I recently watched Todrick Hall’s documentary on Netflix (Behind The Curtain). This incredible documentary explores Todrick’s early childhood, his “triple threat” skillset (singing, dancing and choreography), and most importantly, his rise as a black queer artist, online influencer, and YouTube sensation.
To produce the documentary, a video team follows Todrick around as he prepares to launch his first full-length musical “Straight Outta Oz,” a musical expression of his experience growing up gay in Texas and pursuing his own definitions of showbiz success.
While watching his movie, I learned six lessons that are highly relevant to members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as anyone committed to living life on their terms.
Lesson 1: Be Obsessed
Obsession with his art is perhaps Todrick’s greatest strength. He was singularly fixated on the goal of launching a musical about his life and doing it in record time. Obsession was the tool that Todrick used to make his wild dreams and visions into a reality.
Obsession can lead to massive success in minimal time.
There are an absurd number of people in the world who are average, who are somewhat committed, or who can easily be knocked off their path toward a goal.
Watching Todrick’s documentary reminded me of a book that I read by entrepreneur and real estate investor, Grant Cardone, called “Be Obsessed or Be Average.” As Grant states in his book, “The conventional wisdom is to seek balance and take it easy. But it is really just an excuse to be unexceptional.”
In contrast, high achievers like Todrick Hall leverage obsession to let them work longer days, longer hours, and with greater focus than their peers.
The end result is achieving greatness and having the conviction to share your art with the world. Straight Outta Oz was Todrick’s second solo studio album and the first full-length musical that he wrote and produced.
In short: If you want to achieve greatness, you have to harness your obsession.
Lesson 2: Speed is Power (Compress Time)
Todrick was a master of moving fast and compressing long periods of time into short ones.
As a case in point, Hall wrote 26 songs for his musical Straight Outta Oz in only four weeks.
His goal was to create a musical as fast, if not faster, than anyone in history. Thirteen of these songs are also included in his visual album.
It is easy to behold a painting or a piece of art only after it’s complete. However, what you see is often the result of hours, days, months or years of work pumped into it. It’s a collection of tiny brushstrokes that create the final work.
In short: Speed is power. Speed is leverage. Speed is a tool of greatness.
Lesson 3: Make Your Mess Your Message
In his documentary, Todrick Hall shares a quote: “I want to talk about the most personal things and turn this into art.”
To me, this statement is incredibly powerful. One of Todrick’s tools of greatness is to turn the most personal and painful things in his life into art.
Growing up gay, black, and gender non-conforming in Texas, Todrick didn’t have an easy childhood. By ago 9, he was taking ballet lessons, an unusual choice from a young boy in Texas. However, his teachers and parents saw his exceptional talent for dance, and thankfully, nurtured this skill set.
While his parents supported his development as a dancer, they unfortunately had a difficult time embracing other parts of his identity. When he came out as gay, they struggled to accept it and Todrick’s mom didn’t speak to him for an extended period of time.
In his musical, Straight Outta Oz, Todrick dances on stage in heels and a skirt.
Gendered clothing is challenged in his art. By doing this, he empowers other people to authentically express themselves too.
After live performances, fans line up in droves to express their gratitude to Todrick for challenging societal norms associated with gender and sexuality. As someone who identifies as nonbinary, I know how much guts it takes to appear in public in ways that are “outside the norms.”
In short: Be authentic, be vulnerable, and be uniquely you.
Lesson 4: Be Extraordinary (“Extra Ordinary”)
Todrick is not ordinary. He was never ordinary as a child and he is certainly not ordinary as an adult. Extraordinary by definition is “extra ordinary” or “beyond the ordinary.”
Without a doubt, extraordinary is the more accurate word choice for him.
To be extraordinary you have to embrace you extraordinary traits, strengths, and qualities. This can be incredibly difficult because it puts you outside the norms, where you’ll be challenged by society.
However, this is the perfect place to be if you want to be extraordinary.
Todrick frequently felt on the edges of society growing up, but as he came of age as an artist, he chose to embrace the unique aspects of himself. As shown in the video below, Todrick now embraces his genderfluid interests and appearance.
Today, Todrick’s willingness to play with gender norms and expectations is a key part of his art.
The queer community, in particular, has rallied around him. However, anyone who has felt oppressed by the expectations of society will resonate with his message.
In short: You can either be ordinary. Or you can be extraordinary. You can’t be both. If you learn nothing else from Todrick, choose to be extraordinary.
Lesson 5: Get Ahead During The Time Others Waste
In Netflix’s Behind the Curtain, Todrick frequently works 16-hour days. Several times he is shown collapsing in exhaustion. He is also shown drifting off during a late night strategy session with his team.
Nonetheless, each day he would get some rest, then wake up the next day and do it all over again.
Todrick knows how to squeeze every minute out of every day. Born April 4, 1985, this is how he has created more art in 34 years than most people will create in a lifetime.
The majority of people throw away precious minutes every day, imagining they can recover them later. But this is not the case. Time marches in ONE direction only.
As mentioned, Hall wrote 26 songs for Straight Outta Oz in four weeks. He did this because he was willing to work until his art was complete, regardless of the time on the clock or the day of the week.
In short: You get ahead during the time others waste. Audit your free time and re-purpose it to support your life goals and vision.
Lesson 6: Create Your Own Opportunities
Although Todrick gained recognition for his appearance in Broadway’s The Color Purple, he gained international fame through his appearance on the 9th season of American Idol. He auditioned in August 2009 with a self-composed song that got approval from all four judges. The season aired in 2010.
Because young Todrick is adorable, you’ll definitely want to watch his audition video below.
Although, he did make it through several rounds of the show, singing “Since U Been Gone” in the Top 24 and “What’s Love Got to Do with It” in the Top 20, he was unfortunately eliminated in the Top 16.
After being cut from American Idol, Todrick took “luck” into his own hands. He ramped up his production on YouTube and began to release an enormous amount of content.
With YouTube coming of age at the same time that he was coming of age, the video platform let him create his own opportunities.
This decision to go straight to his viewers worked out extremely well for Todrick.
Rather than relying on mainstream media, he has now amassed a YouTube audience of 3.3 million subscribers.
Again creating his own opportunities, Todrick then wrote his own musical, Straight Outta Oz, which was released on June 23, 2016, and eventually cast on Broadway.
In Short: Don’t rely on mainstream channels and the people in power to validate you. Create your own platforms to go directly to the masses.
Todrick Hall’s Pronouns?
On a related note, a question I’ve been asked several times since releasing this post is, what are Todrick Hall’s pronouns? For anyone familiar with Todrick’s gender-bending performance art, it could be easy to draw assumptions. However, as with all personal pronouns, the only person suited to answer this question is Todrick.
For this article, we reviewed interviews in which Todrick participated and used the language Todrick uses to describe himself, which thus far, has been he/him pronouns.
However, if we hear that Todrick uses different pronouns, such as they/them, you better believe that this article will get quickly updated to reflect that!
Your Thoughts on Behind the Curtain?
Have you seen Todrick Hall’s Netflix documentary, Behind the Curtain? If so, what did you learn from it? Let me know below.
If not, go watch it here right now.