My favorite memory of D.J. Pierce (also known as his drag-queen persona, Shangela) encompasses everything I can say about his heart and soul. One morning, I took the dog out and I saw him counting his tips from that night’s drag show. We always speak in movie quotes, so I delivered a line from What’s Love Got to Do With It: “Anna Mae, what you plannin’ on doin’ with all that money?” I thought he would say something funny, but instead he looked up at me with one of the sweetest faces I had ever seen and said, “I’m saving up to get my grandma some carpet, Jen.”
I’m always encouraging him because he’s so sincere. He loves what he does, and he does it well. When he puts that face on, he’s ready. Every time. That’s how you want to be. You can see it in film—he won raves for his performance in A Star Is Born—and onstage. His performance of a Beyoncé medley at the GLAAD Media Awards was electrifying. I felt like a proud peacock—I just hid in the back of the room because I didn’t want to hit anybody with my feathers. And the joy on his face when Beyoncé herself stood up and clapped for him? That was everything.
Lewis is an actor and the author of the memoir The Mother of Black Hollywood