From the moment Chakra 7 stepped foot on stage on Season 2 of RuPaul’s Secret Celebrity Drag Race, she turned heads. She could move, she had electricity to her that was magnetic and instantly pulled viewers in. Behind the character was Tatyana Ali. While longtime fans have known that Ali is a talented singer and performer, her transformation was a pleasant surprise. Outside of a few singles she put out in the 90s, and singing on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and film projects, music has taken a back seat.
Luckily for fans, this experience has her pumped to perform more. Ahead of the live season finale alongside Poppy Love (AJ McLean) and Thirsty Von Trapp (Mark Indelicato) where the winner was crowned, Shadow and Act Unscripted spoke with the actress about how the competition reignited a fire in her and caused a rebirth she never imagined.
S&A Unscripted: Congratulations on making it to the final three. How did your participation in the show come about, and were hesitant to participate initially?
TA: No, I was super excited because I’m a fan of Drag Race, even from when it was on LOGO years ago when it first started. And I just think they’re so incredibly talented. There’s no other kind of show where people are expected to create their own costumes, do their own makeup, formulate and or have formulated their own characters, and then perform. And I just think it’s I think it’s amazing – the culture – and I think it’s dope. And I was excited to be invited to do it.
I haven’t done a reality show like this or sort of a performance-based show – I haven’t done that. I was so excited about it and so excited to be invited to be a part of this culture or celebrate it in some way. And also excited to play for my charity. It’s $100,000 that we’re playing for. And then, even if we don’t make it all the way, our charity gets $5,000. So that’s pretty awesome.
S&A Unscripted: You mentioned you’ve been a fan of the show. Were you a fan of live drag? Did you ever go to like live drag performances and different things like that? What was your experience on that end of things outside of just the television show?
TA: I’ve been I been to before. I definitely have been to drag performances. I wouldn’t say that I knew very much about the culture. I think I was a layman like everybody else, but I certainly have enjoyed it and realize like the contributions that it’s made – that all those artists and performers throughout history have made culturally. I hope they do realize just how special they are. It’s just really magical. And I didn’t even understand it totally until – and still to this day not even fully – because I had just a little bite. This was like a month or a five-week experience that I had. But it changed me. The ability to transform into anything you imagine is just so powerful and so courageous.
S&A Unscripted: So what was it like working with your coaches, and how do you feel as if they helped you develop week to week?
TA: Let me tell you, Brooke Lynn Heights, my drag mother – I called her mama, and I really, really meant it. She shared her artistry with me, and she really took me seriously and took what we were doing seriously. And I have a video from my rehearsals with Jamal Sims, who’s just this outrageously, incredible star choreographer. And this is off time, off camera, and I have this video because they would record our rehearsals and then give it to us so we could do our own practice, our own homework. And Brooke Lynn Heights – she’s in the background, just she’s sauntering through, and she’s got her coffee on her break – and stops and watches with such amazing focus and concentration. And later, she told me what she saw and gave me her notes. And they really took, I think for all of us, they really took us under their wings.
S&A Unscripted: I was very excited to see you in this element because I was always just such a huge fan of your voice and just you as an artist. And I just feel like we need to see more of that. Has this experience reignited your passion for music and maybe made you want to perform again?
TA: I would absolutely perform again. I would be Chakra 7, seriously. I told my husband, and I’ve told my family, I’ve told my representatives – I’m like, ‘If I could be Chakra 7 for the rest of my career – but I would add live singing – I would just be the happiest camper.
S&A Unscripted: Like how Beyoncé's alter ego was Sasha Fierce, Chakra 7 is yours. Because we have never seen this side of Tatyana with you dancing and all of that. Did the mysteriousness of the drag and being able to hide behind it help you feel more comfortable to be your best self onstage?
TA: Absolutely. I’ve been performing since I was four years old. And so I’ve always been recognizable. Even before Fresh Prince, going around my hometown in Long Island, doing Broadway or whatever. And so people at the grocery store would stop and go, ‘Oh, I read that article on you were in.’ So I’ve never really had that anonymity and the freedom really that comes with that, the creative freedom that comes with nobody judging you because they don’t know who you really are. I’ve never really had that.
And so it was just free territory. I didn’t have to worry about much. I should have been able to do this before. And this is a new creation, and she’s a superwoman. She can do it all. She’d be an alien. She could be blue, she can be like a 17th-century lady. She can do whatever. It’s freeing.
S&A Unscripted: What do you think contributed to you making it so far in the competition?
TA: I don’t know. I had so much fun. And it was from my heart. I really felt. The power of drag, it was really freeing for me and in my career, even now as an actor and going into the pilot season, thinking about what I’m going to do creatively next this whole period, even after the show is completely different because Chakra 7 freed me. I feel free.
S&A Unscripted: And how would you say going into your final performance, what did you have in mind to stand out from the other two to hopefully take home that $100,000 prize for your charity?
TA: I talked about this on the show a little bit. I’ve always done things and lived my life just focusing on running my race. I’m really getting to see everybody’s performances for the first time while we watch it because we were backstage getting ready and doing all these other things and we didn’t always get to sit down and watch each other’s performances. It was so cool. Everyone is so good.
My goal wasn’t really to stand out from them. My goal was to complete the story of Chakra 7 for this contest. I use my stones, I use my sugars. I won’t give too much away. But I really wanted to at least close up her story for this Celebrity Drag Race. For the finals, I just wanted to release her. She’s free. All the chakras are aligned.