After serving "Subway Fish" on RuPaul's Drag Race Season 9 and entertaining midtown crowds in a series of concerts at Feinstein's/54 Below, Alexis Michelle continues to sing out, ring them bells, and raise her voice with her debut album, Lovefool. The Broadway Records release, produced by Michelle (out of drag, Alex Michaels) and music director Brandon James Gwinn, features an array of pop, rock, and theatre tunes
Below, Michelle—a true theatre queen through and through—charts the inspirations and collaborations that led to each track on the album. You can also catch her at New York City's DragCon September 29 as she moderates a panel with the cast of Broadway's Frozen.
I’ve been so fortunate to get to travel the world and meet amazing people and perform for them. This journey is one I wished for for a long time, but in all my imaginings I never anticipated living out this dream in a world so wrought with political unrest, dissension, and violence. I had hoped for a more inclusive and progressive environment, especially in my home country. Rather than get overwhelmed, I turn to inspiration from artists like Carole King with this song, which I find beautifully fitting today as an anthem of hope and positivity. It’s not always easy to put on a happy face in this world but I do believe positivity has the power to bring about change.
2. “Follow Your Heart”
Ever since seeing the original production of Urinetown, this charming and humorous love song stayed with me, constantly popping in to my head. Its lyrics are romantic and optimistic and even innocent. In the show, these two characters listen to their hearts, one for the first time, and are surprised that the message could be matched by another. Out of context, I think it’s a lovely reminder that we all have an internal compass or intuition and it's one we should follow.
This big radio hit for The Cardigans was an integral part of my '90s listening. While planning one of my 54 Below shows, I mentioned to my producer and music director Brandon James Gwinn that it was one of my favorite pop songs. He suggested giving it this bossa nova treatment. We started performing it in my cabaret shows and it quickly became a signature for me. It's theatrical, a little bit campy and if you pay close attention the lyrics are surprisingly dark for a love bop.
4. “(Have I Stayed) Too Long At The Fair”
One of my greatest musical inspirations for the past several years has been the incomparable Barbra Streisand. Her repertoire choices and phrasing are so dynamic, and then there’s that gorgeous silver sound. I try to stay away from material that she’s best known for, as I know I could never approach her tone or facility. You won’t find me singing “People” or “Don’t Rain On My Parade.” However, I do like to try on some of her older and less familiar material. Brandon and I put together a Barbra medley for our live shows and featured "Fair" in it. When it came time to select material for this album we both instantly wanted to include this song in its entirety. It's exuberant and melancholy and feels so relatable as we question in our lives if we’ve lingered too long in relationships, jobs and other proverbial fairs.
5. “Fool On The Hill”
I became a Beatles fan in seventh grade, and their music was the soundtrack of my life for a couple years. I liked this song, but can’t say it was one of my favorites back then. In more recent years someone introduced me to an Aretha Franklin album of rare and unreleased tracks. My standout favorite on that epic CD is her cover of this song. Like my obsession with Barbra, I know I could never touch the queen of soul’s magnificent interpretation, but this funky arrangement is my loving tribute to the great Ms. Franklin and her take on this classic.
6. “Call Me”I really owe this selection entirely to Brandon James Gwinn. It was an idea of his for our live shows and became an audience favorite as well as a super fun song for us to perform with our band. I love the energy Brandon brought to this arrangement, and it gave Jeff Koch our bassist and Josh Samuels our drummer and the rest of the musicians on the album a chance to really rock out.
7. “You Can Always Count On Me”
As a musical theatre junkie through and through, I’ve worshipped the great composers and lyricists of the genre for most of my life. I was cast in a production of City of Angels while attending the musical theatre department at the University of Michigan, and became totally enamored with the score by Cy Coleman and David Zippel. These lyrics are so, so clever and are equally matched by the ingenious music. It brings such humor to a woman’s experience of always being a bridesmaid, which I can relate to.
8. “Simple/Good Thing Going”
The first time Brandon and I started working together, we were looking for the song to put into a show that would be about love lost. I offered up both of these beautiful ballads as options. “Good Thing Going” is from Merrily We Roll Along with a score by my favorite composer Stephen Sondheim. And “Simple” is a heartbreaking song from Nine, Maury Yeston’s masterpiece. After trying them both out, Brandon realized they were in the same key and put together this gorgeous arrangement of the two songs that works together extremely well. My favorite part is right at the end of the arrangement; the last words are from “Good Thing Going” but Brandon starts the ride out with chords from “Simple” and then weaves back to Sondheim so seamlessly.
9. “Rainbow Connection”
I first performed this song during a Pride-themed show for obvious reasons. It’s been a favorite of mine since hearing it many years ago. I always thought it was so beautiful and hopeful. Brandon pointed out to me why he loved it so much; these lyrics aren’t saccharine. They’re real and like life don’t reveal magical revelations. “Somebody thought of that, and someone believed it, and look what it’s done so far.” The last part of that line is particularly interesting, you might interpret it as look at the marvelous things it's done, or look...it’s done nothing. This song, while written for children, doesn’t talk down to them or sugarcoat things. It's luster is in its honest sincerity.
10. “Ramblin’ Man”
Probably my favorite track on the album, and again I’m indebted to Brandon James Gwinn for this sublime arrangement. I was touring and met a guy who I fell for relatively quickly. It was on a trip to visit him that I heard a band cover this Allman Brother’s tune. It was a song long on my radar, but like what can happen in life, hearing a song during a major life event can cement it into our consciousness. That love affair didn’t last long, but I knew right away I wanted to do my own version of it. Brandon admits he thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to cover this song, but he created this arrangement and I’m forever grateful for it.