JHud gives surprise private mini-concert at the W’s same-sex wedding

IMG_3173I teased readers this week that they might want to attend an event, sponsored by the W Victory Dallas Hotel and the HRC, where a same-sex couple would wed. I said Lady Bunny would be the DJ, and she was. But I didn’t say who the surprise musical guest would be … because, ya know, it was a surprise. So, following the beautiful ceremony on the 33rd floor of the W, promoting the #TurnItUpForChange movement HRC and W promote, the curtain behind the grooms dropped to reveal a gorgeous, soulful Jennifer Hudson, singing to the newlyweds (with a pair of hot backup dancers). It was an awesome moment for everyone.

We should all have weddings like this. Maybe the haters were right: Gays are ruining straight marriages … or at least weddings. Cuz we know how to bring it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Hudson ‘Turns it Up’ with video for W Hotels, HRC campaign

Screen shot 2015-06-04 at 2.31.59 PM

It was nine years ago that Jennifer Hudson was up on the silver screen, telling us that she was NOT going. Now she is taking to the small screen to encourage us all to “Turn It Up For Change.”

Hudson is the ambassador for “Turn It Up For Change,” a fundraising and awareness intitiative launched last October as a joint effort of W Hotels Worldwide and the Human Rights Campaign. Today (Thursday, June 4), W Hotels and HRC announced the launch of an exclusive music video set to Hudson’s song, “I Still Love You,” from her recently-released album, JHUD.

The video, directed by Tabitha Denholm and Molly Schiot, depicts a father’s last-minute decision to attend his gay son’s wedding. It features cameos by model Shaun Ross, actress Leisha Hailey and model/activist Claudia Charriez.

The video premiered exclusively on MTV, VH1 and Logo Wednesday, June 3, and is now offered here on the W Hotels site and here on YouTube. You can also watch it below, here on Instant Tea.

“There couldn’t be a better time to release this video, Hudson said, adding that she owes “a large part of my success to the LGBT community, who has embraced and supported me from early on in my career, and music continues to prove a powerful platform to help promote LGBT equality. I hope my video inspires everyone to keep fighting for 50” marriage equality states.

Anthony Ingham, global brand leader for W Hotels Worldwide, said the video and it’s message are “especially timely as the country awaits the monumental Supreme Court decision about marriage equality later this month.” He said W Hotels has received “incredible support and positive feedback” since launching Turn It Up For Change. He added that the company is “proud to continue standing alongside our guests and HRC in the fight for equality, and Jennifer’s moving song and new video provide the perfect soundtrack for our mission.”


—  Tammye Nash

Jennifer Hudson book signing at Lincoln Park Barnes & Noble

She’s gonna tell you

This almost came and went under the radar. Oscar-winning actress and Grammy-winning singer Jennifer Hudson can now add author to her resume. She comes to Dallas to sign copies of her newest inspirational book I Got This: How I Changed My Ways and Lost What Weighed Me Down at the Barnes and Noble store in Lincoln Park. The memoir details her loss of over 80 lbs. and learning to adhere to a new healthy lifestyle. Sounds just like the right book for the new year.

Just so you know, the store has special instructions. From Barnes and Noble.

Wristbands: 9:00 am, January 19 — Present B&N receipt for I Got This for band to save your place in line. One band per person. Ms. Hudson will sign I Got This and CDs purchased at the event only. Limit two books and two CDs per customer. No books or CDs from home allowed. No personalization, no pos.

DEETS: Barnes and Noble, Lincoln Park, 7700 W. Northwest Hwy., Ste. 300. 7 p.m. BarnesAndNoble.com.

—  Rich Lopez

Constant craving

Constantine Maroulis is another kind of idol in ‘Rock of Ages’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

HAIR APPARENT | Like Jennifer Hudson, Constantine Maroulis turned ‘American Idol’ also-ran status into acting cred. (Photo courtesy Dan Lippitt)

Save for Charlie Sheen, sometimes it’s not all about winning — but placing in the top 10 never hurts.

Coming in sixth on season 4 of American Idol has only been a boon for Constantine Maroulis. Without the scrutiny of a No. 1 finish but with plenty of national exposure, he landed high profile stage work (snagging a Tony nomination) and an upcoming album. And he’s far from done.

“I’m looking forward to what’s next and I want to continue new roles and projects,” he says. “I plan to tour and get the material out there. I’m a live performer and I wanna get my band out on the road. I wanna gig.”

If he sounds antsy, perhaps that’s because he recently announced an end to his three-year gig as Drew Bowie, the wannabe rocker in the jukebox musical Rock of Ages, which opens at the Winspear this week. His last performance isn’t until July, but in the meantime, he’s still ready to rock it.

“It’s been huge for me on many levels as an actor and being acknowledged by my community,” he says. “I was a rock star wannabe growing up with these songs from Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and other songs in my wheelhouse. This is a true artistic achievement and for it to all work out in this time when so many shows come and go, we’re kicking a lot of ass.”

Confident much? Oh yes. At times, Maroulis doles out a precious combination of swagger and thespic brazenness. He takes his work seriously, but his language can be as blown out as his luxurious mane.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished what I need,” he says. “With the five Tony nominations and now we’re a worldwide brand, I ask myself, ‘How the fuck did this kid do this every day for this many years?’ I mean, it’s pretty freaking impossible to do.”

But in a moment, he softens when he talks about his daughter. The rock star is gone and the doting dad appears.

“Malena was born this past December and I’m just so very thrilled,” he says. “And she’s growing up so fast, it’s amazing! I only get to see [her and her mother] every few weeks so that’s why I am looking forward to the end of this tour.”

With a family and budding career, American Idol doesn’t linger as much. While he’ll always be associated with it, Maroulis has proven to be a hot commodity on his own.

“I am a competitive person and I try to be No. 1,” he says, “but I think it was fate for me to go home early as it was fate for Carrie [Underwood] to win. She is the American idol. I like to fly a little more under the radar and have a nice flow of steady work.”

Heavy metal may not seem like the biggest gay draw, but lest people forget, it’s really just one step removed from drag: With the long hair, eyeliner and glitzy outfits, Rock of Ages tells Drew Bowie’s story of busboy-turned-rock-god with both comedy and ‘80s throwback tunes. Think of it as a swirl of the films Footloose and Rock Star with a heavy dash of Glee and glam metal — and it’s just as fabulous as Mamma Mia. As for Maroulis, whatever the medium, it’s about the art.

Just don’t ask him if he’s ever forgotten the words to a song.

“Well no, but now you jinxed me,” he says.
My bad.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 13, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

Mixed messages: Britney, R.E.M. deliver shiny, happy CDs … but not without some dents

NOT YET OUT OF TIME | R.E.M. breaks its 15-year slump with the release of ‘Collapse Into Now.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer

2011 has already been an impressive year for major music releases: Adele and Jennifer Hudson’s strong sophomore albums have impressed, and Lady Gaga’s third is on the horizon.

But these relative newcomers aren’t scaring off pop and rock veterans. R.E.M. just released its 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now, and Britney Spears is halfway along with her seventh, Femme Fatale. Ultimately, it’s the hard rockers who prove their metal, while the pop princess struggles.


Spears declared Fatale “a club album,” as if that’s her excuse for putting out drivel. So be it: Fatale praises dancing, cocktails and sex, making her the voice of a generation of aimless twinks everywhere. While the production behind it is top notch, the CD is held back musically by two things — bad lyrics and Spears.

Opening with her single “Till the World Ends,” she sets the dance tone with a strong beat, but the moment she sings I notice that you got it / You notice that I want it / You know that I can take it to the next level baby, you just can’t help but think, “Really?” Ke$ha, credited here as a co-writer, is new enough that she can get away with such dumb sentiments; Spears should be striving for more at this point. Brit has always been her own worst enemy, and her poor judgment shows.

Using a joke of a pickup line and turning it into a hit, her team of producers and writers are on top of dance music trends, creating radio-ready tracks like “Hold It Against Me” while keeping the Britney formula intact. Instead of competing with current pop-stars sounds, Spears adheres to her own, jacks it up with modern, fresh beats and sticks to her guns with sex kitten tunes. Perhaps we can never expect much substance from her, but she knows at least who she is.

With some flat out dance songs, the first half is stronger than the second; that’s when Fatale peters out. “How I Roll” is a hot mess of vocal effects and pedestrian “bum-de-dum” skatting while her collaboration with Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am on “Big Fat Bass” is downright embarrassing, especially as she repeats I can be the treble, you can be the bass to a painful, idiotic degree.

There are moments that break from the pack. “Inside Out” delivers a surprisingly crisper voice. She’s not a great vocalist, but we get a glimpse of some actual prowess here that isn’t hard on the ears. The final track “Criminal” follows suit. We’re not pounded with the song; instead, it contains some nice intricacies and has the most narrative. Musically, it’s fresh with actual guitar touches. Is that a pan flute in there? I wish she’d take this direction more. It’s not so bad to hear an actual story.

Femme Fatale is a nice workout album, but Spears remains trapped by heavy production. We always hope she’s smarter than that, but Fatale doesn’t lend itself to brilliance, only to working up a sweat on the dancefloor.


R.E.M. rediscovers itself with Collapse. Gone is the overwrought tone of late, which has been in apparent search of recapturing Out of Time. Letting go of those expectations, R.E.M. is back to delivering the edge of their early days, And we feel fine.

The band launches the CD with the raucous and strong “Discoverer” and “All the Best.” The flat-out abandon Mike, Michael and Peter play with here is a harbinger of mostly good things to come. “UBerlin” suffers from some underproduction, but the fourth track, “Oh My Heart,” is a beautiful song of pain. I came home to a city half erased is a simple but devastating line, yet sung without sadness. The band doesn’t spend emotion needlessly here and still gets a point across.

What is funnily unnerving is Stipe’s voice. Most noticeable on “It Happened Today,” he sounds older, which will remind early fans they are getting older, too. But the wisdom behind it is comforting, like when your father first talks to you as a fellow adult, not as a child.

I can’t quite figure out what the message of “Mine Smell Like Honey” is, but with lyrics Climb a mountain, climb it steeper, steeper / Dig a hole, dig it deeper, deeper / Track a trail of honey through it all, I feel like my imagination is allowed free rein to interpret it. The energy is infectious but again, underproduction cuts into Stipe’s vocals. He sounds muffled, being swallowed by drums and guitars.

Initially I wanted to hate “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” for it’s ridiculous title and it’s opening line I feel like an alligator, climbing up the escalator, but it recalls that vivaciousness of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It,” followed by the equally strong “That Someone Is You.”

Going for a slower finale with “Me Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I” and the spacey “Blue,” the album has a lackluster finish. After a rowdy ride, R.E.M. opts for a poignant, slower ending.

Collapse allows us to remember what R.E.M. can still do. With the help of friends like Eddie Vedder, Peaches and Hidden Cameras’ gay frontman Joel Gibb, the band has found its mojo. They probably didn’t think they lost it, but listeners had. That should likely change.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 1, 2011.

—  John Wright

Hudson grows in new CD

The last time we were media blitzed by Jennifer Hudson, she was winning awards for her movie and album debuts. Hudson stepped away from the spotlight when her mother and brother were murdered, but she’s been quitely coming back — first as a Weight Watchers spokesperson, and now for her sophomore album, I Remember Me.

Considering her recent past, Hudson could easily have made a maudlin album. Instead, she’s delivered a mature set of R&B grooves showing the emergence of a woman. With some help from Alicia Keys, R. Kelly and Ne-Yo, the album stays fresh (while sometimes bordering on passé) with Clive Davis helming the production and Diane Warren injecting sappy ballads.

Despite the soft opening of “No One Gonna Love You,” the album gets going with “I Got This.” This could have been a self-help anthem, but she keeps it cool without showing off her strong voice.

She turns the emotion on in “Where You At.” There is a patience here that’s unexpected, but she can pack a punch. Lyrics like Thought you were my hero / But as it turns out, you a no-show are kinda sassy, but her disappointment reaches beyond the speakers and man; you just feel bad for her.

Davis’ oversight sometimes makes the album a little obvious and the impact is referential rather than modern. What saves it is Hudson believing in these songs. Her most personal song, “I Remember Me” (which she co-wrote), is part ballad, part declaration. With a heavy bass spine, it’s still a delicate bird of a song and knowing her tragic story, she shows her survival mode and even celebrates herself without being narcissistic.

For a relatively newbie artist, Hudson can vocally walk a tightrope with subtle emotion. She holds back when you think she’ll explode with a vocal run, and then she’ll throw one into the fire once you’ve settled back into her quiet groove. It’s a nice trick.

The album does suffer with some clichés. Keys pens three boring songs (you wonder if these are her throwaways because they never resonate). That said, “Don’t Look Down” has a glorious ’80s adult R&B vibe a la Patti Austin or Jeffrey Osborne.

The excitement trails off in the second half and lumbers a bit. The one punctuation that keeps it afloat is “Feeling Good,” made famous by Nina Simone. This gives a punch of energy much needed by this point. Everything is right about this version from the lush horn riff to Hudson’s respectful homage but leaving a very personal stamp on it.

I Remember Me is an exciting step forward for Hudson. Here, she seems to be recognizing the fairy tale that is her life and embracing its reality. She picks up where Whitney and Toni have left off and contemporary music has been missing that kind of vocalist. Despite some missteps, it’s nice to see her return and do so with substance.

— Rich Lopez

Three-and-a-half stars.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

Jennifer on nice

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS DREAM Recently celebrating her 50th birthday, Jennifer Holliday has returned to the recording studio. But first, she sings with the Turtles on Wednesday.

Broadway legend Jennifer Holliday is telling us she’s not going … to miss a concert with the Turtle Creek Chorale

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer

Every since her debut nearly 30 years, when she originated the role of Effie White in the Broadway musical Dreamgirls, introducing the now-legendary showstopper “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” Jennifer Holliday has had a voice that many people dream about. Even after another Jennifer (Hudson) performed the role in the 2006 film version of Dreamgirls (winning an Oscar for it) and following countless imitators who use the song as their go-to anthem for showcasing vocal prowess, it’s Holliday’s electrifying version that lingers in the mind.

She’s flattered of course that, decades later, people continue to perform her signature song on shows like American Idol, though she has some ideas about the changes in the music industry in general.

“I think it’s a different standard these days in what they’re looking for in terms of talent,” she says of show business in general, but while discussing the Fox singing competition directly. “I’m not knocking it. I’m glad that American Idol let them sing it again this year because I get paid! If they sing it or play it, I get paid. So it’s all right with me!”

You might expect her to cringe at the often-horrendous attempts to belt out like only she can, but Holliday’s perspective is far more positive.

“You can say, on the one hand, why would they do something so stupid to try to sing it? But on the other hand, you’ve got to have something in you — you’ve gotta have balls,” she says. “You’ve gotta have some guts to be in show business and if you can start there, if you’ve got enough inside of you to say, ‘I want to reach to those type of heights, this is the only song I know that means success, that means that you’ve arrived, so I’m gonna try it.’”

You don’t need to settle for imitators anymore, though; Holliday joins the Turtle Creek Chorale on Wednesday for a concert called, appropriately enough, One Night Only. (That’s also a song from Dreamgirls.)

Holliday continues to stress how going for your dreams is to be admired from young singers.

“I think it says a lot about a person that they try [a difficult song,” she says. “That’s a bar of excellence and that’s where [they] want to be. I very seldom laugh at the people who try, because their courage inspires me more. So if they think that they can arrive singing a Jennifer Holliday song, I can’t help but be flattered.”

Holliday herself pursued her dreams, much like Effie White, and it certainly paid off. The winner of a Tony Award and two Grammy Awards, Holliday has enjoyed a successful Broadway and recording career, though she admits she’s not as prolific as some other singers when it comes to albums.

“It’s a lot different for me,” she says. “I haven’t actually recorded in about 17 years. A lot of stuff people are buying online has been reproduced and put back out, so I run into people who say, ‘I bought one of your new songs on iTunes,’ and I’m like, ‘Honey, that ain’t new, but I’m glad you like it!’ I feel really fortunate for the few recordings I did make. I don’t have a lot — I only have five CDs. For people to hear that music now and still think that it’s something new, I’m grateful. People miss my voice being out there, I guess. It’s also that the people who worked on my CDs in the past put out a quality recording that has stood up to time.”

Fans no longer have to wait, thanks to two new albums dropping this year. The first, arriving next month, is a gospel music project called Goodness & Mercy she completed with her pastor, Dr. Raphael G. Warnock.

“It’s a unique kind of project in that it actually has a sermon on it from the pastor of my church, so it’s spoken word and music together,” she says.

“We collaborated on it and it’s a very hopeful CD in a sense that it’s going to really target trying to get people through some hard times, the recession and everything. Things are getting better, but I really wanted to do something that would really give people hope.”

Her second album, coming out in the summer “or fall at the latest,” returns to some classic territory.

“It’s all love songs, jazz standards,” she says. “It’s called Love is on the Way. I did cover tunes of ‘The Look of Love’ by Burt Bacharach, ‘At Last’ by Etta James, quite a few of those types of classics.”

Both albums were the result of a milestone life event last October: Turning 50.

“I was trying to think of a gift to give myself — nothing silly like diamonds or anything like that. I thought, what if I start singing again? So I went into the recording studio and the music just started pouring out to me. I think this is what I want to give myself, but hopefully give to others. I hope that they like it.”

In fact, it’s been so long since her last stint in a recording studio, she was taken aback by technology.

“I didn’t even know they didn’t use tape any more!” she laughs. “They record everything in a little box. So I have my whole future in a little tiny box that I have in a fireproof safe in my home. But I feel like my voice is better than ever, still strong and powerful and high. I guess I look at that as being most fortunate of all, that I still have my chops and that’s still intact.”

Those chops will be on display at next week’s concert with the Turtles.

“While there is no actual theme to this concert, the subtext is all about heart and soul,” explains Jonathan Palant, artistic director of the chorale. “Of course, we want to feature some of the hits from Dreamgirls, so Jennifer will perform ‘One Night Only’ and ‘I Am Changing.’ She’ll also join the Chorale for Gloria Estefan’s ‘Coming Out of the Dark’ and Bill Withers’ biggest hit, ‘Lean on Me,’ among others.”

Performing with gay men’s choruses is just one of the things that keeps Holliday busy, but turning 50 was only the beginning.

“I’m holding up, all my old stuff is being re-circulated, and thank God I’m young enough that I can still make something new.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘Dreamgirl’ Syesha Mercado discusses her stage career and gives props to Voice of Pride

Rich Lopez  |  Staff Writer lopez@dallasvoice.com

This weekend is the final one for Dreamgirls, which stars former American Idol finalist Syesha Mercado as Deena Jones, the sexy (and small) singer who ousts heavy-set powerhouse Effie White as lead in the Motown band. We spoke to Mercado about her experience from just missing the top spot at American Idol to the star-turning role in this touring production. But she also filled us in on what makes her tick and how the LGBT community has big meaning in her life.

Dallas Voice: Is Dreamgirls your first theatrical venture? Mercado: I am excited to say this is my first professional theatrical project. But acting has always been a part of my life. I studied theater from secondary school to college, while working as an actress in Miami doing commercials and TV shows.

How were you cast? My agency told me about the auditions while I was on the Idol’s Live Tour and months later after the tour wrapped up I flew to New York to audition. After a long and tedious six months of callbacks and waiting, I got the call from my agent while I was in front of Radio City that I got the part.

Dreamgirls itself seems to be a springboard for American Idol alum — Jennifer Hudson won an Oscar playing Effie in the movie version. How do you think this tour will affect your career? I think it’s really a coincidence that Jennifer Hudson did the movie and I am doing the [stage] musical. Most Idols I know share the same passion for the stage and film. That’s why so many of us are in the field of theater now. I chose to take on this project because it’s always been a dream of mine to do a Broadway musical.

I’ve always seen Broadway as a completely different world and now I have the opportunity to be a part of that community. The day I accepted this part was the day this project started affecting my life. The more I do the show the more I learn about my character and myself. This tour is preparing me for the next big step in my career, it’s allowing me to grow as a performer and it can only go up from here. I look forward to all the opportunities that await.

What in you brings out Deena Jones? Deena and I share a lot of similarities. It’s a little scary how art imitates life. I am at a time in my life where I have figured out many of my wants. I am really growing up and becoming a woman. Throughout the story we see Deena coming in to her own and finding the power to break free from visions and dreams she doesn’t want for herself. She finds her peace and stands up for her passion in the end. She follows her lifelong Dream to be an entertainer. I can relate in many ways. I know this story so well it’s a little scary.

My mother’s maiden name is Jones and even though the play doesn’t show the young Deena before she auditioned at the Apollo, I know who that girl is. She is me. A shy girl, ambitious and determined to be an entertainer, to change the world, a girl who for the first part of her life grew up in the projects and faced all the struggles that came with that lifestyle, very protective mother… you can read the rest in my novel I’ll write one day. Every night the performance is different and that is the beauty of live theatre. My spirit and past experiences help bring out Deena Jones when I’m stage. This play deals with many strong messages; discrimination, betrayal, family, finding one’s self, but I absolutely love the message of dreams. I did a concert right after Idol called Follow Your Dreams. It is my main message and that is why I was so excited to take on this body of work, because it is an important story to tell. You don’t have to be in the music industry to relate to the desire to follow your dream. We all have dreams!

I read that Simon Cowell said your voice was more for the stage and now you’re doing that.  How does that make you feel and do you want a theater career or singing pop star one? Simon has said a lot of things. That was his personal opinion and being in this industry I’ve learned the most important opinion is the one I have of myself. I would like to look at that comment as a compliment that I am capable of doing more than just pop music. That week on Idol was Broadway Week, so I brought out that side of me.

I really love the stage, but I’m really excited about finally giving the world my talent and voice as an artist. I’ve really taken the time after Idol and the little time I have off-stage to build out the type of conversation that I want to have with all of my amazing fans that have been anticipating the release of my new music.

You’re 23 — still so young. What do you want to accomplish with your singing? Since I was a little I always wanted to be a singer so that I could make a difference in the world. As cliché as it sounds, that was the only reason why I really wanted to be a singer. Singing in front of crowds always made me nervous, especially since I was so shy. But I always managed to get past the nervous, because I knew that when I would sing it was the opportunity to make a difference. I wanted to motivate people to go after their dreams and aspirations and I still want to be an inspiration to others through my music and art. I want to use my fame to reach the masses and change the world! In many ways, I’ve had the opportunity to do much of that through Idol, concerts I’ve done, and through performing Dreamgirls eight to nine times a week all over the world and there is still much more to do.

My number one goal after this tour is to put out my debut album. I’ll be going back to L.A. after the tour hitting up the studio hard. I’m being patient on putting out my album until it’s at a place where it embodies all that I want to say. It’s been a very exciting and rewarding process recording and working with Grammy Award-winning songwriters and producers. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some prominent names: Diane Warren, Jud Friedman, Evan Bogart, Scott Cutler and Anne Preven (“Listen”), Reo (Beyonce’s “Hello”) Chris Rojas, and many more. I will keep everyone posted on dates and info on my website SyeshaOnline.com and of course my Twitter and Facebook.

How do you like acting? Are you considered a triple threat? Acting’s been a passion of mine since my first play in elementary school One Special Cookie. When I was younger I use to impersonate people and create characters in the mirror all the time. I still do this sometimes. I would even watch movies over and over again and memorize all the lines: acting out each scene like I was inside the TV screen. My family found it amusing. I was accepted into a charter middle school and that gave me the chance to take on every aspect of the arts from ballet to piano. You couldn’t leave Manatee School for the Arts without being considered a triple threat. We had to learn it all. I also went on to a Theatre Visual Performing Arts Program at Booker High and I studied theatre as my major in high school.

Whose career do you look up to? Every artist or entertainer out now is constantly evolving and figuring out the next big thing for themselves, just like me. There is no limit to the height you can reach in the industry. There will always be more to accomplish and pursue. However, in order for me to look up to someone they have to embody a humble spirit as well. That being said, Jennifer Hudson is someone I admire. She’s an Idol alum who didn’t win, but has had much success in her career all through hard work and perseverance. I had the opportunity to meet her before Dreamgirls opened up at the Apollo and she was so humble, kind and down to earth. I admire her strength and her determination, despite the obstacles she’s faced she is still standing tall. She has a touching story and is the perfect example of what can happen when you follow your dreams. Those are the type of people I look up to.

I also admire the sweet and humble Fantasia for her ability to get through all of life’s adversities and come out strong. Alicia Keys has been my idol since the day one saw her performing her music video “Fallin’.” That was my anthem and audition song for years. She really has impressed me with all of her music accomplishments and not to mention she has made her way to the silver screen just like Deena Jones wanted to do and just like I’m going to do. Lady Gaga and Beyonce I look up to as well, because they are strong, smart business women who know what they want and they’ve gone after it and made it happen; clothing lines, thinking out of the box, movies, awards — hard working women.

Dreamgirls appeals hugely to a gay audience. Are you ready for a whole new slew of gay fans discovering you and then possibly doing drag to your performances? Oh I am sooooo ready. The more the merrier.

We have a sort of American Idol-esque contest going on right now called Voice of Pride. It stems from the gay community but doesn’t discriminate against anyone competing. Winners perform at our Pride festival and the solo singing winner will go to Manchester, England for Pride to perform. The level of fame after the contest is different than post-American Idol, but what advice would you give these budding singers looking for their big chance in this contest? First of all, that is wonderful! My advice to everyone participating would be to pick a song that makes them feel fierce or something that just resonates well with them. Regardless if it’s a ballad or up-tempo pick a song that lets you command the stage. Know what your singing and doing onstage. The more prepared you are with the material the more confident you’ll feel and the easier the process will be. You can’t have fun if you are worried or unsure about what you are doing so be prepared! Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

I’m gonna back you into a corner now. Do you think you’d stop by to watch while you’re in town? Of course, I would love to if I’m not busy. I performed at two Pride events before (L.A. Pride and Chicago Pride). There is nothing like the support, loyalty and love that LGBT’s show. They always know how to show up and show out. Love it! I am a huge supporter of the gay community myself. I recently was part of the NOH8 Campaign. It was great to see so many celebrities standing up for LGBT rights. Growing up, I saw first-hand the discrimination my friends faced, because of the indifference and prejudices of people who just were ignorant to change. This is why I support Pride week and NOH8, because I want to be a voice for those who are afraid to speak out and be who they are. I want them to know it’s OK to be you and proud of it. Be who you are and love whom you want to love, because at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror at yourself and be happy with what you see.

Do you have a gay BFF? If so, how does he/she participate in your life differently than non-gay friends? Oh yes, many. My BFF lives in Cali. We both moved there after I wrapped up the Idol’s Live Tour. We have been friends since high school. We were in the same theater program and have had the pleasure to act side by side in leading roles. He was my Daniel in Once on This Island and I was his Ti’moune. He has been the most loyal of all my friends. When I need him, he is always there. He was in the audience at my Idol shows and most recently there for me during my audition process for Dreamgirls encouraging me every step of the way. I also have a very special friend who was first a fan and he started my Syesha Fanesha’s Fan Club back in my Idol days, which is now Syesha Nation. I am so proud of him, because he recently just came out. He is a big supporter of mine as well. Not to mention when I play him some of my demos he helps me pick out the fierce ones that the gay boys would love.

Dreamgirls at Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First St. Through Sunday. Friday–Saturday at 8 p.m. Weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $15–$65. DallasSummerMusicals.org.

—  Rich Lopez