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Todrick Hall, coming to SLC, thrives on “changing minds and hearts”

“I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I am able to offer.”

In Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Whoopi Goldberg as Sister Mary Clarence advises Lauren Hill as the rebellious teenager Rita Louise Watson: “If you wake up in the mornin’ and you can’t think of anything but singin’ first, then you’re supposed to be a singer, girl.”

“That’s how I feel,” says gay icon Todrick Hall. “I don’t know if I’ve mastered any of my crafts, but every morning when I wake up, the first thing that I want to do is sing and dance and create.”

A natural storyteller with a multifaceted career as an actor, singer, songwriter, choreographer, and TV personality since his breakout run on American Idol in 2010, Hall has a wildly popular YouTube channel with more than 3.5 million subscribers who enjoy the extravagant videos he creates for his songs, musical parodies and productions for performers like Beyoncé, Tiffany Haddish and RuPaul, “who never does anybody’s videos.” Each has a fiery attitude, razor-sharp choreography, and trending catchphrases. Fans will recognize his “Nails, Hair, Hips, Heels” and “I Like Boys” viral videos. In total, he has racked up nearly 820 million views across his channel. As executive producer of Taylor Swift’s star-studded “You Need to Calm Down” video, the friends shared an MTV Music Award.

And he’s pushing the boundaries of LGBTQ+ representation in a business that has historically been unwelcoming to queer people of color.

In his first live performance since the worldwide pandemic stalled the vast majority of the entertainment industry, Hall returns to Utah to rejuvenate the stage for LOUD+QUEER: Pride Spectacular, a fundraiser for the Utah Pride Center on Friday, June 4, at the Union Event Center in Salt Lake City. He’ll share the stage with other queer artists to form an impressive list at the concert entertainment event.

The entertainment superstar’s first professional theater performance way back in 2005 was as Curly, described by J.M Barrie as a Lost Boy who always gets himself “in a pickle,” in the Comden and Green musical Peter Pan at St. George’s Tuacahn Amphitheatre, along with a role in Rogers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. His fans may not recognize that his credits include Broadway and West End performances including Lola in Kinky Boots, Billy Flynn in Chicago, Ogie in Waitress, and roles in Memphis and The Color Purple.

“It was so fun,” Hall remembers. “I had such a great time performing at that show, and the people in Utah were always so kind to me. I cannot wait to go on tour again and visit Utah.”

In an exclusive interview for QSaltLake magazine, Hall discusses his love of performing and achieving goals he has set, since his days “in this small town in Texas where I had never flown on a plane, and never thought I’d get to go to Walt Disney World. I thought someone was making it in the world if they had a CD burner and a trampoline.”

Favorite performance avenue: “If I ever had to choose a skill, whether that be dancing, or singing, or choreographing, or directing, or acting, I don’t think I would be able to, which is why I fell in love with theater. In theater, you are transported to amazing places, you can portray an array of characters and bring them to life, and you can do things that you as your normal self would be afraid to do. But when playing a role, when I’m in character, I am fearless.”

Fascination with live theater performance: “I’ve loved being able to tackle different roles, but at the same time I feel like I’ve hidden behind the different characters I’ve portrayed in my videos on my YouTube channel. In 2019 when I released House Party, I felt that for the first time I was coming out as an artist who had music that wasn’t attached to a story, or a fairytale, or a parody of a song that was already popular: It was music that I created on my own.

Pinnacle achievement: “Some of my music, like “Nail, Hair, Hips, Heels,” has been played around the world and used in TV shows, and has even become part of pop culture. I have music that has become viral, that has been used in TikToks and part of dance and cheer routines. Now I feel that I am an artist that deserves to be in the field and industry, alongside traditional and mainstream artists, even if I am still carving out my own unique approach to music, and I’ve gained a confidence I didn’t know possible.

Moments of discouragement: “That’s not to say there weren’t days where I thought I would throw in the towel, but when I meet my fans and meet people on tour, and hear their stories and how my music has impacted them, it lets me know that I am doing something meaningful and needed, and it gives me the fuel that I need to make it to the next chapter.”

Inequity: “There are so many times where I’ve felt discriminated against, where I felt like the rules were different for me, or where someone didn’t understand why my product wasn’t getting the numbers or engagement that they would expect for an artist like me. There was a time when I was on tour, and I noticed that the budgets for security were relatively high, almost excessive. So, I reached out to two close friends who were performing in the same venues with similar audiences to mine, and I asked them about their experience with this and their contractual obligations and was surprised to find out that they were bringing in higher revenue and that they were not required to have the same amount of security for their performances. I can only assume that this was in direct correlation with me being a black artist and assumed that we needed more security. My team contacted the venues and told them that these conditions were not fair, and that if they were going to make the assumption that my fans and concertgoers were rowdy and rambunctious, that the venue should foot the bill.”

Overcoming bias: “There have been other times on tour where people heard the lyrics to some of the songs and assumed that my show was going to be a rowdy experience. I’ve had security from several venues come up to me at the end of my show and tell me that my show was their favorite show that they had ever seen at that particular venue or theater. And I’ve even had some of these people track me down later on and tell me they can’t wait to take their family and friends to one of my shows. That, to me, is an example of how my music is changing minds and hearts, and it gets me really excited.”

Proximity of the coveted Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony achievement: “It’s my ultimate dream to EGOT. As life progresses, it becomes more and more unnecessary for me to do that. There are moments where I feel like an imposter, where I sometimes feel like I don’t deserve things, or that I have to overdeliver: if someone asks for ten songs, I give them fourteen, if they ask for two costume changes, I give them sixteen costume changes, and I think that all of these things were my attempt to prove why I deserve to be there. You would be surprised to know how many artists do the bare minimum of what is asked, because that is what the contract states.”

Performing in Utah: “I found the people of Utah to be extremely kind. Every time I go on tour, I try to play Utah, but it isn’t always easy because there aren’t a ton of venues, and sometimes promoters would say that I wasn’t the right act for their audience. In 2019, I got to tour Utah for the first time, and it was the first city in the U.S. to sell out, even though it was a smaller theater.”

A discovery: “On my journey, I’ve had to learn that I am worthy and deserving. I’ve had so many gigantic dreams that are much bigger than anything I could have imagined that I would accomplish in my entire life.”

Making his statement: “I never felt like I could say [what I wanted to say] until recently, when the pandemic hit. I sat at home and really reflected upon all the different things I really wanted to make happen. And although I am so happy and grateful for the success that I have had thus far, I am so excited about what the future holds for me. I have always wanted to EGOT, and I have ideas and dreams of television shows and Broadway musicals.”

Performing on Broadway: “Being a Broadway actor is something I am very proud of, and I think that Broadway actors are the Olympic athletes of the entertainment industry; it is so difficult to master the craft of singing, dancing, acting, and performing eight shows a week with your instrument that wasn’t designed to sing notes that way or move in that way. But we do it because we are passionate about theater.”

Writing and performing live theater: “I already know what I want my first musical to be, and it is one that has never been done before. It is so familiar and classic yet so different and out-of-the box, and I am so excited to bring it to life; it’s a story that will make you laugh and cry. My elementary school teacher, who introduced me to the world of musical theater and inspired me and encouraged me to dance at such a young age, told me that the greats are able to touch people by being able to make them laugh or cry. And I hope that my show will make the people laugh and cry and inspire a new generation of musical theater kids.”

Personal credo: “On my journey, I’ve had to learn that I am worthy and deserving. I’ve had so many gigantic dreams that are much bigger than anything I could have imagined that I would accomplish in my entire life.”

The horizon: “I would love to write several books, and before I pass, I would love to have a trophy case with my Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony, and an MTV Video Music Award, which I already have. What I think is most important is storytelling and getting my music out there; I have a unique story and perspective that I would love to share with the world. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what I am able to offer.”

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