Ten years after getting disqualified from “American Idol” for her Internet-porn past, she became a finalist on “The Voice,” sang with Christina Aguilera and is preparing to release her debut album later this year.
In our interview, Davis, 33, put it all out there again: She addressed the stigma of being bisexual and black, how she doesn’t regret the “Idol” ordeal and why her upcoming album — and entire solo career — almost didn’t happen.
PGN: Before you came out publicly in a recent interview, how out were you in your own life?
FD: I first told my mom that I was attracted to boys and girls when I was 16 years old. A lot of my friends and family weren’t really surprised to hear that I had “come out,” because all I did was answer a question honestly in an interview and it ended up becoming a headline. I didn’t plan to come out. I fell in love with someone who I think I could be with forever, and I’m used to, in casual conversation, talking about my partner. That’s what ended up happening in the interview and what ended up being my coming out. It wasn’t something that I had planned. It wasn’t something I was being secretive about, either. I’ve performed at so many HRC and GLAAD events and gay Prides — and made out with so many girls in college. I don’t think it was a secret to anybody! [Laughs.]
PGN: Was performing “I Kissed a Girl” on “The Voice” your way of hinting at your bisexuality?
FD: You know what’s crazy? I didn’t even plan to do that. They came to me and said, “You’re singing ‘I Kissed a Girl’ and I’m like, ‘OK. Well, let’s go with this.’”
PGN: You just got involved with the It Gets Better campaign. Why was that important for you to be a part of?
FD: The most important thing to me outside of music is inspiring young people. The more we adults continue to send out the message to young people that it’s OK to be you, we’re all, in a small way, contributing to making the world a little better. That’s just my philosophy. Any opportunity that presents itself to send that message to young people, I’m all for it.
PGN: For you, how did it get better?
FD: My mother was very accepting and understanding, but I actually didn’t tell my father right away. I think he definitely knew because he came to visit my dorm room and was like, “Wow, you’ve got a lot of pictures of half-naked girls on your wall.” [Laughs.]
PGN: You were just idolizing those girls, right?
FD: Yeah, just idolizing them — sure. And thinking they were hot. My dad read so much into it, and it’s been really interesting seeing my dad embrace all of this — that has been the most heartwarming part of it. I mean, my father and I never really talked about it. My mother knew: She met whatever girls and guys I dated in high school. But with my dad, we never really talked about it until he met my partner and was like, “You look happy. I like her.” My dad is super-conservative and Republican. Black Republican, I know. Don’t even get me started. He was the one I was afraid to tell. When it all ended up being in the headlines, he was afraid that me being open and honest about who I am would affect my career negatively or negatively affect the way people look at me. You know, he’s my dad: He just wants to protect me. It really meant so much to me when [my coming out was] all in the headlines and my dad called and was like, “I just want to call and say I’m really proud of you.” Moments like that have reminded me that it indeed does get better. There were times where it was hard, like in high school. And not even having to do with being bisexual, but being a big girl too. People called me fat, they called me a dyke and all those things. I know what it feels like to not fit into the mold of what society thinks you’re supposed to be.
PGN: Bisexuality in the gay community is sometimes looked at as taboo or “just a phase.” Have you felt stigmatized because of it?
FD: It absolutely is something I’ve had to fight. For a long time that’s why I dated mostly men, because when I would meet a woman that I was into — a lesbian — she would be turned off by the fact that I was bisexual.
PGN: And men aren’t so much turned off by that.
FD: [Laughs.] Men are totally opposite! For a long time I felt like it was just easier to identify with being straight: It seemed easier to date guys because lesbians seemed so turned off by the bisexual thing. So I’ve experienced criticism and people looking down on it in the straight community and in the gay community. I didn’t plan to come out, but I’m really thankful that everything unfolded the way it did because, no, I’m not straight; none of the guys I’ve been with made me straight, just like being madly in love with my partner right now doesn’t make me a lesbian. I’m a bisexual woman and it is what it is. I have enjoyed men thoroughly, and I can say the same thing about women. People who don’t think that it’s real, maybe that’s the reality in which they exist, but that’s not my reality.
PGN: How does being black and bisexual change things?
FD: I honestly thought that we were a lot farther, and then I did an interview with “The Tom Joyner Morning Show” and was completely taken aback by the way that went. The interview ended with a guy shouting, “Let a man into the bedroom!” That’s how disrespectful it was. It was bad. It really broke my heart, because I know what it’s like to be black in America and I know what it’s like to be a woman in America, and to be treated with disdain and disrespect by members of my own community was hurtful. It hurt me to the core. You know, at the end of the day, when the stage lights are turned off and the audiences go home, you have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. When I leave this earth, I want to know that I was on the right side of history. Things won’t change unless people like me say, “No, I’m not going to allow society to bully me into lying about who I am.”
PGN: Christina Aguilera’s diva behavior makes a lot of headlines. What is she really like, and what surprised you most about working with her on “The Voice”?
FD: I’m never going to bad talk her, publicly. I’m just never gonna do it. But I will say this: I was pleasantly surprised by how amazing her ear is. Her ear is on point. Even when she’s not trying, that instrument is right. She definitely is a pop diva for a reason.
PGN: She has a reason to be a little catty, is what you’re saying.
FD: No! I’m not saying that! That’s what you got out of that? [Laughs.]
PGN: What do you remember most from performing at drag clubs and gay bars?
FD: All the makeup tips I picked up. All the wardrobe tricks I’ve learned. My friends from back then. I don’t miss the struggling part! [Laughs.] But even then maybe — those days of being in that grind and me and my college friends not being able to afford to fly home for the holidays, so we all put our money together to go grocery shopping and I cooked a big holiday dinner for everyone. Then it was, “Well, let me go sing with the gay boys tonight so I can make a couple of dollars real quick” — because you know the gay boys tip at the drag bar! [Laughs.]
PGN: You were among a bunch of drag queens. Did anyone ever mistake you for one?
FD: They didn’t. I think that’s why I made so many tips, because I was the only real girl and I was the only performer not lip-syncing. So I’m really thankful for that. I still keep in touch with a lot of drag queens in D.C. The gay community in D.C. is really what started this whole performing at gay Prides and all that. It’s been an amazing journey.
PGN: After performing on reality shows and doing “Rent” on Broadway, how does it feel to be releasing your debut single and album?
FD: It’s amazing how the universe works. There was a time when I just thought, I don’t want to feel unfulfilled and bitter, so maybe I should give up on the recording thing and be really thankful that I’m a Broadway star and just do the theater thing. There was a moment where I had given up on this, and then I’m singing at a gay club and the casting director for “The Voice” is in the audience having drinks and then I’m on “The Voice” and this whole other window of opportunity opens up that I never even expected.
PGN: What can we expect from the upcoming album and your debut single?
FD: It’s gonna be dance-pop and the first single is called “Love’s Got a Hold on Me.” It was written by Janice Robinson and I’m really excited about it. I shot a video for it with Brian Friedman as the co-director and choreographer. A lot of people know Brian from his work with Britney Spears and he’s a creative director for “X Factor.” Brian jumped on board because he believed in me enough to be like, “Yeah, I’m gonna bring in the dancers and make it fierce for you.”
PGN: Is the whole album dance-pop or just the single?
FD: The single is dance-pop and most of the album will be dance music. But, of course, I’m gonna throw in a power ballad or two! I have to. Knowing me and my gay boys, there will probably be dance remixes of even the ballads. [Laughs.]
PGN: Are you going to get Christina on the album?
FD: I’d love to do that, if she’ll do it.
PGN: Is there pressure to stay in the closet on shows like “American Idol” or “The Voice”?
FD: Not at all. I didn’t feel any pressure to not be out when I was on those shows. In all honesty, some of the people who’ve been most successful on those shows have been members of the LGBT community. Look at Adam Lambert — and America loved Beverly [McClellan] and loved Vicci [Martinez], so I didn’t feel any pressure at all. I can’t really speak for “Idol” because I didn’t stay on the show long enough to really have a fair comparison between “Idol” and “The Voice,” but I can speak from my experience on “The Voice,” and I can say they were very welcoming to LGBT contestants. I don’t think anyone there felt pressure to not be open about who they are. And that was an amazing experience. Who would’ve thought 10 years after being on “Idol” that I’d be singing “Lady Marmalade” on national TV with Christina Aguilera?
PGN: So you’re glad things worked out the way they did? No hard feelings against “Idol”?
FD: You can’t waste your time on regrets, because they’re just the past crippling you in the present. If there was a button we could push to change the past, then that would be a different conversation, but that button doesn’t exist, so you have to walk away with all the lessons that you could’ve possibly learned and move forward and try to be better in the future. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m really thankful for the woman that I’m evolving into, and I’m really thankful for all the good in my life. Had something back then happened differently, who knows where I would’ve been today.