Back in 2010 we heard about the out frontwoman of a band in Ann Arbor, Michigan that had a killer voice and was a devoted Skins fan. Then 24 and a student at the University of Michigan, Michelle Chamuel spoke with us about being a musician, rather than “a lesbian musician” or a “Jewish artist.” “It’s not one and alone,” she told us. “I think of myself as a musician. I’m not in to labels, which makes it so that I don’t live by them anyway, so I’m not trying to fit into a category. I think people should do whatever they want.”
Three years later, Michelle Chamuel was standing on a stage in Los Angeles waiting to be told if she was the winner of The Voice. Although she took second, Michelle’s send-off was a happy one as she cheered for the winner, 16-year-old country singer Danielle Bradbery, and knew she’d be going home with a huge new fanbase of her own. Her time on the show was spent with her mentor Usher, who challenged her to sing different kinds of songs and try new things with her voice that had her topping the iTunes charts week after week of the competition. From her rendition of Katy Perry‘s “I Kissed a Girl” for the blind auditions to the more recent performance of Taylor Swift‘s “Trouble,” Michelle was a standout and people wanted to know more about her.
Although she never spoke about her sexuality on the show, it was easy enough for curious minds to find our interview with Michelle and see that she is out, and she had fans in the LGBT community just like she did outside of it. The Voice, unlike other singing reality competitions, has a proven track record of finding and supporting queer contestants, and so Michelle’s presence as a queer, Jewish woman might have been understated, but it was definitely appreciated.
We spoke to Michelle just a day after she flew home to Massachusetts.
AfterEllen.com: I just want to say congratulations for coming in second on The Voice. I’m sure to you it’s just as good as winning first, right?
Michelle Chamuel: [laughs] Absolutely. Thank you.
AE: I found it interesting that we were getting a ton of hits as you were rising up in the ranks on The Voice because of an interview we had done with you on AfterEllen a couple years ago. Are we the only place before or even during The Voice that you spoke with about your sexuality?
MC: There was an interview, I think, earlier but the way it was crafted, um, wasn’t — I think there were a couple. I feel like there were a couple places. But I feel like the one I felt really expressed how I wanted to express myself about it was AfterEllen. I’m not actually entirely sure. I feel like there were a couple of other ones but I think AfterEllen is the main one.
AE: I wondered how you felt about that — you never really talked about it on the show. Was that something that you regretted having done or were you glad you did that?
MC: Oh, I was super glad I did. I think anytime there’s something out there that I feel represents me and that is authentic for people to find and latch onto, that’s kind of more about art. I was really stoked, because I got a fair amount of heat for the amount of out that I am, which I think is interesting in itself. I think with anything, the amount of information about me — like even that the fact that I live in Massachusetts—I’m really excited to share that and have people know about it. But there’s a certain thing that comes with anonymity and privacy, so it’s good that it’s out there for people to know. Like “Oh, I connect with that.” Or “That’s cool to learn.” But as far as pushing information out there, I just really wanted to focus on music, as far as my opportunity to be on the show and the rest of it can be there for interested people to find out.
AE: Who were you getting heat from about being out?
MC: It was actually about not being out enough. I got a lot of things like “Why aren’t you out on the show? Why are you in the closet? Stop being in the closet.” It’s like “I’m not in the closet, dude.” I mean, I understand, I get it. When people have a platform to address things, whether it be discrimination against being a woman, or discrimination against being gay or discrimination against whatever religion you are, or if i was Filipino or something. I understand how when you have a platform, for anything, it’s a chance to make a statement. But the statement and reason I was on the who was for music and having people accept me for who I am. And my music, for me, is the way to make the biggest change. I did what was most natural and comfortable for me rather then what felt uncomfortable because it was a certain kind of platform.
AE: I feel like the songs you chose to sing and the way you dressed, the way you wanted to dress, was a statement in and of itself, wouldn’t you say?
MC: Yeah, yeah. For me, it felt that way. And plenty of people got on my case about that. But people get on anybody’s case, even if it’s like someone’s hair is too blonde. People are always going to have critiques. That’s just one that stuck out to me because it was relatively — not totally relevant. … They want the truth based on the interview of me out there. There’s a certain amount of not hiding details about myself and I really wanted to be clear that I’m not trying to hide anything because I was afraid how I would perform on the show or how it would affect votes or anything. It was never a concern of mine. I just want to make sure that when I have eyes on me, I’m represented the way I want to be represented, whether it’s an outfit or how I feel like talking about sexuality or how I feel talking about politics or whatever. It’s very specific because you only have one chance and the first thing out of your mouth is taken very seriously.
AE: The Voice has always been so open and so gay-friendly. Most of the gay contestants in the past have only really addressed their being out because they mentioned their girlfriend or boyfriend or brought them to the audition so it was just there because it was a part of their life. I’m assuming you are single, but maybe it just didn’t come up because who you are dating had nothing to do with it.
MC: I mean, it’s funny because when I saw the song I was going to sing for [the blind auditions], anyway I can’t really talk about the process of it, but when I found out that was the song I picked, I was like “That’s funny. Give me ‘I Kissed a Girl.’” What a cool thing, like, great. I auditioned for The Voice with a song that says “I kissed a girl and I liked it.” So you know. For me, it wasn’t even about that kind of thing. I love Katy Perry, I love Max Martin, I love that song, but there are people that are going to look for subplot, as far as the sexuality of the song choice. But, I mean, I think it came off great in that way. For me it’s about music. I would never want to address the public for any other reason. I’m not going to just go out and talk about myself. That’s not really who I am. I’m pretty private.
AE: A couple of years back, Usher came under fire for saying that lesbians only exist because there’s not enough good men in the world. I was just wondering if through your experiences with him, did you ever sense any sort of homophobia on his end?
MC: No, um, he’s been incredibly supportive from the get-go. To find out more about who I actually am and to work with him.
The publicist comes on the phone at this point and asks “Do you have anything that’s closer related to the show?”
AE: Sure. I loved the Annie Lennox number you just did. Are you a fan of Annie? What is the genesis of choosing that song?
MC: I think Annie Lennox is incredible. It was Usher’s choice. He was really really excited about the song and the whole team was really thrilled about it. The whole artistic—it really felt like I was in a play, a big musical number. It was a really creative piece of art and it was really cool to be a part of it. Just the whole team is so open and supportive and incredible, I can’t say it enough.
AE: I just interviewed Vicci Martinez not that long ago and she said she was excited to meet you and your family backstage. Did she give you any advice for during or after the show?
MC: Vicci’s super cool, I was really excited to meet her. She said “Be you.” She said some cool stuff and I got to hear her music which was really exciting. I’m very excited for her.
AE: A lot of people want to know what you’ll be doing next, obviously. Will you continue with your band on own your own?
MC: Um, yeah. I’m actually thinking now. It’s interesting because before the show, before all this, I had this agenda to only speak about music and we’ve kind of crafted this whole interview around my sexuality on the show. It’s interesting. I’m just thinking how to digest mentally, like, what are you hoping to express from this article? What is the — because that completely makes sense that people would want to know the answer to how sexuality relates to the show and all that, but realizing — what is your intent with this article?
AE: People have been clamoring to find out more about you and see what you have to say about things that are relevant to them and that they are connected with after seeing you on the show. So I put a call out for questions and I got a ton because people are excited. I put them together with some of my own and read back over the old interview we did with you and thought I would update some things about it.
MC: That’s awesome, yeah. I’m really happy to talk about all these things I just really want to keep my focus on the music and using it as the lens to talk about other things. It’s not that we’ve necessarily done that, but as far as what I intend to do, I thought I would try to communicate that.
But OK. Band, I don’t think I’ll be getting back together with the band. I love the boys and I love making music with them so if we do make music together, that’s great. As far as getting that ship running, it’s a very big ship and I think my creative direction – being so close to the industry and seeing such hard working people, I really do realize that I want to stay independent as much as I can. And I realize that in my life, I’ve constantly made these choices to stay independent. Like I was thinking of going to Tisch in New York City. They had just opened a program about music business and the industry and production and I was so excited about that, but that would have taken me right into the heart of the industry part of it and I chose more of an alternative program to that which was performance and technology at Michigan because I was like “I want to learn all about it but not necessarily go right into the industry.” I always kind of wanted to pair up with it but on my own terms and it’s difficult when you work really close to it. But when you’re the person that runs the way it goes, it doesn’t necessarily have a space for people who on the outskirts. But that’s my goal and I really want to keep supporting that and doing that because that’s what makes it worth it to me.