Miley Cyrus delivered a show for every sense imaginable when she hit the MTV VMAs stage to belt out “Dooo It!” on Sunday.
The high-octane performance was an orchestrated surprise that Cyrus and her dancers – a group of drag queens and trans activists – spent a week perfecting.
Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race may have recognized Shangela, aka D.J. Pierce, on Cyrus’ left side throughout the number. In the midst of the excitement, she captured the group’s experience in her YouTube series Living with Shangela. Keep reading for the behind-the-scenes video and what she told PEOPLE about Cyrus’ wild night.
How did your collaboration with Miley come together?
Miley had attended the season seven reunion taping [for RuPaul’s Drag Race] in May. She watched me perform with my group, Haus of Edwards, and then later invited us to be part of her VMA performance. I didn’t know there were going to be 30 queens – 25 from the show and five from the L.A. area – which was fabulous. She watched the video of us performing at the reunion and she picked up our choreography [for the dance breakdown]. The next thing you know, she was front and center with us. Or we were front and center with her, we should say.
What was it like working with Miley?
I was on her shoulder the whole performance and rehearsal week. What you would want out of an artist you’re working with, that’s what she was. She was approachable, committed, professional and hilarious. She came in and made everyone feel so at home. Some of the girls brought her their merchandise to wear, and the next day, she’d show up wearing the shirt or hat.
She’s our drag sister. She embraced us so much. And not just that – anybody can say ‘I love you guys’ and watch the show – but Miley knows. She knows our lingo, she knows the moves, she knows our music and she had almost 20 costume changes during her VMA hosting debut. And that’s drag.
She came to every rehearsal we had and she went full out – even in her heels. You can say a lot about Miley Cyrus, but at the end of the day, she is a professional. She set the example and the tone for everyone at the rehearsal. She showed up on time, she went through it in full each time with her props. She worked not only with the dancers, but also the choreographers, making sure she got what she wanted. She was the artistic director.
How did you feel about the performance?
Rehearsals that week were a buildup of excitement and nerves. You don’t want to mess anything up because it lives on forever. But when we walked off the stage, I felt like we won a VMA. Everything was exactly how we planned. When we hit that final pose, it was epic and magical because we had worked so hard to get there. You could see it all over Miley’s face and ours. Just the final release. There’s only one word for it: YAAAS.
Then to be there in front of celebs like Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, and idols like Britney Spears and Demi Lovato and Bruno Mars, it was everything I hoped it to be and more. We were representing not only drag queens all across the world, but everyone who felt like they didn’t fit in somewhere; we were standing up there for them. And that’s what Miley wanted to express.
Did you teach Miley any moves at rehearsals?
I taught her how to do a 360 hair whip. It’s really about the motion of it. You have to take your neck – and in a very precise jerk – you start rolling it around the right. You just whip it around, helicopter style.
How did you celebrate after the number was over?
I didn’t have time to celebrate. I had to perform at Miley’s official after party at Beacher’s Madhouse. I performed my original song “Werqin’ Girl” and my parody song “Uptown Fish.” The Haus of Edwards group performed “Bang Bang.” Alyssa performed her single “Drop Dead Gorgeous” and Laganja performed her single “Legs.”
How did you react to the Miley-Nicki moment?
All of a sudden, we were backstage, and that thing happened. And we were all watching the monitors and were just shocked. We started clapping and cheering when we saw how cool and calm she was. That little moment was not going to overshadow the biggest moment of the night – and that was making sure that all the hard work that we put into that week came out exactly how Miley wanted it in the end. The night was about Miley, not Nicki. I’m still a Nicki Minaj fan.
I hope it doesn’t overshadow that Miley did an amazing job hosting and Nicki also did a great job opening the show. I actually did her during our performance of “Bang Bang” at the afterparty. I came out as Nicki holding a peace sign.
How did Miley react?
Miley thought it was cute and funny. She just laughed and had a good time with it. She is so laid back and cool.