By: Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
Unless you've been hiding under a rock, you'll know that Todrick Hall is everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. When he isn't choreographing a video for Beyonce, he's hanging out with Taylor Swift, or interviewing Gwen Stefani for a Target promotion, or appearing as a guest judge on RuPaul's Drag Race. The openly gay entertainer, whose partner is from Seattle, got his breakthrough as a semi-finalist on the ninth season of American Idol, and while many contestants gradually fade away, Hall skyrocketed to fame by posting his own videos on YouTube, which led the way to much bigger and better things. Of his many projects, one that is very dear to his heart is an original production called Straight Outta Oz, a show inspired by The Wizard of Oz with a personal twist that includes powerful musical numbers, innovative sets, dazzling costumes, great choreography and a strong social message. Hall and nearly two dozen cast members will perform Straight Outta Oz at the Pantages Theatre in Tacoma on July 8, as part of the Tacoma Pride Festival. For tickets and more information, or to watch a brief trailer of the production, visit todrickhall.com, or go to tacomapride.org/events.
I spoke with Todrick Hall by phone on a break between filming videos in LA - he has many of them uploaded on YouTube (channel: Todrick Hall), if you wish to check them out - and here's what this multi-talented artist had to say.
Albert Rodriguez: You're so busy and it's hard to keep up with everything you're doing. What are you working on right now?
Todrick Hall: Well, I am creating a visual album and it is going to feature most of the hits from the show and explain to people what we're doing to twist it. We've already had Return to Oz, Journey Back to Oz, The Wiz, The Wizard of Oz and there have been so many renditions of this classic story, so I think people are going to be really curious about what could be different with this show that they haven't already seen. It's an American classic and everyone is so familiar with the story, but I think we're doing something very, very innovative with it.
Rodriguez: Are all the songs original in Straight Outta Oz?
Rodriguez: This show is also about a powerful woman in your life, your mother. Was she always supportive from the very beginning of what you wanted to do?
Hall: There were parts of my career that my mom didn't understand, but she knew that I wanted to dance, to sing and to act and that I was very different from all the other boys, especially in our family, but also in our community. I'm one of 12 grandsons that my grandfather had and I was the only one who didn't play basketball or football, or hoped to be a professional athlete one day, so it was very odd for my family and my mom. In my community, and especially as an African-American boy, I was doing these things that were considered very feminine and girly types of extra-curricular activities. It was just really, really hard for her to go against the confidence of what she'd been taught and what her grandmother had been taught and what her great-grandmother had been taught, and I didn't understand that when I was growing up because people were always making fun of me, or asking questions, or wondering why I was doing that, or why my mom was letting me do it, or devoting so much time because my mom had to drive me 2 hours to ballet class every single day because there wasn't a dance studio where we lived. She had to change her job in order to get me to where I needed to be every day and make so many sacrifices that I took for granted when I was younger.
Rodriguez: Is the rest of the family supportive as well?
Hall: They always were supportive, but I mean, my mom is just so proud and she cries with every little thing I do. We come from a very poor family in a really small town. Some of the things we have gotten to do were things that were just unrealistic, like we would have never thought maybe it could happen to us. The idea of seeing Beyonce live was a proposterous concept, let alone being able to work with her and choreograph for her and know her on a first name basis. I would have never thought I'd be flying places in Taylor Swift's private jet and hanging out with all these celebrities, like Ariana Grande. It's just such a blessing and every day I wake up and am grateful for these opportunities and I appreciate my family so much for the sacrifices they made to get me here.
Rodriguez: Were you the only boy in your ballet class?
Hall: Yes, I was the only black person and the only boy through my whole life growing up taking dance classes. It was very odd, it was very difficult, but luckily I had people shielding the negative things that I later found out were happening. We had people stop subscribing to the ballet company I was in because of the roles I got, like The Nutcracker and different ballet productions we produced every year, but luckily I had a dance teacher who fought for what was right and against everyone's advice on who she thought was most talented and appropriate for the role. It was just a weird place to grow up, an African-American boy who wanted to do ballet; in some ways, it's like the African-American Billy Elliott because it had a lot of paralells.
Rodriguez: Is the show an emotional rollercoaster? Happy, sad, inspiring?
Hall: Yeah, it is definitely an emotional rollercoaster. My mom and I were not on great terms for about 6 months a year ago, and it was a real tough time for both of us and my mom left voice mails every single day and I kept all of those voice mails, and I used those for inspiration to write songs for this album. Anybody who knows my mom, it definitely hits home because they're specifically catered for her. And those are the songs I'm proud of, honestly. They're really touching to anybody who has a relationship with their mother, or their child.
Rodriguez: Your partner is from Seattle, so will you be hanging out at some of the local spots, or on Capitol Hill while you're here?
Hall: I'll probably be spending time with his family because I'm really close with his dad and brothers, and it's really just fun to hang out. Honestly, being in LA and shooting so many videos I don't get the opportunity to do that very often, so I'm really excited about the chance to just chill out. I got to see the ballet this year, The Nutcracker, in Seattle and it was beautiful, so maybe we'll go watch a show or something, but that's kind of my idea of fun.
Rodriguez: When you do get a break, what do you like to do? Read, go shopping?
Hall: I love, love, love going to Broadway musicals. I love to be entertained with live performances, some song and dance; there's nothing like it.
Rodriguez: You've worked with a lot of big talent, from Beyonce to Taylor Swift. Is there anyone you haven't worked with that you would like to someday?
Hall: I would love to work with Brandy. She's been a huge inspiration to me my entire life. I watched her when she was Cinderella growing up; that was one of my favorite movies. I can't tell you how many times I've watched it because you might hang up the phone on me because I was that much of a huge fan of hers, so I would love to work with her. But I also love Nicole Richie, I would love to work with her, too. Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Justin Timberlake, and I love Rascal Flatts and Hunter Hayes, and a lot of country singers. I have so many people I'd love to work with.
Rodriguez: Do you have Beyonce on speed dial?
Hall: Oh my god, I wish!
Rodriguez: At the show you're performing in Tacoma, will you be doing anything else, like some impromptu dancing at the end, or a Q&A session?
Hall: There won't be any Q&A, but I think we might be doing an encore performance of some of the numbers that everyone has shared so many times that have been vital on my YouTube channel. I want to give the audience an opportunity to dance and have fun at the end of the concert, but I think a lot of my followers have never seen a musical before. For me, to take this platform and introduce kids to something that changed my life - musical theatre, which got me out of such a miserable place; I don't know where I'd be if I hadn't found that at such a young age. I definitely wouldn't be the same person as I would be talking on the phone with you today. So, I would love to give people that experience, to come to a concert and sit back and enjoy a story about a journey of a character.
Rodriguez: June is Pride Month. What does Pride mean to you?
Hall: Pride to me is being confident with who you are and happy in your own skin and being able to do exactly what you want to do with confidence and not apologizing for who you are. I hope this doesn't sound bad, but one day there will not need to be a Gay Pride because it will not be a big deal. People will just grow up gay and it will be a part of who they are and it will not define who they are, and so while I love Gay Pride and I'm always involved with different Gay Prides around the world, it almost saddens me that we have to encourage them to be proud of who they are.
Rodriguez: What advice do you have for anyone that hasn't come out yet?
Hall: My advice to somebody would be to do it when you're ready, take your time. But always know that anyone that pushes you away, because of you being honest about who you are, wasn't worth having in your life to begin with, and you should surround yourself with people who will love you, care for you and be there for you, whether you're gay, straight, whatever it is. You need to be around people who will love you unconditionally.
Rodriguez: For anyone wanting to become a dancer, should they take classes? And what if they can't afford them?
Hall: Well, this is my thing. I was very poor and I got a scholarship for a number of reasons. But there are tutorials on YouTube and I know dancers that have literally watched those to learn how to dance. People who own dance studios are artists who don't usually operate in the way regular business people do, so go to those people and show them you really want it, and if you really want it there is somebody in their town or city that is willing to accommodate. And learn how to teach yourself; I taught myself how to dance watching Disney parades. I would sit there, teach myself the choreography and work on it every day and fine-tune it. Everybody has the same 24 hours in a day and it's what you choose to do in your 24 hours that gets you to your final goal, or doesn't. Every single person on the planet should try their hardest to do what makes them happy every single day.
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