For Tatyana Ali, reimagining herself as the fierce and dynamic Chakra 7 has cracked open a part of her that she didn’t even know existed.
Unleashing a “fearlessness and a confidence”, drag has helped show this longtime "Drag Race" fan one thing that RuPaul herself has always spoken about, “knowing I am my own best creation.” I spoke with the woman behind Chakra 7 to discuss her Drag Race experience, the changes it helped bring on both as a performer and a person, and which one of her former "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" cast-mates would absolutely rock the "Secret Celebrity Drag Race" competition.
Michael Cook: What did it feel like to be on a wild ride like "RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race?" You were one of the stars that fans definitely had a hard time figuring out!
Tatyana Ali: Oh yeah, I saw on Twitter, people thought maybe Phaedra Parks, just so many different people! It was pretty crazy not to be able to say anything. I have been a fan of the show since it started, even before it was on VH1 back in the day. I just think that there is nothing like it. The talent, costume making, makeup performance, all of it. I have always been in awe of that. Just being invited to come participate in that, but also because it is "Celebrity Drag Race," to celebrate drag culture and everything it has done for us. I also got to play for a charity that I care about, so for all of those reasons it was “yes, yes” and “thank you thank you!”
MC: You’re an OG fan of the show, so you have watched queens get together for over a decade, but once you got into the workroom and started working with the Queen Supremes, did you realize quickly there was a lot you were not aware of that it took to get into drag?
TA: Oh yes. I am a cis-female, so I thought I know what it is “kind of” like to be in drag. No ma’am, I didn’t (laughs). The level of body reconstruction to create this sort of ideal ratio ... padding, tape, WHOOO the wigs! Gloria from Wigs and Grace, Gloria is a sculptor and such a beautiful person. Tyler and their assistant are just so wonderful. This was no games, it was like this is what we wear, you are going to learn it too, and you are going to learn to balance it. You are going to trust me because I wouldn’t put anything on you that is going to fall off.
MC: Are there any pearls of wisdom that any of the Queen Supremes shared with you that you are going to be taking into the next phase of your career post "Secret Celebrity Drag Race?"
TA: Yes. Number one, I have to mention my drag mama Brooke Lynn Hytes. She just completely took me under her wing and went above and beyond. She watched my rehearsals when there were no cameras there and no one was shooting. She gave me so much love as a performer and it doesn’t matter where you are in your career, but to have that kind of nurturing is everything. It pushes you to the next phase of your journey. Monét X Change said something though, something to the effect of “we all have different kinds of crayon boxes. Mine is the type that has the sharpener in the back bitch. And I use all those fucking colors.” I will never forget that or take it away. My career and what I have done as a performer, when I look back on my life, will be what happened before Drag Race and what happened after. It is like something has been let loose; there is freedom.
MC: What do you think freedom has now unleashed for you in terms of your career choices? Do you think it has unleashed fearlessness?
TA: A fearlessness. Confidence ... there is confidence that comes with fearlessness. That is the power of drag that RuPaul talks about often, it is about knowing I am my own creation. That’s the God in me, I can be whoever I want. Independent of whatever anyone thinks or says or feels, fuck that; if I wanna do it, I'm gonna do it.
MC: The LGBT community has always gravitated to you as a performer and artist. Do you think that participating in "Secret Celebrity Drag Race" is something that your fans saw as a natural fit for your career?
TA: I’ve gotten texts from close friends and colleagues saying “I don't know if this is you, but if it is, I am loving it for you”! If that is the case, nothing could make me happier. Like I said though, I am so honored to be invited to participate in the culture in that way. And to celebrate it.
MC: When were you first exposed to the world of drag and when was it made something that you were acutely aware of?
TA: I don’t know when I didn’t know about drag. I don’t know if that was because I was young and in theater, but I grew up in theaters, backstage. I had my parents there, but they’re cool and if someone wanted to go somewhere afterward, I went to drag shows as a young person. I don’t know when that first exposure was, but I’ve always seen it as a really cool art form, and it still is.
MC: Who do you think from your "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" cast would really kill it on "Secret Celebrity Drag Race" - Alfonso Ribeiro or Will Smith?
TA: I think Wil would be amazing. He would put his heart and soul into it because he just does that with everything that he does. I also think Alfonso would be amazing, he is just an incredible performer. I feel like Alfonso would give Poppy Love vibes, like “here I am;” he is phenomenal. I would nominate Alfonso. Selfishly it’s what do I want for the people I love? I want them both to do it (laughs)!
Follow Tatyana Ail on Instagram @tatyanaali.
Check out the other contestants on the homepage.