She was only on two episodes of RuPaul’s Drag Race, but Tammie Brown, evoking silver screen goddesses like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, was utterly unforgettable – and now she’s back as one of Ru’s esteemed fal-culty on RuPaul’s Drag U! Tammie answers the burning questions, including how she developed her unique look as well as her take on the fight with Ru during the Drag Race reunion, in our exclusive interview!
Socialite Life: Hi Tammie! How are you doing?
Tammie Brown: I’m fine, thank you!
SL: I’m delighted to be speaking with you because I adore you and you left us far too soon on Drag Race!
TB: (Laughs) Well, I’m back on Drag U!
SL: How did you get started in drag? I read in your bio that you’ve been involved in theater, did your interest in doing drag come from your stage background?
TB: No, it’s something I always wanted to do since I saw the movie Tootsie as a kid. And it’s something that came natural to me, dressing up in my Mom’s clothes. She had a lot of dresses that she’d buy – at the second hand store in particular – there was a salmon one covered in rhinestones that I always used to put on. I also wanted to be a witch when I was a little kid as well. A friend of ours who was a fashion designer in Brownsville (Texas) had these wonderful fabrics – and there was this one in particular that had ladybugs on it, and they were many different colors – I always wanted that to become a witch costume. So (drag) was something that sort of evolved for me. And being in theater also helped out. I was allowed to do drag in theater, like in Grease I got the part of Cha Cha and in Into the Woods, I got the part of the Evil Stepmother. And then we used to do this lip synch competition with a program where they take kids to do theater competitions and I’d go and do Tina Turner impersonations – I’d do “Proud Mary” and I’d have backup dancers and all. And then in high school, at the end there, when I reached 18, I decided I wanted to go to the local clubs and start performing.
There’s much more going down with Tammie Brown after the jump!
SL: I read that some of your influences were Lypsynka and Varla Jean Merman. You have that “Old Hollywood” vibe – who did you model your look off of?TB: Well, the “Old Hollywood” thing has actually only been for the past five years. Before that, it was just something that naturally happened for me. When I went to take my makeup class, I went to study at a place in Long Beach (California) called Hollywood Faces and the person who taught the class had them do my face and that’s how it started happening with the style, the Hollywood look – and that’s how it started developing for me to where it became that “Old Hollywood” look. And I got that seven years ago – and a friend of mine started dressing me in more of the vintage pieces – because I do like vintage clothes and second hand clothes or thrift store clothes. I like them because a little more different and more fashionable. I’ve always liked that. So my friend started giving me the dresses and that’s how it all started coming together as far as the “Old Hollywood” aesthetic. I did like the movie Mommie Dearest, but I don’t like it as much now, since I’ve really gotten into and studied Joan Crawford. I’ve seen probably 60 of her 80 films. I do study all of those old actresses. I do like Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo and I love Josephine Baker, and I’ve always liked her, she was around at the same time, but in France. She was an influence as well, and that’s sort of where my wackier faces came from. I saw pictures of Josephine Baker rolling her eyes. It wasn’t Lucille Ball – people always think “Oh it’s Lucille Ball”…no, no, no…or when I lip synch Josephine Baker, they think I’m doing Edith Piaf, because they think I look like her too. Of course, Lady Bunny was an inspiration as well as RuPaul.SL: When you perform, what can people expect to see? TB: Well, they can expect something zany, a lot of fun. They expect to be connected sometimes too and seduced by my performance. And if you haven’t seen me before, you’re probably going to be taken aback, you’re not going to know what to expect – which happens to a lot of people – and then it sort of grows on them and then they get it. A lot of people are always getting captured – I have that way of looking at the audience and smoldering. I bring them in and get them eating from the tips of my fingers, you know? And joy…I always hear “You bring so much joy to the stage and you’re always so uniquely you.” SL: When you were approached – first for Drag Race and then for Drag U, what was your initial reaction? TB: For Drag Race, I was really excited and I got everything together to be on the show. I thought, “This is cool, here’s the ticket”, you know? I didn’t know what to expect, but here we go. And with Drag U, I was thankful to be back working with World of Wonder and everybody and I thought, “Okay, so they haven’t forgotten about me and they did like me.” SL: Can you tell me about that orangutan face we’ve seen you making in the Drag U promos?TB: Well, they were asking me what I do to warm up and I threw in some ideas of some of the faces you can make. And then last summer, when I was at the zoo, I saw this orangutan sitting in front of the glass and a little girl was sitting on the other side and they were making faces at each other. The little girl kept doing everything that the orangutan did – and it was holding up all of these people who wanted to take pictures of the orangutan, but the little girl just sat there and kept on making faces with this orangutan. So, I just threw that in there for the comedy aspect – one of my own personal jokes. But, you know, warming up your face and doing different facial expressions is always important for the stage, which I learned from theater. So that’s why I did the orangutan face. And the girl I worked with (on Drag U), her name is Brandy, she really cooperated and really enjoyed working with me too. And we both hit it off because we both speak Spanish!SL: On Drag U, the ladies’ transformations often give them a new lease on life? Did you have a moment like that in your own life?TB: I think it happens to anybody who puts on high-heeled shoes for the first time. If you have the drive to put on high-heeled shoes and you put them on, you feel like “I’m in power because I have these shoes on.” The first time I put on high-heeled shoes is when it happened for me. I’d run up and down these wood stairs – I’m surprised I didn’t break my neck – when I was a kid in my Mom’s high heels. SL: What was your favorite moment from on Drag U? TB: Working with (Brandy), when she was being judged by the panel and asked about how she felt about the show and she said that she really enjoyed working with me. It’s interesting to find out how much people are encouraged by me and that always inspires me and that’s what makes me happy, you know? It makes me feel good to know I’m doing something that people take home or that touches their hearts – that’s a highlight for me. For example, the other night in the dressing room, I didn’t know that I had made an impact on a lot of people and there’s been some up-and-coming new people in Long Beach and L.A. and one of them actually told me that I’ve helped him to do his drag and inspired him. It’s kind of interesting that it’s really inspiring people. In fact, all around the world now – I get messages from Germany and South America and France too.SL: What have you been up to lately?TB: Well, I have my videos on You Tube and I just released a new one, Clam Happy, which has gotten a lot of press. I have a whole lot of write-ups about it on different blogs – for example, World of Wonder wrote about it and even Logo, Lady Bunny, Jackie Beat and Out magazine. And we’re working on a new one too. SL: So how can your fans stay in touch?TB: I have a Facebook page and my website, TammieBrown.net – you can send me an email through that. My Facebook has been maxed out, but you can still send me messages on Facebook and I always reply to the fans, I’ve been really good at that. I really take the time to contact them. And the word on the street is that I’m so nice because I do talk to people who ask me questions. SL: You also have songs available on iTunes, right?TB: Yes! I’ve got songs available on iTunes – my new album Popcorn. Get it and put some butter on it! I’ve written all of the songs myself with my creative partner Rob Borroso. We’re getting ready to work on the new music video for one of the other songs that’s on the album, which is “The Tammie Brown Blues” which is surprisingly one of the best sellers, along with “The Mashed Potato Squash”. I have been working for the past six months on my upcoming album, Hot Skunkz.SL: Did Divine‘s career inspire you to get into music, or is that something you’ve always been interested in? TB: I’ve always been interested in music, since I saw the movie What’s Love Got to Do with It - the Tina Turner story. The music and the dancing was something that was always inspiring for me as a younger kid and I always wanted to get into entertainment. In fact, when I was 12, I told one of my father’s surfer friends that I wanted to get into it and he said “A lot of guys wouldn’t tell you this, but I’m going to tell you that you should follow your dreams and really make sure you do it.” And here I am today, doing it. But it (singing) was always something that came natural to me and Divine, of course, I’ve studied him as well. I’ve seen almost all of his films and I do have an album. I really look up to Divine and I love Divine. They’re fun songs and I like his voice – I think it’s so great the way he screams the songs out. I actually have a lot of vinyl – my goal is to have the whole Ike and Tina Turner collection and I want the whole Sylvester collection too – he’s definitely an inspiration. SL: Do you have a beauty secret you could share with us? TB: The beauty secret I would share is to make sure that before you put on your eyelashes, you always trim them so that you don’t look like a clown!SL: Out of charisma, uniqueness, nerve and talent, which do you feel is the most important? TB: Well, talent, for sure. And then, of course, uniqueness, very important with your talent…and charisma, but that comes along with the whole thing, I think. I know I have all of those…and NERVE! You can’t get bulldozed over, you know what I mean? And people asked about (the Drag Race finale, where Tammie and Ru got into a little verbal scuffle) – we did talk to RuPaul and I do get what he was saying, that we just have to go along with whatever comes out on TV and I do understand the whole point that it doesn’t matter what people think – because I have gotten some hate mail, you do when you’re in the spotlight. I read in the Joan Crawford book that she used to post those nasty comments she would get from people on her dressing room mirror. And at first I was like “This hurts so bad” but in reality at least they’re taking some time to say something about you. You’ve already captured them, you know what I mean? You just have to keep going, it doesn’t matter what they say. I’m not unhappy I told RuPaul how I felt because I think it needs to be said. There’s a lot of junk in the media and junk on TV now instead of wholesome, good entertainment. That’s how I feel about that, if it makes any sense.SL: Well, you’re back, so your comments obviously didn’t hurt anything…TB: Well, it’s funny, all of the people who did the editing come up and tell me how they’re big fans of the show and how the show made me look like the lady I am. All of the people behind the scenes come up to me and say all of these wonderful things, and I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I did make an impact on the show – and on the people working there.” I’m just a little bit wackier instead of cookie cutter, but that’s what sets you apart and that’s what’s marketable. SL: Any last words? TB: Fans, please take the time to watch my music videos on You Tube and buy my album – and enjoy it. And keep enjoying it because I’m going to keep it coming out for you all!Don’t miss Tammie Brown on RuPaul’s Drag U tonight at 9pm EST on Logo!