Since the cast of RuPaul's Drag Race: All Stars season five was announced, Shea Couleé has been a favorite to win. Those are just the cold hard facts. Having performed exceptionally well in her first stint on the show during RuPaul's Drag Race season nine, the only reason she didn't already have a crown was a truly once in a life-time gaggy performance that involved rose petals. But as the performer had put so much in her first appearance on the show, coming back, which Couleé tells Out was "exciting," required a little bit of internal work.
"It was really about me working on my drag and my craft and getting myself to a place where I would truly be excited and hungry for the crown," the Chicago-based star said ahead of being announced as the season's winner. While that included the therapy she discussed on-air, it also involved developing a core support team that she could rely on when needed. "I went [on The Race] with a better sense of confidence because I knew that I had grown and changed a lot both in my art and personally." And that growth bagged her the crown.
After Couleé was announced as the winner of the most recent season she got congratulations from the likes of Marc Jacobs, Janelle Monae, Elizabeth Warren, and many more. She told The Advocate that with her $100,000 she plans to "donate $10,000 to Black Lives Matter, put $10,000 in a high yield savings account, and then put the rest into a down payment on a house," and told us that she has big plans, hoping to fashion herself into a mogul. This weekend's win made Couleé the latest in a string of Black performers to come out on top of what has become the most-watched drag pageant in the world; Yvie Oddly, Monet X Change, and Jaida Essence Hall are all recent winners. And it's a bit of poetic justice that Couleé adds her name to this list, as she continually put her Blackness front and center in her art form during her All Stars tour.
"I always aim to feel super authentically Black," she says. "There's so much in popular culture that borrows from Black women, that borrows from Black queer people. For me, I just wanted to show a really authentic representation of my experiences and my views on Black glamour." On the show, she called the result a "love letter to Black women." These references (which range from airbrushed memorial tees, to hairstyles, and other more personal touches) are meshed with high fashion a la Richard Quinn and Cristobal Balenciaga, to turn out some of the most awe-inspiring looks we've seen on the show yet — and that's saying something as Jujubee and Mariah Paris Balenciaga also brought some of the show's strongest runway presentations this season alone. Of all the looks though — and there were many — Couleé's most poignant was for the "Love the Skin You're In" challenge.
"For me, that was incredibly important just because I think about how it can be such a challenge for me to find tights in my skin color or how the makeup brands don't have quite the shade range that compliments my skin tone," she explains of the Nubian-inspired stoned bodysuit. "I wanted to wear something that I felt like truly exemplified the beauty, the glamour, the power, and the Goddess energy that exists in Black women and Black femmes." To wit, in the photoshoot she did to share the look on Instagram, she recreated Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
But drag and Drag Race are more than just about fashion. There's the challenges, the lip syncs — Couleé developed a reputation for being the lip-sync assassin's assassin, winning every lip-sync she was a part of with nary a trick, flip, or split, to speak of — and the activism. On the show, the Werk Room and confessionals have often been the place where performers speak to the greater public about social issues that impact queer and trans folks between witty one-liners and other shady remarks. But off the series Coulée has kept that same energy, speaking out not only on social media but also in-person, turning up at marches and rallies. This summer, she joined the Chicago Black Drag Council in igniting a reckoning within the city's Boystown gayborhood particularly around the Black LGBTQ+ communities.
"I love my city so much and the Chicago drag scene is special and powerful," Coulee says. In June she spoke at the city's Drag March for Change and has been supporting the likes of Jo Mama and Lucy Stoole in everything they are doing in the local community. "Specifically with Black queens and the contributions we have made to the community here in Chicago, I think it's really important right now that we stand up and stand firm and own our power and take charge in light of the contributions we have made. Hopefully, that inspires other Black queens in other communities to do the same." And take charge is exactly what Miss Couleé is prepared to do.
For the most ambitious of its contestants (and winners) RuPaul's Drag Race is simply a stepping stone. It is a jumping-off point from which to launch a career in film and television, in fashion and beauty, in acting, or in ... anything really. Or all of those things.
"I really want to carve a space out for myself as being one of the Drag Race moguls," she says when presented with the legacies of Trixie Mattel, Bianca Del Rio, Shangela, Miss Fame, and more. "I want to do television; I've been working on a pilot this last week that's been a lot of fun. I've also been in talks about development for other tv shows. I also recently came across a collection that I designed in my 20s and — if I do say so myself, — I think it still holds up. I kind of want to go into producing it." But that's not it. The multihyphenate is hoping to release more music, is interested in getting into releasing makeup, and has a "really high energy, concert style, hour-long party" she's tentatively called The Lipstick Ball, that's in the works as well. (Plus, she's already launched an OnlyFans.)
"There's all these things that I'm currently really trying to work on achieving," she says. "So, really, my thing is: look out because Shea Couleé is coming."