Frenchie Davis Keeps It Real
Frenchie Davis’ career has been a prime example of how to overcome controversy and fight on to achieve your dreams. What dream is that? Frenchie has always envisioned herself with a singing career as both a performer in the theater and a recording star. One listen to that captivating voice and it would be hard to find one person to disagree that her voice would allow her to obtain her dreams. That is, if her talent was all she needed on the journey.
Ten years ago during the second season of reality competition TV show "American Idol," Frenchie discovered how some things can come back to haunt you when she revealed to show producers that she had once upon a time modeled topless. Her disclosure led to her dismissal from the show while she was amongst the show’s twelve finalists’ round. Yet despite the controversy, she landed a role in the Broadway cast of "RENT" shortly after being dismissed from "American Idol."
Solidifying her spot on the theater’s stage by other performances in a string of off-Broadway shows ("Dreamgirls," "Mahalia," "Ain’t Misbehavin’"), Frenchie found a recording career elusive. It was not until her appearance on the first season of "The Voice" in 2011 that that enabled her to find the perfect musical vehicle to showcase her soulful, powerful voice and varied musical interests.
If her debut single "Love’s Got A Hold On Me" (released this past September), is any indication of what we can expect from Frenchie Davis, her spot in the Dance Music world may become just as bright as her spot in the theater world.
Her first single
BeBe: First congratulations on your wonderful new single, which is moving up the charts and doing well in the clubs; but one of things I realized is that this is your first single. With your stage success and notoriety, did you think it would take this long for you to release a debut single?
Frenchie Davis: You know actually I had at some point given up on having a recording career. I had been working so much doing theater and stage work, the recording career avenues didn’t seem as open and didn’t seem as realistic a goal after ten years. Me deciding to go on ’The Voice’ changed all of that.
BeBe: The music video for ’Love’s Got A Hold On Me’ is off the hook. I love the whole ’Mad Max’-inspired theme in the video that Chan Andre and Brian Freedman (Britney Spears, ’X Factor’) directed. Did the theme come from you or Chan and Brian?
Frenchie Davis: It kind of evolved. Once we picked the shooting location - once Chan and Brian decided we were going to shoot in the Mojave Desert, the girl in wardrobe just starting bringing in this amazing stuff. It just evolved into this sort of ’Mad Max’-thing. And, we went with it.
BeBe: And the dancers are just so wonderful.
Frenchie Davis: They are amazing! I was able to get some of the best dancers who are working right now. Two of the guys who are dancing in the video just finished doing Madonna’s Super Bowl performance right before we started shooting the video. Then I had some of Beyonce’s dancers, some of Britney’s dancers, some of GaGa’s dancers. Just seeing the caliber of people who showed up. Those boys were professional. They were there at 5 o’clock in the morning (getting) ready to work in the desert. Seeing the caliber of who showed up really gave me a push and made me say ’Wow, look of the caliber of people who believe in me.’
Camaraderie and support
BeBe: And that’s real important as you know, particularly with you coming from the theater. In the theater you always get that kind of family environment with everyone pushing and supporting you. But, most times you don’t hear of that in the recording industry because there is so much competition.
So, sometimes the camaraderie and support you get from your fellow entertainers isn’t recognized.
Frenchie Davis: Exactly! And, I think I connected with my dancers. Maybe it was because of my theater background. But, I think it was that mutual respect we had for one another that I have for all dancers. Being in theater you have to act, dance and sing. I’m not a dancer. I have to go to dance classes in New York just like any other theater girl. Because of that, I became friends with a lot of dancers. So, I have a strong connection with the dance community. And, it was great to bring that camaraderie and energy to the video.
BeBe: Well, you got to shake a hip or two every now and again.
Frenchie Davis: Oh, you know! (with a little laughter)
BeBe: ’Love’s Got A Hold On Me’ is apart of an upcoming EP ’Just Frenchie.’ When will that be released?
Frenchie Davis: After the New Year.
Oomph on those high notes
BeBe: Also, the song ’Love’s Got A Hold On Me’ was written by Janice Robinson, who we all remember from her ’Dreamer’ days.
Frenchie Davis: Oh, Janice is such a diva and such a good friend. I met her when I was still doing my Broadway stuff, and we never lost touch. She’s been writing away. She had just finished a song for Deborah Cox, and she called me and said, ’Girl, I wrote this song, you know I’ve been writing a lot lately for Deborah Cox and I think it’s going to be her next single. But I wrote this other song, and just kept thinking of you when I was writing it. I just know nobody’s going to be able to sing it like you. The chorus is really high, and I want some oomph on those high notes.’
So, I said, okay, let’s do it. I went to New York when I was on ’The Voice Tour’ and she played the song for me, and I loved it. And, we recorded it.
BeBe: It didn’t surprise me upon discovering that she was the writer behind ’Love’s Got A Hold On Me,’ because if there is anybody out there that I would compare you to, Janice (Robinson) would be that person. I thought, now that’s a perfect fit. Your styles and vocal ranges are very, very similar.
Frenchie Davis: Ooh, Wow!
BeBe: Now, of course we remember your appearance in the final 12 (she finished 5th) of the Season 2 of ’American Idol’ (’AI’), and all the controversy surrounding your dismissal (for disclosing she took topless photos). But, the outcome of that kind of paralleled the outcome of the controversy Vanessa Williams went through when she was asked to give up her Miss America title because of nude photos. What I mean is that you were able to hold your head up high and overcome all of that and go on to have a very successful theater career with ’RENT’ on Broadway (four years), ’Dreamgirls’ (touring company), ’Mahalia!,’ and ’Ain’t Misbehavin’ (with Season 2 ’American Idol’ winner Ruben Studdard).
So, I ask, with the success you realized in theater after such controversy on a reality competition show designed to find the next big recording artist, did you think your feet would stay planted in the theater world?
Frenchie Davis: I always knew I would end up in the theater. My major in college (Howard) was musical theater. The theater was how I fell in love with the whole art of performing. The theater is where I fell in love with being on stage. So, I always knew I’d end up there. Before ’American Idol’ my theater career had already started. I had done a production of ’Little Shop of Horrors’ over in Germany, and ’Jesus Christ Superstar.’
I always knew that would be my foundation, and I would be perfectly content on doing that if the recording thing didn’t work out.
On ’The Voice’
BeBe: But the recording career was always the dream?
Frenchie Davis: Absolutely, yeah. If just to get my talent our there beyond Broadway audiences.
BeBe: That’s one thing that recording careers do. You get an instantaneous exposure to so many people at once, as opposed to having multiple shows in theater for people to see your performances.
Frenchie Davis: Exactly.
BeBe: Frenchie, after all the theater success you were experiencing what was the decision process in you deciding to put yourself through all of that reality competition show stuff again to do ’The Voice?’
Frenchie Davis: That wasn’t something that I had planned. It wasn’t that I could foresee. I was doing what I do, singing for my gay boys at a club in West Hollywood, and there was a woman in the audience who turned out to be a casting director for a new show NBC was working on called ’The Voice.’ So, she approached me after my performance and gave me her whole spiel. She told me she though the show could be good for me because it was totally different from ’Idol.’ They were recruiting singers who kind of already had a following to audition for the show. She explained that the whole premise of the show was working singers. That was the direction not only with the contestants but the judges as well. She told me to think about it, and of course my initial reaction was I don’t want to relive a competition style reality TV show.
But, I’m a very spiritual person and believe you never know when the universe will present an opportunity to you. You’ve just got to walk the path that is laid in front of you sometimes. This trip was somehow going to lead to something wonderful. I think I soul searched about it for about a month before deciding I’m going to go audition. Maybe I won’t make it, but if I make it, then I’m going for it. That’s what I did.
Focus and direction
BeBe: Going through the process on ’The Voice’ which like you said was a different format then ’AI,’ and looking at the process ’The Voice’ versus the process of ’AI,’ which one do you really feel you got the most out of? I don’t mean the success to your career, but what did you walk away in knowing what you needed to do to progress your career and so forth?
Frenchie Davis: Definitely ’The Voice.’ I think my experience from ’The Voice’ really helped me find focus and direction as far as, what direction I was going musically. Because one of the challenges I faced being a theater performer who had been on ’American Idol’ was that I loved so many different kinds of music. I have a soulful voice and love R&B and Soul, but I also love Rock, I love Dance music, there so many other genres that I love to sing. My challenge was how do I merge all of that into a musical direction that works for me. It goes back to what you said about Janice Robinson being a perfect fit for me because Janice used to open up for Tina Turner back in the day. So, Janice has got that edge, that rock, all of the same influences that I have.
If you were to ask me who my favorite performers are, off the top of my head, I’d say Aretha, Whitney, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury, Grace Jones. I think you see and hear all of those people when you watch me on stage or listen to me sing.
BeBe: What a diverse group it is that you just named.
Frenchie Davis: In competition mode, I really wanted to be able to sing soulful songs, I really wanted to belt out ’Something Like You’ by Adele, something soulful so I’d really get to belt it out. And, Christina Aguilera was like, Frenchie everybody knows you can already belt it out, so why do the expected? We had a big back and forth over that, and Christina kept giving me dance songs. A lot of people don’t know but we don’t even get to choose our audition song. The producers chose ’I Kissed A Girl’ (Katy Perry) as my audition song. And then Christina chose ’When Love Takes Over’ (Kelly Rowland) and ’Like A Prayer’ (Madonna). Even though they were not the soulful songs I envisioned myself singing on the show, every song I did charted in the top 3 on the Dance Charts on iTunes. So, it helped me realize that maybe Christina is onto something (for me). Maybe there is something to this dance music thing. And then I started thinking about all of the artists who I love... Sylvester is definitely one of my idols, and he had that soulful voice, but he did songs that made you want to dance.
Nothing to hide
BeBe: Yes, he had a strong gospel background.
Frenchie Davis: So I said to myself what if I find a way to do that? Bring my love for soulful singing and my love for dance music, and be able to incorporate all those other things. Once I decided I was going to do dance music, it opened this whole other door of possibilities for me as far as musical direction. So, artistically, I got the most out of my experience on ’The Voice.’ And I think it’s great because maybe there is a chubby girl out there who wants to be a Pop Star and she is going ’oh, they are going to only let me sing r&b.’ She’ll see my video and dance cross of my music, and say no, I can do whatever I want. I don’t have to put myself in a box.
BeBe: I know earlier in the year you disclosed that you were bisexual, so, when you are on stage now performing before a predominately gay crowd versus performing before the same group before you came out as bisexual has your approach to performing and doing songs changed because of a sense of freedom the disclosure may have given you?
Frenchie Davis: Well, I feel like my gay fans already knew (of my sexuality). My partner has been tagged in my relationship status on my Facebook page for two years, and she is clearly a woman. I’ve performed at so many Prides. I’ve performed at New Year’s HRC events. I’ve performed at a bunch of GLAAD events. My family and friends certainly knew. It was never something I went out of the way to hide.
In a lot of ways, I don’t feel any different. I do recognize there is a difference being out amongst family and friends and allowing people to scrutinize into your personal life. I do recognize there is a difference between the two. I will say that when I’m doing interviews now I don’t have to worry about being backed into a corner and give an ambiguous answer about who I am or about my life. I just don’t want to have to talk in code. I’m comfortable. I’m happy. I’m loved and supported. And women, particularly in this business, need to know that the key to success is being happy, and being true to yourself. Period. The stage lights will go dim, and audiences go home. And when that happens, you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and be okay with what you see and who you see.
BeBe: Over your professional journey of the last 10 years with you doing what you love, you have come upon some points along the way that would have caused many to give up. But, you have continued to pursue your dreams. What has kept you going, and chipping away at that wall of success?
Frenchie Davis: I think it has been my spiritual belief. And I’m just a very stubborn Taurus woman. And telling me I can’t do something is like dangling that red flag in front of a bull. It’s just going to make me more determined. And I just believe nobody, nobody has the right to cock block your destiny. And, they only do it if you let them. The best thing is to keep positive people around you. I have my sister, my mother and my partner, three very strong women who keep it real with me, and who sometimes believe in me even when I don’t. They don’t take any of my bullshit, and will call me out on it.
Frenchie Davis makes a special performance of her debut single ’Love’s Got A Hold On Me’ on Oct. 31 at the FreakOut Halloween Bash in San Francisco at Beatbox, 9pm. For more information, visit the BeatBoxSF website.
For more information on other Frenchie performances visit her website www.FrenchieDavis.org
Watch Frenchie Davis’ video of "Love’s Got A Hold On Me":
As an actress, BeBe was introduced to film with a lead role in the independent film "Under One Sun" with her character dealing with religious, racial and gender issues. Additionally, she appeared in the campy musical "Devious, Inc" (Australian Film Festival, San Francisco Short Film Fest) also adding additional vocals to the musical soundtrack. Both of these performances led to her selection for a lead role in Aisha Media’s next short film series, "Con-tin.u.um" to be released in 2012.