I've attended the Highline Ballroom in New York City countless times for epic concerts: Lauryn Hill, Salt-n-Pepa, Ledisi, Meshell N’dgeochello and more. I knew of Todrick Hall and was aware of him being a YouTube sensation. When I heard he was performing at the Highline, I wanted to see the show, but I didn’t know what to expect. I purposely didn’t watch Straight Outta Oz, his visual album, which has over 1.7 million views on YouTube. I wanted to experience Todrick Hall live.
The show didn't start till 8pm, but I casually arrived a little after 7pm and was shocked to see the line all the way up to 16th Street and wrapped around 9th Avenue (the Highline sits on 16th street and 10th avenue). I was shocked; the line wasn’t this long for multiple Grammy winner Lauryn Hill. However, after seeing Todrick perform for a sold out crowd, I can see why he has a huge following. The Texas native is original, creative, edgy without being confrontational and inspirational for anyone who feels like an outsider (don't we all?). Moreover, he is hungry and passionate about his art, which makes on his own terms.
The crowd ranged from every race, age (including pre-teens!) and gender expression. These were the types of diverse crowds I saw at a Janet Jackson or Madonna concert and their enthusiasm was bombastic. Honestly, if Todrick were a pretty girl with his vocals, he'd be selling out Madison Square Garden. But then again, Todrick just might make that happen; there are no barriers to Hall's talent.
Straight Outta Oz is a fusion of The Wiz, downhome gospel and friendly pop music. The visual album featured performances from Jordin Sparks, Amber Riley and Nicole Scherzinger. But last night at the Highline, it was all about Todrick and his powerful crew of dancers and singers.
The story centers on Todrick as a quirky, unique boy who is struggling with his sexuality and identity and eventually takes the plunge to move to Oz Angeles. With high-level production value, Todrick sings, dances and nails emotional monologues. His songs tale tells about the struggles of social media in "Verified," finding his first love in "Color" and leaves his soul on the stage in the ballad "If I Had a Heart." Even in the most serious of moments, there is an element of fun to each song. He directly reaches out to the audience, regardless of their race or sexual orientation, he is telling their story as well. He understood his people as much as they understood him.
The success of Todrick Hall should not be dismissed. He is a black man from Texas who is unapologetically gay, clearly rooted in his authentic self, believed in a dream and made it happen, even after he was booted from American Idol in 2010. No matter who you are or even if you assume this show isn't for you, when Mr. Hall comes to your town be sure to not miss Straight Outta Oz.
Speaking of identity and freedom, check out the BET.com original documentary Holler If You Hear Me: Black and Gay In the Church, above.
(Photo: Todrick Hall via Youtube)
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