ugg store london A Day in the Life of Todrick Hall
“I sometimes think, Do people find this interesting?” Todrick Hall shrugs. “Because this is my life every day and, you know, people could do this if they wanted to.”
We are standing just backstage at the historic Theatre at Ace Hotel immediately following the Outfest screening of Behind the Curtain: Todrick Hall, a documentary that followed Todrick as he wrote and recorded a full length visual album, Straight Outta Oz, then turned that album into a stage show and toured nationwide to perform it. I’ve asked Todrick if this all feels as glamorous to him as it seems.
“I thought at one point I would get to a certain place and I would be like, OK, now I’m quote unquote famous which, I hate that word and people know who I am and I feel different,” he explains.
That point never came. “You’re always going to be a human being who needs human things and feels human things,” he rattles off. “I don’t feel like Beyonc is a human. This has helped me really put into perspective that she is just a person on the planet, living her life, who just has a special gift and was in the right place at the right time.” At the risk of sacrilege, Todrick adds, “And she is a special, gifted human being. But she’s still human, first and foremost.”
Hours earlier, there is little to be found in the way of glamour. It is Thursday afternoon in the Valley and I’m waiting for Todrick in a corner studio on the second story of a strip mall in Studio City. An oversized green screen wraps around one corner of the room, lit by large fluorescent lamps. Sound pads cover the remaining cement walls. Black mats line the cement floor. Todrick is set to film something here, though no one is 100 percent sure what that is a YouTube video? A music video? A comedy sketch? except, I suppose, Todrick.
A cameraman arrives and begins hauling in more lights, sandbags, a tripod, and the room slowly begins to resemble an actual set. Team Toddy, which is comprised of four personal assistants, shows up next, buzzing around to make sure that things run smoothly when their boss arrives. Which Todrick does, nearly an hour late, with a Dsquared hat reading “Icon” pulled low over his face as he dedicatedly types on his iPhone.
“I’m so sorry. I just want you to know that when you’re working with drag queens which I’m not, only just sometimes,” he apologizes, referencing the fact that, in addition to a black cut off tank top and sweats, he is donning a full face of makeup, pink lipstick and blue eye shadow that glitters in the greenroom lighting, “it is always unpredictable what you’re going to get. Everyone’s running so late. I’m usually never, ever late.”
If Beyonc and Lin Manuel Miranda had a baby, and that baby was raised on the Disney backlot by a local theater troupe, he would grow up to be Todrick Hall, a multihyphenate who first garnered notice on the ninth season of American Idol the season Lee DeWyze won, with Todrick being voted off in the Top 16. Fans from the show followed him to his YouTube channel, which now boasts more than 2.6 million subscribers, with his videos tallying over 470 million views. One video, a flash mob in a Target store set to Beyonc’s “End of Time,” has racked up over 15 million views alone and led to a shout out from Bey herself (“Thank you so much for that. It really made me happy.”) and the opportunity to co choreograph her “Blow” music video. His Outfest bio refers to him as a “singer, dancer, actor, director, American Idol sensation and YouTube superstar.”
“I took stripper off of that, because I didn’t know who was going to be reading it,” he deadpans. “But that’s something that I would also like for you to know.”
Todrick talks at a rapid fire clip, and you find yourself speeding up to keep pace. “I just say ‘performer,'” he adds. “I don’t really like to be labeled as one thing. And I’m not the guy that’s like,” he feigns a British accent, “‘Oh, my God, I don’t want to be labeled. I’m an artist.'” Instead, he just loves everything he does, and having a platform like YouTube allows him to bring his entire vision to fruition himself. “In my mind, even if it’s a crazy mess, it feels like the same crazy mess from the same brain.”
The past year saw Todrick step away from the platform to create Straight Outta Oz and star in Kinky Boots on Broadway,
where he donned the famous knee high high heeled boots for four months. Now, he is plotting his return and is on set to film his sixth video in one week. It’s another installment in his popular Once Upon a Crime series, in which Todrick plays the dishonorable Judge Ratchet. “It’s been a year since I’ve been really creating content that goes viral and that gets views and subscribers and helps grow my brand,” he explains. “This is a show that always gets over a million views on each one. And I love drag queens.”
Todrick slips a giant, curly brown wig on his head and stares at himself in the vanity. “This wig looks crazy. But it does look kind of ratchet, though, don’t you think?” He yanks at the curls a bit and sits down with me, though he can’t help stealing glances at himself.
“I can’t take myself seriously. I have to take this wig off.” He drops it on the counter. “So we can talk like regular people.”
Forty minutes after Todrick, the drag queens finally pull in. Alyssa Edwards, a fan favorite on RuPaul’s Drag Race, is heard before she’s seen. “How dare all of these people! How dare all of these people,” she cries, swooping into the studio wearing a black turban and flowing, sheer shawl and feeling the Mommie Dearest fantasy. “Barbara, please! BARB ARA! Clean. This. Mess. Up, Valentina!” Valentina, season nine’s contentious Miss Congeniality, follows, wearing a black cowboy hat and T shirt from her own merchandise store.
Todrick’s affinity for queens led him to Drag Race, on which he is a full time judge. But he has done enough drag himself, both amateur (Judge Ratchet) and professional (playing Lola in Kinky Boots) that I ask where he considers himself on the drag spectrum.
“I would never think of myself as a drag queen, because I feel like they’re artists and I don’t possess any of the skills to, like, do my own makeup, to get into my own outfit,” he says as he considers the question. “I would be honored if someone thought of me as a drag queen, because I think that they’re brilliant and I secretly want to be one.”
In today’s skit, Valentina will play Snow White and Alyssa will play Belle. Once Upon a Crime is purported to be fully improvised “I have no idea the buffoonery that is going to come out of their mouths,” Todrick chuckles early in the day but if this all sounds like chaos in the making, Todrick is in full control.
Every single decision is run past him, down to the most minuscule of tasks, like where the Disney princess costumes should be hung. As the queens lace their corsets and sip Red Bull through straws, Todrick preps them with dossiers about their characters, spitballing jokes they might use: “Sliding into the DMs” could mean “Dwarf Messages”; for Belle’s character witness, “Mrs.
“When you wish upon a star,” Alyssa begins singing.
“That’s Pinocchio,” Valentina coos.
“No, it’s Disney, bitch,” Alyssa barks.
“It is from the movie Pinocchio, but it’s also just, like, the theme to all the Disney movies,” Todrick clarifies.
“Girl, that’s all of Disney. I don’t give a fk if it’s Pinocchio or whoever, bitch,” Alyssa laughs. “You’re lying, that’s why your nose is growing, bitch. It’s all the Disneys!”
The case before Judge Ratchet is Belle suing Snow White for the title of fairest in the land or, as Alyssa proclaims on set, “fan favorite fraudulent, infringement and flooziness.” The sketch is shot in two parts, with Alyssa and Valentina performing first and Todrick reacting with his lines offscreen. It is sweltering in the studio because the A/C has to be turned off for sound, but Todrick stays in full judicial drag robes and that curly wig as he paces back and forth behind the camera, slamming the gavel against his hand and feeding lines.
“I think you should say, ‘She thinks she’s fairest in the land. She is not fairest in the land. She is not the fan favorite,'” he directs Alyssa.