April 12, 2017 at 5:17 pm EDT | by Mariah Cooper
Todrick Hall on his ‘Oz’ show, RuPaul, ‘Kinky Boots’ and more
Todrick Hall, gay news, Washington Blade

Todrick Hall (Photo by Shawn Adeli)

Todrick Hall
 
‘Straight Outta Oz’
 
Tuesday, April 18
 
Wednesday, April 19
 
8 p.m.
 
Howard Theatre
 
620 T St., N.W.
 
$35-100

Dancer, singer and YouTuber Todrick Hall has become a dance staple with his more than two million subscribers and videos earning millions of views.

The Beyoncé stan became known as an internet sensation for his medley mashups of her songs (as well as Rihanna, Arianna Grande and Taylor Swift). His “End of Time” Target dance flash mob video, where Hall and a group of dancers bust out a choreographed dance routine on unsuspecting shoppers, even grabbed the attention of the Queen B herself. Beyoncé posted a thank you to Hall on her own YouTube page.

His credentials reach beyond YouTube with Hall competing on “American Idol” and being a guest judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” Hall eventually took his talent to Broadway starring as Lola in “Kinky Boots” from November until March of this year.

The 32-year-old choreographer released “Straight Outta Oz,” a semi-autobiographical visual album in a similar vein as his idol Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” in June with a rerelease of a deluxe edition in March. This time, the celebrities were singing Hall’s original work with appearances from RuPaul, Bob the Drag Queen, Amber Riley, Jordin Sparks, Raven Symoné, Tamar Braxton and more. “Straight Outta Oz” has now been adapted from the computer screen to stage with a live tour.

Hall took a break from rehearsing to speak with the Washington Blade on being out in the public eye, RuPaul’s life advice and just what happened to Lola’s boots.

WASHINGTON BLADE: What about “Wizard of Oz” did you feel such a personal connection to that you wanted to do your own version?

TODRICK HALL: I think subconsciously I’ve always felt that my life was parallel to Dorothy. I just didn’t realize that until last year. I grew up in a small town in Texas. I always knew there was something out there that was greater for me that I wanted to get out there and see. And that’s what Dorothy does. She knew that Oz was there. Even though she realizes in the end that there’s no place like home and that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, without those experiences she would have never realized those things. I feel like I have realized so many things and put my faith, trust and my career in other people’s hands when really I had the power all along to be able to control my destiny. I realized that and said this is a story that I have to write and tell. If I feel this way and so passionate about it, a lot of other people will feel this way and identify with this as well.

BLADE: The visual album was released in June but in March you released a deluxe edition. Did you think of the additions you made after the initial release?

HALL: No. The initial release was supposed to be much smaller, but I am a perfectionist and I always want to tell the story in full. For me, I said, “Well if you tell the story of Dorothy you have to have the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. If you have those four characters you have to have the Wizard and the Witch.” Eventually the visual album, which was supposed to be eight songs, turned into 16 songs. When we went on tour, my fans really loved the numbers that they were getting to watch that they knew and recognized. But they weren’t able to follow along to the songs that I wrote for the musical that were not a part of the tour. It got to a place where I was like, “I really want them to be able to hear the songs and the lyrics from the songs that we performed at the live concert last year that weren’t on the visual album.” So this year I rereleased it so that the songs that they didn’t know they could learn and be familiar with.

BLADE: The deluxe album has some big names like RuPaul and Raven-Symoné. Did you reach out to them to collaborate? 

HALL: I reached out to them and I reached out very last minute. I was so thankful that they all were able to jump on board with sometimes 24-hours notice before they had to shoot the video.

BLADE: You’ve worked with RuPaul on your album and also you were a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” for the last couple seasons. What’s the best piece of advice Ru gave you?

HALL: I don’t know if this is a piece of advice but the entire way that he looks at life. There was a moment of time when my MTV show was on television. It was airing and I was very nervous whether it would be successful. He said, “You need to live in the moment. You need to appreciate that the stars have aligned for you to have this moment and you can’t sit at home every day wondering whether or not it will be successful. It’s successful because it happened. If it doesn’t happen again, you’ll go on and have another opportunity.” My whole life I’ve always put so much pressure on each opportunity I’ve been given. We, as humans, do that often. We think that if this relationship doesn’t work, if this job isn’t the one that gets me to the top, if I don’t ace this test, then my life is over. It’s not the case. It’s a life experience. You will move on and you will be able to experience other things. That’s kind of what he taught me. So now when I’m doing a project, I give it 100 percent of my energy and then I leave that energy in that project and I say, “I hope that this does really well. But if it doesn’t, there’s a reason God gave me these gifts. So I can keep using them.” They’re not over, they’re not done, they’re not running out. I’ll go do something else. His whole insight about everything has really helped me be able to approach everything that I do with a much different lens.

BLADE: Your song “Water Guns” was a tribute to those who were lost to gun violence from the Pulse nightclub victims, to YouTuber Christina Grimmie and Trayvon Martin. All these people are parts of your identity: gay, YouTuber, black. How emotional was it for you to record?

HALL: It was very emotional for me to record. The inspiration for that song was a huge coincidence because I wrote it because I had a friend who got murdered. She was a police officer. Some people perceive that song to be a pro-Black Lives Matter song or an anti-police song. It’s not. My friend was actually an African-American police officer. She was shot and killed. I wrote the song because I’m very anti-guns and anti-violence in general. The night that I wrote the song Christina Grimmie got shot. The next night after we filmed the video the Pulse situation happened. So I went back and shot the scenes of me spray painting the names of these people because it couldn’t have been more relevant at the time that I wrote the song for my friend. That was a crazy coincidence and they both hit me really hard.

Pulse was one of my old stomping grounds. My first job out of high school was dancing at Walt Disney World. I knew a lot of people who worked at that club, I knew a lot of people who were there that night and some of the people who unfortunately didn’t make it out had pictures of me and them on their Instagram. These were people I didn’t know personally but I had met that were fans of mine and came to my concerts. It was just a very weird thing to think this was so close to home and that I could have been there that night. Every time I go to Orlando for my tours I go to Pulse afterward. It was a very scary thing for me and a really eye-opening thing to remind you how fragile life is and we should really live each day to the fullest.

BLADE: You were also on season nine of “American Idol.” You’ve mentioned before that you were concerned about being out while on the show. What made you decide to be out in your career?

HALL: When I was on the show I felt this pressure. They kept saying, “Appeal to middle America,” and what I translated that as was, “Don’t be so openly gay because that could offend people.” I don’t think they were saying it in a mean way. They just wanted me to be successful. After I was eliminated I realized that I got eliminated being someone I wasn’t. I would rather have been eliminated from the show for really showing people who I was. There was nothing I could have thought that was a worse feeling than getting eliminated when I didn’t even recognize the person that I was being on television. I vowed to myself after that, “I will be 100 percent myself and I will be out waving my flag and letting people know who I am.”

I felt it wasn’t important because it wasn’t any of their business. But it’s so important because it gives people that are coming out the confidence to say, “Well if Todrick did it, I can do it. If RuPaul did it, I can do it. If Joey Graceffa, Tyler Oakley, Kingsley and all these people who are such huge influencers online can do it than I can do it as well. There is a place for me in the entertainment industry and I don’t have to hide.” Like Colton Haynes has come out and is being celebrated and I hope and pray it doesn’t do anything negative for his career. He should not only be considered for gay roles, he should be able to play any role that he wants because that’s what actors do. It was very important for me to come and say who I truly am and I would rather maybe not reach the level of success I could have pretended to be straight. I’d rather reach the level of success that I can as the real me and be happy and free to be who I am.

BLADE: You just mentioned quite a few gay YouTubers. As a gay YouTuber yourself, what are your thoughts on the recent controversy of YouTube censoring LGBT content on its restricted mode?

HALL: I don’t know all the details. I don’t like to comment when I’m not educated on something. I was releasing my album during the time that this happened and flying from coast to coast. So I didn’t really get all the information about this. But I am positive that the gay community is so strong that if anything like that were to ever happen we would be able to get it banned and YouTube wouldn’t stand for it. YouTube has an entire department that is dedicated to the LGBTQ community. They do so much research and so much to help our community that I don’t believe this will stand.

BLADE: You have been busy. You just finished your run as Lola on Broadway in, “Kinky Boots.” Did they let you keep the boots?

HALL: Yes they did. My boots might be making a quick appearance in my upcoming tour as well.

BLADE: How do you go about translating the visual album to the stage?

HALL: It’s not a difficult transition for me because I love theater. As I was writing all the songs and shooting the videos I was already thinking of ways to bring it to life on stage. It’s not very complicated. The story kind of tells itself and the staging and a lot of the choreography is the same. We just have transitions that are not on the album still. There are three or four songs that you can only hear on the tour. I think it’s really fun to bring all those things to life on stage in front of everyone.

BLADE: How does it feel to bring “Straight Outta Oz” to D.C.?

HALL: D.C. is just one of my favorite cities to perform in. I love how much D.C. supports its fine arts. I love how much effort and energy they spend to make sure there are theaters there for people to perform in. I love specifically how the Howard Theatre is such a historical venue. It’s such a landmark for people who are African-American performers. I’m so honored to join the roster of legends of people who have performed there before me. There’s something about the energy in that building that just feels really epic. I’m so grateful to be able to get on that stage and share the story of a proud, gay black man. I think it’s very progressive and beautiful and I appreciate D.C. for supporting me the way they do.

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