You may not recognize DJ Pierce‘s name, but chances are you’ve caught his alter-ego, Shangela Laquifa Wadley aka Shangela. Since debuting on the second season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” over eight years ago, Shangela has gone from baby drag queen to one of the most polished and “professional” performers in the world. And even if you’ve never seen the Emmy-winning “Drag Race” you’ve likely seen Shangela’s trademark “Halleloo!” or “Sugardady” memes online (or perhaps even as a protest sign at a Women’s March the past two years).
It’s been quite the year for the 36-year-old Los Angeles resident who spent the first half of 2018 dealing with the shock of being eliminated by his peers on the finale of “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 3” (“robbed” is an understatement). The silver lining, however, was a surge of popularity that has found Shangela on a seemingly non-stop tour covering multiple continents ever since. More importantly, Shangela has a key role in Bradley Cooper‘s Oscar-contender “A Star is Born” alongside none other than Lady Gaga. And we’re not just talking about a one-scene cameo, either.
Gaga met Pierce when shooting the lyric video for “Applause” in 2013 and, as Pierce reveals in our interview, the Grammy winner was key in pushing him to audition for the film where he plays the host of a local drag show where Gaga’s character, Ally, is a featured singer. Pierce and fellow “Drag Race” alum Willam Belli (aka Willam) portray two drag queen buddies of Ally’s who allow Cooper’s Jackson Maine to demonstrate how open he is to her world. And, they contribute some unexpected comic relief too.
Pierce jumped on the phone yesterday to talk about his “A Star is Born” casting experience, the long wait to see whether he’d be in the film, what the role means for drag queen performers in Hollywood and more.
Please note: There are some very minor spoilers below.
DJ “Shangela” Pierce: Halleloo Gregory!
Gregory Ellwood: Halleloo DJ! How you doing?
Hi, I’m great. It’s a beautiful day in New York, how are you?
I am good. It’s hot here in LA. You’ll be surprised when you get back, but I think it’s cooling down, but whatever.
Oh, I’m coming home on Sunday. I’m excited for that, ’cause I’ve been kinda chilly.
Well, I was gonna ask you that because I know you’ve been on the road forever. How many shows have you done so far this year?
147 are done. The whole tour is a 181 city tour, this year.
Did you plan this knowing that “All Stars 3” and “A Star is Born” were happening or was it just something that you just wanted to do?
No, you know, it’s evolved. Now, I’ve been touring pretty much non-stop since season two, three of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” so that’s been like six years, but this year is the largest tour that I’ve been on in one particular year, the most number of cities, and it’s actually the largest tour of any single drag race contestant ever in one year. I didn’t plan it like that though. In March, it was 50 cities and then 50 went to 60 and 60 to went to 80 and it just kept building. But I’m so excited about being on this tour and then all these other great things came along like the “A Star is Born” premiere which is phenomenal and it just continues to grow.
Let’s talk about the movie because I think you shot those scenes over a year ago, right?
We shot those scenes back, I believe, in May in 2017. And I know this because my audition my was in April 2017, ’cause I was just digging through my photos yesterday trying to find my audition look.
It’s taken quite awhile for the movie to come out so did you sort of just put it in the back of your mind? Because I’ve seen you do a ton of interviews since then and you haven’t really mentioned it very often. Was that because you just didn’t know if you’d be in the movie?
Yes. So, here’s the thing, what I’ve learned in Hollywood is you don’t know it’s done until it’s done. So, I knew this movie was awesome, I knew that I was so excited to be a part of this film and we had such a great time on set, but you never know if your scenes are gonna make it in a movie. I did a scene in a movie called “R.I.P.D.” once. I told my mom, “Please make sure you go see me in this movie,” and she went to go see the movie and then she called me. She said, “Baby, you aren’t in that movie.” I said, “Mama, I know I was. I filmed for two days. I’m in the movie.” She said, “Baby, you’re not in this movie.” So, turns out I didn’t end up making it in the actual film. So, this one I just wanted to wait until actually came out until I actually knew that we were gonna be in. And just [seeing] it on the big screen and be able to talk about it, it’s amazing. It’s like a dream come true.
How many days did you actually shoot?
Well originally, I was only supposed to go on set for one day and at the end of that day I remember that Bradley and Lady Gaga both said that they knew that I was leaving to go to Dallas the next day for a show, but they really wanted to switch some things around and add Willam and I to another scene. That’s the scene where you see Jackson [Cooper] playing the guitar in the bar and I’m counting the money. So, that being said I was like, “I can’t cancel the talent show.” And I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. “Girl, it’s Lady Gaga, girly.” (Laughs.) And they were like, “Well if you can’t, we understand, but we really like you to do.” And just knowing how passionate they were both about this part and what an opportunity this was [I knew I needed to make it work]. Thankfully, I was able to get someone to fill in for me in Dallas and I stayed and I’m happy that I did. Halleloo!
During the film’s press conference at the Toronto International Film Festival, Lady Gaga said that she had suggested you for the role. How did you even hear about it? Did you audition?
Well originally one of the roles for this film was a Marilyn Monroe drag impersonator, and honey, I knew that no matter how much time I stayed out of the sun, I will never look like exactly spot on like Marlyn Monroe. I thought if that’s what they’re exactly going for then I wasn’t gonna go in for the audition. So, I didn’t and then a little while later I got an email from Lady Gaga’s manager [Bobby Campbell] just saying, “You know, LG …” That’s Lady Gaga, for the friends. They were like, “LG heard that you didn’t come in for the audition and she really wants you to come in of this role. She actually thinks you’d be a good fit for this role, why aren’t you coming in?” And I was like, “Oh my god. Well, if LG is asking, honey, I would’ve donned the most blonde wig, a white dress. I’d put in on, drew me a little dot, a beauty mole and I’d go and audition.” Thankfully, here we are today. Just to know that she had that faith in me for this particular role. I even told her in person, “Thank you so much for this opportunity. I will forever be grateful and I hope not to let you down.” And she said, “Oh honey, you’re not letting me down.”
When I watched the movie, I almost laughed in the theater I was in when you said “professional,” one of your signature phrases, in one of your lines. Did you put that in there?
Well, it’s a beautifully written script, but thankfully, Mr. Cooper allowed us to improvise a little also in our roles and we never know what’s gonna make it in, but yes, that word professional honey, you know that’s Shangela. I’m a professional pro.
You’ve been touring all over the world and studios don’t just set up screenings everywhere for talent. When did you actually get to see the movie for the first time?
I saw it for the first time this past Thursday night at the London Premiere. I was sad that I wasn’t gonna make it to the US one because I was in London touring, and then Bobby Campbell asked me and said, “Why don’t you just come to the London premiere?” And at the time, I didn’t even know there was a London premiere. Ooh, this how the universe is so good to me. It just happened to be on the night when I was supposed to fly back to Atlanta for a show on Friday. So, I had the night off, which is very rare on 181 city tour. So, I didn’t even have to cancel anything. It just worked out amazingly and I was so, so happy to be able to attend the premiere and that they invited me and to see the film for the first time with my mom who came over from Texas.