Spoilers for the February 5 episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race lie ahead.
“The lady said go home,” but Atlanta drag legend Tamisha Iman stayed and turned it out week after week on RuPaul’s Drag Race, consistently upending competitors’ expectations of her as an older queen. A drag mother and mentor in her own right (she spoke on the series about the late Tandi Iman Dupree), Iman brought pageant poise, elegance, and a real fire to a cast of season-13 queens raised by Instagram. Overcoming health obstacles, she really did show the girls what she could do. Oh, and did you even watch last week’s Untucked? Iman produced some reality TV for the ages. We spoke to the freshly eliminated, but never paralleled, Tamisha Iman about her Drag Race run.
Tamisha Iman, hello! Thank you so much for taking the time to chat. And congratulations on a truly iconic run on RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Thank you very much, I appreciate it.
You brought an entirely new perspective to Drag Race, coming in as the drag mother of a very large and legendary house, the Iman Dynasty, and with years of experience, pageants, and titles. What was it like to enter this reality-TV competition setting?
It was exciting yet scary, because you don’t really know what to expect. Especially the times that we were in, during the pandemic, it was very scary, but exciting. We were stretched as far as preparation, but I think everybody’s heart was in it, everybody wanted to be there. Everybody wanted to prove themselves.
What surprised you about the actual Drag Race experience?
Meeting the girls, it was a younger generation that I was meeting, but they all were so amazing. They all were ready to go. They were fired up. They had their ideas, they had that tenacity behind them. Nothing surprised me, just that we got it done in the pandemic.
Prepping for even a normal season of Drag Race is a huge task, let alone designing and building looks for every episode during a pandemic. You had some great runway moments. What are your design inspirations?
My pageant background allows us to try to [create a design] as we would see it on television, as we would see on the runway, as we would see it at an award show. That’s our aesthetic, when it comes to designing. When I first started drag, I was not necessarily camp, but my aesthetic was kind of over the top. You can’t really be too over the top in pageantry, so I’ve had to go back over the years, toning things down.
You’ve been a mother and mentor to so many young queens. What do you look for in someone who you bring into your drag family?
It can’t be just about drag, it has to be about your livelihood. I have to make sure that you, as a person, are okay. Your mindset, first of all. Because a lot of the time when these kids come to you, they’re broken. And you have to be able to recognize that. I just look for people who are honest about who they are. Not all of my kids perform. So, if you want to be part of my Dynasty, I would prefer you just come in [as yourself]. I need to get to the root of the problem, because I can’t help you celebrate being in drag if your life is not in order.
In this week’s episode you talk about a woman in your community, growing up, who took the youth under their wing. What’s the reaction been like from your own community, your drag family, everyone watching you this season, being this source of inspiration overcoming obstacles on TV?
They know me personally, so nothing was new to them. I think it was all new to me. I’ve been working, doing what I do in my community, trying to motivate, educate, and just help my community advance to the next level. It’s always been like that. I’ve always been mindful of the youth. I’ve always been mindful of the position that I have, being a spokesperson for my community. So, it was not surprising to them. I think everybody was shocked about the way that the world has received me. But my kids are proud. Everybody’s proud. Even I’m proud. It’s one thing to be that person, and another one to see yourself on screen, and people like what they see.
You’ve really been doing a lot to keep your fan base engaged, with this season coming out during a pandemic. You have your call-in shows, you have great merch. What are your plans for when live in-person performance is possible again?
My shows and stuff, I’m doing because I’m still trying to work. But I can honestly say I’m not secure about going back into society with this plague still going on. So as an entrepreneur and an older person, I’m trying to see what I can do from my location. My goal is to do what I’ve always done: Be able to bring joy to the community in some shape, form, or fashion. Life is already too serious. Our communities are going through a lot, on the regular. So drag being the break away, or just the takeaway, of your day to day, just to bring some fun and excitement — I just want to focus on trying to bring fun to my community. I think this season, and this opportunity kind of restored my joy of drag again. So I just want to share that, not just with my community with the world. If I can go back to teaching and advising people, because I think a lot of people don’t understand that there are different facets to drag, I don’t mind breaking it down. When it’s done correctly, it’s fun. When it’s not done correctly, it’s a job.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask, how are things now with you and Kandy?
That was a joke.
We had a moment onscreen, but we’re fine.
This interview has been edited and condensed.