Make the songs you want and trust your writing. People may try to force a certain image upon you, but don’t try to be who you are not. Embrace who are you are — people will like the genuine you.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Wé McDonald.
Singing since the age of 12, Wé McDonald’s star-making turn on her show-stopping blind audition on the hit NBC TV show The Voice drew national attention in 2016. When this sultry songstress is not singing on stages across the world, she is recording new music, writing educational children’s books and partnering with organizations, such as World Vision, volunteering her time to assist in making the world a much better place for all. Wé McDonald, now 21, continues to commit and dedicate her life to healing the world through her music and philanthropic endeavors. Wé McDonald is, undeniably, a rising star.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/39039cfcc35f1b38b496b4ea08a50ea5
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you so much for having me! I am originally from Harlem, NY, but I live in New Jersey now. I grew up as a very active kid. I thankfully have both of my parents and they supported me in most of the things I wanted to do. I began acting at around four years old. It was something to keep me busy and focus my energy, but it turned into a passion of mine. I began dancing at eleven (ballet, tap, modern, jazz, African, hip-hop).
It is funny that singing is what people know me for now, because I didn’t start fully singing until I was twelve or thirteen years old. My parents would take me into the city several days each week for training in acting, dance, and music. I went to a vocational high school, Passaic County Technical Institute where my major was Theatre. Imagine my friends’ surprise when they found out I could sing!
Four years later, I competed in the national singing competition The Voice and won third place. It was pretty crazy. Now I get to travel around the world singing my heart out in front of people like Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Gloria Estefan, CeeLo Green, and many more.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
The main reason I started singing was to be like my older sister. My sister was everything in high school, and like any little sister, I wanted to be just like that. She performed at the school talent show and beautifully sang every time. The women in my house have a knack for singing, which is why when I was younger, I just assumed everyone could sing. That is a different story for a different time, though.
I started singing with my sister at different talent shows, and eventually began singing solo. I had a tough time in junior high, but music saved me. Specifically, Freddie Mercury and Queen helped me escape a bad place during that time. I wanted to make people feel heard and loved, and from that time on, I decided I wanted to sing for the rest of my life.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
My friends and family know that I have a unique voice — which sounds completely different when I am speaking from when I am singing. I have no control over it, but it is something I am proud to have been blessed with. One night after a show, a very sweet lady came up to me and complimented my singing. I thanked her and said it was my absolute pleasure.
She asked me how I was “able to switch the tone in my voice.” I laughed, and told her I had no idea, and that it had just always been like that. The woman then said she studies vocal cords and folds for a living and would love to study mine!
She wanted to figure out why my voice changed the way it did when I switched from spoken word to song, noting she believed I had very “attractive vocal cords.” I had no idea what to say, so I just said, “Thank you.” Was that very weird? Yes. Was that one of the best compliments I have ever received? Yes — in the top ten.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can laugh at this now, but at the time it was slightly traumatizing. While I was on The Voice, I got introduced to “in-ears” for the first time — monitors in your ears that allow you to hear yourself and other instruments while performing live.
I was unfamiliar with them and asked my vocal coach for guidance. She told me to keep one ear “out” while on stage, but the production team said I must wear both. So, during rehearsals, I kept both in, and it was fine.
Then, the first live show of the season came. With both in-ears on, as the song started to play, I let out a note…and heard absolutely nothing. I had no idea what was happening! Was the audience too loud? Was my volume too low? I tried to save it by taking out one of the monitors, but it only got worse.
That night, I sang the worst performance of my entire career during the first live show in front of over 60 million people. My family and friends never let me live that one down. I can laugh at it, but I know somewhere on the internet it lives forever. It was the ultimate lesson to learn to keep one ear free while performing live!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m working on a lot of new music, which will hopefully be curated into an album. I have been blessed to work with some amazing creative, successful industry professional. I am working with DMX, who is super talented and driven. Being with him in the studio is like drinking five energy drinks in ten seconds! I am excited for what is to come with that collaboration.
I have also been working with a great producer, Stuart Innis, who is assembling a collective of beasts in the industry to collaborate. Moxie Knox, an artist/songwriter, is one of the amazing artists, but is now also my friend. You really need that in this industry — the comfort to be free with other talented creatives. I have been diving into acting and auditioning again recently. So, you just might see me on the big screen soon.
Outside of the arts, philanthropy is one of my passions and I have been working with global humanitarian organization World Vision to aid in the distribution of clean water worldwide among other critical needs. I had the honor of going to Rwanda last year as a World Vision ambassador to see a village receive clean drinking water for the first time. It was definitely a life changing experience. World Vision is also supporting American families during the COVID-19 crisis through Family Emergency Kits. World Vision has partnered with churches, school districts and other partners across to distribute the kits that provide families with a week’s worth of food, essential items, and PPE. I am so proud to be working with an organization that is empowering families out of poverty during one of the most difficult years in recent memory.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Representation is the catalyst to acceptance, inspiration, and change. The more often kids
and young adults see people who look like them, the more hope it inspires to achieve their goals. That goes for any industry — not only entertainment.
Growing up as a young Black girl, there were not many examples of Black and Brown leaders on television, especially women, and most of the women were depicted in a stereotypical narrative. I want to change that through my music and art. I imagine a younger version of myself looking at the TV and seeing someone who looks like her cast as the lead role in an action movie, a love story, a crime series, etc.
There are amazing actors and actresses who are finally receiving their due — people like Viola Davis, Angela Bassett, Kerry Washington, Michael B. Jordan, Chadwick Boseman, Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, and so on. While they are superstars in their own respects, there remains so much more progress to be made in diversity and inclusion.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Don’t trust so easily. Pay attention to people’s actions and not just the promises they make. Remember, anyone can talk a good game — it’s the follow through that matters.
2. Make the songs you want and trust your writing. People may try to force a certain image upon you, but don’t try to be who you are not. Embrace who are you are — people will like the genuine you.
3. You don’t have to straighten your hair to be pretty. I used to think that straight hair was the prettiest, or that curly was only pretty on other women. It is common issue for women of color, especially if you have a tighter curl pattern. I would encourage young women to leave the heat alone, because that big poodle bush of hair that people used to hate could be your beautiful signature look.
4. You don’t have to please everybody. There is something in you as an entertainer where you may feel like you must please everyone and always say yes. This impulse can develop very early on in your career. Setting proper boundaries builds respect in the industry and in life. Know that you will not be able to make everyone happy all the time, but if you do the right thing and rings true for you, that is what matters.
5. Follow your gut every time. You know what you want. You can feel it in your spirit. Don’t waiver from it. Only you truly know what’s right for yourself. You have to wake up and live with your decisions, so make sure you’re proud of them.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
It is tough during this time to fight feelings of stress and helplessness. You aren’t alone. I am a perfectionist and I tend to run myself rampant. Take some time to do something for yourself and remember to have fun! We can become so caught up in the technicalities of what we do that we forget why we started doing it in the first place.
Also, don’t be afraid to walk away from something for a second to regroup. Play a video game, take a bath, exercise, do a mud mask, eat a pizza — anything that will bring you a drop of sunshine.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would ensure access to clean and safe water for everyone, which is why I chose to partner with World Vision as they implement clean water solutions worldwide. What is more important than water? Our bodies are 60% water; the heart and brain alone are 73% water each. Yet it is a resource that people take for granted, including myself. Imagine the impoverished communities trying to survive the pandemic without access to water, food, housing, and other critical needs.
If people can do anything during this holiday season, they can donate to organizations that are supporting families in need. World Vision is raising funds to support their vital work through the 2020 Holiday Gift Catalog with over 100 lifesaving gifts, including a gift I designed: the “Bonded Together” tote. The beautiful bag (free with a 75 dollars donation) is handmade by disabled female artisans in Vietnam who receive fair wages and gain independence through the work.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My parents and my family are my number one supporters. My momma is my number one fan, although she does have trouble getting the lyrics to my songs right! My father (aka “Coach”) has been my manager and ride-or-die throughout my career and before that. He has challenged me every step of the way, which has helped me know how to carry myself in tough situations.
The first time I told my dad I wanted to sing, he told me that I not only needed to pursue academic success, but that I needed to study the greats (Ella Fitzgerald, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Etta James, and more) in order to prosper.
My father keeps me on my toes 24/7. He used to snap his fingers and say “Whatcha got for me?” and if I didn’t sing — no matter where we were — he would remind me I could lose an opportunity from being too scared. The last two times he did this to me were at a car dealership and a restaurant! No place is off limits.
Producer Andre Betts also helped me gain confidence in a studio at a very young age. He taught me key protocols and how to hold my own. He produced the tracks I have out now, and without him, I would have been lost in the studio. He is now part of my family forever.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.” — Nelson Mandela
I look at this quote so often, I feel like it is embedded into my eyes. I have had days where I wanted to give up. I have heard “no” more than “yes,” and still do. People in the industry are not always sure what to do with me, but that just means I must make my own path.
I have heard the empty promises. I have had devastation in life. We all have, especially during this time. There is always going to be something keeping you from what you are meant to do. Fight it!
My mother always says that the more obstacles in your way, the closer you are to your dream. You have to have a come-up story to be the super hero you were meant to be, and that means not being perfect all the time. Beyoncé also said, “Be about that action.” You can fear failure and never take a risk, or you can take action and bet on yourself, which is what I like to believe I’m doing.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Billie Eilish. I feel like we would have a wild time together. Her style is sick! I love how she promotes body positivity by wearing what she wants and not bending to popular opinon. Her music is edgy and honest. She is also still growing into who she is, which gives me comfort as another young artist.
She is completely herself. I feel like we would be tight. Forget lunch! We would probably go to Wendy’s, watch movies, and talk about life — spend the whole day together. I can only imagine the stupid stuff we would say. Plus, I think the music we would make would be great. Oh gosh, could you imagine if she saw this?
How can our readers follow you online?
I post all the time so everyone can follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @we_mcdonald and on TikTok at @we_ani.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!