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November 9, 2023 49 mins


Laverne has a fun catch-up sesh with her good friend Broadway supertalent Alex Newell. This year, Alex was one of the two gender nonconforming actors to ever win a Tony. They got theirs for their show-stopping performance as Lulu in the hit new musical Shucked. They walk Laverne through their rise to the Broadway stage, their unusual anatomy which plays a big role in their incredible voice, what’s next on their calendar, and most importantly, the crucial role The Fresh Prince of Bel Air had in their life. 


“ I'm not going to hold y'all because it's hot in here. I have wanted this my entire life. I thank each and every one of you in this room right now. And mommy, I love you. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for loving me unconditionally. Thank you for teaching me what strength is. To my entire building and cast and crew of Shucked, you are my rock. I love you all. Thank you for seeing me, Broadway. I should not be up here as a queer, non binary, fat, black, little baby from Massachusetts. To anyone that thinks that they can't do it, I'm going to look you dead in your face that you can do ANYTHING you put your mind to.”

Please rate, review, subscribe and share The Laverne Cox Show with everyone you know. You can find Laverne on Instagram and Twitter @LaverneCox and on Facebook at @LaverneCoxForReal.

As always, stay in the love.


Links of Interest:

Alex Singing “Independently Owned” on The Voice Finale (2023) 

Alex’s Audition for The Glee Project Singing “And I Am Telling You

The Glee Project

Alex Singing "I Am Changing" at 18 (credit Luciano Ferreiro)

Alex Singing “I Am Changing” at 22 (with Boston Gay Men’s Chorus)

Alex Singing “I Am Changing” at 29 (for Broadway Celebrates Juneteenth) (credit Shoshana Medney / bwaySHO)

The Broadway League

Alex Vocal Range (YouTube)

“Independently Owned” (Official Video) | Shucked

Alex in Once on This Island, “Mama Will Provide” (2018 Tony Awards)

Nell Carter

Jennifer Holliday

Black Music Archive

Alex Singing One of Producer Brooke’s Favorite Songs Ever


Other Episodes Mentioned or Relevant:

Overcoming Trauma Through Art w/ Billy Porter

Opera & Diva Worship w/ Ira Siff



Executive Producers: Sandie Bailey, Alex Alcheh, Lauren Hohman, Tyler Klang & Gabrielle Collins

Producer & Editor: Brooke Peterson-Bell

Associate Producer: Akiya McKnight

See for privacy information.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to the Laverne Cox Show, a production of Shondaland
Audio in partnership with iHeartRadio.

Speaker 2 (00:09):
No notes, no notes.

Speaker 3 (00:13):
Notes, fuck, yes, absolutely, okay, work, I did that.

Speaker 2 (00:19):
I did that, and I know I did that because
Jennifer Holiday looked at me and said, I sat there
and cried when I watched.

Speaker 1 (00:27):
You saying that.

Speaker 3 (00:33):
Hello everyone, and welcome to the Laverne Cox Show. My
name is Laverne Cox. I am so excited about today's conversation.
Alex Newle is a dear friend of mine who I
haven't gotten to sit down and chat with in a
really long time, so this will partly be a catch up.

And I'm also a tremendous, tremendous fan. We met at
the GLAD Awards in twenty fourteen. Alex came up to
me and just introduced themselves and was so sweet, and
I was aware of their work, of course, and then somehow,
some way, a video of Alex singing with the Gay
Men's Chorus of Boston popped up on my YouTube feed,

and then I became utterly obsessed with Alex and Alex's
insane voice, insane vocals like amazing, amazing, amazing voice. I
really believe Alex Nowell is one of the best singers
working today. And I'm just so happy for Alex and
so proud of Alex, and we're going.

Speaker 1 (01:38):
To get into all of that today.

Speaker 3 (01:41):
So for those of you who don't know, Alex Newell
first grabbed our attension on the small screen and Fox's
critically acclaimed series Glee as transgender student waigde Unique Adams.
They made history this year as the first non binary
identifying actor to be nominated for a Best Featured Actor
Tony Award, and went on to win that Tony Award

for their amazing performance in the Broadway musical Shucked, I
Mean Standing Ovations Girl every single Night. Alex was first
seen on Broadway in twenty seventeen in the revival of
Once on This Island and was a fan favorite in
the hit TV show Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist, which garnered Alex
a Critics Choice Award nomination. Please enjoy My Conversation with

the one and only Alex Newell.

Speaker 1 (02:34):
This episode was recorded prior to the SAG After Strike.

Speaker 3 (02:39):
Hello Alex Newell, Welcome to the podcast. How are you
feeling today, girl?

Speaker 2 (02:44):
I'm great? How are you, my dear I'm.

Speaker 3 (02:47):
Good, and I'm really really excited to be chatting with you.
So I saw a shucked last week finally, and you
were amazing. You just won a Tony and your Tony
Award winning acceptance speech.

Speaker 1 (03:01):
I'm I'm tearing up right now.

Speaker 2 (03:03):
It's super strange because one, I hate a prepared speech,
and so I was just I wanted to be in
the moment, and I just wanted to let life be
what life was in that moment and feel everything because
even up until my name was called, it could have
been anybody's, it could have been anybody's. And I mean
that truly when I say that, I truly was not

supposed to be up there. I wasn't supposed to win this.
The path to this wasn't conventional, it wasn't the way
that I envisioned it was going to be. And then
on top of that, being who I am and what
I am that walks this earth each day, there's not
always space for me, and to have to carve that

space out was even bigger in that moment because it
did actually happen.

Speaker 1 (03:51):
Yeah, I think that's why it's so emotional for me.

Speaker 3 (03:54):
Obviously, we've been friends for years and I've been a
fan for years, and I just for me, it's just
a testimony to what talent that your talent is just
so big that it transcends all of the supposed limitations.
The talent is so undeniable that you've just transcended. And

that is like part of why I love you so much,
part of why I think your story is so insanely
inspiring and I'm just so happy and excited. And it
was just there was history. There was another gender non
conforming actor, Jay from Some Like It Hot, who also
won a Tony that night, But in your speech you

because I remember we had lunch in twenty fifteen at
the Whole House in Los Angeles, and I was shocked
when you told me that you applied to all these
conservatories and did not get into any one of them.
And I just can you talk to me about that process.
I mean this voice that you have, this talent, that
it's the voice, but it's the presence. To me, it

seems like it would always be undeniable. What was that
experience like for you not getting accepted anywhere with this
talent back then?

Speaker 2 (05:09):
It was completely disheartening because you are told to your
face how talented you are, and you are working as
a professional actor at the time, and I was truly
literally on Glee at the same time, and it's just like, yeah,
it made sense to get into these schools because I
was quite literally already successful. But there was something about

not getting in that I was just like, am I
not talented? Am I not good enough? Am I not?
And then, now, being older, I know that it had
nothing to do with that. It was where do we
put this kid? But back then, when you're seventeen eighteen
years old, you're just like, I'm not talented. I'm literally untalented.

Speaker 3 (05:51):
And I think that's a really interesting thing to sort
of book mark or to note that, like so much
of it's about how can we cast? Yes, much of
a getting into a school is like who can we
cast in the Spring you know musical and the Fall Musical,
and you should have been playing Fie and you should
have been doing what you're doing now, but they didn't

have the vision for that. So at the same time,
you were doing the Glee project, and so I didn't
know that you submitted a video through MySpace Girl. MySpace
take us back to submitting an audition tape and how
old were you when Glee Project happened?

Speaker 2 (06:28):
I was when I did that tape. You know, my mother,
when I was younger, I was held back twice, so
I was already older than every one in my class.
No matter what nine to eleven happened. Mother's like, you're
the fourth grade, let's go back to third grade. And
I was just like, okay, sure. And then we changed schools.
School I started at they started at the fifth grade,
even though I was the sixth grade. She was like,
I guess you're going back to fifth grade. It won't hurt.

And I was just like, ah, I'm old. So I
did that tape the beginning of my junior year in
high school.

Speaker 1 (06:55):
So you would have been sixteen or seventeen.

Speaker 2 (06:58):
I was eighteen. Were I was eighteen because it'd be
eighteen to submit, So you're eighteen.

Speaker 1 (07:04):
What did you saying on your audition tape? Do you remember?

Speaker 2 (07:06):
I sang and I am telling you in our auditorium
in my school uniform, Polo Khakis center stage and just
screaming the song to the backist of Rose. And you know,
it's strange because that video went viral. Essentially at that time,

it was because you could upload your submissions onto the MySpace.
Dear god, it was so long ago, and people would
watch them and vote on them, and I got over
like a million likes and views and all of that things.
And to be honest, I was this close, like very
very close to not have been on the Glee Project
at all, because when I got the confirmation email about

coming out to audition and be called back for this show,
I thought it was a scam. Why because it just
it was just so out of the blue. It was
just like, pop, hey, we saw your online submission. We
want you to fly out to Los Angeles. We'll pay
for it. The hotel will pay for it. Please confirm.

And I was like, that's a scam. So I deleted it.
But then they kept pestering me. They kept following up,
and I was just like, well, clear that this is
kind of real.

Speaker 3 (08:19):
Okay, thank god you went hello yes, And then you
didn't win the Glee Project, which is fascinating for they
were so moved by the talent that they were like,
let's give you a few episodes, and a few episodes
turned into three seasons.

Speaker 2 (08:38):
The season, three, four, five, and six. Yeah, four seasons.

Speaker 1 (08:42):
Four seasons on Glee, which was life changing.

Speaker 3 (08:45):
The world got to know you, got to know unique
there was this gender non conforming trans character on primetime television.
It was so groundbreaking in so many incredible ways.

Speaker 1 (08:57):
And most of us who know you know that.

Speaker 3 (08:59):
But I want to go back a little bit because
in your speech at the Tony's you mentioned your mom
was there sitting next to you, and I remember, I
think I met your mom at once in this island
of premiere. Now your mom is there, and you grew
up in the church in Lynn, Massachusetts, and you were
this church going kid who.

Speaker 1 (09:20):
Was always you right and with this voice.

Speaker 3 (09:24):
And can you talk a little bit about your journey
in the church, your mother, and then your gender non conformity,
because I don't know if I've really heard you.

Speaker 1 (09:32):
Maybe you've talked about this, but girl, what's the team?

Speaker 2 (09:36):
Well, one thing about my mother always gave me space
to be whoever the hell I wanted to be. She
always led with quite literally as the Bible teaches you,
to lead with love and to have compassion and to
love your neighbor as your own self. And I'm a
shaney bitch most days, but that is where my gaze
of life is. It's that of love and.

Speaker 1 (09:59):
The gaz of life.

Speaker 4 (10:01):

Speaker 2 (10:03):
So my mother growing up in church, like church for
my family was that of community. I lived in predominantly
white schools all my life, but like church was community.
Like I call my mom's friends there, all of my
aunts and uncles like those are my family members, not
just church members that I know.

Speaker 3 (10:21):
So your church was black church, right, Just to be clear,
I remember you even know the schools were predominantly white
school yes, okay.

Speaker 2 (10:28):
And so they're all of my aunts and my uncles,
and like true family members. We don't just see each
other on Sunday. We saw each other through the week.
They would babysit me. So that was my relationship. It
wasn't until our pastor had died, Reverend Murray, who was
I love that man. If I asked for a dollar,
he would give me a dollar. I was a spoiled,
rotten child. But so he passed away and we got

a new pastor. And you know, with every change of regime,
everybody has their own ideologies and their own feelings and
how they interpret the Bible. And as I would get older,
I would see how this one passed to would treat
me as I came out more and was more expressive,
and then he would bring in people that would have

that same ideology that my lifestyle was wrong, something was
wrong with me. I was sinning all of.

Speaker 1 (11:18):
That and specifically you are just in general.

Speaker 2 (11:23):
Well, there wasn't anyone else like me at church. So
it was pointed. It was pointed. And I remember one time,
because everyone loved me at that church, there were two
specifical moments. One time, one of the associate pastors got
in the pulpit and was towing the line of homosexuality
is a sin and they were going to hell. And

I remember no one in the church made a peep.
They didn't say amen, they didn't agree with They just
said And I think he was reprimanded by some of
the elders in the church and said that we don't
do that here. That's something we don't do. So and

my mother said that she had a private conversation with
a pastor at that time. And you know, when I sing,
the Holy Ghost shows up. That's my ministry. And I
know that well about me.

Speaker 3 (12:18):
Now, when did you start singing in church and singing
in the choir? I'm assuming there were solos early on,
but yeah.

Speaker 2 (12:23):
There were always solos. I was from the time that
I could speak, when I was two, And you know,
I thought that people hated how I sounded because they
kept crying and every time I would sing, everyone was
sobbing their eyes out, and I was just like, I
sound awful. But I just realized as I got older
that that was their way of showing how much they
loved it, and I helped them have this cathartic moment

and brought them closer to God while singing.

Speaker 3 (12:49):
So your first experience is singing. Just to pause on
your first experience is singing two years old. I know
the State Fair story, which is the gorgeous You saw
somebody on stage at the State Bear when I, you know,
left your mom and went up on stage and like
started singing.

Speaker 1 (13:03):
That's genius. And so your first experience is singing in church.

Speaker 3 (13:06):
People were crying, yeah, because they're so moved by the
beauty of the voice. So once you realize that you
gave people a holy ghost and people saw God through
you and you were able to process that, how did
that change your life to understand that that it was
a gift or did you understand that it was a gift?

Speaker 1 (13:24):
How was like didn't.

Speaker 2 (13:25):
I never knew it was a gift, And sometimes I
think that's the best to not take it for granted.
So you're just using it in its pure sense. Like
I loved singing. I still loved singing, and so for
me it was joy and I loved getting to do
what I knew how to do so well. And my
gift giving was actually me receiving it as well. I

too got to experience my gift in that sense.

Speaker 1 (13:52):
That's that's incredible, that's incredible.

Speaker 3 (13:55):
So was there a certain points before auditioning for Glee
project or was there a point where you were like, oh,
maybe I got something.

Speaker 1 (14:02):
Maybe I'm slaying, maybe I'm turning it.

Speaker 3 (14:04):
Because I mean, even the repertoire, even the boldness as
of sixteen, seventeen, eighteen year old to take on Effie's singing,
to take on these roll, these songs, this is the
biggest I mean, Fie is like the biggest, probably most
difficult Broadway roll besides Phantom, right, yea of the opera
to sing and so to like the audacity, I mean,

so girl, you had to know something just to even like,
well I did.

Speaker 1 (14:31):
What did someone tell you girl? You should sing? Fie?

Speaker 2 (14:33):
No, I just had the gumption. Well, I just had
the gall and the gumption and the audacity. I really did.
I heard the song Here's Prior on the Fresh Prince
of bel Air where Will is lip syncing and I'm
telling you, and I was like, what's that song? And
then I'm down this rabbit hole of Jennifer Holiday and

dream Girls and just a whole new world of diaspora
is in front of me.

Speaker 1 (14:59):
How old were you?

Speaker 2 (15:00):
I couldn't have been more than like eleven or twelve.

Speaker 1 (15:03):
Oh my god.

Speaker 3 (15:04):
So for Alex Newell to discover Jennifer Holiday and Dreamgirls
at eleven years old feels like a really is life
changing Yeah, give it all, life changing moment.

Speaker 2 (15:17):
Yes, and I and that's if there is one musical
that I know from bookend to bookend, it is dream Girls.
I know everything about it. And then when the movie
came out on Christmas Day that year, I said We're going.
I said, forget about Christmas, We're going to the movie theater.
Immediately post hastetalling, we have to see the film.

Speaker 1 (15:37):
I love, love, love this.

Speaker 2 (15:38):
But then it's on top of that, it's like Jennifer Holiday,
Neil Carter, even the Dame of Billy Porter, all of
these voices that I've looked up to. That's when the
wakening of like wanting to do theater, wanting to sing professionally.
I think that's when I thought that I had the gumption.
I was like, if they can do it, so can I.
Let's get this ball rolling.

Speaker 1 (15:58):
Amazing. So oh, I love that you mentioned Neil Carter
and it's so funny. I was.

Speaker 3 (16:03):
I remember I was sharing a video of you singing
I'm random black Girl and my make d you know, Dajah,
this is years ago, and Daja was like, I hear
Neil car, little Neil Carter in there, and I Nail
Cars from my hometown of Mobile, Alabama. I'm a huge
Neil Carter fan, and I hear Neil in your voice,
and so I just love I mean, every the Jennifer Holiday,

you know, references are clear, but the Neil Carter.

Speaker 2 (16:27):
Yes sang in the nasal.

Speaker 1 (16:30):
Yeah, it's so beautiful, such a beautiful sound that Neil
Carter had.

Speaker 2 (16:34):
I remember watching the PBS special of Dateless Behavin and
that's what really made me want to do musical theater.
And then my mother was just like, oh, you know,
to high school with her.

Speaker 1 (16:45):
I said, huh, your mother went to high school with
Neil Carter.

Speaker 2 (16:48):
She was a senior when my mother was coming in
as a freshman.

Speaker 1 (16:52):
And she is your mother from Alabama?

Speaker 2 (16:54):
Or yeah, my both of my darents are from Alabama.
My mother's from Birmingham and my father's were just Lousa.

Speaker 1 (17:01):
You didn't know that. I did not know this, you know,
from Obile. Yeah, I know.

Speaker 2 (17:06):
But when my father died. When my father died when
I was six, my mother would send me the Alabama
each and every summer. So from the time that I
was that's another thing. Being a church in the south
versus being in church in the city, two different things.
But oh yes, each and every year just in Cottondale, Alabama,
each summer, from the time that I was like oh

til I was like seventeen.

Speaker 1 (17:28):
I never ever knew this. And what I.

Speaker 3 (17:32):
Think is important to just also just underline is how
like I was a person who grew up with a
lot of shame and trauma and I did not feel
that unconditional love from my mom. And it sounds like
you had it always, and not only from her, but
from your church community. The audacity for them to say
we don't do that here we were not. That is

so utterly transformative, and so then you can go into
the world with a sense of worthiness. You can go
into the world as as a gender non conforming person
with a sense of worthiness that you have a right
to be here. Obviously there's talent too, but even beyond
the talent, a lot of you have talent but don't
have that sense of worthiness, and so this makes the

difference in terms of entering the world. And I just
always want to emphasize that to like parents too, and
you can get that later. If you didn't have that
as a child, you can. It's never too late to
have a happy childhood. But for you to be your
age and even in your twenties, with the success that
you had on Glee and then Zoe's Extraordinary Playlist and

then your Broadway debut, and now being I believe you're thirty,
how do you disclosure your age?

Speaker 2 (18:43):
I'm just thirty, You're just thirty.

Speaker 3 (18:45):
Okay, so you're thirty years old and just wanted to
own your first Tony Award.

Speaker 1 (18:50):
That is incredible. That is fucking incredible. This is a
good time to take a little break.

Speaker 3 (19:06):
We're back, so love from the family, love from the community.
So you had not study voice formally, is what I've
read before the Glee project. You were just singing in church,
in choirs and school. There's a video of you. Do
you have like a little scarf us you're wearing a

suit if you're super young?

Speaker 1 (19:28):
Do you know how old you were in that video
you sing I'm changing.

Speaker 2 (19:31):
Ah, I was most likely eighteen.

Speaker 1 (19:33):
Yes, so you're eighteen, And what's fascinating to me.

Speaker 3 (19:37):
The voice is stunningly beautiful, but if you build a song,
so without any vocal training, you understood how to start
quietly and to build a song, and then there's just
there was so much support, and there was so much
seeming technique. There was a forward placement, there was a

little bit of a twang, there's rain.

Speaker 2 (20:00):
How do you it's truly mimicking. I think a lot
of my pre knowing what I'm doing now with a
lot of money now to have impeccable technique, But back
then I think it was really me just trying to
make it sound exactly like I remember hearing it and
really pushing myself to knowing what that is. And at

the time I was eighteen, so I was still in
a private school, taking concert choir with my choral teacher,
and him really stressing all the things even though he
didn't know the voice technique and all of that stuff,
but he knew the quality that he wanted and how
to structure a good song. But it is it was
making myself sound like Barbar Streison, or trying to make

the grouse sound the same as Jennifer Holiday, or making
sure I had that nice and nasally forward placement like
Nel Carter because that's how the notes come out easier.
So I think it was a lot.

Speaker 3 (20:58):
Of that, And then I think that thing is had
to be playing around with all that without a voice
feature and not hurt yourself. Yeah, were there moments when
you would experiment and it'd be like, this doesn't feel right,
like in terms of strain, because these chords are very delicate.

Speaker 2 (21:12):
I never had like, yeah, I lost my voice, like
any person would lose their voice, but like I never
really worried about it because it was so particular when
I was younger. I can't stress it enough. When I
was younger, before life and gravity hits your vocal cords
and changes your voice, it was always so verily easy

and effortless, like if you think I'm singing effortlessly now,
back then, when I was a child and those o
our bands, that rubberbanding down there, it was so easy.

Speaker 3 (21:43):
I remember when we talked it at lunch, you talked
about when puberty hit and your voice. Presumably you were
signed mail at birth, I think we can say. And
so for most folks to sign mail at birth, when
puberty happens, the voice dropped.

Speaker 1 (21:59):
So did that have been for you?

Speaker 2 (22:02):
Fully? Not?

Speaker 1 (22:03):
So? Bless your heart?

Speaker 3 (22:06):
So so what was your There was no I hate you?
It did not mine did So you didn't have a
voice drop? No, not at all?

Speaker 2 (22:18):
No, So no, what happened was I let's talk about it.
The anatomy of my vocal box is already mutated. Okay,
so that's really what it truly is. It's everything is smaller,
compactor and narrower and mimics not exactly, but mimics and
looks like that of a female voice box. Our vocal cords.

Speaker 1 (22:41):
You've been scoped, yes.

Speaker 2 (22:43):
We've looked at it. They're smaller, they're shorter, and there's
like this little you that's normally like a wider you.
But mine is an upright view, that makes everything more smaller,
and then I have some tissue that makes even more
narrower that is kind of mutated on top of the
vocal cords, so it's like a little bump in front

of the vocal cords, which makes it even smaller. So
it makes everything that much higher as.

Speaker 3 (23:08):
Well, a bump in front of that, so like the
false vocal folds or smaller. Is that when yeah, wow, oh,
this is so fascinating.

Speaker 2 (23:18):
So it's a blessing and a curse because I have
to push twice as much air out and even when
I'm in my legitimate there's always just a little bit
of a hiss back there because it's literally my air
just gasping out.

Speaker 3 (23:31):
What's interesting to me when I move my voice because
I you know, I'm a student of the voice, and
I'm very fascinated by vocal pedagogy. And my voice teacher,
who is a male soprano, Madam Iris Eiff, was a
tenor and then sort of transitioned into a soprano. And
what Iris says is that to form like a head
voice for someone to signed male at birth who doesn't

have you know, your vocal structure, is that for the
head voice that a little bit of air has to
pass through to just to make it easy and make Yeah.

Speaker 2 (24:04):
But when I when my voice changed, I would give
Mariah a run for her money.

Speaker 3 (24:10):
There was a change there, but it wasn't like a drop, No,
it was not. So when it changed, I just lost
whistle tones. But I heard you as an adult with
whistle tones. Where's to stay your whistle tones now? Because girl,
we've heard I've heard above, I see I've heard g
there's literally a video of you singing I think a
G seven on because there's Alex to do a vocal

range videos on YouTube.

Speaker 1 (24:34):
A lot of them have been taken down.

Speaker 2 (24:36):
I think I'm the one taking them down. I don't
want the expectation that I'm going to be out here
to give whistle tones.

Speaker 3 (24:42):
Or whistle tones are iffing, even for Mariah she in
her prime. Some days it just you know, it wasn't there.

Speaker 2 (24:49):
Just doesn't come out. And that's where I'm at now. Yeah, okay, yes,
some days I'll wake up and I call it a
healthy day because I don't have them. And then on
those sad damage days, I'm just like, well, I guess
I have whistle tones, but it is it's temperamental. Like
some days, my chords are to pristine to do whistle tones.
They're relaxed and there there's no swelling anywhere. There's They're

just there.

Speaker 3 (25:11):
So for you, a whistle is about a little bit
of swelling your whistle. For me, that on the Tonies
when you're saying, Mama will provide. On the Tonys, it's
so big, there's such a it's such a big sound.

Speaker 2 (25:21):
That was I think. I was so i by the
time I did that Tony performance, I was on so
much steroids. I was on xenix. I was just I was.
I had just been thrown all through the ringer throughout
that entire show, where it felt like I was carrying
this show on my back. I was doing all the press,

I was doing all the shows. I wasn't calling out.
I was running around doing Broadway in the Park, Broadway
in the Alley, Broadway bars, Broadway bears like, Broadway Under
the Stars, Broadway Broadway. I was just like, I can't
do anymore and zero zero reward. I was nominated for Tony,
wasn't nominated for a drama desk. I wasn't drama dated

for many things that season and it was just like,
all right, let's just get on the stage and sing
for Grandma.

Speaker 1 (26:13):
And saying for the god Tonning. You sang for the
god Tonning. You wore it out, girl.

Speaker 2 (26:19):
I think I was just so tired, and that whistle
tone was kind of just like my last goah. I
was just like, well, I'm singing, let's go and just
keep going.

Speaker 1 (26:31):
Yes, bitch, you did it in performances too.

Speaker 3 (26:34):
There were videos of Mama to provide the way you
did it in performances as well, and it's just it's beautiful.

Speaker 1 (26:39):
So we talked last week about Shocked versus.

Speaker 3 (26:42):
Once on This Island, which was written for someone else,
and obviously Lulu was written espressly for you, so that
run it sounds like once on This Island was whether
that was a strenuous number for you or is it
just not getting rest?

Speaker 2 (26:55):
It was everything all of that. It was not getting
enough for rest, being in my twenties and thinking that
I could go out and and then come and do
my show the very next day. For met Today, it
was the sand, being in that sand all the time
and just breathing it in and constantly getting sick and
hiding and never being able to get truly well, or
the animals and the pet dander that was always around,

or you know, there was a myriad of things that
was just like fighting me at every juncture. I was like,
I got bronchitis four times during that run, and I
was just like, is this where I die bronchitis?

Speaker 1 (27:29):
When you have to sing that number? Like, yes, that
is not.

Speaker 2 (27:33):
And it was saying for someone else. And on top
of that, it's the expectation of the two great fucking
women that came before me to do that role. I'm
singing Keisha Lewis's song that Lilyus White took up a
whole half step and sang down, and so that expectation
of walking into work.

Speaker 1 (27:50):
I think you added a run though that they didn't
do that.

Speaker 3 (27:52):
I think that, yes, whoa, that's an Alex Newall.

Speaker 2 (27:57):
Yeah, that was me. That was the one stemp that
I had because I was like, what vocal health do
I have to do this clissando up seamlessly because there
might have been danced and said whoa or whoo. So
I said, how could I maneuver this? I know for
me that I will get up to that.

Speaker 1 (28:16):
I f mm hmm, it makes sense.

Speaker 3 (28:19):
I mean, singing a high note as part of a
scale is a lot easier than just hitting in a gossando, which.

Speaker 2 (28:28):
Is stupid because I do with glissando in my song.
Now at the very end, can.

Speaker 3 (28:33):
You talk a little bit about the difference between the run,
because as far as I know, you always hit the
run and mom will provide the glissando, and independently owned
is more.

Speaker 1 (28:43):
It's trickier for you. Do you know why that is
for you?

Speaker 2 (28:46):
There are two reasons. One it's I have just come
out of the phrase of these long held notes I
do celebrated, and there's not really breath there. So by
the time I get to you and I live my life,

I'm already at my breath capacity. And the other thing
is I can't say musically and I live my love
because that's that's a break, or I can't do and
I live my life. I wish I could, but that
breath makes it less impressive.

Speaker 3 (29:28):
And it just Yeah, thessando is part of a bigger
phrase that's ye live my life.

Speaker 2 (29:37):
But then you have to hold You have to hold
the life for two beats before you can slide up
because the court underneath the piano hasn't changed yet. Wow,
because if you just go straight through the gossando you
sound flex girl.

Speaker 1 (29:54):
WHOA okay? Wow?

Speaker 3 (29:57):
At what point did you start working with vocal coaches
and cultivating with someone the gift?

Speaker 1 (30:04):
You know? How did that change your voice?

Speaker 3 (30:06):
How did that change your understanding of singing when you
started actually taking voice lessons?

Speaker 2 (30:12):
So I have a great voice coach now, Mike Ruccles brilliance.
He really helped me through months in this island because
I kept hitting the wall. I kept hitting the wall,
and I was just like, I can't make it. I'm
not making it. And you know, I was young and
stupid and I was never calling out. So he he's
looked at me one day and said, you're working too hard.

You are out here singing far too hard. Less, give
less and then take a step back. You don't have
to be impressive every single show because what you're doing
in itself is already impressive.

Speaker 1 (30:49):

Speaker 3 (30:51):
So it's the I need to let them know, you know,
every single night, and learning how to what Lantine price.
My operatic idol says on your interest, not your capital,
So you learned to sing on your interests, not your capital,
so that you could have something left over. And what
was interesting about last week's performance of Independently Owned So

I've I'm upset, I'm obsessed with you singing independently owns
So what we have the cast recording that's on YouTube,
when you're in the recording studio where you bitch work,
it's just iconic. We had the voice. Oh girl, you
slay the voice. You should get an Emmy nomination for that.
Hell you, we need to get her in egop. Slay

that and the growls and the grunts, right, and then
we hurt churture at the Tony's And then there's other
videos of you know, bootleg or people recorded things from
the audience or whatever. And then what was so beautiful
for me last week hearing you was I felt you
singing on your interest and there's there's something so beautiful
that the purity of your voice. You have this growl

like there're the maturity that the voice has, but there's
still this pure or soprano, highly placed sound that is gorgeous.
And you did the slide because you'll do the that glissando.

Speaker 1 (32:11):
You'll do it.

Speaker 3 (32:11):
You do it on the recording. You slide up and
then growl at the top of it. I believe if
I'm going.

Speaker 1 (32:19):
And you growl and work.

Speaker 3 (32:21):
But last week they're what you The slide happened, but
there was less of a growl, and so there was
What was beautiful about it is that the purely pureness
of the tone at the top right. And maybe it
was you like saying, I'm not gonna give everything tonight,
but it was also what I loved as just a
fan of your voice and a fan of just beautiful singing.

Speaker 1 (32:42):
Is that tone. There's a beautiful soprano sound that you
have that I'm you know, I want you to sing opera.

Speaker 3 (32:49):
We've talked about this, but we got to hear that
beautiful sound and in the duets as well. And the
acting is so beautiful in your performance as well, and
there's just so much heart and you're hilarious, and it's
just beautiful to watch the growth that you've had as
an actor from Glee Once on This Island is always

extraordinary playlist which you were actually were wonderful. You got
a Quittic's Choice nomination for Lways Extraordinary play. This beautiful
acting on that show and just to see the growth
as also as an actor is really wonderful. Can you
talk a little bit about the relationship. For you as
a musical theater artist, building the character into song, like
musical theater is like you're telling the story in so

many different ways with the voice, with characterization, and the physicality.
Lulu has a very specific physicality that's gorgeous.

Speaker 4 (33:40):
That she does.

Speaker 2 (33:43):
So you know, for me, it's always the ground up.
I had someone to ask me when I was doing
a Christmas Carol, how do you get into character? And
I say, I think I start by quite literally molding
how they walk? How did they hold themselves when they're
just walking. And I have the mindset of how they're walking,

I'm in it. And so that's why Vulu's walk is
so distinct, Like anytime I step foot on that stage,
that bitch is stomping because she has some place to go.
And you know, the costume helps with the corset. But
I want the singing and the acting to be so seamless.
I want to be second nature. I don't want it
to be like I'm talking now and now I'm gonna sing.

I want to be Oh, I'm happy to sing right now.

Speaker 1 (34:30):
Yeah. Yeah. And there's a great analysis.

Speaker 3 (34:33):
There's a wonderful channel called black Music Archive where they
do an analysis of your independently owner and if you've
seen that video and Malik talks about how is written
kind of in your speaking voice. It sort of starts there,
so when you start, it's coming out of dialogue and
then you're kind of it's like talk singing, but your
talk singing is very way higher than a lot of people, and.

Speaker 1 (34:54):
So it sort of comes out of that.

Speaker 3 (34:56):
So it's beautiful to have something written for you, like,
can you talk a little bit about like the evolution
of independently owned in terms of when you got the
role and how the song changed or did it well?

Speaker 2 (35:08):
The ending, the whole back half of the song was
completely written for me. The first half of the song
it like it was already written. It was the same.
It was like, I'll know a change. I've always been
a w O M A N. I'm independently oh and
celebrated I'm independently Oh dada da da da da da
da da da da da and I live my life independently. Button. Wow,

that's how the song went. And it said button And
we did our out of town tryout and they heard
me singing and they said we need more.

Speaker 1 (35:47):
Well because miss thing can bring more. I mean, this
is Alex new Ole Darling. We need to have a climax.
We need to have a modulation.

Speaker 2 (35:54):
And because modulated was always there, the joke was always there.
But then our music director and Jason how it was
just like I just let's just keep and so we
were still in the room and literally just were playing
and bouncing ideas back and forth off each other, and
he was just playing chords, and you know, you wanted bigger.

There was one time that one version of the song
and I was like Jason, I literally cannot sing that
the list.

Speaker 4 (36:20):
It wasn't just modulate to celebrate Da da da da
It was but da da da da da da da
da da da da Da Da Da Da Da Da
Da da da da da da da da da da
da da da.

Speaker 2 (36:31):
And I was like Jason, I literally cannot breathe. We
need to I'll just die right on the floor. And
so we truncated it.

Speaker 3 (36:38):
But like even I have my limitations, everyone does, and
it's important to know again, to know what those limitations
are and to say that, and to say it. I
remember someone and I haven't. I didn't talk to Billy
about this, but I heard like through the grapevine when
Billy did Kinky Booths, that Billy went in and said, okay,
if you want me to do a shows a week,

and he's in this key like, this is what it
is it needs to be. And this is Billy, a
very seasoned Billy, coming in saying you know, this is
what it's got to be.

Speaker 1 (37:08):
And so knowing that for yourself is so very very important. Okay,
it's that time again. We'll be right back. We are back.
Oh my gosh, Okay, Like, okay, I have audio that

I want to share with you.

Speaker 4 (37:39):
I am.

Speaker 2 (37:41):
Sup, but I think I mean I need.

Speaker 4 (38:03):
Sing up singing so clear.

Speaker 3 (38:08):
And chi I'm ordify.

Speaker 2 (38:16):
Ill talking out and I'm not BA, but I'm.

Speaker 3 (38:29):
Up little.

Speaker 2 (38:50):
I cannot.

Speaker 3 (39:20):
Okay segment Alex is nodding. Segment this is the thing
I wanted to listen with you. So the first one
was I think you were probably eighteen or so. It
was that one with the little scarf, and then the
second one was with the Boston Gay Men's Course from
twenty fourteen, so you've been twenty two. And then the

last one was last year when you were twenty nine.
I guess at Broadway juneteenth twenty twenty two. So a
decade of you singing, I am changing and there's more
versions on the internet. So your first reactions like I
sang that, so you hear this, because like oftentimes people
are like, oh, they may have notes or they might
you know, be like, oh you know I could have
done this better.

Speaker 5 (40:00):
You're like, no, no, no, no, fuck, yes, absolutely, okay,
I did that.

Speaker 2 (40:11):
I did that, And I know I did that because
Jennifer Holiday looked at me and said, I sat there
and cried when I watched you sing that. You did
me so proud of I'm so thankful for that. She
came to see shop and she told me this in person.
She told me. She called me after it, but she
told me to me in person. She said, you honored
me and made it your own, and I love that

about you. You will pay homage to those that account
before you and still have your own twist on what
was there. And that's how I want to do any
song that's already iconic. But also that song has meant
so much for me my entire life. I mean, that's
why it's been over a decade that I've been singing it.
Not here in makeup, here hold on Oh the DNC

and I'm accepting my final award.

Speaker 3 (41:04):
Oh work, okay, So I don't want to keep you
too much longer, But can you reflect on the eighteen
year old you, the twenty two year old you, the voice.

Speaker 1 (41:13):
That you heard then, right? And then the difference is
in the maturity.

Speaker 3 (41:17):
I mean, you sound like a grown woman in twenty
twenty two, like a grown woman because I am grown now.

Speaker 5 (41:24):

Speaker 1 (41:25):
Do you feel like you slayed all of them? No?

Speaker 2 (41:27):
I mean absolutely not. I mean no eighteen year old
should be singing and changing.

Speaker 1 (41:31):
But you did, and you slayed it. There's so much
that was added to that number that you gave us.

Speaker 3 (41:37):
I think that's when I listened to all three of
them back to back, it's like this bitch has been
through some stuff that she is bringing in a whole
new way.

Speaker 1 (41:46):
That's what I hear. But what do you hear when
you listen to the three versions?

Speaker 2 (41:50):
Well, I hear the one in a sense of purity
that was there back in twenty fourteen or however long ago.
I was singing the little song, I knew none of
those words I was singing. I know what that song
was about back then. I do now know what that
song is about, because life is a bitch and it
comes hard, and you figured some shit out. But back

then it was truly just I liked singing the song,
and that was I was having fun while singing it.
And now I get to have my life lessons and
have fun singing the song, and I still can't wait
to sing it eight shows a week.

Speaker 1 (42:27):
Yeah, how are we manifesting Fie for you?

Speaker 3 (42:30):
I mean, I know it's been on your bucket list forever,
so it's gonna happen. We've been man if you've been
manifesting it your whole life, and it will. I know
it will happen on God's time, not our time. Oh,
Alex Knewell the Tony Award winning Out of Circle Critics
Drama Death Award winning.

Speaker 2 (42:49):
Oh, I just handed me everything this time. They had
to be nothing the last time. This time they said
take it off.

Speaker 1 (42:54):
So what's next? What's the dream now?

Speaker 2 (42:57):
I mean a vacation, Oh, well, deserved vacation.

Speaker 5 (43:04):
I've never well.

Speaker 2 (43:05):
I took my first vacation last year for my thirtieth
birthday and it was only for four days. So it's time.
But we sit and we talked about all the amazing
things I've done. I've never gotten to take a break.
I've constantly been working NonStop and I'm very blessed and
fortunate that i had this opportunity to do such. But

it is time to take a step back and like,
actually appreciate all the hard work I've done.

Speaker 3 (43:34):
Yeah, and I think what I love about There's so
many things I love about you. I mean, I just
love pure talent excites me. Amazing singing excites me, but
cultivating the talent. A lot of people are gifted and
talented and have voices, but you have really cultivated and studied.
And even before you had voice teachers, you studied, right,
you studied, now, Carter, you studied, and so there's different

ways to study.

Speaker 1 (43:58):
And that's what I love. And I remember we're talking
to you in twenty fifteen.

Speaker 3 (44:02):
I was just like, this is it is a gift
from God that you have and it is and it's
rare for singers to be able to maintain their voices
over decades. And this is my dream for you that
you know, at seventy you're giving us everything that you
can do.

Speaker 2 (44:17):
I will still be Pat Lavelle when I'm seventy eight. Yes, ma'am,
I'm going to be Patricia Labille. She is still out
here singing the girls now.

Speaker 3 (44:24):
Amen, and I still want using some offer two. But
you know, if you feel so called, so to be
continued with you, Alex, I love you so much. In
my podcast with the question what else is true? It's
taken from my therapy and the idea of both. And
when things are rough and things are challenging in the world,

as they often are, we can focus on the thing
that's challenging. We can also focus on the thing that
brings us joy that the other thing that's that is true,
because it's always both, and so for you today, Alex Newell,
what else is true?

Speaker 2 (45:00):
What else is true? Honesty? That's where I'm at, Honesty.
I think we get afraid of honesty and truth a
lot of times, and we don't like it if it hurts,
and we don't like it if it's too much to
hear at one time. And I've lived my life in
such an honest way, and I try to live my

life in such an honest way, and sometimes it comes
off shady, sometimes it comes off mean, but it's our
truth and sometimes it's better to let that out.

Speaker 3 (45:32):
What has been a truthful moment that you've had, or
an honest moment that you've had with yourself or someone
else that has been maybe hard to hear or hard
to say.

Speaker 2 (45:44):
You know, I think it's asking for help. A lot
of times I had to do that in the back
of my mind and realize that it is actually okay
to ask for help. I sing the song independently own
eight chos a week and knowing that I've cultivated this
great career of mine on my own, and a lot
of that has come with struggle of trying to do

it all on my own and not really wanting to
do anything else after that.

Speaker 1 (46:10):
So yeah, Wow, as the phone rings, we can ask
for help, we can ask for help. I love that.

Speaker 3 (46:18):
That is a great note to end on. Thank you
so much, Alex Nowell. You are a gift to the
world and I love you so much.

Speaker 2 (46:25):
I love you, I love you.

Speaker 5 (46:26):
I'm so happy for you. I'm so happy and fucking proud.

Speaker 1 (46:29):
You know. I'm so proud. I love you, Alex. Alex Newell.

Speaker 3 (46:39):
Oh, that was so wonderful watching Alex listen to themselves
saying and just be an utter joy of how beautiful
their sound is, how much they turned it out.

Speaker 1 (46:52):
It reminds me of my idol, Lantine Price.

Speaker 3 (46:54):
There's many many interviews of Liantine and articles written about
Lantine where she says I just love the sound of
my voice, and watching Alex listen to themselves saying I
am changing through the years. I felt Alex in something
similar Alex to not say that, but Alex was like, no, notes.
What's wonderful to me about that is that we can

be so critical of ourselves as artists, and I'm so
critical of myself, but Alex was just like I did that.
And also I think what's beautiful about Leontine and Alex
is that they both understand it's a gift from God,
that it's not even really theirs right, that it is
something that is bigger than them. And I was just

thinking about Alex as a child, like opening their mouth
and this beautiful, pure sound comes out, and that sound
is still there, and I don't know, it feels like
this metaphor for life, as like we grow and mature
and go through life and hopefully become.

Speaker 1 (47:58):
Better visions of ourselves.

Speaker 3 (48:00):
That that purity, that light that we all have inside
of us as children, if we can maintain that if
the voice can be a metaphor for what we can
do to maintain a certain kind of purity and innocence
as we move through the world, even as we, you know,
maybe a little weathered by life.

Speaker 1 (48:20):
To keep that freshness.

Speaker 3 (48:21):
Lantine says that she feels the youngest and the most
vibrant when she's singing, that it should be this like
youthful exuberance, and Alex indeed has that. Let's all like
start collectively manifesting Alex singing e Fie and Dreamgirls like
everyone within the sound of my voice. Let's manifest that

because we need to see Alex nule as Fie and Dreamgirls.

Speaker 1 (48:47):
We need to see that.

Speaker 3 (49:00):
Thank you for listening to The Laverne Cox Show. Please
rate reviews, subscribe and share with everyone you know. You
can find me on Instagram and Twitter aka x and
TikTok at Laverne Cox and on Facebook at Laverne Cox
for Real.

Speaker 1 (49:14):
Until next time, stay in the love. The Laverne Cox
Show is a production of Shondaland Audio in partnership with iHeartRadio.
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