There are many things about Macy Gray that make her stand out in a crowd — her eclectic sense of style, free-flowing mane, unique voice, and, of course, talent. So when she arrives for an interview with omg! in bustling midtown Manhattan, where the sidewalks were jam-packed with pedestrians, it's easy to spot her emerging from a cab. Everyone else spots her, too — heads turn, people whisper, camera phones snap, and more than a few say "Hi Macy." She takes it all in stride, acknowledging fans as she strolls to our meeting spot. When I note that it must be hard for someone like her to fly under the radar, she says, "Most of the time when I walk down the street, I don't remember that people know who I am. Until someone says something to me, I completely forget."
What's unforgettable about 44-year-old Gray is her voice. Fans fell in love with her distinctive sound when her hit song "I Try" was released in 1999. It was all over the radio and it led to her winning a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. She has gone on to release six studio albums in total, including the latest, Covered, in which she covers some of her favorite songs. "I caught this Nina Simone video a long time ago and she had taken 'My Way' by Frank Sinatra and turned it into a proper Nina Simone song," Gray says when asked about the inspiration behind an album of all covers, including a great rendition of "Creep" by Radiohead and The Eurythmics' "Here Comes the Rain Again." "I thought that would be a great challenge — to take a song and make it my own. I wanted to do rock songs because I thought any other genre would be really obvious. I think we did good though! I like it a lot."
After 12 years in the music business, Gray is now the mother of three teens — Aanisah, 16, Mel, 15, and Happy, 14, whose father is her ex-husband Tracy Hinds — so one of the 10 tracks on the album is an ode to them, My Chemical Romance's "Teenagers." "The first time I heard that song, I loved it," she tells omg!. "I wanted to do it, but lyrically it didn't make sense for me. So we flipped the lyrics a little bit. Now it's a little different because it's coming from a mother's perspective, but it has the same meaning."
Gray says juggling a career in showbiz and a family is difficult, but no more so than your average parent. "I think motherhood is hard for any mother," she says. "I'm gone a lot so I've missed a few things. But they're older now, we're all very used to each other and each other's lifestyle, so it's one of those things where you just work it out. You don't really know how you did it — it's just part of life." Interestingly enough, her kids are at an age where they can give her solid opinions about her music and she's been known to take their advice. "I don't go out and change my songs to make everything based on what they say, but I do listen to what they have to say," she says, noting: "They have really good taste."
Another song on Gray's album is "Smoke 2 Joints" by The Toyes, which prompts a question about how she discusses the topic of drug use with her kids. "I talk to them about it a lot, but, ya know, kids are going to do what they're going to do," she shrugs. "It's been a challenge to keep them on the right path — but I really think that is for any mother. You have parents who have never touched drugs and their kids are completely methed out. Then you have parents who are strung out and their kids haven't touched it. Everybody has their own path and their own journey and as a mom you do your best, but your kids have minds of their own."
And so does Gray. Not surprisingly, the singer, who is known for her distinct fashion sense, sports three tattoos in tribute to family members. When asked about her ink, Gray points to her arm — "Well, this one says 'motherhood,'" she explains. "I wrote that one night when my son made me cry. I got it to balance out my pain — from the inside to the outside. I have another one with my kids' names on it: Happy, Mel, and my [eldest] daughter's nickname is Boopy. The last one, on my calf, says 'Daddy' because my father died a few years ago. I got this before he died."
Although Gray briefly competed on "Dancing With the Stars" in 2009 (she was eliminated during week two), she's quick to say she has no interest in appearing in the upcoming special all-star edition of the series. Like most of the contestants, she dropped a lot of weight while training for the show. "I lost like 25 pounds without even trying!" she says. "You're so busy dancing, you forget to eat." These days she gets her exercise by running or walking in her Los Angeles neighborhood or riding her stationary bike at home. "I bike in a Sauna Suit and watch TV," says Gray, referring to an article of clothing designed to make the person wearing it sweat heavily. Her favorite shows to watch include reality-competition series (she still prefers "American Idol" to "The Voice" "because 'Idol' has better talent") as well as "those weird crime-solving stories like, 'Snapped' — that's my favorite show. It's about women who kill their husbands," she says, bursting into laughter over her own description of the program.
And when she's not watching shows about crazy, murderous women, Gray sometimes turns to the Internet. "I used to love Facebook. I couldn't wait to go on. You know how people want to take a picture just so they can put it on their Facebook page? I would see a piece of fruit and think: 'I gotta put that on my Facebook!' Then I just got burnt out on it. Bored. Now I just tweet a little bit."
Funny enough, on a recent day, she's sharing some happy news on Twitter. Eldest daughter Aanisah was accepted at the prestigious art college Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, and the singer was excitedly shouting to the world: "Thas my baby whose goin to college."
So, motherhood is hard for any mother, but it seems like Gray's doing a good job.
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