Houston’s richness is largely built on the talent and tenacity brought to the city by its ever-growing population of immigrants and newbies. The story of Uché Ndubizu, a brilliant young Nigerian bisexual performer, is both quintessentially Houston and totally unique.
Ndubizu moved to Houston in his late teens with a dream to take his talents into the stratosphere. After spending summers in Nigeria honing his dancing chops, he cut his teeth performing with the acclaimed wedding band Drywater, as well as a who’s-who of the best performance talent nationwide. His vocal and dancing talent eventually wows the judges on American Idol so much that Katy Perry fell to the ground in convulsions when Ndubizu performed Bruno Mars’ “Finesse.” After finishing that show in the Top 10, Ndubizu is now poised to take his unique talents well beyond Houston.
I sat down with Ndubizu recently to find out more about his career.
Omar Afra: You have had a crash-course in international celebrity. What are some of the best and worst parts about the entertainment industry that you have seen?
Uché Ndubizu: The majority of it is pretty badass. The fact that I’m even in this position is ridiculous. I’ve dreamt of this for so long. You never know how (or if) it will happen for you, so for me to be blessed enough to be able to live my best life like this, I’m just like, Whoa. It’s also really great meeting my tribe when I’m out and about. I remember I was at this club one night, and this squad of people came up to me like freaking out. They were fans, and I was just like, “Dude! What do y’all wanna drink? I’m gonna get y’all a round—come chill with me and my people tonight.” We had the best night ever! I guess the downside is [having to see] so many opinions of you, and especially now that people can comment some hateful stuff and it comes straight to my phone. It sucks. I try to hold my tongue, not respond, and just remember that I’m loved, God loves me, and I’m just out here doing my thing trying to make every single one of my dreams come true. Some people just can’t handle that.
Almost overnight, your life was turned upside down in the best way possible. Is it overwhelming?
Yes. After my first episode aired on ABC, my phone [was swamped with] calls and text messages. Legit madness.
It’s 2007. A nascent 13-year-old Uche is discovering his own music. What is he listening to and being inspired by?
I had really simple tastes in music at 13. I liked whatever they put on the radio. I lived for popular music, through and through. I was listening to, like, D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” and anything T-Pain or Chris Brown. The Disney kids were my jam growing up as well. Everything Timbaland, Chris Brown, and Kanye West. I still remember the “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)” dance. We had some bomb-ass music in 2007. I’m not even gonna lie—my little Zune was slappin’.
Is there a dissonance between what people see of you onAmerican Idol and where you are headed next, musically?
Yes. I think people only got to see a super-edited, filtered, PG kid-friendly “cut for time” version of me. I was definitely on my best behavior on that show because, I mean, I wasn’t trying to scare the children or get fined or something. With my music this time around, I just want to be myself fully. I’m gonna tell some secrets, talk about my fears. I’m gonna be unapologetic, and confidently own all of who I am. No filter. I hate having to filter myself.
One thing that distinguishes you from the other Idol contestants is your effortless dancing. Where does this ability come from?
I’m Nigerian. Dance is a major part of our culture, and how we commune with one another. I would visit Nigeria every summer when I was a kid, and my family back there would teach me moves. They would coach me and help me get better. Every year I got better and better. I started doing some dance competitions and winning. It’s cool to look back at how this all started—nostalgia. [Laughs]
Outside of music, what art forms inspire and inform your performances?
I’m very into clothing. Clothes are definitely an art form for me. If you noticed, I tried to let the energy of the song I was singing dictate the outfit I’d be wearing. For example, for my performance of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” I literally wore diamonds. I like for my outfit to feel like the song. I got along very well with the costume crew! I would have hour-long convos with them about my concept for whatever song was next. They told me it was a lot of fun to dress me because I like trying new wild and different options. I can’t even look at my closet the same anymore after being spoiled like that. I remember finding that giant black fur jacket that I wore for “Play That Funky Music” at a thrift shop, almost a year before I was even thinking of auditioning. I was like, “I must have this. If I’m ever on a TV show, I’m going to wear this jacket.” I can’t wait to get my coins all the way up, because to dress how I like to dress ain’t cheap. I’m extra af, and I like for my clothes to reflect that.
OK, be honest—when was the last time you cried, and why?
Crying? Tears? What are those? I don’t like emotions. [Laughs] Um, I honestly can’t remember, dude. Probably during some terrible show on Netflix. I really get into TV shows.
In this hyper-politicized time in history, do you feel pressure to make your political stances known? Is there pressure on all artists to be activists these days?
I think there is a time and a place for everything. In my personal life, I’m very tactful when it comes to sensitive issues, I think it’s my psychology degree coming out a bit. I will change the subject like that if a topic is brought up and I don’t feel the room is ready for that level of real. I don’t have conversations of that magnitude until I know someone well—until I’ve figured out that the person I’m talking to is level-headed enough to hold an intelligent conversation about it. If not, I’m a pretty good conversationalist and there are a plethora of other things we could talk about that won’t end up killing the vibe. [And as for other artists and public figures], it just depends on the artist. People are passionate about different things. Some people aren’t passionate about political issues, so why would they talk about them? I’m only going to talk about things that I am 1000 percent passionate about. If I’m passionate about it, then idgaf.
Tell us about where you go next.
Well, I’m [about] to fly out to Seattle for a show with the Top 10. Then I fly to L.A. to work with a new producer on some fire-ass, long-awaited new music. I’ve been working with some legends on this next project. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it. Y’all can get some sneak peeks on Instagram at instagram.com/uchesings. Follow me, homie!
This article appears in the August 2019 edition of OutSmart magazine.