Patricia Sheridan's Breakfast With ... Aaron Coady aka Sharon Needles
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Drag queen Sharon Needles won the fourth season of "RuPaul's Drag Race" on the Logo network. The man behind the makeup is Pittsburgher Aaron Coady. He is enjoying the fruits of "her" labor with fame and some fortune. Originally from Newton, Iowa, he had dropped out of high school at 16 and did some serious wandering before calling Pittsburgh home. Needles is hosting "FEARce," a showcase for bad horror movies on Logo, and also has an album coming out next month.
How did doing "RuPaul's Drag Race" change you?
You know that's a question that has far too many answers personal and trite. But obviously winning "RuPaul's Drag Race" has made me richer [laughing]. A year ago this very day I was paying my Bloomfield rent with the laundry quarter bowl. Now I don't have to worry so much about myself financially. Other than that it's really opened up the flood gates of opportunity. In this short year I've been able to star in two plays. One in San Francisco, a parody on "Silence of the Lambs" called "Silence of the Trans" in the legendary Castro theater. I also did a five-week run of the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" in San Antonio, Texas. I'm a spokesperson for PETA the animal activist group. Also I'm a cover girl. I was named one of the top 100 most influential GLBTQIA (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Allies) people of 2012 in Out Magazine. One of the things I am most proud of is I got my own spot on Logo on "FEARce." It showcases cheesy horror movies, and I get to host them. It was a huge dream of mine as a kid to be the new Rhonda Sheer, Elvira or Chilly Billy.
Has Sharon made being Aaron harder?
No. In fact for the first time in my life I think I really appreciate being out of the character. I used to get all my kicks and attention and profit while being in drag. Now I really appreciate my down time. I really enjoy being in my sweat pants sitting on my couch with a glass of sauvignon blanc and a book. Now I'm Sharon Needles five days a week. I love doing it and I love meeting my fans, and at the same time it can be really taxing to go from airport to nightclub, airport to nightclub and giving 100 percent every single night.
Being in heels is no easy feat.
No, no, no and I would say the average Pittsburgh woman would consider a 3-inch heel the ultimate feat of femininity. I don't wear anything under 6 inches. [laughing] In a size 13!
When did you first get into the whole idea of drag?
I've always been interested in costumes and character creation and living in the fantasy of being something else. Where I came from I was always kind of misunderstood and picked on for being a real imaginative child. I think I've always been in drag. I've always lived in my own fantasy head space. I started really early. I mean I got a fake ID when I was really young. I started performing in Des Moines in nightclubs when I was 15 years old.
What was it like the very first time you were in full drag?
I was naive enough to still be a child but adult enough to know the power of it. It was in those formative growing years, being a teenager and finding your own identity, so it was very much playing house. At the same time having that first tangible taste of adulthood.
Did you start out with a different character or was it always Sharon Needles?
I've had so many characters. When I was 15 my drag name was Pixie Stixs. This was at the height of Rave culture. So my character at the time was very colorful and covered in candy and lollipops. She evolved more into kind of a prostitute character. You know, mini skirts and torn fishnets and trashy blond wigs. I'm sure anyone in Pittsburgh who is familiar with my 412-724 horror video, which was a gay public staple, knows. I wanted her to be multidimensional. You know there is a power in threes. I wanted to make sure there were three things. No matter what Sharon did, said or wore that there were always these three things that made them her. She always stood out in a crowd. She was always remembered and never strayed too far away from the comedic cartoon-ish formula. I made her beautiful, spooky and stupid. I wanted her to be commercially beautiful. There are drag queens in New York and LA and overseas who do such outlandish looks that they don't even mimic commercial glamour or Hollywood beauty. I wanted her to be spooky because I grew up with horror films. I wanted to make her stupid because in the Pittsburgh scene I was noticing the way to get power was to kind of be this diva bitch who had a very thick skin. I realized it was masking this sense of fear or not belonging. Probably becoming a bitch to make up for the times when they were younger and didn't really stand up for themselves. So I knew that would be another way to make Sharon stand out from other queens.
Was the Sharon part of developing your own thick skin?
You take the blows in life and instead of letting them destroy you, you use them. I definitely used my past in my art form, but I don't use it to ever hurt people. I don't find pleasure in watching other people crumble because of the way other people found enjoyment in watching me crumble. I am not that villain who was created by their own terrible past. I try to use it for good. I never hate my bullies from high school. I actually kind of appreciate them. If it wasn't for that boot camp training of how the world treats gay people and especially drag queens, I don't know if I would have survived as well as I have.
Where did you go after you dropped out of high school? Your parents couldn't have been too happy.
No, no. I was such a bizarre conundrum of everything that makes you worry about a child. I was a bad student. I got picked on a lot. I loved horror movies. I used to hang out with the bad kids, so they didn't really have the tools to deal with a child like that. I grew up outside of a farming and industrial community. When I was 15 or 16 I moved to the glamorous, completely stunning, over the top city of Des Moines, Iowa [laughing]! That's where for the first time I was meeting other kids like me. You know, drag queens, gay kids. Gay kids who had been kicked out of their house. From Des Moines I became like a transient, anarchist, queer, drag queen living in hippie houses and art collectives and tents all over America until I landed in Pittsburgh in 2004.
So Pittsburgh was an accidental pick.
Yeah, I was in Colorado and had to get out of there. Thought I'd try another city out. I came and lived in Garfield in an abandoned house with some friends. I was just planning my next move. A couple of weeks went by, a couple of months went by and then a year. Next thing I knew, I really appreciated the city. I loved the culture. I loved the people. I loved the architecture. I consider myself an honorary Yinzer. Go Stillers!
Was fame always the goal?
It was always the goal, yeah. Ever since I was 4 years old. I knew I wanted to be in that TV. As a child I knew I would be famous. I was destined for it. There could be no other way. The thing about fame is, you want it your whole life, but no matter how bright you are, no one ever asks themselves why they want fame. You never really know what it is until you have it. You can never tangibly feel your own fame. You never ask yourself why in the hell you would want to give away all your privacy and have people constantly watching you. Fame can be very much like big brother. I have my different eyeglasses and my fake mustaches.
Has your family embraced your on stage persona?
Of course. Growing up in Iowa I could have had it a lot worse. My family was more worried about my education and my health than the fact that I wore my sister's dresses. Their concern was always there is no future in drag. But since the show, my family has really embraced it. Especially my mom, who I always kind of had a tumultuous relationship with as a kid. Now she's my biggest fan and a drag queen herself. She tours with me all the time. She has her own Twitter account. All my fans know who she is. I think my mom likes being famous more than me.
So it all works out.
You know the family never starts coming around until you get a $100,000 check, right? [laughing]
How are you celebrating New Year's Eve?
I will be celebrating all the fun holidays like I have this whole year -- WORKING! That is one of the downsides of being a drag queen. Most people have the holidays off. Drag queens never have the holidays off because we are the entertainment. I don't know where. I just show up at Pittsburgh International. I am not sure where I will be, Vegas or Seattle, but I won't be home. I will not be celebrating New Years at the Blue Moon.
First Published December 31, 2012 12:00 am