Stacy Francis Talks X Factor: Astro's Tantrum, 'Purple Rain,' and That Tom Cruise 'Connection'
Stacy Francis brought drama to The X Factor stage right from her audition — a tear streaked rendition of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — all the way to her final moments on the stage (a tense judges’ vote on whether to cut her, or petulant rapper Astro). TVLine caught up with Season 1′s 10th place finisher to ask her about controversy over the way her backstory was presented on the show, her personal take on the right time to go for a glory note, and whether or not she thinks she’s cut out to be a pop star.
TVLINE | So let’s talk about your “Natural Woman” audition, which was used heavily in ads for The X Factor‘s first season, then got released as part of an eight-minute promo reel before the season aired.
STACY FRANCIS | I’ll never live down the mascara running down my face. I’m like, “Okay, maybe I can get an endorsement deal with a waterproof mascara company.” I could just stand in the commercial with mascara running down my face and [they could say], “Don’t use that mascara, use this one.” [Laughs]
TVLINE | Having that pre-season hype, did that make you feel anxious or excited, or maybe both?
STACY FRANCIS | Well, I really beat myself up; I found everything wrong that I could with that “Natural Woman” performance. But then they aired the whole audition and people were so supportive: “Wow, we love your voice” and “You made me cry.” I feel like that was a genuine moment for me. So I was really happy that people felt my passion and had compassion for me and my story. It was really exciting.
TVLINE | What was it like being on that stage during the audition? There was one camera shot from behind where we got the “Stacy’s eye view” of what was going on there.
STACY FRANCIS | That was a great shot. I remember it was so scary, because a couple of months before that, I had put up a picture of Simon Cowell on my wall. I wanted to meet him so badly and I wanted to sing on that show; I had prayed for that. And my hand was shaking so hard that I had to take the other hand and hold it [still]. Then, in my heart, I was just like, “This is your moment. Just pray and go for it.” And the audience in that room was very supportive, as well. It looked like a lot more than 4,000 people. It was a sea of faces.
TVLINE | That’s intense.
STACY FRANCIS | Of course, somebody came to me right before I went out to sing and told me that Adele was in the audience. And I was like, “Please don’t tell me that on top of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul! I don’t want to know!”
TVLINE | So after your audition came boot camp, and toward the end of those episodes, we found out that your father had passed away during that process.
TVLINE | My dad would have wanted me to stay because he knew my journey and how long I’d been trying to make it in the business. And the fact that he died on the day that I arrived [at Boot Camp], to me, was very significant. It could have happened two weeks prior, and I could have been in New York and been there [with him]. But the fact that it happened [when I got to Boot Camp] made me say, “Okay, he’s going to be an angel for me.” My mom had a long conversation with me and she was like, “Look, we know that this is your dream, and you’ve been fighting for this for so long, so do it, go.” And I was kind of happy that I get a chance to remember him the way I remember him, instead of in a box.
TVLINE | On the subject of how long you’ve been trying to get to this point in your career, there was a lot of online chatter after your audition aired, stories about some of the previous experience you’ve had as part of the R&B girl group Ex-Girlfriend, the Broadway experience you had. And there was some backlash, a feeling that you’d been presented as a housewife who was desperate for a chance in the business, when you’d already had these previous near-misses. How did you feel when those stories started coming out about you?
STACY FRANCIS | I felt like it was very unfair. First of all, [those experiences were] in the ’90s, and we’re sitting at 2011. And I had mentioned on air that when I hit 30 years old, that’s when I was being told that I was too old. I sat down and I went through every article that Perez Hilton had written about me. And I honestly counted the days. I think there are 4,360 or so days in 12 years. And in that 12 years, I worked 57 of them. I worked 57 days.
TVLINE | In music- or stage-related work, you mean?
STACY FRANCIS | For him to be like, “Oh, she’s lying, and she did work.” In one instance, it was repertory theater. I did a show down in San Diego because a friend of mine was a director and he was like, “Come do this show.” It was Dreamgirls and I was like, “Okay,” but it was a 99-seat theater. Still, I don’t want to invalidate that theater. They do good work.
TVLINE | So you’re trying to say you were not sitting on a mattress of cash.
STACY FRANCIS | Not at all. I think I made like, maybe $100 a week for three weeks. And then there was the fact that I couldn’t get anybody to talk to me about representing me — as far as being an agent or a manager or to do a record. Everybody was telling me I was too old.
TVLINE | Probably the most negative attention of all was focused on you singing at Tom Cruise’s birthday party.
STACY FRANCIS | All of the sudden I was a Scientologist. Or she sang for Tom Cruise, therefore she’s a celebrity and she knows everybody. And then I sang in a choir on a one-shot deal for Madonna. And the reason I was getting these sort of celebrity gigs is because a lady at my church has those relationships, and she was filtering me in on some of those things. But the Madonna thing I didn’t get paid for. It was one-shot. And the Tom Cruse thing I think I got paid for, but I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know Tom and I don’t know him now.
TVLINE | That’s a lot of information, and there’s no way to boil it all down into X Factor‘s 30-second personality packages.
STACY FRANCIS | It got really, really ugly and very mean. I was being called a liar and a fraud. And Simon had to step up and say, “You know what, she didn’t lie. We know about people’s backgrounds.” And I the biggest thing — and I’ve always said this to reporters that ask me about it — was, “Did you know my name?” Like I said, I wasn’t a household name. And people were acting like I was Janet Jackson coming to do The X Factor.
TVLINE | Right.
STACY FRANCIS | When it comes down to it, this business is so up and down, and if you don’t have a consistent salary, it could really lead you down an ugly path. You have many, many talented actors and singers being waitresses and secretaries, and doing things that they don’t want to do to pay the bills. And I was raising my baby and trying to survive, and fighting with baby daddy in court trying to get child support. But in the ’90s, yeah, I did work in the ’90s. I was an understudy on Broadway. And then I did Footloose. And I did Footloose for about a year and a half, and I left because that was when I was trying to get out of a relationship that I shouldn’t have been in. But it’s hard to tell that whole long story when the show needs to edit everything down. And maybe the public felt like, “Okay, well do we really know this person or is she misleading us?” It was a very tough spot to be in. Still, I love the way the show portrayed me and told my story, because I am a single mom living in a one-bedroom apartment. That’s the truth. And if I was so successful, then that wouldn’t be the case.
TVLINE | And the record with Ex-Girlfriend…
STACY FRANCIS | Ex-Girlfriend was a flop. I mean, let’s just really talk about what it was. It was a flop. We didn’t make money. We didn’t become successful.
TVLINE | Well, in your defense, too, if it’s your dream to be a singer, and you get to be 42, it’s not shocking that you might have had some degree of success at some point. Otherwise, you’d have given it up already.
STACY FRANCIS | Oh, for sure. I mean, I did give up on it for like three or four years, I didn’t sing at all. I wouldn’t sing a note. There was a time when I was married during that three or four years; I was just working out of my husband’s office. People hear these one-liners and they think, “Oh well, she’s married to a dentist. She doesn’t need…” Meanwhile, he went bankrupt and we’re divorced, and he won’t pay his child support. But nobody wants to hear you say that. Because that’s kind of tacky for me to [share all that]. You know what I mean?
TVLINE | I know what you mean.
STACY FRANCIS | So here I am trying to be a celebrity and trying be classy, but there’s this ugly story that’s being told about me that I’m a fraud. And I want to come clean and be like, “Well, actually I was on unemployment and really considering getting food stamps to feed my babies.” But who wants to say that to the press? There are mothers out there who were domestically abused, and they have dreams. There are women that are homeless because they were in those situations, and the only way they could get out and be alive was by being homeless with their children. Those people exist. And I wasn’t that far from it. But it’s embarrassing. You want to put on a face and be like, “I’m this great singer and I want to be on The X Factor and I want to win it.” So a part of me is like, “Okay, what part of this do I tell and what part of it do I keep to myself?”
TVLINE | Well, let’s get back to the singing for a minute. The Judges’ Houses performance of “Purple Rain.” I’d probably say it was your best moment on the show.
STACY FRANCIS | I fought so hard not to sing that song. I was so scared of that song, because it was the first time that a song was being chosen for me. Nicole was like, “I think it’s perfect.” And I was like, “What? I don’t get it.” But once they gave me the music, I went and I drilled it and I drilled it. Because I also had the attitude like, “I want to try something new, because obviously whatever I’ve been doing for the last 20 years is not working. So what do you see me as, and how can I get this right?” Then I watched it back on TV, and I was trending on Twitter and “Purple Rain” was trending on Twitter, and people, even now, they say what you said: “That was your best moment on the show. We want to buy ‘Purple Rain.’ We wished that you were still on the show so you could do a live version with Prince.” It was a phenomenal success for me, that song.
TVLINE | Your first live performance, you did George Michael’s “One More Try,” and Simon talked to you about the fact that he saw you as a church singer and not a pop singer. Were you offended by that at all?
STACY FRANCIS | Well I didn’t understand what he meant. I thought he meant, “You belong in the church; just go back to church and sing.” I didn’t know until the next week until he said, “Church singers sell records,” that he was really making a reference to Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Jennifer Hudson — soul singers. So initially, my reaction was, “I want to do more than that. I don’t want to just sing in the church.” I grew up in the church and I love church, but I was just thinking more worldwide.
TVLINE | So do you get to be a pop star?
STACY FRANCIS | I don’t think so. At this point, I don’t even want to be. During the show, I said, “I want to be a pop star.” But then I went and I really thought about it, and the whole term has changed. I’m older obviously. Back in the ’90s, a pop star was Whitney Houston, Celine Dion; Susan Boyle would have been a pop star. But now those singers [would be considered] adult contemporary. Pop is Katy Perry, it’s Rhianna, Britney Spears and Beyonce. I’m not that. That’s not what I am at all. And that’s okay. Because I’m a mom, and what I realize is that I really miss spending time with my kids, and I want to make a consistent living. I want to have the household name, and I want to sell music, but I also want to be able to pick up my kids from school.
TVLINE | So is that the end goal, if you could pick one thing to have coming out of this X Factor experience, a consistent living?
STACY FRANCIS | Yeah. I want to be able to take care of my babies. I want to be able to buy them a home. I don’t have to have the paparazzi in the bushes, but I would love to have people appreciate my music. I would love to go sit in Vegas and work for three years, and just have my kids there and be able to sing every night, have people buy my music, have that consistency. That would be a dream. But it took me doing the show to come to that conclusion.
TVLINE | How so?
STACY FRANCIS | When you do the show and you’re in this amazing machine, you learn a lot. When I went into it, I was like, “I want to be the biggest thing ever.” But a lot of responsibility comes with that. And so, no, I don’t necessarily want the Beyonce career. Because Beyonce works very hard, and I’m too old. I don’t want to work that hard. I could just sing at the microphone, make people cry.
TVLINE | Tell me about your performance of “Up To The Mountain.” How did you guys come upon that song?
STACY FRANCIS | That was Simon’s idea. It was all his idea. Didn’t you see the show when he was like rubbing it in [Nicole's] face?
TVLINE | He was saying it, but I didn’t realize he actually suggested that song.
STACY FRANCIS | Yeah, Simon suggested that song and we ran with it. And then he just rubbed it in Nicole’s face, and I felt so bad. But it was a great idea and the song is beautiful. And I have to say that was probably my best week. After that, “Queen of the Night” crashed and burned. And then “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” which I didn’t think was horrible, but it wasn’t as great as “Up To The Mountain.”
TVLINE | What went wrong with “Queen Of The Night”? Did you know during rehearsals that it might not go well?
STACY FRANCIS | I was scared. I was very afraid of “Queen Of The Night,” but I knew that I had to do something up-tempo. They presented “Queen Of The Night” to me, and then they showed me the video of Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard and I was like, “Yeah. That’s kind of hot. Let’s do it. Why not?” And Nicole was like, “Yeah, let’s do it.” But once I got in the red outfit and it was the actual sound check, I was kind of like, “I wish I would have hung in there [doing ballads] a little bit longer.” It wasn’t from a feeling place. It was just showy.
TVLINE | Talk to me about how you choose to interpret a song. I mean, you have a big voice, and to some degree people are going to expect a big vocal from you. But where do you draw the line between restraint and power? I think that that’s always a battle with singers in your style on these kinds of shows, where you want to give…
STACY FRANCIS | Everything all the time.
TVLINE | Exactly, and yet not have it be…
STACY FRANCIS | Too much. Yeah. It depends on the song, and what the song means; how I decide to deliver it comes from the meaning of it. Like for example, going backwards a little bit to “Purple Rain.” I didn’t know what “Purple Rain” was. I was like, “What the heck does ‘Purple Rain’ mean?” So I started Googling “Purple,” and actually the significance of purple is God’s love. So I was like, “Oh, wow. Prince is so amazing. God’s love raining down on you.” Like, “I never meant to cause you sorrow. Never meant to cause you pain. Only want to see you laughing in the Purple Rain.” God’s love raining down on you. So when I took the song and I thought of it from that viewpoint, it helped me deliver it vocally. That’s where I draw the line in my vocal delivery: “What’s the message for someone who’s listening to it? How are they going to feel? And when I hit a big note, is the impact of that big note significant? Will the audience feel something in their stomachs?” Not just hitting a big note to impress them vocally.
TVLINE | So let’s go back to your final night on the show. When Steve Jones said Leroy Bell and Lakoda Rayne were safe, did you immediately start worrying?
STACY FRANCIS | Yeah. Those are the people that — no offense to them — but I think that some people thought that those would be the two acts in the bottom.
TVLINE | The dread was really evident on your face. You don’t seem like someone who has a good poker face.
STACY FRANCIS | I don’t have a poker face. I need to learn. But I try to be very honest. I’m a very honest performer. I sing from an honest place and I just speak honestly. And so it was very hard for me to have a smile on my face when I was in that situation. It was like a pressure cooker up there. I was in shock.
TVLINE | And then you find out you’re in the bottom two against Astro, who the judges have consistently loved week in and week out.
STACY FRANCIS | Yeah.
TVLINE | Did you think, “Okay, I still have a shot here?”
STACY FRANCIS | No. I knew I was going home.
TVLINE | Was it weird competing against a teenager head-to-head at that point? He got surly. Simon and L.A. called him out for being disrespectful and saying he didn’t want to sing for people who didn’t want him in the competition. Was there a part of you, as a mom, that wanted to give him a time out on the naughty step?
STACY FRANCIS | [Laughs] That’s funny. There are a couple of things now, thinking back, that I thought. First, let’s talk about in the moment. In the moment, I was like, “Okay, well maybe he’s about to blow it for himself.” And then I was thinking, “Poor thing.” Because it’s not easy to be in the bottom two, and honey like, “I understand, and I’m so sorry.” A part of me felt, as a mom, compassion for him. Not that I wanted to go slap him in his face. No not at all. I felt more like, “I’m 42 and this is killing me.” I can’t imagine what a 14-year-old is going through right now.
STACY FRANCIS |
I felt compassion for him. I was so sad for the both of us. And it wasn’t about the competition anymore. I was just like, “This sucks.” And, “Poor baby. He doesn’t know how to express it. He’s being defensive and that defensive mechanism is really about him hurting. And he’s trying to have the Kanye West exterior. Like, ‘I got this.’” But at the end of the day, he’s 14 and he’s a baby.
TVLINE | Yeah.
STACY FRANCIS | No one watching the show understands the pressure of wanting to show yourself, wanting to prove yourself, and now you’re standing, feeling invalidated as an artist, thinking, “What could I have done differently? Am I this bad? Am I about to lose this $5 million chance? Will my career ever happen for me?” Those are the things going through your head. And as a 14-year-old boy…
TVLINE | Who has none of the wisdom or experience that you’ve got.
STACY FRANCIS | I’m 30 years his senior — damn near. And I’m standing there nearly crying. I wanted to just cry and say, “Please. Please, please, please.” And beg. But I didn’t feel like it would help me. So I just decided to be gracious. But humility and graciousness don’t come naturally. They come from the things happening in your life. Disappointments and really understanding God’s blessings. And when he blesses you, you have to be gracious for [those blessings], for that moment. So when people talk about Astro, that night I was upset with him. But when I thought about it the next day, I was like, “I can’t be mad at him, he’s a baby and this is hard.”
TVLINE | Your “save-me” performance of “Amazing Grace,” how did you come up with that song?
STACY FRANCIS | You want the grace. You want someone to smile on you. And I was like, “Okay. This is a good song.” And I honestly was ready to sing it a capella.
TVLINE | Really?
STACY FRANCIS | Yeah, I wanted to sing it a capella, but they wouldn’t let me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see. That was like before I was on The X Factor: I was lost, but now I’m found. I’ve found this great vehicle for myself. I was blind; I didn’t know myself as an artist. I was like, “I want to be a pop star.” And now I see that that’s not who I am. I’m 42 years old. I just want to sing heartfelt beautiful songs for people and move the world with my music. So I felt like that was a good way to go.
For more X Factor news, reviews, and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!