Beautiful, Spooky and Stupid – Sharon Needles

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Photography, Video
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A few weeks back – in the curiously incongruous setting of a gentlemen’s lap-dancing club – I had the great pleasure of meeting Sharon Needles: contestant, and ultimate winner, of RuPaul’s Drag Race. (Think America’s Next Top Model with drag queens and higher odds of finding a career once the show is over).

Having discovered that this event was taking place within 24 hours of it happening, I was a little apprehensive as to whether we’d be actually be able to get tickets. Thankfully I was able to get in touch with the organiser who informed me that tickets would be available on the door provided we arrived at about 10:30. What this actually amounted to was arriving at 10:30 then waiting in (literal) sub-zero temperatures for 40 minutes until the doors opened, by which point we were at risk of losing a toe or three. Sharing our misery, however, was the lovely duo of Kim and Jenn, the latter of whom was in imminent risk of passing out from hypothermia. We actually spent the rest of the night with them and have kept in touch ever since.

Support act, Surgyn (who, I just read, are actually from Dundee).

In the interminable wait for Sharon to take the stage (scheduled for midnight and taking place at 1:30) these lovely ladies asked if I’d take their picture, despite my explaining that I wasn’t actually the official photographer for the event.

And, making me forget all my erstwhile complaining:

Ms. Sharon Needles!

More fear than fierce, Sharon won over fans with her refreshingly haunting take on drag, and while her fellow Drag Race contestants were strutting the runway in form-fitting gowns and flawless makeup, Needles was attaching tentacles to her fingers and spewing blood over her post-apocalyptic couture. She described herself on the show as “beautiful, spooky and stupid,” that last one belying her talent for comic timing and lightning-fast comebacks. In a political-themed challenge, Sharon was critiqued for her anti-bullying rhetoric, with guest judge (and consummate asshole) Dan Savage commenting that, “Everybody says that until they’re down on the polls.” “Well,” replied Sharon, “I enjoy being down on a pole.”

When the decision to crown the winner was put to the public vote, fans responded resoundingly in favour of Ms. Needles, placing her well ahead of seasoned professional Chad Michaels (who, one feels, RuPaul would have preferred to coronate, and indeed who went on to win the All-Stars season a few short months later) and the cutthroat PhiPhi O’Hara, whose bitter rivalry with Sharon was a masterpiece of reality TV’s greatest skill: vilifying through selective editing.

That evening, Sharon was on the second leg of her four-date European tour, and the turnout in Glasgow was surely a testament to her enduring popularity. (Also, not to put too incriminating a point on it, to piracy, given that the show never aired in the UK.) On the night, Needles rose from the grave (literally: she was carried on stage in a casket) to perform three songs from her then-upcoming-but-now-available album, PG-13.

I have to confess that I’ve never been especially impressed with the musical endeavours of the Drag Race alumni; with the notable exceptions of Manila Luzon’s Hot Couture (which is on my running playlist and, by extension, which I listen to on a near-daily basis), and the frequently-hilarious parodies of Willam Belli. (Coincidentally, two queens both scheduled to appear at future events.) I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, that Sharon’s music not only exceeded my expectations of a Drag Race contestant but is, objectively, actually pretty good!

The first song she performed was the album’s debut single, This Club is a Haunted House, a catchy pop-rock track that exemplifies the clever subversion evident on so much of PG-13. It starts out with a spoken-word intro, recorded by none other than RuPaul himself: an echo of his own megahit Supermodel, but with a sardonically morbid twist. Likewise, Sharon’s repeated refrain of “This is the end of the rest of your life” is a nod to RuPaul’s The Beginning; the track that plays over the end credits of the show that made her a star.

Needles has also noted that her brain “is a rolodex of sub-pop culture,” and the album is a veritable palimpsest of the macabre. Her next number, Dead Girls Never Say No, referenced everything from Roman Polanski to infamous necrophile, Carl Tanzler and Call Me on the Ouija Board (a deceptively saccharine pop piece which – but for the subject matter – would sound at home on the album of any current pop princess) pays homage to one of Sharon’s and my favourite movies, Death Becomes Her.

Perhaps most impressively, the two lowest-scoring contestants on each episode of Drag Race are required to “Lip Sync for their Lives,” but – quite opposed to Sharon’s undead persona – her vocals this night were much live. As of the presidential inauguration, that’s more than can be said of even Beyoncé.

Cher-on Needles and the show’s organiser.

I suspect this poor, straight security guy had no idea what he’d signed up for.

Later in the night there was a best-dressed competition, where audience members were invited to strut their best spooky drag looks down the runway. Sharon’s commentary was equal parts helpful (to an actual girl walking the runway: “Having a penis really helps, darling”) and hilarious (to a skinny gay guy/portly fag-hag combo: “We can see who wears the pants in this family. We can also see who eats”). The same could be said of her numbering system which steadily declined from “Contestant number the next number that came after the last number I said!” to, “Ladies and gentlemen, contestant number orange!” The grand prize, however, went – unanimously and deservedly – to the gentlemen above; whose recreation of Sharon’s outfit in Episode 1 was so authentic he even vomited up blood on the runway.

Her final performance – hitting somewhere between a dirge and a ballad – was a parlando rendition of Ministry’s, Everyday is Halloween. “It’s a total downer,” she cheerfully informed us.

That cross soon went somewhere else entirely…

At the end of the night, we had a chance to speak with Sharon herself, and – as if I needed another reason to love her – she asked John and me to come to her show in Dublin the next day to make sure there were some attractive people in the audience. She even suggested we travel by broom.

We were also able to grab a quick picture with her (emphasis on the quick – that same security guy from earlier was determined to expedite the process), allowing Kim and Jenn to share in the lovefest, and allowing Sharon herself to school Kim on the subtle but important distinction between her trademark claw motion and Lady Gaga’s “Little Monster” paw.

Perhaps the only picture I have of John standing next to another man in which he’s wearing less makeup.

Flash photography at 3am is not my best friend but…Sharon Needles!

A few days later, I stumbled across a [1] [2] [3]-part video sequence of the entire night. Naturally I’d recommend watching all of them as Sharon’s performance was amazing buuuuut if you switch to HD and fast-forward to the 4-minute mark on the video below:

…you can watch her fellating me with a microphone.

(I’m also the one with the camera looking pretty enraptured from about 6:00 onwards.)

And, to leave you with some wise words courtesy Sharon Needles herself, remember that if you ever get booed off stage, that is simply applause from ghosts. Happy Halloween!

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