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Todrick Hall is living the cliché “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
After being eliminated from the ninth season of American Idol in 2010, Hall took his talents to YouTube. His elaborate music videos featuring his memorable songs have received over 200 million views. The production value is phenomenal, with fantastic choreography, costumes, editing, lyrics and make-up. How does he do it?
Unfortunately the new MTV show Todrick won’t tell you. The half-hour series purports to take viewers behind the scenes as Hall creates these videos but really it just scratches the surface. In the premiere, Hall and his crew put together “Who Let the Freaks Out,” a send up of infamous celebrity moments. In the second episode, Hall returns to his hometown of Arlington, Texas, to film a video called “Haterz.” It’s an “anthem for the kids that are underdogs” and celebrates all the people who helped him through his tough time in high school. Hall caps off the completion of each video with a premiere party.
From the terrific opening theme song, it’s immediately evident that Hall’s sheer talent is immense. He’s got an innate gift for crafting catchy lyrics and the vocals and dance moves to bring his songs to life. He’s also an enormously likeable person. He has a legion of followers who will do anything for him: “I just love Todrick so much,” make-up artist Nicole Faulkner says. It’s easy to understand his friends’ loyalty. His upbeat attitude and enthusiasm is infectious: He breaks into song at a donut shop and gets all the patrons to sing along; he films where he doesn’t have a permit and gets away with it (“Thanks for breaking the law with me,” he gleefully shouts to his crew); he has a great sense of humor about himself (“What better place to shoot a shout-out video than a dairy farm?” he says).
When Hall returns to his hometown, he gets everyone from his former ballet teacher to his mom in on the video. He casts his brother, Shay, as the younger Todrick and even preteen Shay marvels at his sibling’s energy level. “How do you do this Todrick?” he wonders.
Hall is great inspiration and role model for celebrating who you are and being comfortable in your own skin. While back in Texas, he has a heart-to-heart with Shay about the fact that he’s gay. “I don’t want you to think there’s anything negative about that or wrong with it,” Hall tells him. “It’s not a choice. It is just part of who I am. As long as you’re a good person, I think that’s what matters.”
But what the series is missing is an authentic look at how everything actually happens. The videos seem to come together Glee-style — with intricate choreography and clever lyrics almost appearing out of nowhere. How does Hall afford all of this? Does he scout for locations? Is coming up with the lyrics to the songs difficult? What about the choreography? The press notes say that they produce these videos “while balancing side jobs to pay the bills,” but those jobs aren’t evident in the first two episodes made available for review. Perhaps MTV didn’t think their target demographic would want to really see how the sausage is made, but what Hall pulls off is kind of amazing. I would have loved a more in-depth look at how it all happens.
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