I am Tiffany Fantasia when I am performing and I’m Henry when I’m out. Only when I’m still in drag and I’m talking about business does Henry come back out.
I was born in Riviera Beach in 1982. When I was 2, my family moved to Homestead. My parents were teachers and they both got teaching positions in Homestead. We lived in the area until Hurricane Andrew hit and then we moved into our place in West Kendall.
When I saw Ru Paul on TV doing her thing, I didn’t think anything of it. I saw comedians dressing up in drag doing their acts as a character, and I just felt it was part of art. If you asked me back then if I was gonna be a drag queen the answer would’ve been, “Hell no.” I was gonna be a live singer doing my thing. I was gonna get a record deal. I was gonna tour the world and be famous. I had no ambition of being a drag queen.
Then a friend of mine asked me to go to a show with him at Twist, a local night club. He got a whole bunch of us, and we all got in drag and we did it. I had a good time. I made about $10 in tips and I was a broke college student at that time. That was back when $10 could fill up your tank. It was partially the tips, plus the love of performing, so I just kept doing it and doing it. Once I started getting paid and getting recognized it was fun. It was like this rush. You’re a diva and no one can stop you, you know. It’s a thrill I still get today.
There are no rules in drag but to look your best. Whatever character you’re playing, whatever you’re doing, look your best. Be polished. Just have it together.
Emceeing is a performance. It’s an art. My family has always been good at storytelling. They are the funniest storytellers I know. When the microphone kind of fell into my hand, I just naturally had the knack. And you learn how to develop those skills. I can plan a routine out completely, but something can happen during the number that can change everything so I have to be flexible and go with the flow and just make it happen.
That spontaneity is within both performance and emceeing. Performance involves more preparation, but I’ve done emceeing for so long now that it’s kind of like clockwork. The audience is the reason why we’re performing and they play a major role. If they’re not happy, I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing wrong, to fix the situation. It’s so diverse – men, women, old, young, black, white, in between, rich, poor. You name it, I’ve performed for them.
I’m always true to myself and it’s gotten me to this point. I found that trying to emulate somebody else never got me anywhere. That’s the quickest way for me to lose, so I have to be authentic. I’ve turned down gigs and song requests because I wasn’t comfortable. You need to develop your own character and do it the right way. For my career, it’s been magical for me to be authentic.
Usually, if you decide to do drag, and somebody takes you under their wing, then they’re your drag mother or drag father. You take on their last name if they let you. Some people are very particular about that. You have to earn that right. Once they feel you’re at a certain level, they let you take the name.
The name Tiffany was given to me by the first person who did my makeup. Her name was Brandy. She said, “You’re not like the other black girls.” Most of the other girls had very unique African-type names that nobody could spell. She said, “You’re not like them, you’re different. I’m going to call you Tiffany.”
My last name changed several times over the years before it became Phillips, which was my drag mother’s name. Then Fantasia came along from American Idol. Everyone was saying, “You look like Fantasia.” I saw her and I thought, “Okay, we do kind of look alike,” so I made Fantasia my middle name. From a marquee standpoint, it was just too long, so I dropped the Phillips and became Tiffany Fantasia.
There’s such a wide range of femininity, and for me, it’s in the walk. That’s probably the most feminine part when I’m really feeling myself and I’m doing that walk. Everybody is a “girl.” I don’t care how straight you are or how gay you are. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, or transgender, you’re a girl. For me it’s not a gender thing, it’s a term of endearment. Everybody is a girl, it doesn’t matter: You cool, but you a girl.
There are several reasons why I do what I do. Why would you do things that you don’t want to do, that make you unhappy? When I fell into drag I was happy because I love to perform, and because it makes me happy, that in turn makes other people happy and helps them deal with the struggle of day-to-day life. I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me and said, “My husband died and I haven’t been happy in months and I saw your show and you made me laugh again,” or, “I was on the verge of committing suicide and then I came to your show and you always cheer me up and make me rethink life.” You start to hear those personal stories about how you brought joy to somebody and helped them deal with a serious situation. You realize how much you mean to people and that’s why you keep doing it. You don’t want to stop. It’s a back and forth, it comes back to you.