...to win Season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, RuPaul’s Drag Race is THE best reality show on TV right now. No, wait, let me rephrase that: RuPaul’s Drag Race is THE best reality show in the history of TV. Yes, I’m fucking serious.
It feels a bit like coming out all over again, to admit an obsession with a show so frivolous and outrageously camp as RDR. But I’m not ashamed, no siree. I couldn’t give two hoots what any of the detractors say, Drag Race is fun, funny, glamorous, touching and educational. It delivers on so many levels that it puts the bigger, mainstream reality shows to shame, a fact acknowledged by Pamela Anderson, who has stated that the talent on Drag Race easily outclasses that on American Idol.
And I’m not even a reality TV fan. I hate it! You know how these competition shows seem like such a fucking lie cos all the contestants are MOR dweebs hand-picked for their inanity, and the judges spew out bullshit platitudes when the truth is they have no clue how to control the market forces of the entertainment industry? That has always bugged me, as has the premise that somehow a mystical team of background operatives can bestow superstar status on an individual of their choosing. Well, Drag Race is different. Very different. First off, it’s a show about competing drag queens. Case closed. But in case you’d like me to explain further, don’t worry, I fully intend to…
Right away, out the window goes that hypocritical, bullshit false humility that stinks up reality TV. Being a show-off is always frowned upon on these shows, and a confident extrovert is generally framed as being “arrogant.” It’s a fundamental mythos of the entire reality genre (you know the score, the loveable loser who would still be lingering in a factory or waiting tables if it wasn’t for the grace of Simon Cowell to descend from his throne and bestow fame upon them.) Realistically the judges and producers need someone who is easy to manipulate and control, but they also need someone who is comfortable in front of an audience and a few cameras yet who knows their place and won’t outshine the real stars, the judges themselves.
Drag Race contestants are not random losers plucked from the braying horde to be made famous, these girls have been picked to compete because they are FABULOUS, and they are not scared of showing it off! RuPaul herself actively encourages showing-off, with a peacock-parade at the end of each show, and a lip sync competition between relegated queens to see who stays on. These are goddam drag queens after all, and showing off is in their bones, their genes, their very make-up. Seriously, who’s ever heard of a shy drag queen!?
RuPaul doesn’t promise these performers the world on a plate. No, she offers them a slot performing on a cruise liner. That and princely sum of $100,000. The queens are expected to bring their own talents to the table and to show us how hard they can work them, rather than having to bow to the judges nit-picking advice and barely-hidden agendas.
But it’s not even that that’s got me hooked. It’s Sharon Needles herself.
Here’s the other major lie of reality TV, one that is getting thinner and more see-through as the years go by, and turning off more and more fans of the genre. The lie that they actually produce stars. Seriously, in the ten years now that reality TV has dominated the airwaves, it has yet to produce one genuine superstar. One performer or personality that you can tell will still be around and claiming the spotlight once the promotional budget has run out or the new series has started. Well, step forward Sharon Needles.
Needles (real name is Aaron Coady) is a 31-year-old performer based in steely-grey Pittsburgh, a punk-rock goth queen who exudes wit and warmth and always looks simply phenomenal. Aaron describes Sharon as being “beautiful, spooky and stupid” and she quickly went from being Drag Race‘s rank outsider to head of the leader board, winning a record four challenges with a style that is equal parts Donatella Versace and Lux Interior (Sharon quotes Amanda LaPore and GG Allin as her drag idols.) She is television gold. Seriously, this is the first time I have ever watched anything like this and actually thought “Wow - this person really does deserve to be superstar.” It’s a slightly strange sensation, and is exactly what has made this season of RuPaul’s Drag Race so captivating.
Needles is not a queen without controversy, either. Within the world of drag Sharon is seen as a freak because she does not conform to “fishy” standards (looking convincingly sexy as a female) and even though she looks fantastic she has had to struggle to prove her worth to the other Drag Race contestants, not to mention to audiences and venues in her native Pittsburgh. But Sharon’s outsider/underdog status has actually worked in her favor. In the insular, catty scene of drag and female impersonation, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that to the straight world grown men dressing as girls is always going to be seen as freaky, no matter how fishy they are. Sharon’s open embracing of her own beautiful freakishness has endeared her to audiences both gay and straight alike.
Sharon’s outsider status has also brought to the fore stories of Aaron’s childhood bullying and social exclusion, from not only the straight world but also the gay scene itself. Aaron is an eloquent speaker against discrimination and bullying of all kinds, and Sharon’s warm acceptance of all of nature’s little oddities is a refreshing change from mainstream gay society’s focus on the shallow beauty of the image. In an era of institutionalised discrimination against homosexuals, where the battle for our basic human rights is still very much happening, Sharon Needles is the unlikely hero that we need. That we ALL need, regardless of gender, orientation, color or any of that. If you’ve ever felt even a little bit at odds with society and its relentless conformity, Sharon Needles is the fierce bitch for you.
A genuine one-off with charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent to burn, Sharon Needles is a true star. In fact, she’s exactly the kind of contestant you don’t see on reality TV shows because they are just too good! And that’s why we here at Dangerous Minds would like to throw our full support behind her in the race to become America’s Next Drag Superstar.
VOTE NEEDLES 2012.
This video is a compendium of Sharon Needle’s best moments in the earlier stages of Drag Race, mixed with performance footage from the streets and bars of Pittsburgh:
RuPaul’s Drag Race airs on Logo TV, and the winner of Season 4 is announced on Monday.