When De’Borah Garner said the words “Boom! I’m gay” on national television, that was the first time she’d said the words at all.
“It was the right time and the right moment,” The Voice contestant said. “I’ve never been put in a position where somebody asked me am I gay. You can look at me and assume. So it was butterflies went to my stomach. I was like ‘Oh my god, I’m going to say it.’ I’ve never said it before and I can shut all the noise down. Yeah, I look like a guy — I’m a girl. This is who I am. I’m gay.”
Decked out in bright coral slacks and sweater, and a teal button-down shirt, De’Borah lit up the stage with her audition, which landed her on Team Christina. She saying Train‘s “Hey Soul Sister,” which she said she’d heard on TV commercials and identified with.
“‘Hey Soul Sister’ is fun,” she said. “It seems as though when Train did it, they didn’t know how to talk to a woman, so they used music to get to the woman. While you’re listening to the radio, you have no idea that you’re attracting my mind, you’re attracting my heart. I’m kind of like that. It fit me. It fit me perfectly.”
Despite the fact that De’Borah says she’s a huge Maroon 5 fan, she is thrilled to have Christina Aguilera as her mentor.
“I chose Christina based on my first time hearing secular music,” she said. “The first song I ever heard that wasn’t gospel was Maroon 5’s ‘This Love’ and [Christina’s song] “The Voice Within” came on right after that. It shaped me. It really touched my heart. The song, to this day, gets played out of control. Just, over and over again.”
De’Borah grew up in the gospel church community, so when she said “This Love” is the first song she ever heard that wasn’t church music, she’s not kidding.
“I was learning songs I had to sing in church,” De’Borah said. “My father always traveled around the world preaching and my mom would be preaching and singing so I had to learn the music either through instruments and/or singing so I would only learn the list of songs I had to sing in church. I didn’t have the time to expose myself to anything else.”
But things started to change for De’Borah as she got older. Despite the fact that she was a phenomenal singer, her looks became too much for churches who hired her for performances.
“There were times where I showed up to engagements and they had no idea who I was, and when they saw me, they would be like ‘Hold on for a second.’ And they’d go and get a check and bring me the check and say ‘We no longer need your services, but we want to pay you,'” De’Borah said. “That hurts.”
Its frustrating, too, De’Borah said because she knows many closeted gospel performers that won’t come out and fight the homophobia they are faced with in a place that’s supposed to be about love and acceptance.
“I have a couple of friends in the church world, but they won’t stand up,” De’Borah said. “I’m usually the bold one out of the bunch. They don’t want me, they don’t want me. I’ve gotten fired from churches, playing instruments because I refused to sign a contract to wear a dress. It’s not about money for me. It’s about music, it’s about love. Definitely love. Above everything.”
When De’Borah auditioned for The Voice, her parents watched hopefully, proudly, backstage and were elated when she made it through to the next round. Their support seemed unwavering, but De’Borah said it doesn’t extend to her love of her partner. They do support her musically, but not as a lesbian. But De’Borah cannot lie about who she is, even if it hurts her family.
“In Chicago’s church scene — as a matter fact, in the gospel industry, there are a lot of them that are gay and they contradict themselves. They get up and sing ‘You’re going to hell’ but you’re going home to your man or going home to your woman. By them contradicting and living a double life, I wouldn’t. I refuse to. So that’s my home environment — the environment they raised me in and it hurt me. It hurt me real bad.”
De’Borah is finding a lot of support in her Voice competitors, though, and having the time of her life in what she calls “Voice camp.”
“We literally sit around and sing all day and all night. I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned different kinds of music,” De’Borah said. “I told you I came from gospel so I’m catching up! I’ve learned different styles, I’ve learned different genres, I’ve learned placement. I’ve learned how to control my voice. It’s like being in Berklee. Everybody is so amazing.”
It’ll be interesting to see how De’Borah’s approach to singing popular songs will fare against her peers who arguably know them better or at least have heard them once or twice before. It’s possible that not knowing songs like the back-of-her-hand could give De’Borah an advantage when it comes to singing it in her own style. And when it comes to stage presence, De’Borah certainly has a style all her own, though she says she borrows from someone very specific.
“My sense of style comes directly from Ellen. Seriously, she’s my idol. Completely,” she said. “When it comes to style, I watch her show every day just to see what she’s wearing. Her swag. I’m a mini-Ellen!”
And she’s got her own Portia, too. De’Borah’s been in a relationship since April with a very supportive girl who is beyond excited for her rockstar girlfriend.
“She’s my world!” De’Borah said. “I talk to her everyday. She screams as much as I do.”
Watch De’Borah on The Voice Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC.