“This year has been a roller coaster -- everything I’ve ever wanted has come true,” Needles says just after stepping off stage as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in a San Antonio, production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “I’ve pretty much crossed off everything on my bucket list.”
Since beating out her reality TV competition, Needles has become the drag queen equivalent of a household name, toured the country, made her stage debut, purchased her own hearse, and cut an album, set to be released in early 2013. If that wasn’t enough, Needles returned to TV in October with FEARce! a weekly horror movie show on Logo.
For all her newfound fame and celebrity appearances, though, it’s the music career that seems to most excite the Pride of Pittsburgh.
“I didn’t just want to do a single, I wanted to have a strong body of work,” she says of the forthcoming record, which is set to be titled PG-13. And once that drops? Needles is planning to take her act overseas before hanging up her broom for a bit. “Just maybe,” she says, “I’ll take a break and spend a little more time with friends and family that are missing the person behind the wig and corset.”
And while not everything about life in the spotlight has agreed with Needles -- “I wouldn’t change anything,” she says of her new life, “though I’ve definitely made my mistakes” -- she’s poised to learn from her blunders and give up her crown once RuPaul anoints a new winner.
“Nothing lasts forever,” says Needles. “Drag Race isn’t just a competition I took part in, it’s also my favorite television show of all time, so I’m looking forward to sitting in my easy chair and watching the tears, the fashion, and the cat fights.”
Jane Lynch wasn’t exactly sitting around waiting for some guy to make her his muse. He found her anyway.
The actress–comedienne spent a decade with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and toured with Second City. She did commercials, bit film roles, and TV guest spots. “I spent many, many, many years saying yes -- to everything,” she says. One of those yeses led her to Christopher Guest, and his improv mockumentary films (Best in Show, A Mighty Wind) helped make her just-off-center character work cultishly desirable.
She held her own alongside Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin), Will Ferrell (Talladega Nights), and the other brash boys of mainstream comedy. And then another twisted scribe in need of an unexpected muse, Ryan Murphy, cast her in 2008 as Sue Sylvester, the amoral cheerleading coach whose acerbic insults are the strychnine sucker punch to Glee’s saccharine.
“I love people who make big choices, who don’t stay safe,” she says, naming former costars who serve as her own inspiration: William H. Macy, Felicity Huffman, and even Meryl Streep (“She might be playing a character who’s not as eccentric as Julia Child or Margaret Thatcher, but her stakes are always very high,” Lynch says of Streep, whose sister she played in Julie & Julia).
As Hollywood (again) discovers it has access to a deep untapped pool of female humorists, Lynch has started writing. “I’m spending a lot of time inside my head in a closed room,” she says, adding that she has been motivated in some ways by younger generations of self-assured women. “The difference between people like me and Amy Poehler and Tina Fey [is] there’s kind of an entitlement that they have to their right to have a seat at the table,” Lynch says. “They’re out there saying, ‘This is what I do, and this is why it’s funny. And if you don’t like it, you don’t like it.’ But it looks like everybody likes it.”
Though Lynch can say no whenever she pleases -- “It’s been a personal growth thing for me,” she says -- her yes list is bigger and brighter: In 2011, she hosted the Emmys; the year after she helmed Saturday Night Live. She’s won basically every trophy they give to a funny lady on TV, peppering her acceptance speeches with heartfelt thanks to her wife since 2010, Lara Embry, and their two children.
“It’s of course very normal and natural for me to talk about because it’s, you know, my life,” she says. “But it does strike me when I’m on the red carpet and Billy Bush says, ‘Oh, how’s your wife?’ ”
Boy George has a very clear memory of sitting in jail on January 20, 2009, and watching the inauguration of Barack Obama. “I remember thinking, Oh my God, I should be there! What happened? How did I get here?” he says. It was a pivotal moment for the legendary singer, who’d recorded his own Obama tribute, “Yes, We Can,” in part as a testament to his own voyage of self-discovery and change. “What I’ve discovered as I’ve gotten older is that happiness is a choice,” he says, reflecting on the seismic shifts in his thinking and attitude in the years since his lonely prison vigil. “Of course life throws things at you, but I would say, in my life at least, that a lot of the awful stuff has been self-inflicted.”
It’s also been highly public, documented by Britain’s voracious tabloids, as the Culture Club idol -- who blazed a trail for queer youth 30 years ago with a handful of era-defining songs -- struggled with cocaine and heroin addiction, and later with a series of humiliating arrests. Through it all he has continued to make music, sometimes as a solo musician, sometimes with his old band, and most frequently as an international DJ. “As I’ve traveled around the world to places that wouldn’t let me in back in the day, like Argentina or Russia, one of the things I’ve been struck by is the number of people who’ve said, ‘You’re the reason I came out,’ ” he says. “In the past I might have taken that a bit lightly, and now I feel that it’s a real responsibility. What I’ve realized is that the world hasn’t changed -- there are still lots of places where people are having a really, really hard time because of their sexuality, and I think one of the most important things I can do is be a self-respecting gay public figure.”
Boy George’s dramatic arrival in 1982 -- “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” topped the charts in a dozen countries and reached No. 2 in the U.S. -- coincided with the advent of AIDS, when his message of pride and self-empowerment was most in need. “If you go back to the beginning, part of my whole plan was to create this universal family of disenfranchised people,” says the musician. “It wasn’t just about sexuality, it was about anyone who felt odd.” Thirty years on, you can see derivations of that in the way a musician like Lady Gaga presents herself, though without the same radical subtext that made Culture Club so provocative and thrilling. “Anyone can dress like a freak -- it’s easy,” says Boy George. “It’s what you think that really sets you apart from other people. There are a lot of people dressed up at the moment who have nothing to say.”
Andrew Rannells has had a very good year. After capping 2011 with a Tony nomination for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for the Broadway blockbuster The Book of Mormon, he scored key roles in two new TV shows this year -- NBC’s The New Normal, directed by Ryan Murphy, and HBO’s generational touchstone, Girls, with Lena Dunham. In both shows, Rannells plays a droll, self-assured “salami smoker,” to use Ellen Barkin’s delicious pejorative in the opening episode of The New Normal. He also appeared in Leslye Headland’s darkly comic indie flick, Bachelorette, with Kirsten Dunst and Rebel Wilson.
“I feel very proud to be a part of The New Normal,” Rannells says. “I hope that it’s considered to be a part of the evolution of gay relationships on television. Coming from Nebraska, it’s exciting to me that people I went to grade school with, people that I grew up going to church with, are watching the show.”
All of The Most Compelling People of the Year