Tina Burner’s flame extinguished before many assumed it would, but the veteran queen more than made her mark on Season 13 of RuPaul’s Drag Race...for better or worse.
The self-described New York comedy queen brought decades of experience to the show, but never quite found her footing. From a divisive Rusical performance to lip syncing as a giant teddy bear, her performances were often as stupefying as they were spectacular. But they were always quintessential Tina Burner.
Daniel Trainor spoke to Tina Burner about the harsh judging she received, conversation around her color palette and how drag has evolved in New York.
Daniel Trainor: Hi Tina! How are you feeling knowing that the world finally knows your Drag Race fate?
Tina Burner: It’s actually calming. I can finally breathe. Have you ever seen the movie Ever After?
DT: Of course!
TB: Duh. Remember when she walks down the stairs and she’s like ‘just breathe?’ How dramatic, but it’s very that for me.
DT: You’re living your Drew Barrymore fantasy.
TB: It’s my Drew Barrymore fantasy! I think I’m more stressed out about my mom, to be completely honest. She doesn’t understand.
DT: That’s tough. It was so lovely being able to meet your mom on Untucked last week. How is she doing and what has this experience of you being on the show been like for her?
TB: Mama Bear is in full effect. She’s an amazing woman. We have an amazing relationship. To have been through what we’ve been through and to come out how we’ve come out, it’s a great thing. She’s so invested. I think we need a Drag Race review show with me and my mother. You think I’m shady? You have no idea. She is wild.
DT: I need that. Is Wow Presents Plus listening?
TB: She’s like ‘that one with the pink hair is shady’ and ‘that one is a secret diva.’ She’s wild. The only anxiety I have is that my mother doesn’t understand that it’s a show that’s been taped. She thinks there’s a chance I could be saved. It’s emotional. You said you saw Untucked?
DT: Yes, I did.
TB: You saw me lose my shit as a giant bear?
DT: I did! Kind of iconic.
TB: (laughs) I mean, it is kind of iconic.
DT: You define yourself as such a comedy queen. It felt like you really let that shine through in the Werk Room and in your testimonials, but it seemed to disappear a bit in the comedic challenges. Did you feel your sensibilities were getting lost?
TB: Let’s say you met Jesus. You’d probably pull it back a little bit. You wouldn’t let it all out when you meet Jesus. It’s easy for me to talk one-on-one. It’s easy for me to let loose with the gals. I am very, very OCD and about attention-to-detail. Sometimes it gets in your way. I fought so hard to be there. I fought so hard to prove myself. It was a long journey to even get there. That’s one of the big things. If you’ve only been doing drag for two seconds and you get on the show, what do you really have to lose? When you’ve been doing it for a long time, you want to make sure that you show these people what you have. I think sometimes that stood in my way. You want to be perfect. Watching it back, I was like ‘girl, let your hair down!’
DT: Between the branding challenge and the Rusical, there seemed to be a bit of a disconnect between you and the judges. What do you think they weren’t necessarily clicking with?
TB: They wanted the best for me. Obviously they expected a lot more from me because I’ve been doing it a lot longer and I have a reputation to uphold. Maybe I should have just lit myself on fire. Maybe I would have drawn more attention.
DT: It certainly would have been memorable, Tina.
TB: I know, baby! Tina Burner catching on fire? Honey! Light me up!
DT: On that note, there was so much discussion about the consistency of your orange, red and yellow color palette. Did you think about switching up your look a bit more to appease the judges, or were you just determined to give them the full Tina Burner experience?
TB: Kinda. I was going through full throttle. When you’re there and there are criticisms to be had, you take them. You listen to the criticism and you grow from it while you’re there. But when you’re there? You brought what you brought, sis. You made that choice, honey, and now you have to see if you can work it out. Looking back, I think I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. I branded. You’ll never look at a hot dog the same way.
DT: Has the show made you reconsider your drag in any way?
TB: Of course! Baby, you saw how I painted Rosé. I took a minute to be like ‘girl, let’s work on this make-up.’ So, when I came back, I spent weeks with a bunch of my friends who are make-up artists and changed my whole face. When you look at the pictures I’m releasing now, people are like ‘where was that face?’ and I’m like ‘it wasn’t there.’ The show taught me a lot. It taught me about proportion. You pick up so much from everyone else who is there. In the words of Monét X Change, ‘you a sponge, honey.’ Anybody who doesn’t evolve coming out of that just didn’t listen. Those people know what they’re doing. I can’t get mad at it. Watch out All-Stars, honey!
DT: As Drag Race has risen in popularity, how have you seen drag in New York change and how does that make you feel, as somebody who has been doing it for so long?
TB: It’s very different now. It’s amazing that drag has become so mainstream, but with that being said, you don’t get that whole die hard, ‘drag is a community’ thing. In New York now, everybody is fending for themselves a little bit. It’s been very interesting to watch the younger generation come up. Back in the day, you didn’t see so many young people embracing it. It wasn’t as accepted. Nobody blinks an eye when a drag queen is walking down the street at 2:00 p.m. going to brunch. The thing that makes New York City so great is the community and the diversity. I hope that’s what we always hold onto. I hope it never loses its weird.
DT: It was really fun watching you this season, Tina. Thanks for the time today. Feels like ths Tina Burner renaissance is just getting started.
TB: Turn it and burn it. We’re going to light it on fire!