Drag queens aren’t exactly what come to mind when thinking about small-town America. But “RuPaul Drag’s Race” stars Shangela, Eureka O’Hara and Bob the Drag Queen are hoping to change all that.
In HBO’s new unscripted series “We’re Here,” which premieres April 23, the trio travels to the Bible Belt and other conservative pockets of the country. Once there, they give drag makeovers to local LGBTQ and straight residents, in preparation for a live show that they all put on at the end of the week.
Through the glitter, sequins and eye shadow, plenty of tears are also shed. Shangela says on this week’s episode of the Variety and iHeart podcast “The Big Ticket,” “[We’re] getting in their lives and working with them to be the best versions of themselves, to reach a goal or dream that they’ve had and do it through the power of drag.”
I talked to Shangela and the others over the course of a week from their different quarantine locations. The interviews below have been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
How are you coping with quarantine?
Shangela: I’m in Paris, Texas, at the house I actually bought for my grandmother in August. My mom painted the garage and I’m changing it into a gym because I haven’t done anything fit since I got here on March 18.
Eureka: I’m braiding my back hair, massaging my pinky toes and smoking marijuana.
Bob: I’ve been making a lot of content. I went through all the things, so I went through, like, the phase where I was like, “I’m working on my body, I’m working out, I’m stretching.” And I went through the phase where I was like, “It’s the apartment, I’m going to clean, clean, clean, clean.” And then I went through the phase where I’m like, “It’s my job. I’m going to make content, I’m going to start a new show.”
What do you want viewers to get from “We’re Here”?
Shangela: If you’ve been to Six Flags, honey, you know to pull that bar tight and hold on when the roller coaster starts because this truly is a roller coaster of emotions. What I really want people to take away from this is something that I think everyone, I would hope, needs right now, especially with all that we’re going through in the world. And that is the spirit of humanity, compassion, kindness, and finding out that we’re all not as different as sometimes we think we are.
Bob: I hope that they just get a chance to genuinely see and hear these stories of the people that we’re working with
You go to some very conservative places. Were you ever scared for your safety?
Shangela: I’m standing with Bob and Eureka. I have no reason to be scared. We’re like Charlie’s Angels.
Eureka: I grew up in a very small town in East Tennessee and I went to school in Big Stone Gap, Va., an even smaller town than where I’m from. So, for me, I wasn’t really nervous about going to the small towns.
Bob: We got the cops called on us three times in Branson. They just didn’t like that we were there and they just called the cops on us. We beat it before the cops showed up. We were riding dirty. I was a little bit nervous in Gettysburg, too, because there’re just so many Confederate flags everywhere. I’m not saying everyone who has a Confederate flag is a danger, but when you’re a black queer person, it’s not a comforting sign to see.
My husband and I cried during every episode we watched. Did you cry while filming?
Shangela: When I saw Bob’s relationship with his drag daughters in Episode 2, and the grandfather, when I saw Eureka with her drag daughter in the first episode, and then even when I looked and saw some of the things that I shot with mine that I didn’t even remember, I was like, it just starts. You swell with emotion, and then the next thing you know, you go, “Oh my gosh, here I go. Let me just…” And you start wiping tears, because I think that we all as humans have a lot of common feelings that connect us.
Bob: I cry in Episode 2 [in Twin Falls, Idaho]. Watching myself cry always makes me cry. I’m like, “Look at that sad clown up there crying on TV.”
You don’t only give LGBTQ people drag makeovers, but you also included straight locals, too. Why is that?
Eureka: Drag is for everyone. I think that’s kind of the message too, but it’s also more about, versus the drag part, it’s more about involving everyone in the community, basically showing how we’re all related in our issues and the way we process them. And how it doesn’t matter your sexuality, you still just want to belong. You still want to find out who your authentic self is. You still want to be yourself and be happy, and live your life without restriction from a moral code that we’ve taught ourselves is the society that we have to live by.
Bob: [What] I’m most proud of with the show is that it’s not a show where we go around and make straight people over. Like, most of the people we work with are queer. And that really means a lot to me. You know what I mean? I think that there are a lot of shows out there where queers go around and make straight people’s lives better, which, I mean, is what we’ve been doing for years. We’re cutting your hair, we’re teaching your kids, we’re planning your weddings, we’re teaching you how to dance, we’re your theater teachers. You know what I mean? And this is more so a docuseries that highlights queer people in small towns, which is important. Because sometimes people forget that there are queer people in small towns.
Do you think Sherry Pie can ever recover from her controversy? [On this season of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” producers disqualified contestant Sherry Pie because it was revealed she has a history of catfishing men by pretending to be a casting director.]
Shangela: I think that the producers and everyone did the right thing in how they’ve been able to respond to everything that was going on, but I always believe in the spirit of any queen. I’ve always been a person with forgiveness in my heart.
Bob: I think that they made the right call. I think that disqualifying her was the right call, and I feel really deeply for the queens who are on the season because they’ll always be associated with that…Maybe there’s redemption for some people, but for some people there probably won’t be. I don’t think that she’ll be able to recover from this as far as drag goes. I think, in my opinion, her drag career is probably not going to recover from this.
You can listen to the full interviews below. You can also find “The Big Ticket” at iHeartRadio or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.