and I thought I’d be here for a couple of weeks, and it ended up being eight years, come September 27th!

Alexia: Happy anniversary!

Sharon: Thank you! And Happy Halloween to you!

Alexia: Thank you! It is my favorite holiday, of course.

Sharon: Every day is Halloween, darling!

Alexia: So what is the drag scene like in Pittsburgh?

Sharon: Pittsburgh has some sense of variety… it’s very regional. I mean you’re in DC, so you know about this region’s type of drag- it’s usually a very over-painted pageant scene. But you know I run an art-collective here called The Haus of Haunt, and basically any queen that was too messy or too raunchy, or just too untalented to work with other shows- I take them in. (laughs) ‘Cause I love that drag! Nothing’s better than a bad drag show. So we’re just an art-collective that really tries to push buttons and make a mess, and bring a really gory, socially conscious show to Pittsburgh, and it became the most successful drag troupe in the city, so I’m really proud of that. You know, we’re never really asked to do the charities, or the benefits, or gay pride, but that’s fine, I’m not really here to do drag for other people, I’m here to do it for me and my fans, you know? And my fans are the best fans in the world!

Alexia: That’s sounds like a reason for a road-trip up to Pittsburgh!

Sharon: You know what- I would agree with you, darling! I actually have a DC queen in my house right now who’s come to stay with The Haus of Haunt for a week.

Alexia: So what kind of music moves you?

Sharon: You know I listen to a variety of music, and I think to be truly talented, and to be a well-rounded entertainer you have to know things all across the board. And I go through phases, like right now I’m listening to a lot of glam-rock, like The Sweet, and Gary Glitter, and Slade, and Motley Crue, things like that. And I’m really into punk music too like The Dictators and Jane County and The Sex Pistols and The Damned and The Buzzcocks. You know I listen to a lot of industrial too- My Life With The Thrill Kill Cult, KMFDM, Lords of Acid, and you know, no tea, no shade I can’t stop listening to Britney Spears’ new album!

Alexia: So a little bit of everything…

Sharon: Just a little bit of everything, as long as it’s not some corporate garbage being shoved down my throat and I feel like a gay man that I have to love it.

Alexia: Except for Britney Spears?

Sharon: Well, I choose to like Britney Spears- I choose to understand the production value of the album. I don’t just like it because I was told to.

Alexia: Well I’m going to have to check out her new album because you recommended it.

Sharon: No tea, no shade the production value on that album, and even her album that was slammed- Blackout, is a great produced album- it reminds me of  the simple dark synth albums of the early ’90s New York club scene. And as slammed as it was for being cheesy, it’s a really great, dark album.

Alexia: So when you first found out that you were going to be on RuPaul’s Drag Race, what was that like?

Sharon: I mean it was really bittersweet. For most people it’s a game-changer and a life experience, and it was something I’ve always wanted to be a part of , because I just love the program so much- it’s so campy and silly, and it also changes lives. It turns your art into corporate art, and I have no problem with corporate art because studying Andy Warhol he always said “Never fear selling your work.” But it was a little bittersweet because my boyfriend, Alaska Thunderfuck, who has been in the top 20 all four seasons was let go from the process. They were really spinning us as the first couple to compete against one another on RuPaul’s Drag Race, and at the last minute they chose me and they decided not to choose him. So you know that was hard for me, and it was also daunting and scary to know that I represent the underground and punk drag- that it was gonna be in the forefront and have a lot of exposure, but now I have no regrets.

Alexia: Did you have any favorite moments while you were doing the show?

Sharon: Yeah, most definitely. I would say the most beneficial thing, of course other than the money and the recognition was creating such great friendships with people like Chad Michaels, Willam Belli and DiDa Ritz. I think those girls are tops and I’m so happy to have gone through this insane daycare center for drag with them. Such talented people. And just being able to showcase my type of work- like in the political challenge I was glad to show my knowledge of politics, even though I portrayed a stupid, ditsy lady on tv. I was also happy about the zombie challenge- meeting Elvira and showing a gory side to drag. And I was also really proud of my Michelle Visage impersonation, because it was something I was slightly questioning if it was the right direction to go, but I can sell life-insurance to a corpse, and it really paid off.

Alexia: Yeah, you hit that one out of the park.

Sharon: (laughs) Well, you know I brought Cher and Lady Gaga, and when I saw Chad Michaels I was like “I’m not even going there,” and then I was going to do Lady Gaga, but Phi Phi O’Hara decided that she too was going to do Lady Gaga. I tried to tell her “Girl, I said it first” but she wasn’t budging, so I said- you know what, sometimes in a disaster is when the best possible outcome can happen. It forces you to put your thinking-cap on and really push the barrier of what’s expected of you.

Alexia: It definitely takes a subtle hand to do parody well.

Sharon: That’s why I wanted to do Lady Gaga, because everyone fails at doing Lady Gaga, and I wouldn’t have failed. A lot of people say she has no personality, and it’s not that she has no personality, she just has a slight personality, that for me as an entertainer I would’ve loved to just abuse and bash because some people, she’s the mother of all monsters, they don’t want to go there, I have no fear going there, darling.

Alexia: So I know you’ve talked about having a hard time growing up in a small town, and feeling like an outsider, I think a lot of people can relate to that feeling. How did you get through that as a kid/teenager, and do you have any advice for kids/people who feel like that?

Sharon:  I never felt like an outsider- I felt like the most inside kid in school, I felt like the most popular girl in class, I just didn’t know what everyone else’s fucking problem was. But as a kid I was just really naive, and completely unaware of how strange I was. I mean, at the age of fifteen I was showing up to school in full-face of makeup, full rubber fetish-wear, high-heels, and painted nails. You know, when you’re a child you’re really naive, and kind of stupid to the sense of who you are- no one really self-analyzes themselves as a kid. I could never pinpoint what everyone thought was so odd about me. But being bullied a lot I was just really bad at school, so when I got home I would just throw myself into this fantasy world where I was,  you know, an evil queen, or a wicked witch, or a ditsy blond, or that I was Peggy Bundy, so I mean the best way I survived was just diving into my head and living in a fantasy world. Any advice I can give to kids is you know anyone who tells you it’s going to get better is a fucking liar. You know, turning eighteen doesn’t change the way people perceive you, but what really can change how you feel is the way you perceive yourself. And, you know, take all the animosity, take all that hate that you use and turn it into something beautiful the way I turned Sharon Needles into something grotesquely beautiful. You know, put that into your art, or put it into your career. A great philosopher named RuPaul once said “What other people think of you ain’t none of your goddamn business.” Focus on yourself and not others.

Alexia: Oh, I love that. Those are sage words.

Sharon: Yes, bitches better beware!

Alexia: So I know you have this really busy tour schedule that’s happening- but what are some of your visions for the future, and plans to take over the world?

Sharon: You know, I don’t want to take over the world, I want everyone to take over the world. You know, Lady Gaga calls her fans “Little Monsters”, Phi Phi O’Hara calls her fans “Phanatics”, Jiggly Caliente calls her fans “The Jigglers”, I call my fans people. I just want us all to party and have a good time. But in terms of other projects, this crown definitely won’t be wasted, you know I’m not going to just sit on my ass just because I have a hundred-thousand dollars in the bank. I’m doing a play with a great director named Peaches Christ, it’ll be at the legendary Castro Theater in late July, it’s a parody of “Silence of the Lambs” called “Silence of the Trans.” I’m also playing Frankenfurter in a San Antonio production of Rocky Horror Picture Show in October. Working on my music of course is a high priority, I’m collaborating with great fashion designers like Scooter Laforge for Style.com, and that’s just what we came up with this week! (laughs)

Alexia: I have to ask about the music- that’s definitely my main thing, what do you have planned as far as music goes?

Sharon: I’m taking my time, I’m getting a lot of samples from a lot of DJs, and a lot of bands, and I’m not going to proceed forward until I’m 100% confident that it’s what I want to do. But the direction I think I’m going to take it is into kind of a dark club sound, something maybe somewhat reflective of New York club-kid DJ culture, with a lot of campy, Halloween feel to it. (laughs)

Alexia: I can’t wait to hear!

Sharon: Yeah, I mean I would love to do like a live punk band, but right now Sharon Needles is kind of a lone creature, and I’m not emotionally or in terms of time prepared to support a full band or even pay them.

Alexia: Well, all in good time!

Sharon: Yes, all in good time, darling!

Alexia: Thank you so much! I can’t wait to see you at Town in DC, and you better work!

Sharon: No problem! And no, I don’t have to work, I’m rich! Ciao baby!

Alexia Kauffman

Alexia was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She has been a cellist since age four, and a lover of rock & roll soon after. The first tape she owned was “Make It Big” by Wham, and the first tape she bought was Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” and she still loves both. She was a member of local synth-rock outfit Soft Complex for several years, and has recorded with bands including Engine Down and Two if By Sea. By day she works for a non-profit distributing royalties to musicians and labels. She currently plays cello, lap-steel guitar and tambourine in the DC post-folk/Americana band The Torches.

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