DOWNTOWN — Shea Couleé told fans of RuPaul's Drag Race that she came to win.
She's done just that again and again, winning challenges in four episodes of the hit competition series. And Shea managed another victory during Friday's episode: She made it to the finals, host RuPaul announced, and is just a step away from potentially winning and being named America's Next Drag Superstar.
Shea, who lives in Ravenswood, is the third Chicago drag queen in as many years to make it to the finals of RuPaul's Drag Race — but none have managed to win.
The competition has required the queen to dress up like a hot dog (what better way to represent Chicago?), showcase her acting and dancing chops, make costumes by hand and beat her face to perfection.
Shea's work has won her four wins throughout the season. It's also netted her a legion of fans and a schedule of events that have taken her across the country.
Success has required years of work, though. Shea, who grew up in suburban Plainfield, moved to Chicago and got a degree in costume design from Columbia College. She started doing drag six years ago after she saw performer Raja appear on (and win) "Drag Race" in its third season.
Shea developed her drag persona — which showcases her Cameroonian and Kenyan heritage in looks that are "Afrocentric and regal" — in Chicago and worked as a resident host at Smart Bar, 3730 N. Clark St. She's also appeared at Roscoe's Tavern, 3356 N. Halsted St.
"The Chicago drag scene is not as divided as some other drag scenes that I've experienced," Shea said in March. "I think everyone is really open-minded and all about working as a collective. ... The people here really do accept and nurture your craft and your talent.
"It's really supportive. It's a great community."
It took years of tryouts before "Drag Race" told Shea she'd been accepted as a contestant.
"I was just in shock. I had auditioned five times for the show, so I kind of got used to hearing 'no,'" Shea said. "To get a 'yes' was really just ... it was amazing."
The show gave Shea a chance to develop a close bond with co-star Sasha Velour and the rest of the cast, she said, and she's heard from many new fans.
"The fans that have reached out to me and sent me messages on social media, they are just like really wonderful and I am so fortunate to be able to connect with all these amazing, beautiful little trolls," Shea said.