If Todrick Hall has ever unfollowed you, don’t take it personally.
The former American Idol contestant has become one of YouTube’s preeminent talents with his glossy productions of song mashups and film parodies. Just last year, Hall hit a major creative milestone with Straight Outta Oz, a feature-length, original musical blending his personal life with The Wizard of Oz. The album peaked No. 2 on the iTunes pop cart (second only to Beyoncé’s Lemonade) and spawned a nationwide tour–all of which is detailed in his new documentary Behind the Curtain.
Despite writing a chart-topping album, building a YouTube presence with nearly 3 million subscribers, having starring roles in Broadway’s Kinky Boots and Chicago, and being a recurring judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Hall still finds himself riddled with artistic doubt, which can sometimes lead to a social media purge.
“As performers, sometimes we can be so competitive and so hard on ourselves, and I am the No. 1 person that is the most guilty of that crime. I compare myself to everyone,” Hall says. “I have to oftentimes unfollow everyone except for Beyoncé because if I’m going to compare myself to someone I want it to be Beyoncé.”
Not unlike Beyoncé, Hall has a hustle that borders on masochism. At the time of this interview, Hall’s itinerary reads like two people’s schedules overlapping.
“I have a show tonight [in New York City]. A show tomorrow in L.A. [as well as] a photo and video shoot where I have to be in full-on makeup. And then I have to take a flight back here in the morning because I have press and two shows on Broadway. And then I have a show in Dallas,” Hall rattles off. “I just don’t like to say no to things because I feel grateful for the opportunity.”
Hall tests the limits of his physical and artistic abilities (not to mention time itself) because, yes, it’s his passion–but also because he’s fully aware that a creator like himself doesn’t always get the opportunity to succeed at such a high level.
“I don’t like to be that person that just blows the victim horn all the time, but when you’re a gay black man in this industry, there are a lot of people who don’t understand how difficult it is and how much you have to be on it,” Hall says. “My show cannot start late. Everything has to be on–the lighting, the sound–because I feel people are waiting for a moment for you to mess up. It’s so difficult to even get the fan base that I have, so I always want to treat them like the No. 1 priority and make sure that every time I put out something, it’s the best version.”
In order to achieve the level of caliber Hall has set for himself, he spares little expense in the production value of his work, pouring what money he makes–and sometimes the money of others–directly into videos, music, and touring. In one scene of Behind the Curtain, Chester Lockhart, Hall’s best friend and right-hand man in many of his productions, calls his own mom to wire him money to help cover the exorbitant luggage cost of flying all the costumes involved with Straight Outta Oz across the country.
“I honestly don’t know how I find people that are crazy enough to jump onboard with me,” Hall says. “But the thing is, if they’re on the team they trust me.”
“If someone were to give me a million dollars and say whatever you don’t use of this money to create this project, you can pocket the money, some people would spend $5,000 and pocket the rest. I would spend all of that money and then put some of my own money into it because I would want so badly to create the most polished, most professional, most amazing, most epic, iconic product that I possibly could,” Hall continues. “That’s kind of my downfall. But it’s also been the thing that has put me in a position where people are looking at me as more of a creative, not just a simple content creator on YouTube. They look at me as someone who is a force to be reckoned with in the industry–and that’s what I’m striving for. It’s baby steps to get to that point.”
Another goal Hall is inching toward: redefining personal success. It’s a struggle that should be familiar to so many–comparing your accomplishments to those of someone else. While that can certainly be a means of motivation (who doesn’t have Beyoncé on their vision board?) it can often lead to unnecessary creative blocks. Through watching Behind the Curtain, Hall was able to be on the outside looking in on his life, which made him realize just how important his accomplishments have been not just for himself, but for his young fans who see him as a role model.
“I was being so hard on myself because I would look at my friends who were going on to sell out arenas and had songs on the radio and winning Tony awards, and I just was like, I’m nowhere near what my goal is,” Hall says. “And when I watched the documentary back and saw how many people spent their hard earned money to come and support this little black kid from Texas, I was like: How ungrateful are you as a human being and as an artist? You created this music and these people are singing along without having to roll their eyeballs to the top of their head searching for the lyrics–it’s on the tip of their tongue. How can you not look at this as a huge success?”