What lengths will a drag queen go to (or tuck away) in order to reach the elusive top? We caught up with two of the stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race – the new show on Logo that seeks to name the next top drag diva – to find out. In an exclusive interview with Gay List Daily, Ongina (pictured, left) and Tammie Brown (pictured, right) spill the queens on their rise to diva-dom.
Gay List Daily: When and how did you get started in drag performance?
Tammie Brown: It was just something that came natural to me. I was always putting on high heeled shoes and walking around with a feather duster. I started liking Tina Turner when I was young and that gave me the spark to perform. I wanted to be like her.
Ongina: I've always had a knack for dressing up and performing. So super fast forward to me moving out and living in NYC, openly gay, with little-to-no boundaries, and being exposed to a lifestyle I truly enjoyed. Freedom! On my 21st birthday, I dressed up in high heels, satin trousers and a plunging V-neck shimmer sweater, glued tracks on my head, put makeup on and felt overly-fabulous. I then stumbled upon Lucky Chengs, a drag cabaret on the lower east side, where I fully started doing the all-out drag thing and got out of my androgynous phase.
GLD: How did you create your drag name?
TB: My drag name started as a three way call, if you can believe that. My friend and I called a boy that we liked and were playing telephone tricks on him. When he answered he told us that the ID showed Bob Brown, and that we weren't Bob Brown. I told him, “Well I can change my name to be Tammie Brown,” and that night at the club I went on stage as Tammie Brown. It was my first time using a different moniker than Glen Schubert, which is my birth name.
O: A friend and I were joking around about names and she suggested using my middle name. At first I was like, ‘No way. It's so not a middle name, it's my mothers maiden name…,’ but after putting together my middle name, Ong, and the last three letters of a certain kind of –ina, I formed Ongina! ‘Since God never gave me a certain kind of –ina, I will just be Ongina,’ is usually the dialogue that comes along with it.
GLD: Which artists inspire you?
TB: Tina Turner is at the top, but I also love Josephine Baker and Joan Crawford. It's the female powerhouse attitude that inspires me and the uniqueness that they embody which helps me as an individual performer. I'm only competing with myself which is something that everyone should realize.
O: I’m inspired daily from watching old and new music videos, listening to the lyrics of the songs, and interpreting them how I see fit. I relate a lot of what I see, read and hear to my performances. Sometimes I take the literal route, and sometimes I find a deeper meaning – like when I performed Halo by Beyonce. She truly does inspire me. I love her voice; it's so powerful. I also love that she has a “drag” persona on stage, which is genius!
GLD: What accessory can you NOT live without?
TB: Eyelashes. They help my baby blues pop!
O: I am addicted to shoes! Designer shoes! I used to sell a lot of what I stopped wearing and found out that I long for those shoes every now and again, so my New Year’s resolution is to not pay rent, buy more shoes, and when the money is tight, I can always borrow from my 401k!
GLD: How do you break the drag “mold?”
TB: I, like my friend Jackie Beat, like to think of myself as a high concept character. I take no prisoner and follow my own instincts, my natural talent and my ability to entertain. I'm not a run-of-the-mill drag queen. If you want the girl next door, go next door.
O: I'm not the typical queen. I mostly do not wear a wig when I do drag. I’ll do it, but I love going bald or wearing a head piece. I also don't wear a bra or padding. But, of course that all depends; on any given day, I could wake up and feel like wearing a really big, done-up purple wig!
GLD: How did RuPaul's Drag Race find you?
TB: My good friend Rod encouraged me to apply for the show. I also met some of the casting people at my show, and they loved me and asked if I would be interested in participating. Of course I had to go through the screening process, but I made it!
O: I was featured in a photography showcase by a friend of mind, Sandra Jara, and she invited me to a party in South Central. She then introduced me to this lady who was casting for the new reality series, RuPaul’s Drag Race. Originally, I said no. She somehow got my number and harassed me for more than a week to ‘just send a freaking video over.’ She was really intimidating, so I decided to gather my reel and send it over. I didn't think I'd have the slight bit of chance to get on the show since I was really amateur, but then a month or so later, a phone call changed my life forever.
GLD: Which Ru means business: Ru in drag or Ru in a suit?
TB: Ru in any outfit! Ru is total business from the morning’s first light, head-to-toe until the disco lights go down.
O: When Ru was in a suit, he was like our mentor, but in drag it was business! Ru is amazing. She set the stage for a lot of drag performers in the world, and set an example that the sky is the limit!
GLD: Any juicy behind-the-scenes gossip you can give fans?
TB: I'm under contract, and L.B Mayer wouldn't like that very much. Just enjoy the show!
O: There's a lot of juicy behind-the-scenes gossip on www.rupaulsdragrace.com. But the one thing I can say is that nine different queens sharing one stage is a whole lot of drama!
GLD: What was your favorite part about being on the show?
TB: Meeting all the new friends I've made and helping people live their dreams. Getting all the MAC cosmetics wasn't bad either.
O: I got to know eight of the most amazing drag queens of this generation, and I learned a lot from every single one of them.
GLD: What's next for you?
TB: Concerts, sold-out stadiums and world wide domination! I tell you, I've penned some good songs. Check them out on Myspace or on YouTube and come to one of my many concerts.
O: I don't know what the universe has planned for me, but I'm open to anything. I hope to one day inspire the young drag generation and offer them what I've learned throughout the years. I want to elevate this experience and show the world, drag queen or not, that you control your destiny. You only have one life to live, live it to the fullest and let the rest be in the history books!
New episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race air Mondays on Logo
Tammie Brown got the boot last night. Girl needs to learn some Michelle Williams! Sashay, away. (Watch the carnage here.)