If a year ago, you’d told Flint, MI-based rapper Lyric Da Queen that she’d be covering a Miley Cyrus party anthem on national television, she’d have laughed in your face. But after landing in one of Simon Cowell’s patched-together groups on The X Factor, Lyric (along with her cohorts Jemelle “Melee” Joseph and Julien “Jewlz” Joseph) got in touch with her inner Disney diva — and wound up being labeled a “superstar” by Cowell and his adviser Marc Anthony.
“It’s funny how you can be pulled out of your comfort zone, and end up doing something great,” says Lyric of that fateful Judges’ Houses performance, but she might as well be talking about her larger experience as part of Lyric145.
TVLine caught up with Lyric to talk about her group’s too-early exit from the show, her battle with a corneal disease that left her blind for more than two years, and the thought process that went into Lyric145 choosing Mary Poppins over 8 Mile for X Factor‘s Movie Night. Plus, Lyric gives us a little taste of the original lyrics she wasn’t allowed to drop on Top 12 performance night.
TVLINE | Before this interview, I did a YouTube search on you and found an audition you did for a BET Awards show where your flow was insanely fast but completely understandable. It was really amazing. Are you frustrated to be voted off The X Factor without having showcased your skills as a lyricist?
Yeah, it’s crazy. Top 12 week was supposed to be the week that me and the boys [Jewlz and Melee] showcased what we could really do. On the show, you saw our theatrical side, our fun side, the ’90s side, but you still had not seen Lyric145 as hip-hop artists. We had this crazy concept with original lyrics. It was definitely going to be our best performance, and lo and behold, the night before, we got a call saying that we couldn’t do the song. And I swear, I fought really hard for it, because all the problems [that sidelined the performance] ended up getting fixed at the very last minute. Simon really, really liked the mash-up with Katy Perry and Queen, and we totally didn’t. I was going all the way off up until the time I got on stage, but it got out of our hands. It was a case of either keep fighting, get on stage and not know the words, or go ahead and use that hour or two to learn the words to the new song.
TVLINE | What was the track you wanted to perform to?
We were actually going to do a mix with Aretha Franklin — “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” — and we came up with this crazy loop for it. Even if we would have gotten eliminated [at the same point in the competition], I would have had better peace of mind if we would’ve been able to do what we initially wanted to do.
TVLINE | The first time we really got to see you as a solo contestant this season was your Boot Camp rendition of “It Takes Two.” To me, anybody who brings Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock back to the forefront has to be doing something right. How did you come up with that song?
It was one of those situations where you don’t want to do anything too cool for school, but at the same time, I’m all about shock and surprise. That’s really what I tried to bring to the competition. Every time I come on stage, you don’t know what to think, you don’t know what is going to come out of my mouth, or which song I’m going to cover. I was like, “All right, I’m going to do something old school, and it’s going to be crazy.”
TVLINE | Tell me about the Judges’ Houses performance of “Party in the USA,” your first time on stage with Melee and Jewlz.
Well, we hadn’t even been together for a week yet. One thing I can say, though, is our chemistry is just scary and unreal. Before we even got put together as a group, we were actually very close and vibed off-camera. For the Judges’ House performance, we had a lot to prove, we had to show a lot of passion, to prove to Simon he didn’t make a mistake with us. I lost my voice that day, but it was like it didn’t even matter.
TVLINE | How far had you gone with your music career prior to X Factor?
Prior to this, I’ve just been traveling, trying to get into any venue I can. I did a mix tape almost a year ago for a really huge DJ. But honestly, these past couple of years, I’ve been recovering from the condition I was under with my eyes. That whole eye patch thing, I wear it because I really need it. In 2008, I went completely blind for two and a half years. It was a condition called Keratoconus. So once I got my cornea transplant in both of my eyes, that’s when I started to get my life back on track. And then, like three days before my first [X Factor] audition, I had to go into emergency surgery. I was supposed to be in the hospital for two and a half weeks, but I discharged myself so I wouldn’t miss my chance.
TVLINE | Holy cow!
Yeah, it was crazy. I had my first audition with tape and plastic over my eye. It wasn’t like a fashion statement at that moment. You know what I’m saying? I was ashamed, I was scared, I was embarrassed about it. And then it just turned into this trademark.
TVLINE | I find it kind of crazy that none of that back story made it onto the air. Don’t you think that’s weird?
I do think that is interesting. I expected to see it on air, because they made me talk about it a lot. Well, I shouldn’t say they made me, but it came up a lot, it really did.
TVLINE | Stuff like that always makes me suspicious. Like what was the producers’ intention? But anyway, moving right along, Lyric145’s other big performance this season was “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” When you guys said you were singing it, I thought, “These people are insane.” But somehow it worked.
There were like 100 ideas tossed in the air, and none of them were working for us. I didn’t want to go and do “Gangsta’s Paradise” or something from 8 Mile or Hustle & Flow. I didn’t want to do what people thought we was going to do. I honestly can give a lot of credit to Simon, because he called and said, “Just think about the way Jay-Z took ‘Hard-Knock Life’ from [the musical] Annie and turned it into this hip-hop classic.” Instantly, a spark flew and we were like, “Ohhh, okay, right.” The juices started flowing. The song came up and we just put our spin on it.
TVLINE | On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have to ask you about your reaction to the tough critiques you got after performing “E.T.”/”We Will Rock You.” At one point you yelled, “I love you, too” to someone in the audience, almost as if you were tuning out Demi Lovato’s feedback. What was going through your mind at that time?
Before they even started talking, I felt like there was a chance I could be leaving that week, and I had never felt like that during this whole competition. I was looking around like, “Wow, I’m here. Let me capture this moment because I know I’m not going to get it back.” I was just really zoned out, and once they did start critiquing…for some reason people think that I purposely interrupted Demi, and that wasn’t the case at all. Me and her had the sweetest conversation after that. I really have a lot of love and respect for her for a million and one reasons. What happened was, a fan was screaming so loud, “We love you Lyric!” I was like, “I love you too. Thank you.” On TV, it looked like I was just like, “Shut up Demi. Whatever.” And it wasn’t like that. I was a little zonked out, but I took heed of what they were saying, because I totally agreed; it was probably the wrong song. It was time for people to see a different side of us, and we had planned on doing that, but it got stripped away from us.
TVLINE | What’s next for you?
The exposure that we got is everything. Right now I’m being talked about more than I’ve ever been talked about. My fan base is up higher than it’s ever been. Could it increase? Of course it could, but I definitely can’t complain. If we continue to do what we did on the show times a million, we will continue to go up. The industry needs something like Lyric145. Nothing like us exists on radio or TV.
TVLINE | So you guys are definitely going to stay together as a group?
Oh yeah, for sure. For sure. Of course. When we first got put together as a group, the first 10 seconds, I’m pretty sure we all looked at each other, like, “I don’t know if this is going to work.” But almost immediately it made sense. Putting us in a group bettered our careers. We can do the group thing for a few years, and if we want to do something solo, that’s another extension of what we do.
TVLINE | On the show, you talked about the difficulties of growing up in Flint, MI. What’s been the response from back home?
I was on the front page [of the newspaper] a couple of times. I had my own [X Factor] commercial spots. My grandmother called me, and she was crying because she said that it’s crazy to flick on the news, and the only positive thing on it is me. I remember you specifically saying [on an episode of Reality Check] that maybe I was exaggerating, but no, I’m not. [Flint] is ranked like the No. 2 or 3 most-dangerous city. It’s not to the point where I’m ducking and dodging, but it’s bad. It really is bad. I have a little 17-year-old cousin that got killed on his birthday last year for his Jordans. It’s hard. Trying to tell my nephews you don’t have to be here. You don’t have to do this. Watch me. Look at what I’m doing. Go to school and get as smart as you possibly can, and whatever it is you want to do, you can definitely do it. It feels good to be able to shed a positive light on my city because we need it more than anything. Flint has been very, very, very supportive. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive hometown right now.
TVLINE | Your personality and your energy are very light and bright. But given where you’re from and given what you’ve been through the last few years with your vision problems, I don’t think anyone would blame you if you didn’t have such a great attitude. How do you maintain that?
I mean, it’s all I have. If I was to let circumstances beat me down, where would I be? I would have completely given up on every type of potential that I have. So I just never let nothing get me to that point. I lost my vision, I was raised in a crazy neighborhood, I’ve lost people. There’s some things I’ve been through that I’ll probably never even talk about. But what do you have but your sense of happiness, and your sense of pride and drive? It doesn’t matter where you come from, it just matters getting where you’re going. I try to keep a positive mind frame, and smile as much as possible…make people feel good. That’s why we go crazy, and laugh and jump around on stage, because no matter what you’re going through, when we get on stage you forget about it. I want to give people that, because that’s what being on stage gives me, you know?
TVLINE | So given that the X Factor audience never heard your own lyrics, are you going to take every opportunity you can to prove to the world you can write?
Oh, for sure. We’re probably going to have something coming very, very, very soon. I’m a writer, so I write all day, every day, and I have a lot of new material that I plan on releasing. The show, the competition, is probably the last cover of other people’s lyrics you’ll probably hear from me. [Laughs] I might do something on other people’s beats, or hooks, but that’s it. Everything as far as verses, and it will be strictly my original stuff, and if it’s the boys’ work, it will be strictly from them.
TVLINE | How about hitting us with something right now?
I think I’m allowed to do that. I’ll give you a taste of the verse we were supposed to perform [on Top 12 performance night].
I quit goin’ easy on ’em ’cause they took advantage
But they know I got the type of flow to make their flicker vanish
I wanna be deservin’ of my residual
And I ain’t subliminal, I’m intentional
‘Cause everybody want to be a critic
But if you ain’t never had it you can’t tell me how to get it
Yo, we did it with the best and that’s what we’re here to prove
‘Cause we got even better when they put us in a group
And you know we’re known for doing the unexpected
You ain’t gotta like it but I’ll get all y’all to respect it
Impressed with Lyric’s lyrical flow? Outraged Lyric145 didn’t crack the Season 2 Top 10? Looking forward to the group’s future output? Sound off in the comments!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV