Powerhouse vocalist, Chris Weaver, is an anomaly, having first captured the hearts of America in season 13 of The Voice. During his Blind Audition, the New York native nailed a soulful rendition of “Try A Little Tenderness,” which resulted in the dream accolade of all for judges turning around their chairs. Jennifer Hudson was so riveted; she tossed a shoe at Weaver upon completion of his song. For R&B/Gospel singers within some urban landscapes, a shoe toss is a form of high praise for a job well done. Yes, an odd ritual, but a significant compliment nonetheless.
Having a shoe thrown at you by a judge in a singing contest might seem noteworthy on its own, but that is not what makes Weaver anomalous. What set him apart was that moment on The Voice, when introduced himself to America as a church worship leader by day who also happens to perform as a drag queen at night. With that, the internet chatter began, questioning could such an admission from a contestant lead to an early elimination?
In music competition shows, eliminations are the norm. At the very least, a contestant’s mission is to hang in there each week as long as possible. If they can establish a presence as a fan favorite, it can change their lives. Chris Weaver did precisely that with a commanding stage presence, bellowing vibrato, and a heartfelt personal connection with one of his vocal inspirations, Coach–Jennifer Hudson. His unbridled talent helped him advance in the competition triumphantly, finishing in the Top 24 – no small fete.
Disappointed fans took to Twitter and Facebook to express their disagreement with Weaver’s perceived untimely elimination. Weaver took it all in stride though, thankful to have been introduced to millions of viewers who now knew his name. What happened next was even more fabulous.
Weeks after his elimination, The Voice invited him back as a guest performer during the season finale. With that performance, Weaver delivered a first in the show’s history – performing in drag as his alter ego, Nedra Belle. Joining him in the production were music superstar, Jessie J, and NYC singing drag group, Stephanie’s Child. Together they delivered an unforgettable rendition of J’s hit, “Bang Bang” that electrified the audience and set social media on fire.
Chris Weaver’s appearance on The Voice was career-defining, indeed. He has sincere gratitude to the show, which has made it possible to live his dream. He now travels and performs the country as both Chris and Nedra – all the while still leading worship services on Sundays.
After his star- turn drag performance on the hit show, Weaver became a role model to many. His star continues to rise, and he’s not slowing down. Amid a historic summer of nation-wide 2019 Pride celebrations, I caught up with him recently for a candid Q&A, discussing his career, his inspirations, and of course, the age-old topic of religion:
CA: When did you discover and realize that you could sing, and when did you first embark upon turning it into a career?
CW: I was eight years old, and they called me up for a solo one Sunday in church. I sang Thomas Dorsey’s “Precious Lord, Take my hand,” and the response afterward was something different than I had experienced in the past. People were extremely responsive, and that’s when I thought to myself, “Alright now! We might have something here.” From then on, I would go out with my pastor when he preached at different churches, and I sang before his sermons, and I got invited to various churches to sing.
Singing and music became my everything, but it wasn’t until my freshmen year of college that I knew this was my career path, and that failure was not an option. I went to Central College in Pella, IA, where I was apart of the vocal jazz combo. The first year I connected with the keyboard player Sonny Cutler, and we wrote a song together entitled “Hold me now,” which we performed at one of our concerts. The chorus was, “Hold me now, through my Storm and my rain. Hold me now, through my heartache and my pain … (I can’t remember the rest). But after the concert, I remember people waiting in line with tears in their eyes telling me how much the lyrics and the song touched them. That is the moment it became a career for me.
CA: For so many hopefuls out there who dream of being on “The Voice,” what can you share about the audition process? Tell me about that experience?
CW: I auditioned three times for the show. I did cattle calls in Chicago and New York then I got a private audition the third time. I will say it is one of the most efficient cattle calls I’ve experienced. Especially being in NYC, I don’t have time to been waiting all day, lol. The first time I auditioned, it was a group audition. The second time, a year later, I got the same Producer! I sang the same song. He let everyone else go and had me stay and sing more. He then told me, “let me think about it, and if you hear from me before 4 pm – you’re in.” I never got the call, but then in 2017, I landed a private audition, and they expressed interest in moving me to the next round. It was a pleasant experience all in all.
CA: You’re one of the rare few contestants who got all four judges to turn their chairs around but, did you have your heart set on working with a particular judge when you made it onto the show? Or were you like,” I don’t care who, but damn it, somebody’s chair better turn around?!”
CW: Haha! I think by the time you get on that stage, at some point all contestants think,” I don’t care who, but damn it somebody’s chair better turn around!” Of course when Jennifer Hudson was a coach, so it was a no brainer for me, but once the excitement settles you start to think what the other coaches have to offer, where they are at in their career, how far you think they can take you, and how much you can really absorb from them. There are so many questions and thoughts that rattle your mind, but honestly when you are on that stage, and all four coaches are fighting for you to join their team – all that goes out the window.
CA: Your connection with Jennifer Hudson was a great dynamic on the show, and as it turned out, she didn’t remember having met you two years prior, right? Tell me about that and, share with our readers Jennifer means to you today as an artist and mentor?
CW: Yes. Two years before my audition my friend Antione Smith, who was in The Color Purple on Broadway with JHud, called and just told me to meet him at this restaurant. Didn’t give any detail just said to meet him, so I almost didn’t go…no ma’am! I need names, numbers, ancestry.com in this day and age, just can’t be showing up places. Lol. Well, anyway I ended up going, and it ended up being a cast party that Jennifer threw for the cast. They happened to have a live band at the party, so Antione made me sing, and JHud gave pretty much the same response she gave during my audition, only she was throwing napkins back then and not shoes. Haha!
I will say she is one of the most down to earth people you could meet. I mean, you have a coach who has been exactly where you are. Jennifer’s advice and leadership are coming from a traveled place. That’s priceless. Her voice is so sickening! Look where it’s taken her. She used to tell us we have to learn to sing for more than just the block we live on. I have taken that and tried to apply it to everything I do. I don’t want to reach one group of people with my music. I want to reach the masses.
CA: So you made History on The Voice (I think), as the first to perform on the show in drag. Your alter ego is big, bold, beautiful, and she saaaangs! Of course I’m talking about your popular Drag persona, Nedra Belle. Tell me about Miss Belle?
CW: Awww Thank you! Well, Nedra got her start seven years ago in Des Moines, IA at a Toys for Tots benefit show. I never thought she would make it this far…lol. Nedra is the life of the party. She’s your comic relief, she’s your aunt who brings the good potato salad to the cookout, and she is an overall good time. There is enough darkness in the world, so if she can take just one person’s mind off that for 45 mins, then she is satisfied. I feel that she too is finally finding herself after doing drag this long and forging her path.
CA: As a vocalist, who are some of the artists you look up to and if you could record a duet with any artist, male or female, who would it be?
CW: Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, my sis Alex Newell, and there are so many more but if I had to choose one artist to do a Duet with it would be the one and only Ms. Patti Labelle!!! She sings, and passion oozes out of her mouth and STAGE PRESENCE?!?!?! I remember watching videos of her performing with sweat dripping, kicking her shoes off, rolling around on stage, and it was so authentic! She always gives a message of loving one another, no matter our difference. She’s amazing!
CA: You have an established presence as both a devout faith leader and drag performer. What’s your message for the” religious” people who consider our lives in the LGBT community to be a sin?
CW: Well, first, I would tell them to stop being so “religious” and ask them to give a relationship with God a try. Then I would invite them to try love before condemnation. If you consider our lives a sin that’s your prerogative, but God has first called us to love one another, and I guarantee you if you do that, the world will be a better place. Then, guess what? At the end of the day, we will find out what was a sin and what was not.
And if I find out being gay was a sin after all, well …oops!!! At least I had a great time along the way.
CA: LOL! You and me both baby. Maybe TOO MUCH Fun! So, what’s coming up next for Chris Weaver?
CW: Well I’ve been in the studio quite a bit lately working on features, and now I’m ready to start working on my music. It’s long overdue. So I’ve been talking with some writers, and I’m going to make this happen finally. What’s the point of having a gift if you don’t use the gift?
CA: Amen to that my brother. Amen to that! And by the way, I’m a BMI songwriter, who co-wrote track #7, on an LP that went Gold, by a former Voice winner, Nataliya from Belgium. So call me Boo, CALL ME!