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Todrick Hall's Journey from Closeted American Idol Contestant to Kinky Boots Star on Broadway: 'This Is a Dream Come True'

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Ramona Rosales

With his soulful vocals and penchant for pop-music mashups, Todrick Hall has won over millions of fans, found a crew of A-list pals and now snagged the spotlight on Broadway.

On Tuesday, the singer stepped into a pair of sequined heels to play Lola in Kinky Boots, a role he’ll he’ll take on eight times a week at the Al Herschfeld Theatre in New York City. Dressing up in drag and baring his soul are par for the course these days for Hall, but the singer wasn’t always so comfortable in his skin.

Growing up playing with dolls, singing in Sunday school and dancing in ballet lessons, the Plainview, Texas, native always knew he was a little different.

“We would watch Ricki Lake, and sometimes gay people would come on. My family would be like, ‘That’s disgusting,'” he recalls. “I didn’t know that I was gay, but I thought, ‘Will my family think I’m disgusting if I end up being one of those people?'”

That question would haunt Hall for years as he struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his family’s Christian, conservative ideals.

  • For more on Todrick Hall, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.

“It came as quite a shock to my family,” says Hall, who came out to his mom when he was 15. “I think they were slightly in denial. We struggled a lot.”

Indeed, Hall endured a rocky – at times estranged – relationship with his parents for years after coming out. That continued even after he began dating his first love, Gareth, at 19, and followed his dreams to Hollywood, competing on the ninth season of American Idol, when he was 25.

Ramona Rosales
Ramona Rosales

“The producers were very nice to me,” Hall recalls of his time on the reality series in 2010. But he felt they “encouraged” him to stay quiet about his sexual orientation. “They said, ‘Make sure you appeal to Middle America,’ ” he says. “I felt pressure to not be who I was.”

Between those pressures and his own internal grappling over his sexuality, “I didn’t want people to know I was gay,” says Hall. The stress put a strain on his relationship with Gareth, which eventually ended.

Hall was eliminated from Idol during the semifinals, and his confidence took a blow.

“I regretted not being 100 percent open with who I was, and I vowed I would never do anything else without being myself,” he says.

Determined to pursue his passion for performing, Hall took to YouTube, where he began to garner a following posting video blogs, song covers and collaborations with fellow up-and-comers like Tori Kelly and Pentatonix. Over the years and with some hustle, he began hooking higher-profile gigs, writing and performing a viral safety video for Virgin America and choreographing Beyoncé‘s “Blow” video, both released in 2013.

“On Idol, I was a fake version of myself,” says Hall. “I turned to YouTube to show who I really am.”

 

In 2015, Hall began releasing his popular “4” videos, in which he sings four-part harmonies and mashes up entire catalogs of work by pop divas like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. He even became pals with Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande thanks to his covers of their work.

And earlier this year, he released his biggest project yet: Straight Outta Oz, an hour-long Wizard of Oz-themed visual album on YouTube that has all the drama and passion as his collaborator Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

“I just love the fact that YouTube is a place where you can take the risk yourself,” he says. “I gave myself my own chance. I’ll be happy if I’m working by myself or if other people are giving me opportunities, but I’m not waiting for people to help me — and that’s an awesome feeling.”

His visual album struck a chord with viewers and Hall hit the road for a live tour of Straight Outta Oz, in which he took on heavy topics, from sexuality to gun violence and the Black Lives Matter movement.

Since the tour wrapped in August, he’s been busier than ever, appearing as a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars and, now, in Kinky Boots on the Great White Way.

This is a dream come true,” Hall says. “I’m so excited to be able to tell this amazing story that I identify with so much. I’m just so ridiculously grateful.”

Grateful — and on his way to achieving his showbiz goals.

“I would love to get an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony,” he says. “I want to break boundaries, to play roles that I would normally not be able to play.”

Jenny Anderson
Jenny Anderson

Hall says being an openly gay, black man in Hollywood has been a challenge — but one he hopes to rise to.

“I don’t think that anyone is purposely trying to be racist or homophobic,” he says of auditioning for roles. “But they oftentimes will cast you and be like, ‘So you’re gonna be the gay best friend to this person who’s a hairdresser.’ It’s more like they’re just a stereotype.”

Still, Hall is staying hopeful.

“It would be awesome for there to be a huge, multi-million-dollar, Steven-Spielberg-directed film with a gay man playing a straight man,” he says. “There’s no reason why there can’t be. That’s why I loved Gone Girl, where Neil Patrick Harris played a straight man in the movie; it just made me so happy. That’s an opportunity that a lot of people don’t get.”

But with his Broadway dreams realized, Hall is continuing to do what got him into entertainment in the first place: “I just want to do things that inspire people.”

Todrick Hall’s Straight Outta Oz album is available on iTunes. For a list of Kinky Boots showtimes, click here.