Falls Church’s Tatianna Rocks RuPaul’s World

City Resident Lights Up Reality-TV Drag Show

DragWhen Joey becomes Tatianna, suddenly it seems like the whole world is watching.


City Resident Lights Up Reality-TV Drag Show



FALLS CHURCH’S Joey as Tatianna on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” (Courtesy Photo)

When Joey becomes Tatianna, suddenly it seems like the whole world is watching.

Joey is a 21-year-old City of Falls Church resident who is rocking the ratings on the Logo Cable Channel’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” reality show this spring.

But compared to how he usually appears on the show, you’d hardly recognize the slender, attractive Falls Church High School grad and life-long Northern Virginia resident who usually sports some facial hair and wire-rimmed glasses as he walks his dog in the neighborhood around his Falls Church home, or cuts hair full-time at the salon in Arlington where he works.

That’s because on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” he usually looks more like, well, the famous drag queen, RuPaul, that hosts the show than the unassuming Joey that can be seen around here.

If you are a fan of the RuPaul reality show, now airing on Monday nights in its second season, you know Joey as the steamy Tatianna.

RuPaul and his judging advisers were blown away by Tatianna’s impersonation of Brittney Spears on last week’s show. Tatianna won the week, gaining automatic immunity from being bumped off this week.

Of course, as Joey told the News-Press in an exclusive interview at Panera Bread last week, it was actually late last summer that the show was filmed in Hollywood. As is indicated on the show, all the contestants were sequestered for a month on one floor of a hotel and not permitted to leave until all the taping was completed, and an ultimate winner announced.

We, the public, will not know that winner until the series is completed later this spring, but most of the fun is in the watching week to week. Joey knows, however, and he says it’s not hard for him to keep the secret.

(Joey is the second Falls Church person to be featured on a reality TV show this season. Tennille Middleton, the executive chef at the Sweetwater Tavern, was a featured contestant on “Hell’s Kitchen” last fall, and made a very strong showing. Joey has requested his last name not be used in this story for obvious security reasons. By contrast to good cooks, drag queens can elicit, shall we say, mixed reactions).

The biggest misconceptions about him, Joey told the News-Press, are the ones that suggest he’d rather be a woman than a man, or that he desires to cross-dress 100 percent of the time. He said the TV show tends to reinforce those misconceptions, but that neither of them, in fact, are true for him.

Joey grew up in Arlington, but was subjected to plenty of taunting, teasing and bullying from his classmates in middle school and his first year at Yorktown High School. “Middle school was really bad,” he said.

Alarmed by the situation, Joey’s mom moved west and he was enrolled at Falls Church High. You may be surprised to learn that Falls Church High provided a much better environment for Joey than what he’d experienced at Yorktown.

That it is a smaller school is only one factor, Joey said. “Falls Church is a really gay high school,” Joey quipped, meaning that he found far more “out” (as in openly gay) students there than at Yorktown, where there were only one or two.

He started experimenting with drag when he was 14, he said. “I had an interest in make-up and fashion, and instead of trying things out on my friends, I decided to try them out on myself.”

This came about four or five years after Joey had begun to experience himself as gay, saying that when his friends and classmates began developing an interest in the opposite sex, he “just started having crushes on boys.”

In the supportive climate at Falls Church High, he said, he occasionally showed up at school in full drag, on special days like Halloween, and he was affirmed and well received. He graduated in 2006, and having studied cosmetology in high school, he was able to get a job at a Northern Virginia salon right away.



FALLS CHURCH’S Joey as Joey at Panera Bread on W. Broad. (Photo: News-Press)

But unlike many drag queens who perform at clubs in all the major and most mid-major cities in the U.S. and around the globe, however, Joey has never had a mentor, or a “mother,” to introduce him into that world and teach him the ropes. He is self-taught, and learned on his own how to use duct tape, he laughed.

Since doing a show in December 2007 at Apex in Washington, D.C., he has performed on-and-off weekly at a venue in Northern Virginia where he combines his drag with lip-sync stage performances of famous songs, preferring to emulate Brittney Spears, Lady Gaga, and “new stuff on the radio.”

When a casting call went out for the RuPaul show in 2008, he applied by filling out an on-line application and sending an audition tape. But he was turned down, he was told, because he was not yet 21.

Last spring, when he re-applied, he was one of  a dozen who were chosen, and it was off to Hollywood that summer. Taping the show “was an amazing experience for me,” he said. “I learned a ridiculous amount. I’d had no drag friends before. The business of drag was very new to me.”

So, how did the contestants get along with each other? Did they bond, or did they wind up at each others’ throats? Neither, exactly. They broke into two cliques. Tatianna’s pals became Juju, Mystique, Pandora, Jessica and Sahara.

As for RuPaul? “She is very down to earth, funny and sweet,” Joey said. A reunion of the Season Two participants is slated for next month after the series has run its course on the Logo channel.

What’s in Joey’s future? Well, that may in part be determined by how well he did on the show, something we won’t find out for a few more weeks. But he believes there’s a way for him to make a gainful living out of his art, including not only drag performances, but eventually by utilizing his own musical talent, as well.

While we wait to find out, Joey is quietly going about his business in Falls Church, living with his grandparents in the Little City, corresponding regularly with his mom and step-dad living in Florida, and, oh yes, doing shows once a week not far from here at all.

Good luck, Joey! Good luck, Tatianna!