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At the time, American Idol Season 9 was the most maligned season in the series’ history, but many of its cast members are getting the last laugh, because Season 9 is totally having a renaissance right now. Tori Kelly, who didn’t even make it past Hollywood Week, recently debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard album chart and will be performing at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Eighth-place finalist Katie Stevens is now a bona fide MTV star, with a lead role in the hit sitcom Faking It. And now joining them on the MTV airwaves is Season 9 semifinalist Todrick Hall, whose own docuseries Todrick premieres Monday, Aug. 31.
Todrick was eliminated from Idol on what is widely regarding one of the most shocking and disastrous results nights ever. (Seeming frontrunners Alex Lambert, Lilly Scott, and Katelyn Epperly also went home.) But Hall wasted no time in reinventing himself as a YouTube star with 1.6 million subscribers and nearly 200 million views, thanks to his genius parody videos. He was also featured in Forbes’s “Top 30 Under 30” Hollywood category, directed and starred in that famous Virgin Airlines safety video, and opened last year’s Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. Not bad for a guy who only made it to the American Idol top 16.
“I would say to anyone who’s going on one of those shows, you should just be prepared that there’s a great chance that you’re not going to win it, but that’s not a bad thing – you have the exposure,” Hall says, five years after his Idol journey came to an end and his real career really began. “I feel like people should already come out swinging and just be ready to figure out what their careers are. I feel like if you make it that far in a competition, you should be thinking of a strategy of how you’re going to keep your name relevant. Most importantly, above all of that – just 100 percent believe in yourself. Because as long as you believe in yourself, you can convince other people to as well.”
As Hall prepares to take his career to the next level with Todrick, he shares with Yahoo Music’s Reality Rocks the stories behind some of his famous viral videos.
“We had to find a bunch of mice, because I didn’t want to have, like, little puppets or fake rats running around. And a lot of pet stores obviously wouldn’t give to them us to use for a few hours. We found someone on Craigslist that would let us just use mice – they let people borrow and rent mice. Whoever thought that would happen? But everything is possible on Craigslist. So we got these mice and in the middle of the night when we were done shooting, we realized that the mice were running around the set. And so we were all running around, all these girls in ball gowns crawling on the floor, trying to catch these mice. I was like, ‘Guys, we cannot lose these people’s mice!’
“Shangela [from RuPaul’s Drag Race] is in this one. I thought, ‘If there’s no way to get RuPaul, I think Shangela would be the next best thing.’ Also Vonzell Solomon [from American Idol Season 4] is in it. Vonzell is my roommate, and she’s one of the lead characters on the reality show we’re doing for MTV. She’s more of a close friend, and sometimes we both forget that we were even on Idol. She’s the best friend that you could ever ask for, and she’s always 100 percent down to do any video that I ask her to do.”
"4 Beyoncé” (2015)
“First of all, this is all five of Beyoncé’s albums in four minutes. There’s a huge significance for the number four for Beyoncé. She was born on Sept. 4. Jay Z’s birthday is Oct. 4. She got married on April 4. So I had to do a tribute to her and it has to be exactly four minutes in length.
"To squeeze all of her songs together was really difficult, because we were talking 70, 80 songs in a matter of four minutes. And on top of that, I performed each take four times next to each other in four different-colored shirts, and each time I performed the choreography almost the same but slightly different, so it looked like a group of four people dancing in a synchronized way. But I had to remember different words for each person and I had to make it through from the beginning to end, all four minutes, without any mistakes. It was probably the most difficult video I’ve ever done based on that alone. I don’t know if I’d have the strength to do that again for a long time!
"I’m a huge fan of Beyoncé for so many reasons, and not the reasons that most people are. There’s the obvious reasons – she’s gorgeous, she’s talented or whatever, but I think she’s really super-consistent. She’s one of the few people in this world who can actually sing live and actually dance and actually is beautiful naturally; there’s no smoke and mirrors when it comes to her, she’s just a gorgeous person inside and out. After the 'Cinderonce’ video she called me and hired me to come and choreograph her 'Blow’ video from her last album, and that was just a dream come true for any gay man in the world, to be able to be with Beyoncé with four days. She was so humble and willing to listen, always on it, always on time, always professional, always so nice to everyone on the set. I just thought it was so cool to see how she worked, and I just have so much respect for how she was so hands-on with every aspect – the lighting, the camera angles, the choreography, the costumes. I wish that more people could see how hands-on she was, because I think it would give people a newfound respect for her that they never had before.
"Absolutely, 100 percent, Beyoncé is my role model. You know how people say, 'What would Jesus do?’ I always say, 'What would Beyoncé do? In her career, what decisions would she make?’ And I really think it helps me guide my career and be really nice to every fan and every person that I work with.”
“Beauty and the Beat” (2013)
“Scooter Braun is my manager right now, and he found me from this video. He thought that someone had leaked the song 'Beauty and a Beat’ that Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj were about to release a week after we posted the video, and everyone was sending it to him and he got all these Google Alerts. He saw the video and he was like, 'This is genius,’ and he called me and he said, 'It’s really hard to capture my attention… so I think that means that the universe wants us to work together. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do with you, you’re a little bit crazy and a little bit outside of the box, but I’m a little bit crazy and a little bit out of the box, and I think the two of us could make some magic happen.’ And it’s been awesome the past two years I’ve been with him; my life has been turned completely upside-down, and that video is one of the reasons I’ve been signed to him.
'It was crazy how this video just came together. While we were on set shooting, I had written this part about how we needed a baby, but no one had one, obviously, and the whole scene was dependent on this baby. And we were in the heart of the ghetto. The people who were with me who were producing it were like, 'Todrick, I think you just need to go to the store and buy a baby doll,’ but I was like, 'No, we need a real baby.’ And they were like, 'No one’s gonna just let you use their baby.’ And then I saw this little kid sitting outside just standing there looking at me, and I was like, 'Where’s your mom?’ And his mom came around the corner and I asked, 'Can I use your baby?’ And she was totally just gonna let me take him – and I’m not dressed like myself, I’m dressed up as a crackhead from the hood with powder all over my mouth, and I’m asking her if I can have her baby, and she was also gonna let me borrow her kid for free. And she wasn’t even going to come with me! And I just thought it was hilarious, because in the scene that’s kind of the skit that we played – that she just let Belle [played by Katie Stevens] take off with her baby. And as ridiculous as it sounds, it just kind of happens that way. That was kind of a crazy moment in my YouTube career that I’ll never forget.”
“The Wizard of Ahhhhs” (2013)
“This is my favorite I’ve probably ever done, only because The Wizard of Oz is my favorite story. My whole right arm is tattooed in honor of Wizard of Oz. Scott [Hoying, from Pentatonix] is one of my best friends, and I grew up with Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi from Pentatonix. Kirstie is the sweetest person in the world; oftentimes she’s kind of off to the side, so for her to get to be the star in this video was so awesome. She texted me after that the sweetest text message: 'Thank you so much, you don’t know how much this means to me. I’m a theater girl at heart.'”
“That was one of those videos where I wasn’t sure if people would get it, and I didn’t want to offend Pentatonix, but I think that if you’re gonna do it, you gotta do it 100 percent. And for me to be in whiteface, I was not sure if it could be perceived to be racist or not… but you know, I make fun of my own race, so I could be in whiteface for a video.
"Pentatonix absolutely loved it, and they all called me and text-messaged me within an hour after it went up. Scott called me hysterically crying, and he and Mitch even did a response video on [their comedy web show] ‘Superfruit,’ talking about how accurate it was and how great they thought the makeup was and stuff. Kirstie loved it – her boyfriend actually brought over her dog Olaf to be in the video. They all reposted it and cosigned and let the fans know [it was OK], because people love Pentatonix and they don’t want you to make fun of them. But it was all in good fun. It was a risk that I took, and I think it was a risk well worth taking.”
“Mickey Minaj” (2015)
“This is my new favorite video, to be 100 percent honest. I was nervous to do that because I’ve done drag before when I’m just making fun of people, but to do a completely drag look with a whole video, it was actually supposed to be beautiful drag as opposed to me making fun of some crazy ratchet character that I’ve come up with in my head. It was a little bit scary for me to post it, but people absolutely loved it. The response from that video was one of the greatest responses I’ve ever gotten from a video.
"I don’t know a kid who grew up in the '90s who wasn’t obsessed with Disney, and I guess I never grew out of that phase, honestly. It’s not just Disney, it’s anything that has to do with fairytales for me. I think I just have Peter Pan Syndrome or something. I’ve always been fascinated by the whole concept that there are these characters that live in this other world and everything is awesome with them, and they have one obstacle and they overcome it and they get to live happily ever after. I also love the fact that these stories can be retold… I just see myself in these stories and I always think of cool ways to retell them, in a way that I think my audience has never seen them before, and that to me is just really, really cool.”