Tamron Hall’s Controversial Interview With ‘Drag Race’ Predator Sherry Pie Was A Lot
After sparking backlash, Hall’s interview with "Drag Race" contestant and admitted sexual predator Sherry Pie became a meditation on scandal, “bad people,” and her career itself.
The Tamron Hall show and host Tamron Hall’s decision to interview accused—and admitted—sexual predator and disqualified RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant Sherry Pie, aka Joey Gugliemelli, on Tuesday morning, frankly, pissed a lot of people off.
Prominent journalists and commentators in the LGBT+ community, former Drag Race contestants, and even several of Gugliemelli’s victims spoke out against the show in the lead-up to the interview, angry that the daytime talk series would give an admitted predator the opportunity to tell his side of the story and, critics feared, rebrand himself when there are still victims working through their own trauma.
Those who demanded that Gugliemelli be removed from the guest lineup worried that giving him a platform wouldn’t just be irresponsible, but triggering for sexual-abuse survivors.
Gugliemelli was accused by at least 12 people of a predatory catfishing scheme, in which he posed as a casting director named Allison Mossie and lured hopeful actors into fake auditions for a bogus TV show and play. He convinced them to strip down, send undressed photos, and, in some cases, perform sexual acts on camera as part of the audition process. Some victims passed on paying work because of the fake opportunities “Allison Mossie” promised.
Gugliemelli’s behavior received national attention when, in an unprecedented decision, he was disqualified from season 12 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, which he had already filmed as Sherry Pie and was painstakingly edited out of each episode. Bringing him on a daytime talk show almost a year later to rehash the details would resurface the pain Gugliemelli caused the LGBT+ community as a whole, feeding into the scrutiny and the prejudice about deviancy and illicit sexual behavior.
Drag Race contestant Jackie Cox posted on Twitter, “I am publicly calling on @TamronHallShow to reconsider giving Sherry Pie access to the platform of national television to tell their side of the story without first speaking with the victims of her abuses and allowing them to weigh in on their own trauma.”
Ben Shimkus, who was the first person to come forward with allegations against Gugliemelli, wrote on Twitter, “Our trauma shouldn’t be whittled away to internet click bait. We deserve better than this.” In another post, he wrote, “Just so we are all clear on this, I spoke with producers at @TamronHallShow and told them that I and the 20 victims that I spoke to today DO NOT want them to air a segment with Sherry Pie. They’re going to air it despite all of our requests.”
Not only did Hall interview Gugliemelli Tuesday morning on her show as planned, but she also centered the segment around the backlash and the sensitive conversations it brought up.
The result was a rare episode of daytime television, one that addressed controversy from within the center of it, produced content while simultaneously defending it, became a state of the union about the responsibility of a TV journalist, saw a host emotionally justify her own legacy, and lead a nuanced conversation about the abuse, the LGBT community, and atonement.
It was a lot.
From the moment Hall walked out on stage, it was clear she had heard the backlash and that it, in some respects, frustrated her, particularly the insinuation that interviewing Gugliemelli was “seen by some as giving away my platform.”
“I’ve been a reporter for 30 years,” she said. “It’s not giving away your platform. It’s called an interview. And people who do bad things are interviewed.”
She brought up recent interviews with R. Kelly as an example, a person who, unlike Gugliemelli, has not admitted to the allegations against him. She said she would even be willing to interview the person who killed her sister in 2004.
“We believe the men who have gone on record about Sherry Pie,” she said. “We believe in being fair and we don’t give free passes. I don’t give free passes. Sherry Pie agreed to an interview. No conditions. We’ve offered no opportunity to promote a book, a podcast, anything that could be seen as profiting. This interview is what we say every day on this show: Let’s talk about it. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Hall held Gugliemelli’s feet to the fire. She allowed him to apologize ("There are no allegations. I admit to my wrongdoings. Beyond wrongdoings, just horrible behavior.”) and discuss the therapy he’s received to help him learn about his borderline personality disorder and the reasons he might have done these horrible things. But she would interrupt him any time the conversation turned too much toward his own healing and not to the ways in which he recognizes how the trauma of what he did still affects the victims and the LGBT+ community.
He claimed that his motivation for catfishing and entrapping his victims, many of whom were his friends, into embarrassing sexual situations was motivated by a fear of losing them. He also said that he has never been contacted by authorities over the allegations, and no longer possesses the photos and videos he received through his scheme.
“I am prepared to take any responsibility,” he said. “I’m not here to hide… I didn’t want to be somebody who was accused of something and just kept denying, denying, denying. This was not something that I deep down felt good about doing.”
After her interview with Gugliemelli, Hall said the show had reached out to some of the writers that had publicly criticized the decision to book Gugliemelli to come onto the show.
Several declined, but MTV’s Ryan Mitchell, who hosts the Snapchat show Sound Up, joined her to talk about “when is it OK to interview people who do bad things.” After all, Hall said, people like R. Kelly, O.J. Simpson, and Charles Manson were all interviewed, and she’s certain that Jeffrey Epstein had interview requests “in his inbox” before his death.
Mitchell explained that part of the issue for him was the labor involved in getting a mainstream audience to comprehend that Gugliemelli and his behavior do not represent the LGBT+ community. The precariousness of playing into stereotypes is such a risk that a decision to put a person like Gugliemelli on has to be more considered.
In his view, Mitchell didn’t think anything that Gugliemelli had said in his interview merited the platform that he was given. Hall’s response: In her 30 years of journalism, this is the first time she interviewed a person accused of sexual abuse who admitted to his conduct, something she absolutely felt was worthwhile.
That also hit on what had, after watching the episode, clearly been a sensitive point for Hall. So much of the criticism she and the show received for booking Gugliemelli discredited and demeaned her, not taking into account her track record or expertise. A common refrain was “do your research” and that she was doing this for ratings. Not only, because she is a Black woman in her field, would she never have the opportunity to insult someone by assuming they hadn’t done their research, she felt her decision was being questioned more severely because of her race and her gender.
It was all quite fascinating, and surely not what anyone expected as the controversy surrounding the interview started to brew. Gugliemelli’s story became secondary to the meta media narrative the booking and its backlash triggered, which is itself arguably a disservice to the victims of abuse. But it did add value to an interview that many questioned the worth of, an almost treatise, of sorts, about what daytime TV and TV journalism should mean in the age of social media and viral criticism.