Primetime dapperQ: De’Borah from NBC’s The Voice

It is no big secret that network television has become inundated with singing competitions. Time and time again audiences are held captive to crooning amateurs who have proven to be a dime a dozen and honestly, musically flat. These one-note wonders not only aspire to act and sound exactly like their idols but, go above and beyond to recycle a mega-superstar’s sense of style…mega-boring! Just when we thought the boob tube’s talent programming had gone ridiculously stale, enter dubbed knight in fresh to def armor- De’Borah from NBC’s third season of The Voice.

The soulful Chicago native made a big splash back in September when she publicly came out on primetime television with the support of her parents, both whom are Christian pastors. Never having uttered the words before, De’Borah Garner courageously affirmed her gender identity and sexuality when she told the world on stage, “Yeah, I look like a guy — I’m a girl. This is who I am. Boom, I’m gay.” With her boyish charm, preppy threads and all around feel-good energy, De’Borah’s true goal on stage was to spread the message of love. When the debonair singer sang Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” during her blind audition, she not only caught the ears of the eccentric Cee-Lo Green and singing powerhouse, Christina Aguilera, whe won the respect and hearts of fans across America.

At first glance it is effortless to mistake the androgynous De’Borah strictly as a male hip-hop artist. Donned in plaid fitted shirts, colorful bow ties, Adidas, and oversized spectacles that would make any dapperQ holler, De’ Borah has a natural swag and quirkiness that commands attention. Her sense of style is reminiscent of early b-boy street culture with a blend of college prep sophistication. Think Run DMC meets De La Soul and Kanye West. Nevertheless, history tells us to never judge a book by its cover. De’ Borah, 25, is a vocal coach, gospel singer and multi-instrumentalist by trade whose first access to secular music was at the age of 18. Yes, you read that correctly. De’ Borah lists artists such as P!nk, Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera as favorites- a far cry from the rap genre.

One of eleven children, De’Borah grew up traveling with parents to perform and sing in numerous churches around the country leaving little to no time to develop an appreciation of pop music. While her heavenly voice gained much popularity in the gospel music scene, tragically the singer experienced a fair share of discrimination within the Christian music community due to her appearance. Imagine having a voice with the range and control of seasoned gospel-inspired singers like Dionne Farris or Mary J. Blige, but, upon your arrival for gigs you’re dismissed because of your “confusing masculine look.” Such homophobic sentiment would break anyone’s spirit but, dappers like De’Borah know all too well what it means to incessantly compromise for “being oneself.” And, even though she was recently eliminated during the show’s first week of live performances, De’Borah credits The Voice for giving her a two-folded opportunity that speaks volumes. For the first time in her life she unapologetically affirmed her talent and felt confident about her fashion sense. Most importantly, her family showed the world that Christian parents, specifically Black pastors, could care less about their child’s sexuality and the endless dogma they have suffered because of it. As De’ Borah simply states, “They love me, they love their children- period. I give that credit to God.”

dapperQ got a great opportunity to converse with gospel songbird and how she feels about her life in the spotlight. We are proud to present De’Borah’s thoughts on her newfound celesbianism, growing up in a spiritual household and of course, we want to know the mastery behind her cool looks.

dapperQ: What inspired you to submit to NBC’s The Voice?

De’Borah: One of my sisters signed me up and convinced me that this was “the right show” for me. Honestly, I went on the show to prove her wrong really…kind of like this is my last straw. I got tired of competing in numerous gospel singing competitions or not being allowed to sing at other churches because of how I looked. Great example…I competed in a well-known gospel show on BET and I got great reviews for my singing! But you know what the judges said to me? “We just don’t know what to DO WITH YOU. We’re not sure if you’re a boy or girl or “what kingdom” you represent.” How’s that for loud and clear. It made me second-guess who I am and why I sing. I’m so thankful and so, so, so blessed…so blessed that God had another plan for me. I thank my family and NBC’s The Voice for helping me to keep the faith and allowing me to do what I love.

dapperQ: How has church and your parents played a big factor into your musical influences? Everyday life?

De’Borah:  [Chuckling] My earliest memory of church is waking up hearing my mother’s voice as a kid. When mom sang, people cried because they felt the spirit. I was around five years old when that same feeling came over me. I felt the spirit and told her I wanted to be like her instantly.

Growing up we all traveled with my parents and WE ALL SANG! In my house concerts go down 1, 2, 3 o’ clock in the morning – fo’ real [faint giggling]. Watching my daddy prepare sermons, hearing my mom sing and teaching the Word, singing with brothers and sisters…there was always an audience, always a time to shout, always a time to work on stage presence…your delivery. I grew up learning music and playing instruments by ear. For over ten years we performed at the House of Blues for Sunday gospel brunches. When I am not doing studio work, like recording hooks or playing around with tracks, I am a vocal coach in my [church] community. When we weren’t traveling to other churches or venues, each week all of us were preparing for church on Sunday. Gospel was always around and there was always something to do. I actually didn’t have time to pay attention to secular music. Not until I hit about 18 and [started] getting a bit more rebellious. I remember when I first heard P!nk, Maroon 5’s “This Love”…dope. I have a special soft spot for Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within.” It’s on auto-play…outta control.

There was a period where I just stopped singing in the Church because of you know- the way I dress, my hair being way too short. Man, people just thought “my look” was totally inappropriate and they couldn’t accept me for me…that hurt, it really hurt. My parents are legends in our community [Patches Heights] because they left our [previous] church and merged with another to find a home church…a place that was just open and about love. I’m so blessed to have parents like that…they’re dope right? And they truly support me. In the past when I would do paid gigs [within the Church and elsewhere] people would question me…constantly. I would get “Wait, YOU’RE DE ‘BORAH? Mmm…wait just one second.” Then they come back handing me a check and say, “Thank you but, no thank you.” I’m a human being, I can be emotional…I was just so disgusted and [I would] never took the money…I couldn’t. It’s funny because I know so many closeted gospel singers who are good friends and they are afraid to be who they are…it’s tough. I’ve gotten fired because I refuse to wear a dress. [For me] it’s not about money, it’s [about] the music and love.

dapperQ:  One of the highlights of watching The Voice is your parents’ reaction to your victories, whether it is your blind audition or the battle rounds. What message are you and your family sending out to everyone about acceptance and about being comfortable within your own skin?

De’Borah: Well, with my parents being pastors and teachers, their greatest commission is to love, you know. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about gender or sexuality…It’s all about love. We live by those words, so again my parents are the greatest role models for me. No matter where I perform, they have physically come to hear me sing and support. They’ve even walked into clubs and even bars to hear me sing.

When it was all said and done, my daddy told me, “I love you.” You know what I’m saying? Do your thing. Either way, win or lose. You’ve got a place to come home to and you know we’re all supporting you. The way you see them on TV, that’s exactly how they are everywhere. I’m actually living in their dream. They’ve been doing it for so long and I finally get the spotlight, so they are so excited and loving every minute of it.

dapperQ: It is no secret that you’ve are a newbie when it comes to listening and learning secular/pop music. How are you able to learn songs so quickly for The Voice?

De’Borah:  Besides going through “The Voice Boot Camp,” I am a karaoke junkie, a professional karaokist! [Laughing] Actually, it is how I learned the lyrics to Train’s “Soul Sister.” Being on the show there is a limited list of [released] songs for television and I heard it for the very first time on a TV commercial and I loved it instantly. As I did my research on the song…it just reminded me of trying to approach a lady and all feelings you go through- you know. That was a fun one for me!

dapperQ: Before the battle rounds Christina, brought in honorary mentor, Billie Joe from Green Day. What was it like to work with superstars outside your gospel background? How did they help you prepare?

De’Borah: They taught me how to box in my creativity because sometimes, I have the tendency to run away – you know, run off with [musical] riffs and just keep running. They show me how to solidly sing the song. The advice that was given to me was just [to] learn the song and then figure out a way to bring De’ Borah to the song, so I took their advice.

dapperQ: What was the appeal of The Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” a song you never heard before? You performed it really well on The Voice and from following your Twitter feed, fans flocked to purchase it on iTunes in record time.

De’Borah: The song really is about somebody who is deserted on an island and sends a message in a bottle and after a year, the person just doesn’t get any sort of response. Thinking they’re destined to be alone, the next day, there are, you know, millions and millions of bottles.

Well first of all, I had to go into like this boot camp for myself. I had to get comfortable with the lyrics…alone. Once I started listening to what I was singing, I realized, you know – and not only with the Tweets as well – that I am out here. I’m not out here by myself. I’m out here with some people who have been through the same thing, the same struggles. The song, to me, was a push…the world is going to change eventually, so the song is definitely inspirational. Although I didn’t know the lyrics at first, I could relate to the story. I don’t sing anything I can’t relate to.

dapperQ: How did it feel when Adam Levine [from Maroon 5] gave you a standing ovation and accolades? How did it feel for Christina, your coach to compare you to Lauryn Hill?

De’Borah: First off, Adam is great. He’s always been an idol of mine. For him to even single me out, that made my day, my week…my year. Also, with Christina’s words, you know, Lauryn Hill – I get that often. I don’t know any of her music, but I’ve been studying and her tone is very similar to mine. Then with all of the accolades that she’s accomplished, definitely that’s a big thing for me. Hopefully with the traits that they’re giving me, I can keep up with Lauryn Hill.

dapperQ: You have been making quite a stir when it comes to your sense of style. How would you define your style (Ex. / dapper, tailored, preppy, urban, androgynous)? Who are your style icons?

De’Borah:  Back home they call me the “mini Ellen.” I absolutely love the way she dresses. I would turn on the TV just to see what she’s wearing on her show. Ellen DeGeneres – her style is so dope that I’m trying to walk into her footsteps along with “the Urkle,” as the world affectionately likes to call me right now. I’ll admit it…I’m a geek, a brainiac type who actually finished high school at 15. What can I say…I love sportin’ my glasses.

You’ll always catch me in a vest or jacket, a nice pair of fitted jeans and a button up shirt. I absolutely love bow ties. I like being dressed from head to toe…I stay matchin’.

[While I appear more masculine] I do wear women’s clothing and I do a lot of shopping at Express. The clothes are more of a tailored fit. Yes, I do get the stares from store staff wondering why someone like me leans towards the women’s aisles but, I take it stride. I do a lot of my own styling.

dapperQ: Do you feel that fashion can be political?

De’Borah:  Well, I’m able to say “I’m gay” and be myself, you know. I guess that is political. With the show having an international presence, I get hundreds of tweets per day. I have fans from China, Japan and Australia but, still have people from my hometown who won’t accept me. I read about 80% of those tweets and like to think, these aren’t just fans- they are friends.

I thought I did this for myself but, when I saw the reaction I got from so many people. It was overwhelming…but felt good. I feel like I’ve turned heads and it’s crazy to believe I’m a role model. I’m new to it but have been doing research…I want to get married someday, healthcare is important to me and [I believe] I shouldn’t be ashamed who I am. I gladly stand up. I’m a fan of this life and the journey has been one of disbelief. God is amazing. Win or lose…I feel history has been made.

dapperQ: Last question, what is the funniest tweet you have received?

De’Borah: [Laughing ridiculously] I will never forget when someone tweeted,” OMG! I was in love with you but I found out you were a girl. I still love you.” How could you not see the humor in that, you know.

As previously mentioned, De’Borah was eliminated during the first week of live performances.  However, you can continue to support De’Borah by following her Twitter @Music Trappa and looking for The Voice on iTunes.

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