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The bizarre catfishing claims that led to a RuPaul’s Drag Race star being disqualified.

Just days after the latest season of RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered earlier this year, a young actor called Ben Shimkus wrote a Facebook post about one of the contestants, Sherry Pie.

“I have a weird story to tell about Sherry Pie,” the post began.

It was, as promised, a weird story that would spark off an alleged catfishing scandal and throw the entire season of Drag Race into disarray.

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Sherry Pie is the drag persona of Joey Gugliemelli and one of the contestants in the latest season of RuPaul’s hit show, which airs in Australia on STAN. Shimkus, who recently toured internationally as Catboy in the PJ Masks live show, explained in his post that he and Sherry had met while attending Cortland State University’s musical theatre program. The two of them had performed together. It was after Sherry left the university that Shimkus says the story took its “weird turn”.

Shimkus says a friend put him in contact with a woman called Allison Mossie about a role in a play at the prestigious Playwrights Horizons theatre in New York. He alleges that Mossie “immediately seemed interested” in his work, and over a period of three weeks, they discussed pay, living situations and acting choices. And then there were the videos he sent of himself.

“I had to film scenes that felt particularly sexual and awkward, but the opportunity seemed too good to let the overt sexual nature or my inhibitions get in the way,” he says in the post.

“The specific video submissions I sent were of me taking steroids and immediately growing larger muscles and gaining physical power. The character, Jeff, talked about how much his armpits began to stink and how much he liked that.”

Eventually, Shimkus says, he contacted Playwrights Horizons directly. The person he spoke to had never heard of Mossie.

Shimkus went back to the friend who had put him in contact with Mossie. He alleges his friend said the contact had come from Sherry, and when he spoke to other friends, he alleges two of them knew people who’d had similar experiences with Mossie and also knew Sherry.

Buzzfeed News picked up the story, claiming that at least five aspiring young actors told them that Gugliemelli had catfished them over several years. The actors said Gugliemelli had posed as a casting director and led them to submit audition tapes where they were doing and saying degrading things.

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One of the actors was a young Australian, Josh Lillyman. Lillyman met Gugliemelli when they were working together in productions at the Crane River Theatre in Nebraska. Lillyman alleges Gugliemelli told him he was acting as an “auxiliary casting agent” for Allison Mossie on an upcoming HBO show called Bulk – the same name as the play Shimkus was told he was auditioning for.

According to the article, Gugliemelli offered to film Lillyman’s final audition for Mossie. That allegedly involved Lillyman stripping down to his underpants and even masturbating.

“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 told Buzzfeed.

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The story was published on March 5. The same day, Gugliemelli posted on Sherry’s Facebook page.

“This is Joey,” he wrote. “I want to start by saying how sorry I am that I caused such trauma and pain and how horribly embarrassed and disgusted I am with myself. I know that the pain and hurt that I have caused will never go away and I know that what I did was wrong and truly cruel.”

He went on to say that on RuPaul’s Drag Race, he had learned the importance of “loving yourself”.

“I don’t think I have ever loved myself,” he added. “I have been seeking help and receiving treatment since coming back to NYC. I truly apologise to everyone I have hurt with my actions.”

By then, the second episode of Drag Race – the first episode to feature Sherry – was about to air. The show’s Twitter account posted an official statement.

“In light of recent developments and Sherry Pie’s statement, Sherry Pie has been disqualified from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Out of respect for the hard work of the other queens, VH1 will air the season as planned. Sherry will not appear in the grand finale scheduled to be filmed later this spring.”

That wasn’t the last of the allegations. Queerty carried out its own investigation, speaking with nine men, “all young, aspiring actors, all romantically unavailable, and all with similar claims”.

“Our investigation uncovered evidence that Gugliemelli scammed dozens of men over the past decade,” the article added.

One of the actors who spoke to Queerty was David Newman, who says he filmed audition tapes, dressed only in a tank top and shorts, and sent them to Mossie. He alleges Gugliemelli, serving as Mossie’s “casting associate”, gave him monologues that were “really not well written at all”.

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“It was just the main character saying over and over, ‘I need to be bigger. I need to be stronger. Do you smell me? I smell great!’”

Newman says he’s really thankful for #MeToo.

“Now we have the right mindset where if we have this happen, it won’t drag out for years and years.”

On Drag Race, Sherry looked to be a frontrunner from the beginning. This was something Shimkus had predicted in his post, where he said Sherry would be “a blast” to watch.

“Sherry is normally the most hilarious and creative person in the room.”

After that first episode featuring Sherry, later episodes were edited to cut her out as much as possible – tricky, when she was winning challenges.

Earlier this month, Shimkus again posted on Facebook about Sherry. He said he’d received messages where people had wished him dead since coming forward with his story.

“I thank Drag Race for taking the time to edit Sherry out, even if it is of detriment to their product,” he added. “I also thank everyone who has been kind to me in this process. The people who have been kind have far outnumbered the people who haven’t.”

Gugliemelli hasn’t posted on social media since his apology in early March. He didn’t respond to Mamamia’s request for comment.


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