Songbird Frenchie davis is a singer-songwriter; an LGBT activist; and a graduate of Howard university. She was first introduced to the world as a fan-favorite on the second season of the television show, American Idol and since then, she has continued to wow audiences with her unique and versatile talent. She has performed in numerous Broadway shows, including RENT; Cinderella Enchanted, Dreamgirls; and Ain’t Misbehavin’, which earned her a Grammy nomination. Her television credits include being a top-five finalist on the first season of NBC’s The Voice; a guest-starring role on the OWN Network’s Wanda Sykes Presents: Herlarious; and voice-over work for the hit Nickelodeon cartoon, Wonder Pets. Earlier this year, Frenchie began working on her debut album; DzFinally…Frenchiedz, and a few months ago she “broke” the internet with her beautifully soulful rendition of Fetty Wap’s hip-hop classic, Trap Queen. Trap Queen is the newest addition to the repertoire in her Dzpop-cabaretdz show, The Frenchie Experience, which she performed to sold-out crowds at The Kennedy Center and The Apollo Theater. She recently completed filming the movie “Dead 7” for the SyFy Channel and is currently enrolled in graduate school, pursuing her MBA. When Frenchie is not performing or studying, she is an outspoken advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community and people of color.
You are a woman of many talents. Summed up, you are what people call brains and beauty. Singer, Activist, Broadway Babe, Model, Harvard Grad Student, and so on! Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how your talents have unfolded – Did you start off singing and the rest followed?
Um. I think all of my talents may have developed simultaneously? For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in love with singing. I’ve been in love with music. I’ve also been in love with books my whole life. Since I first learned to read, I’ve been obsessed with words and ideas. I grew up on the lower-end of the middle class, and even though both of my parents were college graduates, we struggled financially, a great deal at times. That struggle was a continuous part of the encouragement that my parents gave me in furthering my education. My father would always say to me, “…. look at your mother and I. We both have college degrees and we’re struggling. If you’re black in America and you don’t have an education, it’s going to be very very hard out there…”. It has always been instilled in me that education was of extreme importance, particularly if you’re a black American. It wasn’t that long ago that it was illegal for us to read, let alone for us to beeducated. People died for my right to further my education, and so I decided very early on that even though I planned to pursue singing for a living with everything that I had, I would pursue my educational goals with the same fervor.
You were a fan favourite on the second season of American Idol – tell us about that experience as a plus size woman. Do you think it had an impact on your time with the show and the fan base?
Oh God! I remember there being a petition: “NO FAT IDOLS!” It was the second season, and up until I came along, there’d been no girls on the show who looked anything like me! I didn’t really know what to expect. Hell! I’d witnessed Simon fat-shaming girls half my size. So I didn’t know what was going to happen! There was a lot of cruel and hateful commentary that had absolutely nothing to do with my ability as a singer. But on the other hand, there was a lot of supportive commentary, as well. I’ve learned overtime that it really is all about what you choose to focus on and that people who body-shame and make hateful comments about other people’s physical appearance are, effectively, displaying their own feelings of inadequacy more than anything else. I don’t have space in my head for others’ self-hatred. I simply had to learn to just let that kinda shit go. Still a work in progress. LOL
To be a woman in the spotlight as you are, it requires great confidence – were you always this confidant or is this something you’ve had to learn over the years?
Definitely something I’ve had to learn. I think the journey to self-acceptance is a lifelong one but I think the most important thing we have to remember is that we really can’t control what other people think about us. We can only control what we think of ourselves.
Growing up and, even today, who are your inspirations, the artists that encouraged you to dream?
Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Sylvester, Freddie, Mercury, Tina Turner, Grace Jones and Sade.
I would imagine that performing on stages as large as you do would be a little nerve-racking – do you still get nervous? What are your pre-performance routines? Do you need red coloured M&M’s in your dressing room?
Ha!!! No M&Ms, but I always have a chunk of pineapple and some hot mint tea with honey, lemon, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Pineapple can be really helpful in reducing inflammation of the vocal chords. And the tea with honey, lemon, and cayenne is just great for fighting off colds, sinus issues, and keeping the voice warm. Oh and hell yeah! I still get nervous.
What does a typical day/week look like for you? With all that you do, it must be very busy!
It changes at any given moment, but in general I travel on the weekends for performances, and during the week I am doing my schoolwork, studying or working with my students.
You have several passions that all mesh really well together. What is the imprint you hope to leave in this world?
If I can leave an imprint on this world that inspires at least one person to be a little bit fearless, stand a little bit firmer in what they believe, live a little bit less apologetically, be a little more fully who they are, fight a little bit harder for justice and equality, love a little bit harder, and take a little less shit from the bullies of the world…. I will have fulfilled my purpose.
Earlier this year you wrote a piece for Ebony Magazine called DzFat Thighs Matterdz. You ended your article by saying, DzFat thighs matter. And while I don’t dispute the truth in the statement that ALL thighs matter too, we’re talking about fat ones right now. And that’s a beautiful thing.dz Can you elaborate a little bit more for our readers on this and why you are so passionate about getting this message across?
So the story with the Ebony article and the way that piece came about is: someone on my social media timeline posted a video from the new TV show, Curvy Style with Timothy Snell. A thinner woman commented in the thread that she felt the show should be more inclusive of thin women as well. So, I replied to her comment, pretty much stating that if mainstream fashion would have been more inclusive of fuller figured women in the beginning, there wouldn’t even be a need for Timothy’s show in the first place. So now that we’re here, in this separate space of style and fashion…NO! We’re not obligated to include you, it’s not about you right now. It’s about big girls and that’s a beautiful thing, because it hasn’t always been that way. An editor from Ebony magazine happened to see my comment and reached out to me asking if I would like elaborate on that post in an article and that’s how the “Fat Thighs Matter” article came about.
When did you begin to embrace your own curves and can you share with me about your own personal journey to self-love and body acceptance?
That journey began pretty early because I have had body issues for as long as I can remember. I mean I got my first training bra in the first grade. By seventh grade, I was a DD… and by the time I got to college, I was wearing a K cup. I was never really a small girl. But I think the turning point for me was when I got into working out regularly and eating healthy. Here I am, you know, eating egg whites with veggies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and lean protein with green veggies for dinner. I’m averaging 3 to 5 miles a day, doing yoga and cardio, and I’m still in a double-digit dress size. Yes, I’ve gone from a size 24 to an 18, but I’m still a curvy girl and I just don’t think that’s going to change. My body is my body. And with time and maturity, I don’t know, I have grown to love it! At 37, I love every stretch mark, every dimple. I love all of it…I’m sorry…not sorry.
Are there any singer/songwriters who have personally inspired you and how?
Well, my favorite vocalist of all time, hands-down, is Ella Fitzgerald. Her voice was like an instrument. Her ear was amazing. She was the voice. Until Whitney of course. And Dinah Washington – I love her phrasing. Sylvester and Freddie Mercury. Vocally ridiculous. I love Tina Turner’s phrasing too and her stage presence. Same with Grace Jones. It goes without saying that I love her style. She is an icon.
What are some tips that you can give to women with curves on starting their own singing career and what can they expect diving into the industry?
This is such a good question. One that has lots of answers. But the moral of the story? You won’t survive this business if you don’t learn to love all of who you are. So begin with that journey first. Be prepared to hear DzNodz more than you’ll hear DzYesdz. People will be hateful and cruel. They will body shame you, hence the importance of loving yourself. You will need it. Take advantage of every opportunity you’re presented with that will allow you to learn, grow, and become better. Know that it will be the greatest life lesson in perseverance and self-awareness ever! And most importantly, do it because you love it, that’s the only way you’ll survive it.
What can we expect to see next from Frenchie?
Well I’ve learned that there’s really no way to preplan any of this. Shit happens! Lol. But I am doing my residency at the Metropolitan Room in New York. I am also in New York working on a new play called “The View from Upstairs”. I am in the last year of my master’s degree and applying for PHD programs. And I’ve just been appointed to the National Advisory Council working with the Human Rights Campaign’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities Project. So who knows what the future holds? I haven’t a clue. I know that I will keep singing and continuing to further my education. The rest? I am excited to see how it all unfolds.
Just for fun, what is the one thing you can’t live without?