Fishy. Pretty. Talented. Idol contestant. Just a few labels that have been bestowed upon drag performer Courtney Act, aka Shane Jenek, over her 12 noteworthy years in the entertainment industry.
From auditioning for the first season of Australian Idol back in 2003 to reaching the top three on the sixth season of reality competition show RuPaul’s Drag Race, Act’s experiences in music and television have led to a recent reinvention ̶ an emergence from the cocoon ̶ the artist is desperate to share with her devoted fans.
Following the conclusion of her Drag Race run in May 2014, Act used her new found worldwide exposure to release “Mean Gays”, a sassy pop track targeting the cruel twinks of the gay world. The track was her first since “To Russia With Love” earlier that year, and followed other delicious tunes including “Welcome to Disgraceland” and “Rub Me Wrong”, her debut single which peaked within the Top 30 on the Australian charts.
Now, in 2015, Act prepares for the release of her debut extended play, Kaleidoscope, which became a successfully funded Kickstarter project when it reached, and surpassed, its $20,000 target goal in late April. The seven-track EP, created alongside the likes of Sam Sparro and Jake Shears of the Scissor Sisters, is supported by lead single “Ecstasy”, two planned music videos and a tour. Act views the new EP as a culmination of the past 12 years, starting from the moment she stepped onto the Idol stage.
“I was 21. I had a dream and I felt that Idol seemed like a really cool opportunity. I just wanted to try it,” the artist says. “I just had this feeling I was meant to be there. It was funny because I thought it was the dream. It was only the beginning of it.”
Despite having previously auditioned for Australian Idol as Shane the day before, the decision to come out again in drag allowed Courtney Act’s performance to have an extra element. There were many young, blonde boys who auditioned for the reality competition show that day, but only one Courtney Act.
After a performance of “You Don’t Own Me” by Leslie Gore that impressed all three judges, Act found herself competing as a wildcard contender, giving an intriguing and unexpected rendition of AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”. Unfortunately, the performance was not enough to persuade the viewers and Act did not advance to the Top 12 of the competition.
Though dealing with the feelings of being eliminated, Act says she learned some valuable lessons during her time on Idol, specifically the importance to “trust my instincts and that there were many ways to doing things.” Before her elimination was even announced, Act had signed a recording deal with Sony Music and released her debut single, “Rub Me Wrong”, in 2004, becoming only the third contestant from the season to do so.
“There were bittersweet elements,” Act admits. “I was fulfilling this dream, but I didn’t feel I was completely in control of the dream. It was amazing to have that opportunity, but I was also feeling like it could have been different.”
After her debut single’s release, Sony Music did not take up the option to release more music with Act. The performer felt like she had hit a low point in her career. After having been handed an incredible opportunity, it was then gone before she knew it.
It was not until 2010 that Act released anymore original material. The song, “Welcome To Disgraceland”, contains a distinct Lady Gaga, electro-pop sound and was written about her favorite place to be, a nightclub in Sydney, Australia. The track was the first time the drag performer had written something that truly spoke to her. It was validating and rewarding. The artist says it was representative of who she was at the time.
Soon after, Act made the scary yet bold move to Los Angeles and was invited to become a contestant on the sixth season of LOGO TV’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, where she memorably stepped into the bright pink workroom mistaking it for America’s Next Top Model. After serving up fierce runway looks, including an outfit with an eight-foot wing span, and a jaw-dropping winning performance on the Shade: The Rusical episode, Act found it confusing when the judges commented that she was “resting on pretty.”
“I don’t know if I was ever resting on pretty,” the performer says. “It was always confusing to hear the judges say ‘don’t rest on pretty’. Being pretty is the least important thing in my life. I wanted to create something that transcended drag.”
Even after harsh criticism from the judges’ panel, Act eventually found herself starring in RuPaul’s music video for “Sissy That Walk” and competing in the top three finale, alongside Bianca Del Rio and Adore Delano.
“You hope you’re going to make it to the top three. I had a lot to lose. I felt like it was a big risk,” Act says. “My time in America has been about doing the things that scare me. I’ve come to realize the things that scare us are there for a reason. Drag Race was one of those things.”
Even though she completed her run on Drag Race as a runner-up, it was Bianca Del Rio who took home the title of America’s Next Drag Superstar, Act did not let the small setback slow her down. Act immediately released the twink-bashing “Mean Gays”, which has racked up more than a million views on YouTube, and unexpectedly became a model for retailer America Apparel with fellow Drag Race contestants Willam Belli and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000.
The hilarious trio capitalized on the new viral fame by releasing the accompanying “American Apparel Ad Girls” single, a parody of Capital Cities’ “Farrah Fawcett Hair”, which charted on Billboard’s Comedy Digital Songs at number ten. They soon followed it with the scandalous, Christmas-themed “Dear Santa, Bring Me A Man”. Both tracks have received a combined total of nearly three million views on YouTube.
The post-Drag Race projects have all led up to the release of Act’s first extended play, Kaleidoscope, which is set to be unleashed on July 7. Working alongside Sam Sparro and Jake Shears, the new EP comes following a successful Kickstarter campaign where the artist’s fans helped raise the $20,000 needed to cover production, music video and packaging costs in just one week. The campaign eventually capped off at an impressive $37,794.
“I found myself opening up,” Act says of the Kickstarter process. “I had the feeling of ‘we’ and ‘us’, it was literal now. These people were taking a chance on me. The process changed my relationship with my audience. That was an important change.”
Kaleidoscope, a seven-track effort, was said to have a distinct pop sound that is “a little bit Kylie, a bit Tove Lo, a bit Robyn, and a good dollop of Vegemite.” Luckily, the artist keeps her bold statement on the dancefloor-worthy new project while tackling many important issues that hold deep meaning for Act.
On the title track, a collaboration with Sparro, the artist sings of embracing one’s many strengths and weaknesses. The metaphor of a kaleidoscope, of all the colors coming together to create a beautiful image, held an important universal message of our similarities being greater than our differences that the artist felt it would make for a strong title for the EP.
The EP’s lead single, “Ecstasy”, is a good representation of the overall sound of the upcoming effort. Written and produced with L.A. team The Prodigal, “Ecstasy” is a strong, pulsating pop track inspired by a crazy, euphoric adventure with a friend at Burning Man. The single, which premiered exclusively on Billboard, is said to be about how the dancefloor can also be used to liberate and unite people.
“It was the last song that we wrote for [the EP]. We wanted a fun, summer party anthem. It was written about being on the dancefloor at Burning Man, about having that religious experience on the dancefloor,” Act says.
Besides the sexualized “Body Parts” and the catchy “Boys Like Me”, the upcoming EP also features the somber ballad “Ugly”, which was inspired by an argument with an ex-boyfriend. Instead of dealing with what was happening in real life, Act says she chose to escape through the world of social media. “I’ll let you see the good if you know me, I’ll show you all the bad if you love me, but oh only I know the ugly,” she sings on the EP’s potential second single.
“The song is about post Drag Race when I was struggling with what happened on the show and how I was perceived,” the artist says. “I felt really confused about everything that was going on. It was an amazing period, but a dark one also.”
As Act continues to prepare for the upcoming release of Kaleidoscope, she hopes her fans will enjoy the music while jumping up and down on their bed in their pajamas, the same way she enjoyed the music of her idols The Spice Girls.
With a Live Nation-sponsored concert at New York’s Gramercy Theatre set to take place on July 10, an “Ecstasy” music video filmed in London and shot by Kylie Minogue’s longtime creative director on the horizon, and the feeling of a childhood dream coming true, Act hopes to keep her promise of a good time to those who supported her and made the EP a possibility.
“I said the word thank you so many times. Words seem kind of limited to express my gratitude. I’m grateful for the Kickstarter supporters. I’m going to do my best to stay true to myself,” Act says.