Heading into this past week’s Drag Race, it seemed all but certain that “Total Ru-quest Live” was Shea Couleé’s to lose. With an ear for music and the choreography to back it up, the Chicago queen has dominated musical challenges throughout the competition, destroying her “Category Is…” verse in season 9, winning for her “I’m In Love!” ode to Chadwick Boseman, and opening All Stars 7 on a “legendary” high note.
Of course she turned it out for girl group M.S.T.R.’s performance of “Titanic”—that reference to Britney Spears referencing Rose DeWitt Bukater was brilliant—but somehow it wasn’t enough. Despite high praise from the judges, they ultimately passed on rewarding Shea with another Legendary Legend star, leaving us to wonder: How???
Well, Shea Couleé has some theories! During our recent catch-up with the queen, she shared another approach to the challenge that really would’ve taken the judges by surprise. We also touched on this season’s extra-kooky Werk Room antics, why more Chicago drag artists deserve time on Drag Race, and got just a little distracted by Beyoncé’s impending “B7,” Renaissance.
Since you’re an official Drag Race legend, it’s only fitting that Hollywood will make a biopic about you one day. Who do you think should play you in a biopic and why?
Ooh, that’s a really good one. Okay, so I just feel like I’ll do a Lady Chablis and play myself [a la Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil].
Yes, of course. Who else could do Shea better?
[Laughs.] There was someone who actually worked on that film as one of the producers, that said that when they were down [in Savannah] doing research for the film, they were talking with Lady Chablis. He said that he had jokingly suggested this, but when she was like, “Well, who would play me?,” he said Whitney Houston. And this is the ‘90s, so it’s like Whitney, yes. But he said she literally slapped him in the mouth and was like, “How dare you insinuate someone else play me?” I was gagged!
But anyway, yes, I’ll pull a Lady Chablis and be playing myself.
So what I’m gathering is, had this been in person instead of over Zoom, I would’ve gotten smacked for asking.
Oh, just a casual backhand! That’s all. [Laughs.]
And I deserve that.
But, to get into this episode: I was shocked you weren’t in the Top 2 after giving us that “pop girl fantasy.” My read of it is that you’ve very much set the high bar for these types of challenges, and that’s what the judges expect, so even though you killed it, it’s almost like it was a given for them. What do you make of that? How do you feel about missing out on a Legendary Legend star this week?
Yes, I feel like, you know, when you set the bar at a specific level, and you set it for yourself so high, you have to stay at a specific level in the judges’ minds. And you have to consistently top yourself, which is harder to do when everybody else in the competition is also really, really talented. So you’ve really, really got to bring your A-plus-plus game, and just hope for the best.
And because they have such expectations for me in those challenges, it doesn’t feel, necessarily, as exciting to them as some of the other girls. Because Shea Couleé coming and slaying a girl group, singing-dancing challenge is expected. And so the judges want to be surprised, you know what I’m saying? So maybe I should have flopped, and then maybe I would have been in the top. [Laughs.]
Flop to the top!
Because nobody’s going home! Jaida said we could’ve taken some risks. Maybe I really just should’ve bombed it, and then been like, “So you wanted a surprise?”
That would’ve been the gag of the season! But, to be clear, you did absolutely kill it in this challenge. From a performance point of view, but also conceptually—you strike me as a real student of TRL in those days, a student of those girl groups.
Oh, absolutely. I was always watching TRL, turning my T-shirt into a little crop-top by rolling it through my crewneck-line with a wig that I got from Spencer’s Gifts. And I would be doing all the choreo to all of the videos—all of it. So I was a student of those 2000s girl groups, yes.
And I was obsessed with MTV’s Making The Band with Danity Kane—all those challenges and all that stuff that they had to do? Yes. I feel like, if I were in another universe, another world, Shea Couleé competed on a reality show to be part of a girl group.
I mean, I think it could still happen!
[Laughs.] You know what? Right now I’m just accepting offers, I’m not not really competing anymore, but… you know. [Laughs.]
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So Danity Kane aside, who were your favorites from that era? Which pop girls have been most influential to your drag?
Oh, that’s so hard. Okay, so I’m going to have say Destiny’s Child and Beyoncé. Let’s just call a spade a spade—it is what it is, you know? Because, look at the material! Look at Beyoncé now! She… ugh, Beyoncé! She’s the only person that could get me to, like, spend $50 on a box that I don’t know what’s in it.
I did box number four, because four is her favorite number. The real ones [know.] I know that that will be the box.
Well, now that we’re here: What are you looking forward to in Renaissance? What are you most excited about?
I’m excited because I know the producers that she’s been working with. One of them is a trans, Chicago house icon and legend. I know what her sound sounds like, and knowing that she’s bringing that to Beyoncé? We are about to f*cking shake our *sses, and I cannot wait to shake my *ss to new Beyonce music. It’s just like Christmas in July.
And since we touched on Beyoncé, I have to ask if you also have new music on the way?
I do have new music on the way! I’m going to be performing at Chicago Pride next weekend and I’m going to be doing a 20-minute live set. And I’m going to be performing three brand new songs.vI’m so excited for everyone to hear them—they’ll be released coming out later on in the summer. But everyone’s going to get the live performance of them first. I haven’t performed at Chicago Pride in years, so this is like Shea Couleé’s version of Homecoming.
I have a live band, I have my fancy little in-ears—I got the molds of my ears made—so now I have those and I can do my live show. It’s going to be great! She’s giving you legit pop star realness!
To dive back into All Stars, the vibe in the Werk Room this season has been downright kooky. And you’re someone who puts so much heart and thought into your drag, into the challenges. On some level, is it harder to concentrate this time around than it’s been in the past?
No, it’s definitely harder to concentrate this time around because there’s just so much ruckus and hoopla. And I feel like that’s—for some of the girls in the cast—part of their method, you know? Just kind of being kooky and goofy and silly and just expending this energy and all of this, which kind of helps them to center themselves. Whereas I’m a little bit more introspective and I like to look inward, to concentrate to find what I need to do, a strategy or an idea. But, yeah, last week I was definitely struggling. [Laughs.]
I’m not trying to force you to shade anyone at all, but who’s the most annoying in the Werk Room? Or, who’s the loudest, rather—who makes it hardest to get sh*t done?
Okay, I would say the loudest and most rambunctious [is] Jaida, but I never get sick of it! [Laughs.] Well, in that moment, I did, but honestly that’s just because that xylophone was so out of tune. It was not even like a nice xylophone. And I think that’s probably what it was—that, sonically, I was all like, “Oof, what is that?” Like, baby, Fisher Price xylophones are not the tea. You need to get to Guitar Center or whatever.
I want to touch on Chicago, because I love how much you rep your city, especially because, as big and diverse as the city’s drag scene is, I feel like we haven’t seen that many Chicago girls on Drag Race.
We should be seeing a lot more! I don’t know why [World Of Wonder] is so scared of all the Chicago girls. Why? Can they not handle all the talent? Is it just too much for them to take? Oh my god. [Laughs.]
So what do you love most about the Chicago drag scene? What has it meant to you?
For me, it’s really the sense of community. And I feel like, what I loved about this experience of All Stars, specifically, is that I didn’t feel as homesick as I have in the past because it had that sense of community. And that’s what I love about Chicago. You know, the drag here—the girls are supportive, and I just love that we really look out for one another and build each other up and find ways to just take care of each other. And that’s just, to me, what drag should always be like. There’s a lot of heart.
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Let’s go big picture for this final question: Outside of your All-Stars 5 crowning, when was the first time in your career that you’d say that you felt like a winner? What did that moment mean to you?
Oh, that’s a really good question. I don’t know; I almost don’t even know if it’s still really even hit. I feel like the past few years have just been really surreal. And I do try to really take it all in. But when you dream about something, and then all of a sudden you start living it, it almost feels like your day-to-day is a dream. Because you’re constantly like—when you’re dreaming, when it feels like something is too good to be true, you’re like, “Is this happening?” I feel like I’m constantly asking that.
But I do have to say that, gosh, honestly just seeing that moment on All Stars 5 is really when it hit me, that I had won. Hearing RuPaul say my name, I was like, “Wow, I really did it?” And it was a 10-year journey from the start of me doing drag, to getting to that point, and I just thought about all the hard work and sacrifice that went in to get there. It was just so lovely. And I was so proud that I never gave up, that I just kept on going for it.
And one last thing: I have to ask, because the fans are dying to know: Would you ever make an appearance on the Tamisha Iman Network?
You know what, my people are talking to her people, so you never know! [Laughs.]
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