Photo by Stan Schafer
After leaving Howard University, she turned up as a contestant on the second season of American Idol. From the very beginning, she was an audience favorite, wowing America with her powerhouse rendition of the Jennifer Holliday hit "And I Am Telling You", from the infamous Broadway musical, DREAMGIRLS. After being ousted from the show for reasons that to this day still seem foolish (especially in comparison to the past indiscretions of would be future AI contestants), Davis resurfaced a couple years later on Broadway, as a cast member of the Tony Award winning musical, RENT. She continued to captivate audiences on Broadway with her solo in the opening song of Act Two, "Seasons of Love", and in ensemble roles. She then left to star in a West Coast tour of the musical DREAMGIRLS, as Effie "Melody" White. After her breathtaking stint in Dreamgirls, she returned to her previous role in the Broadway production of Rent, where she continues to mesmerize audiences to this day.
...whatever it is that is prohibiting us from speaking openly with one another regarding [HIV/AIDS]...we need to get the hell over it...because we are killing ourselves, if we don't.
As if this weren't enough, she has created and performed her own cabaret show which has taken New York & Washington DC audiences by a storm, and features songs by Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Whitney Houston and more. Frenchie personifies what it means to be a "Brave Soul", by living her life as an artist on her own terms, and by continuing to share her voice, her light and her energy with friends & audiences alike. We sat down with Frenchie for an interview, in order to get her thoughts on what it means to be an artist, how she feels about her status as a gay icon, and her feelings about the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Take a look inside the heart and mind of this ballsy, beautiful, talented, DIVA.
1. What does it mean to you to be an artist?
FRENCHIE: Being an artist means a great deal to me...I believe that there is a huge blessing in being able to communicate with people through art; particularly through performance art, because the stories that are told through performance art have the power to teach lessons, to raise and sometimes answer important questions regarding socio-political issues, and sometimes these stories can even change lives...and to be a part of something so powerful is a huge blessing...one that I don't take for granted.
2. How do you feel the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS has changed since the early 90s (about the time that Rent first premiered)?
FRENCHIE: I think that people are much more educated on the disease and how it can be contracted...I also think that people see that it is not just a gay disease which was a huge misconception back then...now days people (at least, the majority) are less ignorant and they understand that AIDS is something that affects ALL of us, and it doesn't matter what color, gender, or sexual orientation you are...you have to be careful because it could happen to ANY of us, ...I think RENT played a significant role in helping to reshape many of the misconceptions.
3. Why do you think homosexuality and HIV/AIDS are such taboo issues within the black community?
FRENCHIE:I honestly don't know how to answer that question...I am a black woman who has no problem talking about AIDS...and we all know I love the gay boys so that is certainly not an issue for me either...and I think it would be presumptuous of me to try to answer that question on behalf of the rest of the black community...I can only speak for myself...what I will say, however is that whatever it is that is prohibiting us from speaking openly with one another regarding these issues...we need to get the hell over it...because we are killing ourselves, if we don't.
4. If you had one thing you could do differently, as it relates to career choices you've made, what would it be
(if at all?)
FRENCHIE: I honestly wouldn't change a thing... I am in a show I love!! I spent all those years in Howard University's Theatre Department, and now I am working on Broadway! How amazing is that? I get paid to sing!! GOD is good!
5. How would you gauge the support of the gay community on your career?
FRENCHIE: Oh I definitely could not be where I am today without the support that I have gotten from the gay community...especially the gay community in DC...honey, my first time singing for money was at the Bachelor's Mill!!! I do a couple of cabaret acts at a few of the boy bars here in New York when I am off from RENT...the gay boys keep me working...and they taught me how to snatch that mug together! I love them!
6. Do you think American Idol is a genuine platform for the expression of true artistry?
FRENCHIE: I think it can be....if you can sing, you can sing...and in spite of the hot mess that the show is, it does give people with talent a chance to show their stuff to the whole country.
7. How much longer will we have to wait before we have an actual FRENCHIE DAVIS album?
FRENCHIE: I honestly don't know....I like having a life...the whole hoopla after American Idol gave me a taste of what it would be like to be a superstar superstar, and I just don't know...I am really happy on Broadway, and wanna keep doing it. Let's see if I can get me a Tony one day! I am trying to figure out the balance between my career growing to it's full potential, and maintaing some kind of normal life...so I don't know...we'll see.
8. How has being a part of the Broadway cast of RENT affected your feelings, knowledge, & thoughts about the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
FRENCHIE: Being in the show has made it soooo much more personal for me....I have been doing the show for three years and I still get teary-eyed some nights...because I know that when Jonathan Larson wrote the show, he was living in the East Village...it was the late 80's... we were losing alot of members of the artistic community to AIDS and every last character in the show is inspired by someone who was in his life and this is their story...this is his story, and some nights we're on stage and it's so real...i have to go sit in my dressing room and pull myself together...so I guess I would have to say thaty being in the show has made AIDS a much more personal issue for me...
9. Whats next for you? What can we expect from you in the near future?
FRENCHIE: Hopefully, in the near future I will FINALLY be a college graduate!!! I don't care how successful my career gets, I am determined to get that degree...I worked too damn hard...I gotta finish...other than that...I will hopefully still be working on Broadway, and who knows? I am just gonna keep on sangin' and see where my voice and GOD take me.
Feel free to contact Frenchie via her MYSPACE page: Myspace.com/msfrenchie.