This interview appears in the February 2012 issue of Pittsburgh’s Out which can be read at outonline.com.
By Natty Soltesz
Brace yourself, America: Pittsburgh-based drag performer Sharon Needles (born Aaron Coady) is bringing her outsized, outrageous and occasionally offensive brand of drag to your living room. One of thirteen competitors on season four of RuPaul’s Drag Race (premiering January 30th on cable network Logo), the self-anointed Queen of Shock has been blowing Pittsburgh audience’s minds for the past several years at venues like the Blue Moon and the Brillobox. How will she hold up under RuPaul’s scrutiny?
We’ll have to watch and see, but underneath Sharon’s pull-no-punches stage persona is an intelligence and a dedication to drag that should serve her well. Pittsburgh’s Out spoke to Sharon about reality-TV fame, the state of Pittsburgh drag, and the necessity of Elmer’s Glue Sticks.
Pittsburgh’s Out: You’ve been doing drag for a long time. Did you ever see yourself getting this much notoriety?
Sharon Needles: You know, yes. When I was young I was vain enough and blind enough and living on my own planet to know that I was going to be famous. But the older I got the more that I was seeing reality and knowing that it probably wasn’t going to happen. But now there’s so many reality shows, anyone can be famous. Andy Warhol once said that one day everyone will get their fifteen minutes of fame, but, you know, you get fifteen episodes.
What’s been the best part of the experience so far?
Literally all the friends that I made. You take that many drag queens and pack em up into a room and put them in sixteen-hour daily shoots, and instead of hating each other we really all loved each other. Some more than most.
Do you worry about how they’ll edit you, or how the exposure will affect you?
My exposure has always caused indifference with people. I say I’m the Queen of Shock and I say it for a reason. I’ve always felt like I was pushing buttons so I’m sure it will be no different than what I get now. In terms of how I’m being edited, I’m such a fan of the show, so I’m looking forward to seeing the story that’s created. And it’s shocking cause I thought reality TV was much more forced and scripted, and it really wasn’t ever scripted or forced.
If Sharon could endorse any product, what would it be?
Elmer’s Glue Stick. You can ask a drag queen what’s the most important thing in your makeup kit and you’ll never hear foundation, mascara or lipstick; you will hear ‘glue stick.’ It’s our number-one secret.
You have this great sense of taste and an ability to fuse your influences – like Peg Bundy & Marilyn Mason – into your drag persona. Do you use any Pittsburgh people as role models?
Any queen in this town, I love. I look at Georgia Bea Cummings, she makes me want to wear a gown. I look at Veruca la Piranha, I want to paint up like a clown. I look at Alaska Thunderfuck, I want to sing live. I look at Courtney Brown, I want to impress all the judges in a pageant. I want to be Kierra Darshell, I want to be a great MC. I want to be Marsha Mellow, I don’t want to give a fuck about anything, especially the way I look. I want to be Lola LeCroix, I want to look like a fishy, bitchy cunt. I want to be Lady Rose and be a statuesque pageant queen. I want to be Mahogany and be a fearless performer on stage. I want to be Cherri Baum and be fish down. I wanna be Amy Vodkahaus and be a total campy mess and relish in it. I love every Pittsburgh queen.
Is there anything you wouldn’t do in front of an audience?
I would never take myself too seriously on stage. I don’t know how.
You grew up in Newton, Iowa – how’d you end up in Pittsburgh?
I lived in a lot of cities in my late teens and early twenties. [At one point] I was looking at nine months in jail and my friend said “I’m moving to Pittsburgh tomorrow,” so I was thinking “Hmm: Pittsburgh, jail – they sound quite similar! Maybe I’ll come and stay for a couple of weeks” – cause I never stayed in a city for long. And I just loved it.
What keeps you here?
It’s like America’s dirtiest secret. I really like the street fashion and I love the dive bar scene. I like it cause it’s rough around the edges. I still get called a faggot everyday, you know? Not that I think that’s a good thing, but I like that it’s blue collar. It’s a town where people aren’t afraid to call someone a faggot, and I like that. [Laughs.] I don’t know why. I never get called a faggot in New York or LA! Sometimes I think I’m not dressed appropriately.
You consider yourself a transgressive artist. When people are put off by your performances does part of you want them to understand, or do you just think “fuck you”?
It would be stupid to think that by doing transgressional art for a living [I’m not] gonna piss them off. But then the innocent side of me that does what I do…I’m always really upset when someone’s upset about it. And I say “fuck you.” But I don’t mean it. I always feel bad when I make someone else feel bad. And then the mean side of me wants to say “I feel bad that they’re too fuckin stupid not to realize that a man in a dress is being an example of all of our anxieties and all our fears.” I always say, I’ll take the darkest issue and put it right in the spotlight. For free. Every other Saturday at the Blue Moon.
Sharon takes no shit, and that must feel liberating. Do you need to be in drag to make her real?
Do I need drag to bring out Sharon Needles? Yes. And maybe alcohol.