When Tatianna first hit the RuPaul’s Drag Race mainstage during Season 2, she was a fresh-faced 21-year-old who had performed a couple of times in drag, but had been getting dressed up in drag since she was a teenager. She made it all the way to the top four, but lost out — ironically to another fresh-faced 21-year-old, Tyra Sanchez.
Flash forward eight years, after a very successful stint on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars 2, and the now-29-year-old Washington D.C. queen is on top of the world. She’s a fan favorite with a bevy of catchphrases (“Thank you,” “Choices“), a web series on WOW Presents Plus, a new full-length album, and even a new perfume. (It is, appropriately enough, named “Choices.”) But it’s a credit to Tatianna that she continues to remain engaged and invested in the world of Drag Race, from live-tweeting every new episode to continuing to feud with old rival Tyra.
INTO got to have its own Tea with Tati recently, when she hopped on the phone to discuss everything from her newest projects, to the Season 10 finale, to when she knew her “Shut Up and Drive” lip sync would be remembered as a classic. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
INTO: We see a lot of merch from Drag Race girls that has some connection to their time on the show. What made you want to release a fragrance called “Choices“?
Tatianna (T): I’d seen Willam, Pearl, and Trixie all [release] fragrances. So I got to meet Killian Wells, who runs Xyrena, at Drag Con in 2017. He was like, ‘I’d love to do a Choices fragrance.’ And I said absolutely. We’ve been working on that here and there for a year. Getting to release that has been super cool.
Were you involved in the creation of the scent itself?
T: Oh yeah. We talked about certain fragrances that I typically like to wear, what are my favorite notes. Then there was a lot of back and forth, with sending me different formulas. I was very hands-on in the process. … I wanted it to be truly unisex. Personally, when I use fragrances — especially when I’m on the road — I like to wear unisex fragrances. It’s easier to just pack one. I use it for a show, when I’m going to the airport, when I’m going out to dinner. And I wanted to keep it very fresh and clean. I’m not the biggest fan of super sweet scents.
T: It’s an album by the same producers I worked with on “The Same Parts,” DJ madScience and Mark Berry. We wanted to keep the sound similar, in the same vein. “The Same Parts” was very much, for me, a last-minute choice right before actually filming that episode [of All Stars 2]. That little poem-rap thing I wrote when I was 16 years old just happened to work. In the way of the album, I’m touching on things that are a little bit more real, a little bit more personal. A lot of it, I wrote on the road, for almost all of 2017. We started recording for the album in May of last year. So it’s about relationships, going out and having fun, sex. All the fun things that happen when you’re away from home for a very long time.
Speaking of “The Same Parts” on All Stars 2: You mentioned that you first wrote that when you were a teenager. What made you think of it 10 years later for this talent show challenge?
T: They told us we had a talent show before we went to film. I didn’t really know what direction to go, because as of then, I was lip syncing. I could dance. I didn’t know how to translate that onstage with just me being up there. So I thought, first, I’ll do a weird spoken word where it was poking fun at or joking about the other girls’ catchphrases. And then the night before, I was thinking, ‘Maybe I might get read for that.’ Just because it might be featuring the other girls more than featuring myself. But we already had the background track approved. So I thought, what can I do with this background track that’s already going to be used? I took what was a rap, “The Same Parts,” slowed it down and made it more dramatic. And I gave that a try! I had not rehearsed it, other than in my room, or in the shower the morning of. So that was a big game of chance. Luckily it paid off, but it was a risk.
I want to get a few takes from you about these most recent Drag Race seasons, because your live-tweeting is some of my favorite commentary about the show. How did you feel about the Season 10 finale?
T: There was a lot going on. [laughs] I enjoy the fact that they get to lip sync on the main stage during the finale. I don’t necessarily know if I like that they’re lip syncing against each other. I feel like they’ve worked so hard to get there. Like in [Season 8], when Kim and Naomi and Bob got to lip sync to tracks made for them. They got to show off in that moment. But this finale, there was a lot going on. There were a lot of fun reveals, everybody giving it their all — which is always very entertaining. And that sense of urgency was there through the whole show.
As a hypothetical: You were in the top four back in Season 2. If they had spun the wheel for you and you got to choose who to Lip Sync for the Crown against, who would you have picked?
T: That’s a toughie. So it would’ve been me, Raven, Jujubee, and Tyra. I probably would have picked Raven. I feel like me and Raven’s performance styles are very different, so it wouldn’t be comparing apples to apples. I dance and move a bit more, and she tends to emote a bit more. So I feel like that would’ve been a good back-to-back situation.
What was your take on Asia O’Hara’s Butterflygate? Did you think it was even a good idea, or doomed from conception?
T: I think the idea is awesome. If it had worked out the way she planned to, that would’ve been sick. I think any time that you’re working with live animals, or anything that’s alive that’s not a human, there’s always that risk factor of something going completely left. That’s also something I feel would be hard to rehearse. If you were to rehearse it, that’d be a whole lotta time spent recollecting those butterflies and putting them back in your titties. She was working off a hope and a prayer.
During All Stars 3, there was a new twist at the end where the eliminated queens voted on who should make the final two out of the top four. If that had happened during your season, which of the All Stars 2 top four would have received your jury vote?
T: I would have voted for Katya, and I probably would have voted for Detox.
T: Alaska deserved to win that season, but she had already sent me home twice. I’d be like, ‘Girl, you aren’t getting my vote.’ [laughs] But honestly, I loved everything that Katya did on All Stars, and I loved everything that Detox did. Detox gave some of the most iconic fashion looks on that runway during All Stars 2. And the way that Katya’s mind works is just awesome. Also, she helped me come to the thought process of doing T-Boz for the Pants on the Runway. Obviously, I brought T-Boz there, but it was actually for a possible ’90s challenge that didnt’ end up coming through. She said, ‘Well, you seem to be really excited about T-Boz, and T-Boz’s outfit is pants. So maybe.’ And you know what? She was very smart.
T: Because we were both safe, I was like, ‘I know we did something good.’ Afterward, all of the crew, the producers who were watching, they were like, ‘That was amazing. That was so cool.’ They walk from the very back of the sound stage. Almost all of that — costumes, hair — was coincidental. I had a costume that they already did a challenge for, the futuristic drag. I didn’t style it the way that I would have for futuristic, but I was never going to get a chance to wear it on television. So I wore it for that. And Alyssa was like, ‘Oh, okay, that’s cute. I’ll pull something out of my bag, too.’ Because you have an option of whether you wanna change or not. But yeah, when it came to the actual performance, where some of our moves are so similar? Genuinely not a planned thing. I was trying not to look at her — you wanna play to the audience, you don’t want to play to each other. But there were some moments with the same dance moves, just executed completely differently.
Flashing back even further to Season 2: It’s so interesting that your cast is still as enmeshed in some of the drama now as you were eight years ago. I don’t know if I can say that about any other Drag Race cast.
T: Yeah, you know, it’s not the proudest thing about our season, but it’s certainly true!
I know the answer to this is probably just “Tyra,” but what do you think has contributed to keeping the drama alive for that long?
T: I think you got it right there. I’ll say this, because I had a significant amount of drama with a multitude of girls on my season. Three, four, five years ago, I wanna say, we were all friends. There was not a [problem] on that cast. Tyra included! We were all cool. Morgan [McMichaels] is one of the closest girls to me from season 2, and we didn’t really get along on our season. Anytime I’m in the presence of Sonique, we end up hanging out. Love her. Me and Raven? Super duper cool! Worked with her plenty of times; we like to text each other every now and then. So if you take that, and then deduct one, there’s the math for you. Everyone else is cool with each other. It’s kind of just that one.
Also, we were a season that didn’t hold anything back. It was really before we were aware of the camera, and how we were going to look on TV. So everything that came out of our mouths on season 2 was very genuine. I feel like we’ve all held that to this day to be very true. We say what we need to say when we need to say it, rather than think too much about how it’s going to appear to the rest of the world.
That was certainly true at the Season 2 reunited panel at Drag Con 2017, where Raven was happy to say that she thinks she was robbed in front of Tyra.
T: That’s also been an ongoing joke. That’s very Raven. She was joking. Her face doesn’t always move like she’s joking! But she’s definitely joking. It was intentionally comedic, not meant to be a stab. It wasn’t meant to be that. I think homegirl just took it as that. And to be fair, when we all were sitting on that panel, we were all cool. That was before everything started.
After what happened before Drag Con this year, where Tyra intimated a potential threat, then was banned from Drag Con, there have been calls for her to be decrowned, and even for the crown to be passed to Raven. What do you make of that?
T: I’ve seen that. Torn, because what’s done is done. She has won. She did a good job on Season 2. She won that crown. And in all honesty, what would happen now? Ru’s really gonna be like, ‘Give me back the crown,’ then give Raven $25,000? No. I feel like it’s almost at this point unnecessary. Raven’s nominated for an Emmy for working with RuPaul. Homegirl isn’t allowed to come to events anymore. In the long run, things happened how they happened. Raven’s living her life. … That’s done, that’s in the past. It was a good eight years ago. I don’t think taking Tyra’s crown will do anything. Plus, the public are the ones asking for it. Hasn’t the figurative crown already been taken?
Before we wrap up: I know you were a regular performer at Washington D.C.’s Town for years, which just closed last month. What was that closure like for you?
T: Oh, it’s heartbreaking. For a little backstory of my relationship with Town: Before I got onto season 2, I had not performed many times. I had performed two or three times, none of them at Town. Then I did Season 2, and Town was the first big club in D.C. to get me. It was me, Raven, and Sahara [Davenport]. And that was all of our first time’s working at Town. Shortly after, the owner, Ed Bailey, asked me to be part of the cast. So I’ve literally been working there since New Year’s of 2011. Seven and a half years when we closed. They’ve been nothing but supportive. I wouldn’t be the drag queen I am today without working at Town.
I did take off the last month, because on top of it being our closing month, it was also D.C. Pride. So I really wanted to put all my energy and focus into having this one last moment with all of my cast sisters, and everyone who worked there. Kind of everyone in D.C. Because D.C. came out in droves to celebrate our closing. That last night, I thought I wasn’t going to be emotional, and that was not the case! I was just a big ol’ ball of tears. It was a lot. Everyone was crying. … It was just a major, major spot. You know how a lot of bars and clubs kind of have their niche market of who tends to go? Town was everyone. We had drag, we had go-go dancers, we had so many different artists, including Drag Race girls, come through. It was very much a safe space, never any crazy drama. … It was a big loss for gay D.C.