As RuPaul and Faye Dunaway would say, “Tina, bring me the axe!” And axe Ru did.
Anyone who knows about the New York City drag scene knows Tina Burner. The queen is a nightlife legend, consistently booked and setting stages around the city aflame with her bright looks and quick wit.
Tina had repeatedly auditioned for RuPaul’s Drag Race before finally getting cast on Season 13 — and after waiting years to stomp into the workroom, she encountered the extra obstacle of having to prepare for the competition during a global pandemic.
When she finally made her Drag Race debut, Tina leaned into her name with yellow, orange, and red campy runway couture, even if the judges told her to step out of her comfort zone. Even though she never won a maxi challenge, Tina was a consistent performer, including her role in the “Disco-Mentary” challenge and her impersonation of the rambunctious fitness instructor Richard Simmons on Snatch Game. But when the queens were tasked with creating and selling their own brand of sodas, Tina’s fell flat, and after giving a bear-y good lip-sync against Utica, she was asked to sashay away.
Tina sat down with NewNowNext to talk about finally making it onto Drag Race, if she still talks to her ex-boyfriend, Graham Norton, and if she has any words for the haters out there who read her runway looks.
How are you?
I’m good. How are you doing today?
I know, you’re heartbroken. It’s okay.
I am, actually. I’m a big fan.
So, were you just going to keep auditioning every year until you were chosen? Or this time around, were you like, “Okay, I’m going to audition one more time and then I think I’ll move on?”
I would like to say that that would go through my mind, but I’m such a competitor that I was like, “Baby, I’m going to keep showing up and I’m going to break you down. I’m going to break you down year by year.” And then finally they’ll be like, “Oh Jesus Christ, if we have to watch one more Tina Burner audition tape…” I think they were just like, “You know what? Just put her on. Just put her on. Stop. Stop the madness.”
Put her out of her misery.
Yeah, put her down. Old Yeller. Just put her down.
What were you doing when you got the call that you were going to be on the show?
I was watching Drag Race. I mean, it doesn’t get weirder than that. I think it was All Stars at the time. Yeah, and then I went to my bathroom and cried on my toilet. It was great.
It’s so glam. I live in a studio, so there are only so many rooms you can go to.
When you were cast and then it turned out to be the year of the global pandemic, were you like, “Of course, of course I got cast this year?”
Yeah. 1,000%. I just remember, somebody had said, they’re like, “Let’s get crafty.” And you were just like, “Yeah, this is going to be fun. How do I even get to a fabric store? How do I even get wigs?” To be on it, it made it so much more special, but I will say it was the hardest. All these girls who were like, “I had it hard and I had this” and I was like, “Baby, you don’t even know… It doesn’t even scratch the surface.”
You’re such a big fan of Drag Race. What surprised you the most while you were filming it?
How down-to-earth and just amazing RuPaul was. I mean, just cracking jokes and just that laughter, I can still hear. It’s just so good. You’d go in there and you’re like, “What if it’s not what I thought?” But it so superseded my expectations. That was one thing. And then what else surprised me? How fast-paced it is. I knew it was going to be fast, but it’s just like, you just snap your fingers and you’re just like, “Whoa.” I mean, you’re there for such a long time, but it moves very quickly.
So when I was watching the lip-sync between you and Utica, I didn’t know who Ru was going to send home. Were you surprised when you were asked to sashay away?
I’m going to ask you, in your personal opinion, who won that lip sync? No, you can tell me. You’re not going to hurt my feelings.
You know, I’m watching it, and literally I was like, “I don’t know who’s going to be sent home” because I never think Utica is a lip-sync queen and then she pulls it out.
Baby, I was dressed as a giant bear doing “My Humps” by the Black Eyed Peas. It does not get funnier than that. And so you can say what you want and everyone can say what, but I don’t know. It’s not that I was surprised. I love to do stupid shit, okay? And I don’t think lip-syncing should be taken that seriously when it’s in that vein. I could have stood there, and I could have just really lip-synced the fucking house down, but I was like, baby, I’m a giant bear. This is “My Humps,” so let’s go stupid. So I don’t know if I was surprised. To be completely honest, yeah, of course, I was a little surprised because the reactions would seem to me like they were having a good time, and that’s what drag is about to me. It’s having a good time, so. Utica was just in that spot, standing there and I was running circles around her, so.
So, you were surprised?
Of course, I was surprised. I mean, you have to know no one ever thinks they’re going to go home. Yeah, I was actually shocked and I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to say. I had never thought about, “Oh, shit. What if that moment comes and you have to say an exit line?” It’s so authentic and genuine, what I said because none of it was rehearsed.
You dated Graham Norton, and now you’re both part of the Drag Race family. Have you messaged each other recently?
Oh yeah. We talk very regularly. And I just got a tattoo of one of the quotes that he… He wrote a letter to me once, and he signed it and said like, “Life is not a firework,” and he’s right. You know, you can’t just light things and then they become beautiful. It’s work.
Now he’s on my arm, in his handwriting, so we’re forever bonded there. But yeah, he’s a really great guy and he’s an amazing person and has always… I admire him for his career as well. You know, he was waiting tables until he was 30. He’s an amazing entertainer, and he’s an amazing business person and just an all-around good person. So I wish I could give you some big tea about what horrible person he is. But no. I mean, the man is good people and has always, always supported me and been behind me in every endeavor that I have chosen to do.
Some of your New York sisters, like Logan Hardcore, have been reading your runway looks. Is there anything you’d like to say to them?
Baby. I mean, listen. All I can say is the people that want to read shit like that, those in glass houses, angels. My favorite part about this whole experience is to watch people who aren’t fashion queens per se read other people’s looks. I’m just like, “Honey. Why don’t you pick up the mirror, sis?” Honestly though, to be completely honest, it’s all in good fun. I sit there and I read myself. I was like, “Oh girl, what is that?” I think if you can’t take the piss out of yourself, why are you even doing this? I mean, everybody has their own taste. I’m not everybody’s cup of tea. But baby, I’m still doing it and it ain’t going to stop me.
I saw you on Fire Island last summer at Cherry’s. It was the first drag show I’d seen in months, and it was so nice and almost normal. So, I was wondering, if the coronavirus disappeared today and everything opened back up, where’s the first place you’d go?
To Disney World. No. It’s always the NFL players, they always go to Disney World and I’m a linebacker in a dress. Doesn’t it make sense? Where’s the first place I would go? I mean, Fire Island is so special to me and it’s such an amazing community and people appreciate drag so much there. And it’s such a legacy out there and drag is so special. It’s always been such a bubble of the LGBTQ+ community. And so, I don’t know. You never feel love until you feel it out there. The love is real. But if everything opened up, I would go straight to All Stars, thank you.