Todrick Hall: Defying gravity, defying the odds and the best advice Beyonce ever gave him
Viral video creator. Taylor Swift’s choreographer. LGBTI+ role model.
American Idol reject. No manager. No record label.
Depending on how you look at it, Todrick Hall is either a thriving artist transcending music genres and platforms, or he’s yet to achieve traditional measures of success in the music industry.
Of course, perception is everything – and challenging perceptions is what Hall does best.
If you don’t know him by name, you will no doubt have come across one of his many videos, including flash mobs (back when those were a thing) soundtracked by Beyonce and Ariana Grande, his video plea to join the cast of Glee and the split screen mash-ups that are impossible to miss on social media newsfeeds.
Finishing as a semi-finalist on American Idol in 2010 was just the beginning for the Texas-born artist, who went on write, shoot and produce a visual album inspired by The Wizard of Oz with his own money, star on Broadway twice (Kinky Boots and Chicago) and shoot a documentary (Behind The Curtain). Oh, and make regular appearances on the highly successful show RuPaul’s Drag Race, as well as voice the character of Carlos in the new Disney Channel cartoon series Muppet Babies.
Todrick is currently taking his new show, Todrick Hall American: The Forbidden Tour to every corner of the globe, including Australia and New Zealand in June.
He describes the show as “the live version of Forbidden, the album… the perfect hybrid of a musical theatre experience and a live concert.
“[The audience] is going to get a story with costumes and choreography, and with a great message. But they’re also going to be able to live their life and just turn up and have a great experience. I just recommend everybody come and just celebrate each other’s differences.”
With so many facets to his blossoming career, TMN posed a series of cliché phrases to Hall to ask whether they were true or false in terms of his career:
“Actions speak louder than words”
“One of the movies that inspired me more than anything to be a performer was the Robert L. Freedman version of Cinderella. In it, Whitney Houston says to Brandy, ‘You know the problem with the world is, most people talk about what they want to do instead of really doing it.’ And I always remember her saying that and how powerful of a line, even though it’s such a simple line. I use that as my motto.
“I felt like I was living in a fairytale that no one else was aware of. In some ways, people would say where I was from was probably a handicap, but because I had nothing, I had so much fun creating everything for myself. It’s really crazy – I think if I’d grown up in another town where there were multiple theatre companies and dance studios for me to go, and a way to exercise my gift and talent in a more normal way, I don’t think that I would be the person that I am now.
“I wouldn’t have had to learn how to create stages, or musical experiences in my backyard with papier-mâché and plastic bags and refrigerator boxes. I made all of those things from things that I found around my house because there was just nothing there that would be able to make my dream come to life the way I wanted to.”
“What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”
“That is a huge one for me. There was a moment in my life when I was putting on a musical for kids – because growing up there were no people doing musicals and doing theatre – so I created a programme where I was writing musicals and people would do them. And kids would come and audition and they would get to, in turn, perform with us in the show.
“Long story short, we were just in over our heads trying to create a national tour, and we were performing in places where the Lion King was performing the next day. I was 22 years old when this happened, just way too young to be trying to produce a national tour.
“When this thing fell apart, it fell apart in a huge way. I was being called by horrible names, I cried, and people were making all of these headlines and stories with my first experience with getting negative press. We didn’t have money to pay all these kids who’d auditioned, and the company just basically filed for bankruptcy.
“It tarnished my name. Every time you would look up my name it would just say ‘scam artist’ and crazy things like that, and it broke my heart. Especially because working with kids was like my biggest passion – I loved introducing kids to theatre.
“Some of the kids who I introduced to theatre are now in Broadway shows, and on national tours, and figure skating with Disney on Ice.
“In a weird way I am still happy that it happened and at a very young age because now I don’t allow things to happen without my approval, without being involved in every single step of every single aspect of every project that I do. It’s a lesson I needed to learn early on, when I was 22 and people weren’t there to protect me, because now at a much older age I don’t have to have huge mistakes like that happen anymore.
“It’s made my customer service at my tours and at any project that I do ten times better than it was before.”
“Better safe than sorry”
“The word ‘safe’… I don’t really like being safe. I would rather be sorry and try something than to be safe. And that is definitely what I have done my entire career.
“I’d gotten into so many arguments with people who were managing me at the time. That was because they’d be like ‘If you do this project and it doesn’t go well, then you will have lost everything and you will be so in debt,’ and I was like, ‘That’s not going to happen because I’m going to put 150% of all my energy and all my being into this, and this is great and I believe in it, and if I didn’t believe in it I wouldn’t be doing it.’
“Because I have that type of tenacious personality where I will not accept ‘no’ for an answer… because of that I am able to go on tour and I am friends with Taylor Swift and gotten not only to meet my idol Beyonce, but work with her. And open the Kid’s Choice Award, and singing for Virgin America, and do five Broadway musicals.
“I have done all of these things because I have that personality that I will be willing to risk every dime in my bank account to fly to New York for this audition because I believe I will get it. And I did get it, and I got to be on Broadway because I was willing to put all my chips on the table and bet everything on myself.
“I think if you’re in this world and you’re not doing that then you don’t really want it bad enough and you don’t really believe in yourself. Because if you believe in yourself – truly, truly believe in yourself – you don’t need a back-up plan.
“I believe that we’re taught how to doubt ourselves, but that’s what I want to do when I have children someday; I just want them to believe that they are superheroes and that they can fly. I want to make sure that my kids know that whatever they want to do, be that be the president of the United States or employee of the year or a checkout clerk, that they can do it. That’s my goal for my children. I want to be a father so bad and I think that I’m going to make a great dad.”
“You can’t please everyone”
“That is really important and that is something I have to teach myself every day.
“Every day, people come see our show and at the end of the day sometimes there’s one upset person and I try my hardest to make sure that their experience is enjoyable. But at the end of the day, it is true: you cannot please everyone and somebody is going to be mad about everything that you do.
“I think that Beyonce gave me the best advice. She was like: ‘Don’t dwell on the old, bad things that you’ve done.’ And she said to me to ‘think about it before you post it’, but once you post it, that is the part of your life and a part of your journey that you can’t claim back. And you should apologise for it and if it’s a mistake you learn from it and you do better than that.
“The advice that I’ve gotten from Beyonce and my bestie Taylor Swift and from my mentor RuPaul have been the things that I turn to and remember every single time something goes awry.
“I was sitting on the [Drag Race] panel, we were judging and I was talking about my [MTV] show, and crunching the numbers and what the ratings were. And [RuPaul] was like ‘Todrick. Stop, you have to stop doing that. All you can do is show up to every gig, give it 100% of what you got, and then leave.’
“I just think it’s very important for people to remember that you’re not on this earth to please people, you’re on this earth to enjoy your own life and if you’re able to please people in the process, then that’s awesome.”