10 Qs: Alex Newell on Religion, Beyoncé, and His Debut EP POWER
As part of the talent mill that was Glee, Alex Newell’s career is just beginning. This week, he released his debut EP, POWER. Next week, he joins fellow Glee alum, Adam Lambert on tour.
POWER, a mix of empowering anthems curated by Newell, blends an upbeat tempo with the singer’s powerful vocals. Each song represents a different moment in his life, from pain to doubt, to love and the independence it requires.
Ahead of the POWER release party at No. 8 in New York, I met up with Newell at Atlantic Records. In addition to discussing his debut EP, he answered some of our most burning questions about body-shaming, racial tension, and Beyoncé:
OUT: Congrats on your new EP. What were some of the inspirations behind POWER?
Alex Newell: Life is number one. Yeah, life. I think each song has its own life message. “Basically Over You (B.O.Y.)” is about a boy. “This Aint Over” is kind of an anthem of coming off of a show where there’s a lot of connate crossover from being on Glee into the music industry, and they always expect us to fail at it. And so “This Ain’t Over” was just an anthem saying it’s not over, that I’m still here, that I’m thriving in this world as well. “Shame” is just how shameful things happen in life, where that’s a shame, and this is a shame that it happened, and how it could have been avoided. I guess they’re all anthems about being alone and empowered. And that’s sort of another reason I like the word, "power" as a title, because it gives you strength. It means strength. The songs help you power through the day. The songs just help you live your life at the same time.
This is your first EP. What’s the response been like so far?
Oh my goodness. Everyone who’s listened to it thus far has been very positive about all the songs. And I was very apprehensive towards some of the songs only because I’m anal retentive about my own voice, and it’s like if I don’t like it, I know other people won’t like it. But sometimes I’m harder on myself than other people are. And everything’s been very positive which is really shocking because it is my first venture out with my own solo everything and my own music that’s not a cover of anything, other than “Nobody to Love."
You’re about to go on tour with Adam Lambert. How did you two come together?
He was on Glee. He did a couple episodes. We never got to work together on the show, but we would always cross paths in hair and makeup, and he was always just such a positive light. He asked me to sing at his Halloween party this past year, which was so much fun. He’s always been kind of a fan, which is crazy to think, that he’s a fan of me when I’m such a huge fan of him. And he loves my music and my voice, and I’m obsessed with his music and his voice. And so it’s basically the literal version of Scream Queens on this tour, just two queens screaming at the top of their lungs and just having fun.
Is there a particular city or performance you’re looking forward to?
Boston, that’s my hometown. So I’m really looking forward to Boston. Here in New York, because this is my future hometown. And Vegas and L.A., because that’s toward the end of the show and that’s when I’ll just let my weave down.
Do you have a lot of friends and family coming out to the Boston show?
I do. My mother is crazy...because she birthed me for one. But she’s invited my entire congregation at our church. I was like, “I don’t know if this is that appropriate for all these 90 year old women just coming to the House of Blues and standing up the entire time.” It’s gonna be cute though.
Most people probably know you from Glee. Looking back, what does it feel like to have been part of something that left such a legacy for future generations?
It’s amazing. It’s all in the show, being a part of something special makes you special. And that was a motto that was said throughout the show. It’s crazy when I think back on all that I did on that show. A lot of the stuff was kind of iconic, and granted a lot of it was remaking iconic things. But in its own right, it became iconic because it was paying homage to its previous. And to touch so many lives with just one character is something that I hold near and dear to my heart because those kinds of roles only come ever so often. I kind of miss doing it, but it was a good chapter to close.
Just like your character on Glee was, you’re very confident in your style and the way you express yourself. How did you come to that place?
I guess just doing it on the show so much made it comfortable. You have to do something to realize that you like it or do it so much that it becomes you. You can say something until you’re blue in the face, but if you don’t actually act upon it, then you’re just another sayer. I like my weaves and I like my high heels and I like my clothes. I mean it’s all in celebration, and I think a lot of it comes from me growing up with a single parent, my mother, and celebrating her subconsciously without even knowing that I’m doing it in a way, and celebrating my father who I didn’t know at the same time because he died when I was six. I guess it’s this exuding confidence from my subconscious that’s just crawling out and screaming in everyone’s face at the same time.
It's definitely inspiring. As a gay man or just as someone in the spotlight, do you ever find body-shaming is an issue?
Absolutely, especially in our nice gay world. It’s just like you see it all the time and you hear it: “No fats. No fems.” It’s just like, “Wait what? Let me remove my weave. Did I hear you correctly?” It’s just that we fight so hard to have everyone accept us and our lifestyle, and to then in our own community not accept each other...I feel like something’s wrong with that. It’s kind of the same battle that I have with just being black and gay. It’s like I’m always so shocked at seeing black people in the community hate gays. But you fought so hard just to be married to your own partner. Why would you try to stop someone from loving their partner at the same time. It’s stupid, honestly. It’s like, no matter what you do, you still hear it. And it bothers me in a sense.
With the divide between LGBT and black communities like you were saying, would you say it comes from both ends?
Yea, I mean it’s one of those things. It’s so hard to explain because you have this innate hate for no reason and this hatred that comes from not understanding.
You were involved with church choir growing up. Are you still pretty religious?
I am. I mean my friends could tell you that I’m so religious. Aren’t I? I’m so religious. I’m so religious. [Laughs] No, it’s hard to just erase that part of my life, because I grew up in church from the time I was in mother up until like three years ago. So I’m on so many rollover Sundays now that even if I don’t go to church, I still have a good relationship. I think it’s such a pillar, and I’ve learned so much of values and discipline that it’s just kept me going.
What did you think of Beyonce’s “Formation”?
It was brilliant. Everyone saw a great show and didn’t start thinking of anything other than a great show until someone said that she had an agenda. Like that’s it. No one said anything. They saw a great show. She was dancing. She was singing. It was great. Her weave was blowing. And it took one person to say there was a hidden agenda behind it. And there may have been. There may have not been. She could have just been paying homage to the Black Panthers and to Michael Jackson. It was a continuation of the video of course. But she still brought awareness to the issue and task at hand. I was reading something online. I think it was a black sergeant or some police officer who said it would have been just as bad if someone had come out in white hoods and dance at the Super Bowl. And I was like, That’s a little extreme. Because the KKK had nothing on the Black Panthers. One group was driven from hate. The other one was driven from protection. Because the other group was just dragging people out of their houses and lynching them in their front lawn. It just baffles my mind that people are just so unaware of their ignorance and how they’re so privileged that they don’t see what’s actually going on in our country. But that performance, it created a conversation that I think needed to start. But yeah, I loved it. Honey, I want my weave to blow like that in the wind. She almost fell but God said, “Not on this day. You will not fall on this day, Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter." That’s a mouthful.
My final question is marry, fuck, kill: Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle?
[Laughs] I’m not even gonna waste time and kill Michelle. [Laughs] Kill Michelle… Fuck Beyoncé? Marry Beyoncé? I’d probably fuck Kelly and marry Beyoncé.
You’d be the coolest power couple.
Girl, bye. I know. There’d be so much weave in that house. [Laughs] Blue Ivy Carter’s weave would be there. Weave for everybody.
POWER is now available on iTunes. Alex Newell’s will join Adam Lambert on tour February 23. Watch the video for “This Ain’t Over” below: