POSE Magazine: Most of us are already familiar with your journey and were truly touched by it. A young woman leaving college, blessed by friends who rounded up the funds to get you to American Idol. This is where we first got to lay eyes on you. I remember first hearing your voice and standing up from my couch, applauding, screaming…YES, honey, Yes! That’s the winner right there. I don’t need to see anything more. She’s our girl.” Then of course, the devastating scandal that ended your journey with American Idol. That’s old news. But, in that short time, you said something that resonated with most women of size from that day forward. You said, “No, I don’t have hair flowing down my back and no, I am not a size 2, but I am fabulous.” Women of size everywhere rejoiced. As a kid growing up, were you always that confident? Were body issues something you always dealt with?
Frenchie Davis: Yes, I grew up with body issues my whole life. I had to grow into my confidence. I just reached a point where I was tired of letting other people hold the pen. If you don’t think being fat is beautiful, that’s fine, but why is everyone so upset about a girl not being a size 2? What does that say about you, the people who work so hard to make others feel so bad? I reached the point where I just needed to be okay with considering myself beautiful. Some people might agree with that perception, some might not. At the end of the day, it only matters that I do.
PM: Being in the public eye, you were forced to disclose how you posed in lingerie for an adult website in order to make money for college, because you refused to go back home without a college degree. That was such a strong, inspirational statement. How did you gather the strength to say, this is what I need to do, right now, in order to succeed?
FD: I came into the world that way. I was never one to take “no” for an answer. Women in this world, we have to make sacrifices to get what we want out of life in the long run. I honestly think that the producers of Idol understood that. I think they chose to pretend that they didn’t because I don’t look like Barbie. Ryan Searcrest, who hosted American Idol, now produces a reality series with Kim Kardashian who did a porn film. Nobody’s penis entered my vagina in the pictures that got me kicked off the show. Then, you have Antonella Barba, a thin white woman, who had a penis in her mouth in her pictures [Ms. Barba went through a similar scandal while in the Season 5, Top 10 and was not eliminated from the competition] and was allowed to stay on the show. I don’t recall that either of these women did those things to pay college tuition or to better themselves. I think the producers of Idol could have given some consideration to the choices that a then 19-year old girl might make, but they didn’t do that in my case. That’s unfortunate for them.
PM: You eventually returned back to Howard University, after the scandal broke and had to face friends and family. How did they treat you at that point? Were they supportive of you?
FD: They were VERY supportive of me. I think the hardest part though, was watching them bear the brunt of my decision to be in the public eye. It was difficult for me to watch them go through that.
PM: Let’s fast forward. The years between then and now have been very kind to Frenchie Davis. You’ve been a staple on Broadway, appearing in RENT, had the coveted role of Effie White in Dreamgirls, starred in Ain’t Misbehavin’ which earned the cast a Grammy nomination and of course, your reintroduction to a whole new decade of fans with your return to television on “The Voice”. Would you say there is some redemption from the American Idol days based on how your career has gone? Do you feel vindicated by your successes?
FD: You know, I feel very lucky to have gotten this experience. It’s very funny how this all came about. I was doing what I do, singing at a club in West Hollywood, when a woman suddenly approached me. Turns out she was the casting director for this new show, “The Voice”. She said, I want you to audition for the show. I said to her, aren’t I going to look like a crazy person because I already did Idol? She said, no, because America wanted to see you have the chance to compete and Idol never gave you that. I’ve made lifelong friends with people on the show. It was a great experience. It helped me to begin the process of healing and forgiving Idol.
PM: I recently saw your video for your hit dance single “Love’s Got A Hold On Me”. The track is hot! But the video! Oh, girl. It’s very sensual in a Mad Max kind of way. You are dressed in some super sexy outfits and exude crazy confidence while doing so. Is that part of the “act” of being Frenchie Davis, the Superstar or is that Frenchie on a day to day basis: Super confident, aware of her body and no shame in her game?
FD: No, that’s Frenchie Davis. I give 100% unapologetic sexy girl realness at all times. It evolved into Mad Max theme, because I like to think that I’m Grace Jone’s long lost chubby daughter. I hope she’ll have me! It just organically evolved that way. We were feeling the energy. We were all together in the Mojave desert. The stylist showed up with her wardrobe ideas. The make-up artist had us all in smoky eyes and it just evolved. It was crazy. It was so much fun. Brian Friedman, everyone knows him for his work with Britney Spears and as the creative director for “X Factor”, he choreographed the whole video, put all the dancers together. To have someone who worked with Britney, who I’m obsessed with, was amazing. Especially since someone once described my cabaret show as “Broadway Meets Britney”! I love Britney. She’s my favorite non singing singer in the world. (Laughs) I think it was really amazing to work with him knowing he’s worked with her on so many projects. [The dancers] twirled like I had a Britney budget. To have that caliber of talent show up because they believed in my talent? It really meant a lot to me. I didn’t have a major label backing me on that project. I put it together myself. Those boys were out there full on stretching at 5 am in the desert. We had a blast and it was one of the most fun days of my life. Ironically, it was also the day that Whitney Houston performed at the R & B show, her last performance. I was supposed to sing at that. We ran over schedule in the desert. So to hear that Whitney had passed, I was devastated. It was a crazy day that I will never forget.
PM: When you get dressed in the morning and you throw open your closet doors, are you like a million other women in the world, standing there perplexed, wondering what to wear…or do you usually know just how to dress your body to make you feel good?
FD: I know how to dress my body to make me feel good, even if it’s a bummy day. I have different characters I think. Some days, I am going to serve them corporate chic realness, some days, nude face and red lip. Blonde, brunette, redhead. It can change at any given moment. It’s all about how I feel. But you better believe it will always be sexy.
PM: You have such a unique and unmistakable look. There is no confusing Frenchie Davis with any other diva out there, so who are your style icons and role models?
FD: Like I said, I love Grace Jones. I love Sylvester. If it’s sparkly, figure flattering, flowy…I love all of that. Jewel tones. And Spanx! I love Spanx! I like to call them “Thanx”. I’m all about just embracing whatever your body type is and doing the research to find out what fabrics and cuts look best on that body type, then having a ball with it. I love a good pencil skirt with high heels. I love to enjoy life and I try to reflect that in my music and my style.
PM: This is a big year for you. You had your first role in a full length feature film, Dumbbells. You’re turning 35 years old this year, but most of all, you are finally graduating with that coveted degree you started earning so long ago. What will having that diploma in your hands mean to you? Do you find that to be the greatest success you have achieved?
FD: I will have that degree three days after my birthday! For me, it will be one of the proudest moments of my life, absolutely. I think that as society on the whole, we dropped the ball a little bit. The way celebrity and fame have been portrayed to young people, that you should have to work hard for what you want, has been lost. Young people are sitting at home, watching other people getting famous for no reason. I think a lot of us have inadvertently sent the message to young people that if you can sing or dance or do a porn (“with a celebrities little brother,” she whispers) or dribble a ball, you don’t have to be educated. That’s why I admire people like Angela Bassett, or the Mowry sisters. These are people who went to Yale or Harvard. I think Claire Huxtable is the epitome of womanhood. I think it’s important to have that balance of education with whatever you are doing, even if you have a natural talent. It gives you options. It opens up an endless amount of doors and possibilities for you. My dad has always told me, education has liberated more people than all the armies in the world. I’ve always believed that. It will feel like a tremendous accomplishment because I have wanted this for so long. I have made a lot of sacrifices for this degree. On my mother’s side of the family, I will only be the second one to graduate college. I am getting my degree in Fine Arts with a minor in Education and I will be applying to grad school for my Master’s degree.
PM: You certainly are a very driven woman, Frenchie. What’s the best piece of advice you have ever gotten along the way to fame?
FD: You have to keep going. The most successful people are not necessarily the ones who never failed. They’re the ones who failed and got up and kept going. Jennifer Lewis, who is one of my favorite actresses, one of my favorite women, said to me, the elevator to success is broken, so take the stairs. That was the best piece of advice I ever got in my life. It goes back to making sure we are teaching people the benefit of hard work and perseverance. We can name off five celebrities right now who five years ago, every little girl wanted to be. Where are they all now? So, I mean, it can go just as quickly as it comes. One minute you’re the top selling artist in the world, the next minute, another pop star is ripping off a piece of fabric from in front of your shirt. Everyone is mad because they saw your boob and suddenly, everyone who was your biggest fan turns on you. One minute you’re the Queen of Pop, the next minute you are calling your adopted son the N word on Twitter. People change, fans change. By the end of the day, you have to live your own truth. You have to live to your full potential offstage. The stage lights go dim quick honey, then, who are you? I mean, I am turning 35. There are 17 year olds selling millions of records. They’re reaching their career peak at the age of 17. You have to have something else that means something to you. One minute, everyone is a Belieber, the next minute “Deport Bieber” is the top hash tag on Twitter. Another top hash tag was “Free Bieber” so now, young people are thinking that it’s okay that he was driving underage and under the influence. Let’s start a Twitter campaign to get him freed from jail. Those are the kind of children that I don’t want my future children subjected to. I have to have something real. I have to lead by example. That’s the main reason my education was so important. You have to have something that means something to you that doesn’t have to mean anything to anybody else. I don’t care what industry you’re in, but especially people in this business.
PM: So, you’ve conquered the stage, you’ve conquered the big screen, you’ve conquered the recording studio, what’s the next medium you’re going to conquer?
FD: I also made my official small screen debut! I had my reality TV debut with Wanda Sykes, who is hilarious. I had a small role in her show. She’s a woman I admire a great deal. As black LGBT women, she is such an inspiration to me. Her coming out process gave me a lot of courage during my coming out process. To be able to work with her, it was such a tremendous honor, particularly in that setting, I’ve wanted to have an opportunity to tap into that comedic side of myself on a professional level. In Dumbells, to be able to work with Karl Reiner and Tom Arnold, it’s been an amazing ride.
PM: I hear whispers of a plus size lingerie line coming from you. True?
FD: Yes! The idea came to me because I wear a 38K bra size. I’ve gone done three dress sizes since I was on Idol. And now I am at the point where I want to step up my fitness a notch. There are no sports bras. They don’t exist if you are bigger than a G cup, maybe an H. That’s what gave me the idea. I ran my first 5K in the Ugly Sweater Run in ugly Christmas sweaters. It was hysterical. The name of my team was “Fat Girls Run”. It’s become a movement in Los Angeles! Women are joining the team. Every workout, more women come. Facebook friends, bank tellers, the women I got into an argument with at Target, but then resolved it and hugged it out. She comes now, too. Just random women show up and join us! It’s becoming a movement to encourage full figured women to love their bodies inside and out. If we love our bodies that doesn’t mean we stop taking care of them. And wanting to take care of them doesn’t mean you want to be skinny, either. There are a lot of skinny girls on the drive thru line at McDonald’s right now while we’re doing this interview, Cher. [Laughs] It’s about finding that balance between embracing your curves, but making sure that your curves are not detrimental to your health. It’s all about balance. Fat girl fitness inspired the idea. Maybe I will design a sports bra. We big girls who want to step up our fitness game can’t find them. And boob sweat? Not fun. Not cute. I’m trying to get my samples made before the Hollywood Run, so at least the girls on my team can have the support that they need. It’s a project near and dear to my heart, literally and figuratively. The market needs it desperately. If we are trying to combat obesity and trying to have the conversations about weight and how it relates to health, then these are the issues we have to address. I’d still like a pair of yoga pants that won’t give me a yeast infection.
FD: I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes as long as you don’t stay there. Sometimes I wake up feeling pretty crappy. I pop in a Golden Girls DVD, dance around to “Happy” by Pharrell and find ways to make it better. But I think that part of mental and emotional overall well-being is allowing yourself to feel those not so great feelings. When you suppress it, that can be detrimental to your health, too. I would rather go through the motions and feel it. It took me 10 years to realize that it is okay to not be okay. I’m just now getting to a place where I can openly say I was not okay with what happened with Idol. I spent 10 years after that whole situation, pretending to be okay, because I didn’t want to come across as stereotypical angry black woman. I wanted to be the bigger person. I realized, it’s okay that I wasn’t okay…and THAT was perfectly okay. Some days I don’t feel good. I will watch Sex and the City from season one to the second movie or have a Lord of the Rings marathon. I’ll make lettuce wraps and have a glass of pinot noir until I’m all better.
PM: What’s next on the agenda for the diva? Where can we expect to find you next?
FD: New York City! Our cabaret show will be in New York at the historic Metropolitan Room, February 8th through the 10th. It is called the French and Kat show. It stars me and my musical soul mate and non-sexual life partner, Kathryn Lounsbery, who’s an amazing pianist and comedienne. We do Broadway standards, pop music, hip hop, and hell, even thrash metal. We do everything! Broadway type interpretations of your favorite songs. Then, I will be doing a lot of college shows come March. Then the French and Kat show returns to Hollywood. We’re also making a stop in Washington, D.C. because we are doing the French and Kat show as my Senior Showcase at Howard [University]! That’s going to be really exciting. And then, of course, I graduate! It’s a big few months coming up!
PM: Last question, what is the one thing that Frenchie Davis can achieve that will finally slow her down? Anything?
FD: I don’t know. I feel like I could tell you that one thing, then that one thing will happen and I’ll be ready to conquer something else. You just never stop growing.
(Edited interview with Frenchie Davis first published in the March 2014 “BODY CONSCIOUS” issue of POSE.)