Queenstion Time #2: Tatianna
Continuing his exploration of drag, Andrew Nicholls talks to Tatianna, star of season two of both RuPaul’s Drag Race and All-Stars.
Tatianna is legendary in the annals of RuPaul’s Drag Race. After all, she won the first ever Snatch Game.
One of the prettiest queens in the history of the show, Tatianna – born Joey Santolini – came fourth in the second season of the show, but perhaps made a bigger impact when she returned for the second season of Drag Race All-Stars.
She was one of the youngest queens to compete in season two, and by the time she returned for All-Stars, it was clear how much she had evolved – most notably in the opening episode when she performed the spoken word piece The Same Parts.
She comes to the UK this August to appear at London’s DragWorld – Europe’s largest drag convention
Planet Slop: Hi Tatianna, how are you?
Tatianna: I’m good, thank you!
PS: So you started drag at quite a young age, what first got you into drag?
T: When I first started dressing up as a lady, I just always had an interest in hair, fashion, make up so I would try to emulate a look I had seen on MTV and in music videos, by myself. That just evolved into me putting it all on, going out and have fun. That’s where it all came from in the beginning.
PS: You have said you went to school in drag quite a few times, how did they feel?
T: Oh yeah, every Halloween and sometimes on the last day of school, or the weekends if I was invited to a house party I would become Tatianna.
PS: That is a pretty brave thing to do, to do that in front of your fellow students and teachers, and put yourself out there.
T: When I was doing it, I didn’t think it was very brave, I just thought ‘I’m doing this thing’, and looking back and I’m like ‘Oh wow, you had some balls!‘ [Laughs]
PS: You certainly did!
T: I just was having some fun! [Laughs]
PS: How did everyone take your drag?
T: I never really ran into any issues, in all honesty. Everyone thought it was either funny, or entertaining, or in just general just kind of cool. All the girls wanted me to do their make-up. All the guys wanted to introduce me to their friends and not tell their friends I was a fella. So it was all round entertaining.
PS: That’s good! So did drag help you understand your sexuality?
T: Erm… No! [Laughs] I was pretty gay from about birth.
PS: I know what that’s like!
T: I came out to all of my close friend circle, in fifth grade so I was probably about ten. And then I was 100% out by eighth grade, so 13 I want to say. I always knew I was gay.
PS: What was it like coming out at a young age?
T: Middle school, between the ages of 11 and 13 or 14. It’s such a gross age! [Laughs] I mean my friends, when I was younger and I told them I was gay, they were just like ‘oh OK’. Didn’t have any issue. Middle school is when everyone really becomes an asshole. I went through middle school just with my friends, I was already getting teased or ‘bullied’ as they say, so I didn’t feel like giving them any more ammo. But then I was like ‘If I’m ever going to find a man, I guess everyone has to know I’m gay!’ And I didn’t make it a big thing, if they asked if I was gay, I’d like ‘Yeah.. are you?’
PS: I’m sure I read somewhere that you may have lied about your age when auditioning for Drag Race, is that true?
T: No! I don’t know where that came from! I’ve read that myself. A post on Instagram popped up like ‘Tatianna lied to get onto Drag Race!’ I mean I did lie to get onto Drag Race, but it wasn’t about my age, it was just about how much drag experience I had. But no, I did not lie. I actually commented on that post, I was like ‘This is not true, so yeah, you might want to remove that.’ To be fair, if you guys want to believe I’m younger that I am, by all means, I have no problems with that! [Laughs]
PS: I mean you’re only 22 now aren’t you?
T: Yes! [Laughs] I’m 22 now, so getting up there now.
PS: What made you audition for Drag Race?
T: I actually auditioned for Season one, but I was too young. I saw the ad because I was living with my Grandparents at the time, and I begged them to get Logo [the LGBT-based US network that broadcast Drag Race before it moved to VH1 last year]. Get me the gay channel! I had seen the ad which said ‘Hey are you a drag queen? Come be on this show?‘ And looking at it was I was thinking ‘Oh my God it’s like America’s Next Top Model, but for drag queens’ and I had always thought if they come out with a show which I had had an idea for, just like so many other people. I thought this is my big opportunity! I auditioned for the first season, didn’t make it and just tried out again for the second season and I was like ‘Oh shit, I did it, I got on here!’
PS: You did really well on the show!
T: Oh thank you!
PS: I remember watching you when it first aired, and I admired your confidence and it was great to see you come back for All Stars 2.
T: Oh yes, All Stars was super fun!
PS: How did you feel when they asked you back to be on it?
T: I was really excited! I am a fan of the show, so I have watched all the episodes, and I had seen season one of All Stars, so I was like ‘Ooh I get to be a part of this again? Absolutely! I’m so ready!’ I was very, very excited.
PS: Some younger fans of the show may not have watched season two, or the earlier seasons. Were you nervous about people seeing you for the first time?
T: No, that was part of the reason I wanted to do it. The fandom of the show had changed, and grown and the demographic of the show is a lot younger. Like these kids who had never seen season two, or maybe hadn’t. Oh, a whole new group of fans to be introduced to me. That’s exciting and an amazing opportunity.
PS: It is, and I’m pretty sure you won a lot of people over straight away when you performed your spoken word piece The Same Parts in the talent show! What made you chose to do that?
T: It was a little bit of a last minute decision. I had something else planned, something which involved a lot of the other girls catchphrases and I thought the judges may have said that highlighted the other girls and not focused on myself as much. The night before, I was brainstorming-slash-freaking out. I wrote The Same Parts when I was 16 or 17, and it was not titled that and it was actually a fast rap. It was not the spoken word. I already had the music planned. I slowed the music down, decided to call it a spoken word, and rebranded it from my teen years. I was amazed that it went so well!
PS: You could see the judges, and all the other queens loved it. Michelle [Visage, Drag Race judge] loved it from the moment you said ‘This Piece’! Obviously in the main show the queens have to lip sync for their lives, and the loser goes home. How did you feel about the lip sync for your legacy twist that they threw in there, where the top queens would lip sync for the prize?
T: I thought it was super fun. Firstly, it’s cool to lip sync, and you’re not lip syncing to save yourself from going home. It kinda opens you up to have a little more fun. You feel like you can take a risk or two as you know they’re not going to send your ass home, you just don’t get $10,000, which hopefully should be more inspiration to do as best as you can. But I took it as a chance to have fun when I perform, without having to be freaking out, so I liked it.
PS: I thought it was a good change to the format. I know a few people had problems with the jury twist they had on All Stars 3. How did you feel about this?
T: Which twist?
PS: The jury.
T: The jewellery?
PS: The jury at the end of All Stars 3, where the eliminated queens chose the eventual winner. Sorry, my accent is probably not helping!
T: Ohh! I did like it to a certain extent. They helped pick, but Ru had the final say. I thought it was kinda cool. But I feel like the whole season was other people sending you home, so I don’t think it was really necessary to give all these people the power to send you home at the end. But I thought it was a cool twist, it was definitely entertaining.
PS: Do you think any of the twists they keep introducing would put queens off going on future All Stars?
T: No, I feel like we kinda know there’s going to be twists. Even if you go on a regular season, there’s going to be twists and turns. I think that makes it fun.
PS: Same! It’s similar to the lip sync for the crown twist they had on season nine.
T: I love that kind of stuff, it just makes it more interesting.
PS: I did too, it gave us some great performances. Are there any queens you’d like to see on future All Stars?
T: I’d love to see Naomi Smalls, Kim Chi and Shea Coluee. I’d love to see Ongina, I think she’s great. But luckily I feel like everyone’s going to get their chance at some point. We have things to look forward to.
PS: I am happy for more queens to be back on the show! Are there any moments from the show that are particularly memorable for you?
T: I’d say from season two, winning the first ever Snatch Game was pretty cool. Especially as at the time, we didn’t know that we were even getting a Snatch Game, they didn’t warn us. They also didn’t tell us that it was going to be an every single season challenge. In my head, that’s one of the things I’m most proud of. I have a bit of a legacy as the first winner. I also really loved the opportunity to lip sync with Alyssa Edwards. That was so much fun!
PS: Yes! That is one my most memorable lip syncs as you both performed amazingly.
T: Thank you! It was so much fun as well! All the previous songs I had previously lip synced for my life for had all been slower, disco joints on season two, and I didn’t get the opportunity to dance or do the type of things I usually do on stage. So, when that song was the one that came up, I was like ‘Yes! My time has come, I finally get to do this! Lets do it!’ [Laughs] It was nerve racking though as Alyssa is such a great performer and dancer, and I was just hoping I do well. But I was still excited to have that opportunity.
PS: It was great to watch you both go for it and it really showed. Alyssa is known for her performances, is she that high energy all the time?
T: Yes. Yes. Yes, she really is! [Laughs] She was always that energised, and that awake.
PS: That must be a lot sometimes with the long days you’re on set? [Laughs]
T: No, it’s great. We have our alone time. When filming, we’re so secluded from everyone and it’s OK to have someone with that much energy when you’re around people as you’ve been craving some human interaction for a while.
PS: What’s it like during filming when you’re locked in your hotel? [The queens on Drag Race are sequestered in a hotel during filming of the show]
T: In the beginning, it’s a bit stir crazy, especially before you get into the work room and do the actual challenges. Then after a few days, I kinda liked it. You’re disconnected, you can watch television, but there’s no phone, no other people. So the time you get in your room is the time you mentally need to relax, get your shit together, and have that necessary disconnected alone time. I quite enjoyed it! I didn’t enjoy not being able to walk outside if I wanted to. It was a good trade off.
PS: How did you feel when you walked into the work room for the first time and saw queens from newer seasons?
T: I figured it was going to happen, I felt it was going to just be me. And fingers crossed there would be someone like Jessica Wild or Morgan McMichaels with me. But I assumed everyone else would be from later seasons. I was surprised that like half the cast was from season five. But that was such an iconic season that it’s not surprising that half the cast were from season five.
PS: On All Stars 2, you got to be judged by Michelle Visage, who didn’t join the judging line-up until season three. How did she compare to Merle Ginsberg?
T: Two very different styles of judging. Merle was a little more, not kinder, but more gentle with her words. Michelle is very much a blunt person. But the flip side is when you do something that she loves, she’s equally that blunt. She not only focuses on the shitty, she always gives positives also, which doesn’t always get shown on television. I liked her!
PS: So Michelle can be nicer than what we are shown sometimes?
T: Yeah, I feel like that’s her role. She is the voice of pure honesty and that’s a good thing to have.
PS: It works well for her! You have recently released new music. Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
T: Yeah, when I was younger, I always had this fantasy which I didn’t think would be a real thing, of I’d love to be a singer. But I also did not have the confidence to think I could do that, as I was very shy. I didn’t take singing lessons as I didn’t think it would be a thing. I just fiddled round with my computer and I actually recorded a few of my tracks, way before I auditioned for Drag Race, back in the MySpace times, where you’d upload a song and see what it did and if people liked it. When we had to sing live on season two, it broke the idea that I couldn’t do it. That challenge was where I was very close to just telling them I’d rather not do this at all, and to just send me home. It made me feel very uncomfortable.
But I realised if I could do this in front of people, and on national television, I could probably do this in a recording studio. I recorded a few singles and released them back in 2010 or 2011. I worked with the producers, Mark Berry and Mad Science, on The Same Parts, which ended up being successful. We carried on recording, which went to an EP and lead to a full album.
PS: Is your music going to be something that you incorporate into your shows now?
T: Oh yeah! That is the plan! Just like I toured with The Same Parts, we were in talks about doing a promotional tour. I just want a full type of show, with dancers. I want to live my pop star fantasy! [Laughs]
PS: Your Britney Spears Las Vegas residency fantasy!
T: [Laughs] Derrick Barry! [Barry was a contestant on season eight known as a Britney Spears impersonator] I want a wind machine. I already have two music videos from this album, Use Me and Try and I would definitely like to do one or two more. If I could do a whole visual album, I would. But music videos are very expensive!
PS: I can imagine! I’m looking forward to seeing you when you come over for DragWorld in London.
T: The UK is one of my favourite places to travel, I’ve always had so much fun. Being in London for four days is going to be lovely! It’s my first time doing DragWorld, but it’s going to be my third drag convention. I’m really excited for it, and it’s actually my only drag convention I’m doing this year.
Tatianna will appear at DragWorld – Europe’s largest convention of drag – at the Olympia, London between Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th of August 2018. Tickets are available now.
Full line-up: Alaska5000, Alfie Ordinary, Anna Phylactic, Bebe Zahara Benet, BenDeLaCreme, Benjamin Butch, Biblegirl, Blair St. Clair, Charity Kase, Cheryl Hole, Cheddar Gorgeous, Chiyo, Courtney Act, Crystal Lubrikunt, Darienne Lake, Dax, Erik Witherkay, Farrah Moan, Ginger Minj, Hans Euff, Jiggly Caliente, Jinkx Monsoon, Jujubee, Katya, Manila Luzon, Meth, Miss Fame, Phi Phi O’Hara, Tatianna, Violet Chachki, Zayn Phallic