With 'DWTS,' 'We're Here,' and Upcoming Tour, Shangela is 'Fully Lit'

by Steve Duffy

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday September 28, 2022

Shangela  (Source: Shangela.com)

When "RuPaul Drag Race" alumnus Shangela and her partner Gleb Savchenko took to the floor on "Dancing with the Stars," they made history. On the show's 31st season premiere on September 19, Shangela, whose real name is D.J. Pierce, became the first drag queen to compete in the U.S. version of the international franchise. (Pierce performs as Shangela, but identifies as a man and uses he/him pronouns.)

"My heart was racing like crazy but when the announcer guy started the intro, in my mind I went into full on Beyoncé at the Super Bowl mode," she wrote on Instagram.

NBC News wrote: "Pierce and his dance partner, Russian American dancer and choreographer Gleb Savchenko, received a standing ovation after their dazzling salsa performance to the Pussycat Dolls' song 'When I Grow Up.' The duo earned sevens from all four judges, the fourth-highest score of the 16 dance partners who performed."

Shangela first appeared on Season 2 of "RPDR," where he was the first be sent home. She returned for Season 3 and placed fifth. She later appeared on season three of "RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars," where she tied for third with BeBe Zahara Benet. 

Shangela has also appeared on such television shows as "Community," "2 Broke Girls," "Glee," "Bones," "The X-Files," and "Broad City." On screen she appeared in the comedies "Hurricane Bianca" and its sequel, "Hurricane Bianca: From Russia with Hate," as well as the Lady Gaga remake of "A Star is Born." She became the first drag queen to walk the Oscars red carpet in drag. 

Since 2020, Shangela has co-hosted the HBO reality series "We're Here," alongside fellow "Drag Race" contestants Bob the Drag Queen and Eureka O'Hara.

EDGE spoke to Shangela about their history-making "DWTS" debut, working with Gleb Savchenko, an upcoming tour, and a new season of "We're Here."


Watch Shangela and Gleb Savchenko perform on "Dancing with the Stars" on September 26, 2022.


EDGE: Had you ever watched "Dancing with the Stars"?


Shangela: Yes, I've watched the show. Especially during the pandemic, when I was home with my mom and grandma. I am a big fan, for sure.


EDGE: How did you become a contestant? 


Shangela: I'll just say that prayers have been answered. I prayed really hard. I journaled really strongly. Honestly, I've always wanted to be a part of this show, and anyone who's ever worked with me on my team knew that. They were able to help me get a meeting, and then I went through the whole casting process. It's always been a dream of mine, and I'm so happy that I'm here.


EDGE: You are not only the first all-male pair, but the first drag performer on the show. How are you feeling about this history-making event?


Shangela: I would like to think that my passion for dance was the number one fit for this reality competition show. As you know, I'm no stranger to reality television competition shows or reality TV. I'm just really grateful that the people who put together the cast for "DWTS" thought that I'd be an ideal fit for this season. The fact that I get to be part of this historic moment for the show is mind blowing. To be part of the first male partnership and the first drag entertainer is monumental, and is not lost on me. I think of all of the drag entertainers, or just all the LGBTQ people who deserve to see themselve;s represented on a platform like this. It is everything, and the fact that I get to be able to be a person is really an amazing moment.

EDGE: Will you compete only in drag? 


Shangela: Well, you got to stay tuned, baby! You never know. I am so excited to compete in drag. My drag character is the fierce realization of the superstar diva that I've always wanted to create. She's an entertainer that I modeled after the artists that I love: Tina Turner, Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and Lady Gaga. I'm so excited to be able to show up every week and let the world see who Shangela is.


EDGE: What does it mean to you to be on the show? 


Shangela: This visibility, this representation, and authentic inclusion means so much to me. I know what it's like being a little gay kid growing up in a small town and watching television, and there was no significant amount of visibility for LGBTQ people, especially positive, affirming visibility. Now to be a part of that is very special, because I think about all the little gays out there that are able to see themselves reflected in a space that's brand new, and knowing that they can do anything is amazing. 


EDGE: Do you have a dance background?


Shangela: Ooh, child, no! I've always been a performer, but I've never had any formal training. I grew up dancing on my high school cheer squad or in the halls of the school, but that's it. I've done some backup dancing in drag queen pageants. That's pretty much been my experience with dance. This is all very new to me, but if you want something bad enough in this world, you got to work for it. I'm not afraid to do the work. I got a song called "Werqin' Girl (Professional)," and that's exactly how I'm showing up over here.

EDGE: What is the sexiest thing about your dance partner, Gleb Savchenko? 


Shangela: His kindness, to be very honest. Everybody knows that Gleb is fine. I did not come all the way over here to be googly-eyed over any of the men. I came over here to win the Mirrorball. I love Gleb. He has beautiful parts about him, but the sexiest part would be his kind heart. Coming into this competition as a drag entertainer, I didn't know how I was going to be accepted, especially by the male dancers, and especially by the straight male dancers. The fact that he has been so kind and put me at ease, it just helps me to be able to show up and authentically be myself. He's just great. I just love his heart and his sense of humor.


EDGE: Who in the cast are you starstruck by?


Shangela: I'm still that kid from Paris, Texas that grew up watching television and always wanting to be on it. So, when I am in a space with superstars that I looked up to and admired, I feel like I got a backstage pass to a meet and greet and now I'm just waiting to be kicked out. I admire Wayne Brady. Wayne was a judge when I was competing on Season 3 of "RuPaul's Drag Race," and now, a decade later, I'm competing next to him. It is a dream come true for me. He is my friend, and he's someone that I look up to and admire.


Jordan Sparks, who is someone I voted for when she won "American Idol." Honey, I ran up all the standard text messaging rates for her. I am now making friends with Cheryl Ladd. She's a legend. We are both from Texas, which gives us something to connect over. I still can't believe that I am talking to an angel. 

Shangela on HBO's "We're Here"
Shangela on HBO's "We're Here"  (Source: HBO)

EDGE: Can you tell us about your upcoming tour "Fully Lit?"


Shangela: I'm so thrilled for this. I'll not only be bringing one of the most sickening shows that I've ever put together, but I'll also be bringing the Mirrorball. One thing you can fully expect from the "Fully Lit" tour is what you know about Shangela. She is a high-energy and a fantastic performer. The show is going to be such an entertaining night that when you leave, you will say, "Yes, that was worth my money."


EDGE: "We're Here" has been renewed for a Season 3. What can fans expect to see?


Shangela: Fans can most definitely expect to see a true reflection of where we are in America right now. I think this third season is going to be the best season that we've had. A big part of this new season is because of the brilliant heart-wrenching and emotional stories that we have. Also, so many people are empowered in their thinking at the opposition of drag queens. In our country, the USA, we've been under attack, whether it's with legislation or conversation. I think right now the conversations that are being had, and the work that we're doing, is more important than ever. We go to some of the states that are hotbeds in America to face head-on the adversities that the LGBTQ community is dealing with. We are going to Florida, Texas, and Utah. So get ready, honey, because it's going to be something to watch. 


Shangela appears on "Dancing with the Stars" on Mondays at 8PM on ABC or streaming on Disney+. For more the "Fully Lit" tour, visit her website.