As any well-seasoned fan of RuPaul’s Drag Race knows, a large part of the drag competition’s appeal, aside from the high stakes onstage, is the behind-the-scenes drama. It’s difficult to deem a scandal among the cast and production team as truly shocking. But a disqualification of a top contestant during the show’s latest season has left fans reeling, and the fact that the contestant-in-question, Sherry Pie, made it to the final four before being ousted only added to the dramatic upset — one that, unlike most of the show’s more par-for-the-course on-screen twists, RuPaul’s producers have seemingly done everything to minimize.
As ScreenRant reported in May 2020, Sherry Pie (real name Joey Gugliemelli) was asked to sashay away from the show after it was revealed the drag performer engaged in multiple instances of catfishing at least five men over the course of several months — allegations that were both confirmed and exposed. In the months since, no criminal charges have been brought against Gugliemelli.
While the confirmed catfishing led to Gugliemelli’s immediate expulsion from the competition, the story behind the former contestant’s catfishing attempts is far more elaborate than it seems at first blush. Read on to find out more about the shocking scandal that rocked RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Sherry Pie's disqualification came after a shocking discovery
According to ScreenRant, allegations against RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant began to surface after BuzzFeed conducted an independent investigation in early 2020 after five men came forward on the record, claiming Sherry Pie, who goes by Joey Gugliemelli off-stage, posed as a female casting director to elicit “embarrassing audition tapes of themselves saying and doing degrading things.”
Under the alias “Allison Mossie,” Gugliemelli established contact with five different men who he knew as either former classmates from SUNY Cortland in New York, which he attended, or from a Nebraska theater company, which he’d previously worked with. According to BuzzFeed, Gugliemelli communicated extensively with the men — all of whom were aspiring actors — by email, claiming, as Mossie, that they were being seriously considered for major projects linked to major directors like Tim Burton.
Joey Gugliemelli allegedly invented fake productions to lure victims
Among the first to come forward was Ben Shimkus, a 25-year-old actor who wrote about the ordeal on Facebook in March 2020. In an interview with BuzzFeed, Shimkus described how he and Joey Gugliemelli exchanged a number of emails in 2015 for what Gugliemelli described as a starring role for a play in production at the renowned Playwrights Horizons playhouse in NYC. Both the role, a bodybuilder on steroids named Jeff, and the play, Bulk, were fictions concocted by Gugliemelli, unbeknownst to Shimkus.
Per Shimkus, Gugliemelli (under the guise of casting director Allison Mossie) sent the actor a series of detailed questionnaires about the character in order to assess whether Shimkus was fit for the role — many of which emphasized the tight, stretchy clothing Shimkus would be asked to wear if cast. Eventually, Gugliemelli requested Shimkus send audition videos, including Shimkus pretending to take steroids and speaking of “enjoying the smell of his sweaty armpits,” BuzzFeed reported. Soon after, Gugliemelli ceased communication entirely; Shimkus found the experience humiliating and “damaging.”
“I don’t know who these videos were sent to and I didn’t know what they were objectively for,” said Shimkus, who later experienced a severe mental health spiral. “I felt awful. I felt like I had been completely taken advantage of.”
Joey Gugliemelli reportedly went to catfishing extremes
While Ben Shimkus’ ordeal was a traumatic one, Joey Gugliemelli reportedly went to other extremes when it came to catfishing. Another actor, an Australian-born 23-year-old named Josh Lillyman, spoke with BuzzFeed about his experience, in which he was allegedly coerced into performing sexual acts on-camera. Per BuzzFeed, Lillyman recounted how Gugliemelli contacted him regarding a part for an upcoming (fictional) HBO drama — the aforementioned role of a bodybuilder named Jeff for a television show titled Bulk – after meeting in person in 2017.
According to Lillyman, Gugliemelli purported to be an “auxiliary casting agent” for a casting director named Allison Mossie. After giving Lillyman an email address for the fictional Mossie, Gugliemelli allegedly then posed as Mossie over email correspondence, during which Lillyman unknowingly gave the catfisher intimate details about his life in order to prove he was the perfect person for the role. After communicating substantially with the person he thought was Mossie, Lillyman was then directed to meet with Gugliemelli to film an audition — a directive which Lillyman, in retrospect, told BuzzFeed was a grooming process for the horrific ordeal he would encounter next.
Lillyman recounted that during preparation for the shoot, which included rehearsing a fake scene from a fake TV episode, Gugliemelli allegedly “suggested he go into the bathroom and masturbate in order to feel more macho,” and afterward asked him to do it again while being recorded. Lillyman complied.
One fateful meeting exposed Joey Gugliemelli's hoax
It was only after 23-year-old Australian actor Josh Lillyman complied with performing a sex act on tape after allegedly being groomed and coerced by Joey Gugliemelli that he realized the ordeal was entirely the result of catfishing. “I did everything he asked me to because at that point he had built up so much detail for the show that I was truly convinced it was real and associated with HBO,” Lillyman relayed to BuzzFeed during their initial investigative report. “It took a lot for me to break that delusion. I was willingly doing all the things he was asking me to.”
Lillyman told BuzzFeed that he realized he had been the victim of an elaborate, violating scheme after meeting up with friends at a bar — one of whom included 28-year-old Landon Summers, an actor who told the group, including Lillyman, that he’d been working with Gugliemelli for a role in an HBO show, a sci-fi show titled Bulk. Though Summers informed the group that he refused to take off his clothes to audition and hadn’t worked with Gugliemelli in person, he was unaware the setup was a hoax.
'RuPaul's Drag Race' disqualified Sherry Pie after exposure
After hearing Landon Summers’ story, Josh Lillyman did some research, only to find that Allison Mossie — the casting director he was presumingly working with, alongside Joey Gugliemelli — didn’t exist. Though Lillyman promptly informed Summers what he discovered, he felt helpless. “I just sort of buried it and said there’s nothing I can do about it,” Lillyman told BuzzFeed.
Producers of RuPaul’s Drag Race were swift in disqualifying Gugliemelli from the Season 12 after BuzzFeed published their story in March 2020. After ousting Gugliemelli, a spokesperson for VH1 didn’t go into detail about why Gugliemelli was made to leave. “In light of recent developments and Sherry Pie’s statement, Sherry Pie has been disqualified from RuPaul’s Drag Race,” the statement read.
Before deleting his social media accounts, Gugliemelli took to Facebook to post an apologia — notably redirecting the onus of his behavior as an issue of mental health, despite acknowledging “the pain and hurt that I have caused will never go away and I know that what I did was wrong and truly cruel.” According to the post, Gugliemelli realized he “never really understood how much my mental health and taking care of things meant.” Though he expressed apologies toward “everyone I have hurt with my actions,” he only directly apologized to his RuPaul’s Drag Race “sisters” and “the whole network and production company.”
Joey Gugliemelli's catfishing may victimize more people than he thought
While Joey Gugliemelli’s predatory actions are at best unconscionable — especially after a separate investigation conducted by Queerty in May 2020 revealed he’d been catfishing for a decade — the possible ramifications of his behavior are equally alarming. While Gugliemelli identifies as a cisgender man, there are still many who erroneously equate drag performance, an art form, with transgender identity — meaning his catfishing might reinforce the harmful idea that trans women are merely cis men who dress in women’s clothing to prey upon others.
Statistics show not only is this assumption false, but trans women are one of the most vulnerable populations when it comes to being victims and survivors of extreme violence, most of which stem from hate-based crimes. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 29 transgender or nonbinary people in the U.S. have been murdered due to their gender in 2020, the majority of which were Black or Latinx trans women. Among those listed is Tony McDade, a Black transman who was gunned down by police, and whose story has become a tenet of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color — particularly Black transgender women — and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and unchecked access to guns conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities,” HRC said in an official statement.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit RAINN.org for additional resources.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, or call the National Alliance on Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264).
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