J. Matthew Cobb
When Todrick Hall made his splash on season nine of “American Idol,” he assailed the boring status quo by forcing ballsy renditions of pop favorites into the mix. He admits it wasn’t enough.
“My biggest regret was that when I was on ‘Idol,’ I held back so much,” Hall, 33, explained by phone on one of his tour stops in Indianapolis.
“I wanted to perform Britney Spears’ “Circus” with a ringleader costume on. Maybe I would’ve [gotten] booed off the stage, but my biggest regret is that I didn’t do it, that I didn’t come out swinging, but gave a half-assed version of what I wanted togive. I played it safe.”
Today Hall is breaking, or rewriting, every rule of convention, and he’s winning. With over a million followers on Instagram and 544 million views on his YouTube videos alone, he stands tall as one of the most influential artists in LGBTQ entertainment. He’s done legit Broadway (“Kinky Boots,” “Chicago”), choreographed parts of the “Blow” music video for Beyonce, cameoed in a music video with bestie Taylor Swift and dropped a star-studded visual album “Straight Outta Oz.”
He’s gal-palling with RuPaul as a guest judge and part-time choreographer for the competing queens on
“RuPaul’s Drag Race.”
He calls “Drag Race” his favorite gig all year, although he wants to offer more to the Emmy Award-winning hit show. “I don’t wanna step on anybody’s toes or come for somebody’s gig, but I would love to actually write a musical [for it], ‘cause when I write my musicals, it inspires what I’m gonna do choreographically and how I’m gonna produce it,” he said. An important footnote: Hall has achieved all of this entirely as an independent artist. No label, absolutely all on his own.
“It was initially my goal to do things the conventional way, and it wasn’t until recently that I actually started being proud of the fact that I have done it another way, because I used to always crave mainstream success and being part of a system. But when you knock on enough doors and you get enough ‘no’s’ and doors slammed in your face, you realize you only have two options: You can give up or you keep trying knocking on doors or build your own house, so I won’t have this problem anymore. And that’s kinda what I did.”
Videos, Tour, Court Controversy
Now Hall is hitting the road for the 50-city international tour “Todrick Hall American” to promote his latest visual album, the 20-track “Forbidden.”
The tour, slated to unpack at the Fox Theatre on May 6, is described by Hall as being “a hybrid; a musical mixed with a concert.”
Like his previous project, “Forbidden” is a super-stacked visual album done in the spirit of indie cinema and theater — think of Beyoncé’s infamous self-titled visual album. It’s packed with star cameos and collaborations ranging from RuPaul to Shangela, from Jenifer Lewis to Tiffany Haddish, from Tamar Braxton to Brandy. The road version won’t be as star-studded, but Hall promises it’ll be just as enthralling. “There’s over 100 costumes that we spent a lot of time and money on, a lot of tender love and care and picking out the fabrics, a lot of choreography and the set is really cool. It’s just a really, really fun time. Very positive and uplifting.”
“I went to several people with billions of dollars to spend on original content, and I told them I wanted to write this,” he says. “They were just so afraid to do it.”
Some of the criticism Hall is just learning about, and he understands some of it.
“Well, in some ways I would agree with [them],”Hall responded. “I think it’s kinda ridiculous that people fetish guys in that way, but that’s the beautiful irony of this album. I am singing that song as Nolan,that character. But there are people who are literally likethat. That’s what they want. That’s whothey are. That’s what they look for.”To remedy some of the hazy confusion, Hall feels people need to watch the visual album in its entirety.
“The whole reason why I say my name [Nolan] at the beginning and put it on a wanted sign is because I was hoping that people would watch it and say this character is being taught to go after this person. I think if people watched the album in context, they would probably understand that.”
‘I Am Very Proud to be Black’
But Hall also knows there’s more work to be done, acknowledging the insecurities most people, even the gay community, have about race and interracial dating.
“I’m always criticized or ridiculed as being a black guy who doesn’t stand for black people,” he said, as if he’s getting a heavy weight off his chest. “I am very proud to be black. I try to express myself in what I have to say about Black Lives Matter and racial issues through my music, but I’m not trying to prove to people that I’m black because anybody that knows me knows that I’m fucking black. They don’t even know how many guys that I wanted to date would not date me because they literally told me they don’t black men.”
And yes, he’s aware some of the backlash is spurring from haters, from those angry over his close relationship with Taylor Swift, from those who recall his previous ex (who is white), from those who feel he’s too vanilla to be black. But Hall laughs it off.
“It’s really just laughable to me that people would think that I exclusively date white men,” he said.
“It’s absolutely not the case. It’s just crazy to me how it’s perceived online, and I understand why they would think that, but they don’t know me. And until they meet me, they have no idea.”
Hall is addressing his critics and more determined to stay vocal about his beliefs and experiences, while creatively injecting relevant hot-button issues through his music. Using the vernacular of the kids, he’s woke AF.
And America has a chance to meet him, one tour stop at a time.
Todrick Hall American
Sunday, May 6 at 7pm