It's RuPaul's Drag Race star Tamisha Iman's dynasty, we're all just living in it
The lady said go home, but Tamisha Iman's impact on RuPaul's Drag Race is eternal.
In the reality competition series' 12-year run, few contestants have made such a monumental impact in so few episodes. But Iman — a 30-year drag veteran who birthed biological kids, saved nearly 80 adopted drag children from troubled backgrounds, and recently survived cancer — navigated her brief stint of TV fame the same way she approaches life: Like an icon, and her instant fan-favorite status among all demographics of Drag Race fans is a testament to her power.
From repeatedly teaching the children lessons on old-school glamour, grace, and drag history (Iman comes from the retro Atlanta pageant scene, and has taken community legends like Tandi Iman Dupree under her wing) across her six-episode run, the founder of the Iman Dynasty lineage of queer excellence inspired countless memes, debate, and general gaggery in the social media sphere, more so than many of the queens continuing on in the competition. Still, Friday night's episode saw Iman exit the competition after struggling to connect her classic charm with the new-school expectations of Drag Race, as the judges critiqued her lack of confidence and focus during a disco-themed choreography challenge in which she struggled to complete a groovy routine with a hula hoop. A lip-sync against Kandy Muse (who clashed with Iman in a fiery Untucked episode last week) did Iman in, but plastic toys and reality TV squabbles can't dull her legacy; Tamisha Iman — enduring mother of the craft — helped lay the foundation for Drag Race to succeed long before its bow, and she'll still be here after its cameras cut. Ladies go home, but the a legend's spirit never dies.
Read on for our full exit interview with Iman, in which she speaks on gagging the children, the status of her relationship with Muse, a mini oral history about Tandi Iman Dupree's fall from the ceiling, and whether or not we'll be getting more additions to the monumental Iman line of home products (we're ordering six Tamisha Iman doormats, stat).
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's so lovely to talk with you again. I just hope you're feeling at peace after the lady actually said go home?
TAMISHA IMAN: [Laughs] I'm at peace!
I'm glad you're ok with it, because a lot of fans are going to be disappointed! It's a testament to how much you've won this fandom over. After only six episodes, you made an impact as a personality, but when it came to the competition itself, it never felt like you fully settled into the dynamic of the show. Why is that?
I had a lot of personal health issues going on. To know my talents weren't up to par was difficult. People don't understand that I was there on adrenaline…. Physically, should I have been there? Probably not. When you're presented with a life-and-death situation — because the cancer situation got to a point where it was so bad that I almost lost my life — and you get a moment in your life where your whole existence will be recognized, it's not about validation, but you don't want it to be in vain. You want the world to see what you put into this craft.
This week, with the hula hoop, you seemed especially displeased. Have you since learned how to make hula hoops sexy or are we done with hoops?
The hula hoop we started with was an aerobics hoop! Doing that with an aerobics hula hoop wasn't possible because it's at least four pounds. On top of that, I was trying to protect myself with this ostomy bag! I twirl baton, I twirl streamers, I've danced with hula hoops before, so it wasn't that, [it was the bag].
Are you feeling healthy now?
I'm feeling really good. Everything is ok!
You said you didn't want to tell anyone about the bag because you didn't want to be treated differently. How did that physically impact how you were able to perform?
When I made season 12, I could kick and split, but the radiation was so harsh on my muscles that a split was no longer possible. Physically you can't touch your toes because of the way the ostomy bag is put, so you're limited. I couldn't go all the way down. I had an open portion of my body that I had no control over on my stomach. If you bend down the wrong way, you can push stuff out. So, I was always cautious about that. It wasn't the dancing ability; it was making sure I didn't have an accident or injure myself. That's what I was thinking.
You gave us so many moments this season. Especially the clash with Kandy. The other queens seemed confused as to why you entered Untucked and appeared to immediately say that you liked what the other girls did, even though you didn't care for them personally. Can you add context?
The first time I said it, I walked over, I said "Girls, there's a couple of ya'll I don't really care for, but I wanted you to know that ya'll did amazing!" Kandy was like, "What did you say?" and I repeated it…. It wasn't that harsh. It went completely over their heads because all they heard was "I don't really care for you." [Laughs]. I did it in a joking way. Nobody got offended until Kandy got offended. Kandy is the leader of the pack!
You meant it as a joke?
Kandy is the leader of the pack and Kandy challenged me, so that's why I broke it down. I was joking but I wanted the girls to understand that, yeah, I'm an older contestant, but I want ya'll to know you did good drag.
Kandy and her mother have since received death threats. Have you received any backlash from that moment? I don't mean to put blame on either side, but do you regret the way that whole thing went down, between both of you?
Nope. I'm glad it happened, because that's real life when it comes to the drag world. There's a level of respect due to everybody. I'm glad it's shown that way, because I've had several confrontations like that in the dressing room. It allows people to express themselves…. This is a very loving industry; it doesn't have to be a dog-eat-dog world. I hope it was an educational moment for her. As far as the fans, if there's anything out there being said, I don't know about it because I'm not looking for it. If it doesn't fall directly on my doorstep, I really don't care. With Kandy, we talked about this prior to the show airing.... My thing with Kandy is: Don't intertwine with it. Don't invite it in and don't respond. I'm hearing Kandy is responding, and I have no response to followers. People are like, "You need to say something to your followers." I don't have control over anyone but Tamisha. To say something is giving it energy. I want it to die down, so if I don't say anything, you can't say I said anything good or bad. But I have talked to Kandy. The fans will think what they want to think, but you have to have the strength and not give them the energy.
You said in Untucked that you made amends with Kandy, but I've noticed you aren't following Kandy — and other season 13 queens — on social media. Why?
I'm only following Denali, Kahmora, Olivia, and Utica. Those were the girls I personally connected with. It's nothing against the other girls. It's just the fact that… I'm not going to follow them!
Do you have good relationships with them?
Yes! I've got all of my sisters [from Atlanta] blocked. It's a running joke that Tamisha has everybody from the community blocked. On day-to-day social media, they might post something that will offend me. I'm going to restrain myself…. social media platforms are where we expose our lives. My community is catty, so I blocked all of them so I can still have conversations with them and speak to them [in person] like how it used to be [without social media]. The old generation trying to adapt to the internet, they don't have a filter! They say stuff and it becomes confrontational…. I learn to keep myself out of the situation.
So, not following them is… a sign of respect?
Exactly! So, I can still have communication with them. They're not my favorite of the season, so if I start following them and slick stuff starts to come out, that's going to taint what we have. I can still pop on your live, we can still interact, we can still be fine. There's a lot of stuff that's still fresh. The community of fans is treacherous if you allow them, and you have to control yourself, so that's my way of controlling myself.
It's interesting because Lala Ri said in her confessional that back in Atlanta, you're known for liking to fight. Is that right?
In our community, there are a lot of cliques. I'm always standing up for people. I don't get into confrontations because it's not that serious, but I'm not going to let you talk to someone because she's new on the scene. I fight for respect for all. I'll go against the grain when it comes to fairness. I'm not going to start a fight, but I'm not going to allow people to be bullied or taken advantage of.
Speaking of Lala, I need to hear more about Lala being an Iman "for a day."
Lala is friends with my friend Anthony, who's like one of my kids without the title. Lips restaurant had just come to Atlanta, and Anthony wanted to audition [for them]. Anthony and Lala were backup dancers for our productions…. They wanted to do drag for this audition. So, I put both of them in drag. It was Lala's first time, and we couldn't come up with a name, but she definitely wanted to be an Iman! Lala went to do the audition. She had so much fun, and then called someone else at another club and got booked for a show that night. Anthony came back to the house and got out of drag, but Lala didn't want to get out. She was like "Child, I got a booking!" I was like, "Well, I'll do your face!" I redid his face, we went to the club, and people asked his name, and he was like, "I'm an Iman!" He was an Iman for that day. Lala did excellence for the first time ever in drag and turned the show completely out!
You've raised so many iconic drag children, including Tandi Iman Dupree. You said Tandi would be great for Drag Race. Can you explain why and why you felt a duty to talk about her — and drag history in general — to the children so much this season?
I talk about my kids as a parent should. I'm excellence at what I do. I'm not good, I'm excellent. But my kids are excellent as well. The best praise any child — biological or chosen — can receive is love from their parents. I showered Tandi with love while she was here, but she did something that was historic: Falling out of the ceiling. She was a beautiful person. She died from a disease that has taken a lot of the greats out. A lot of my kids have perished due to the AIDS epidemic, so I celebrate all of my kids. If one of my members dies, I take them everywhere I go that I know that they're wanted. I'm so glad I was able to bring her there. That would've been her home. Tandi should be getting these same accolades…. she patterned herself so much after me, that my granddaughters gravitated to me after Tandi passed. In his kids is everything I instilled in mine. We need to appreciate them when they're gone and never let their memories die. I didn't have that opportunity with my mother supporting me like that…. What I didn't get, I want to pass to the next generation.
The moment everyone knows Tandi for is the ceiling moment. You mentioned on the show that you were able figure out a way for her to safely do that at the pageant. Can you explain?
Tandi was like, "Mama, I want to try something!" I was like "Oh, girl, here we go." She said "I want to fall out the ceiling." I knew she could do it! So, after everybody left, we figured out how she could do it safely, but didn't know how to get her up there. I told her about the beams, and how she had to get up there a whole number before her number so as not to give it away. So, when the other entertainer was onstage, Tandi was in the ceiling above them. She's fearless. She's not scared of heights or anything. She's up there on the poles, perched, like "Hey mama!" In rehearsal, we tested it out, Tandi fell down and she was standing on her feet. We're thinking she was going to jump down and land on her feet. No! Tandi did Tandi and fell into a split. It was so exciting. When she came off the stage [we realized] her heel was broken the whole time!
I know there's more to come from you, because the Iman Dynasty has started selling doormats, shoes, fanny packs… do you have any more iconic Tamisha products in the works?
I'm a designer getting ready to launch my clothing line. I just didn't want to do the traditional merchandise. I have a ready-to-wear line, and I'm introducing that first. My couture line is coming!
How many of those damn sneakers have you sold?
Right now I've sold 500 pairs. So, it's amazing! [Laughs].
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RuPaul — as host, mentor, and creative inspiration — decides who's in and who's out.