'Queer Eye' singer Vincint on smashing stereotypes and coming out at 'probably age 5 or 6'

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·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·9 min read
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Vincint (Photo: Big Hassle)
Vincint (Photo: Big Hassle)

Twenty-eight-year-old Philly pop singer Vincint Cannady, known professionally as Vincint, had a strong sense of self at an early age, writing his own songs and even coming out to his religious but supportive parents while he was still in grade school. And because he always knew who he was, when he competed on the Fox TV talent show The Four and the producers wanted him to cover predictable R&B ballads, he stuck to his guns — and made it to the finale singing Britpop and Brandy instead.

Now Vincint, who released his debut EP The Feeling this past February, can be heard on another television show: His empowerment anthem “Be Me” is the theme song for the just-dropped fifth season of Netflix’s Queer Eye. Yahoo Entertainment/SiriusXM Volume caught up with Vincint to talk about his journey from reality TV to streaming TV, his childhood in a nurturing Baptist family while attending a not-so-nurturing Catholic school, and why he’s excited to be the black queer role model that he didn’t have growing up.

Yahoo Entertainment: Tell me how you ended up competing on The Four.

Vincint: Truth be told, I hate talent competitions. [They asked] me three times to audition and I said no. And then the fourth time, I said, “OK, if I can come and just sing and you don’t make a joke out of it, if you don’t make it how it is in every other singing TV show — where someone gay gets on TV and it’s the funky music behind them and they make it into a joke if they’re dressed in a way that isn’t ‘presentable’ for ‘normal society.’ I’ll do this if you let me be me.” My whole purpose of going on the show was to let little LGBTQ kids who look like me see that this is a possibility and it’s not going to be taken as a joke. You can be taken seriously. You can make a career out of this. And you can be in pop and make pop music.

Did you get a positive response to that messaging?

Yeah, that was the best part about all of it — the emails and the gifts I was sent and just the messages and the videos I got from kids all across the country, even internationally … saying, “Thank you for showing us that it’s a possibility.” Because I can remember when I was growing up, I didn’t have anyone to do that for me. I didn’t have a big queer gay icon — especially black — on television or in music to be like, “This is possible.”

How young were you when you started doing music?

I started writing songs at 7 and singing music when I was 5, because my dad was a singer and it was just my passion. So [sexuality] was never in the forefront of anything. I didn’t start off with a mission of “I’m going to be this queer superhero.” I just wanted to sing. And I think that is still my mission. I’m not doing this to make a statement. I think if I just live my life, that’ll be a statement enough. I’m tired of it being a separate conversation as opposed to just being a conversation about music, because we always have to separate: “Oh, you’re black and you’re gay and you do pop.”

I have heard that when you were on The Four, they tried to pigeonhole you as more of a conservative R&B singer, when that isn’t your thing.

Yeah, I got on and they were giving me [eliminated black contestant] Jason Warrior’s old songs and Jason’s old clothes. And I said, “I don’t dress like that. I don’t wear suits!” I have a serious disdain for suits. I do not like them. Do I look nice in them? Yes. [laughs] But I’ve just always hated them. And so when I got there, we had a big sit-down and I caused a little bit of a huff in the dressing room, because they were like, “We need you to wear the suit.” And I was like, “I'm not going [onstage]. You should probably get the producers down here, because I’m not going to leave.” [Editor’s note: Vincint seems to have made an exception for the fashion-forward suit he wears on the “Be Me” single art.]

You did stuff like Radiohead and Coldplay on The Four. What did the producers want you to sing?

Just like, Boyz II Men or a John Legend song. And I love those people, but I also know what I want to sing and what makes me happy when I sing it. That’s just not what I do. Can I do it? Sure. But I want to do what I do the way it’ll come across — honest and good.

Tell me more about your father’s musical career.

My dad was in this group called the Christ United Gospel Singers, and that was the first introduction to music for me. I’d be sitting in my house at the top of the stairs and hear just the most beautiful harmonies happening downstairs, and I would sing along with them, because I was super-shy. I was very shy because I grew up in a big family and everyone had a big personality, and I was trying to figure out who I was and what that meant in this context. And so it wasn’t until my dad brought me to an audition for a boys’ choir and I sang a solo and the whole room got quiet that I was like, “Well, if I can do that, then I think I’ve found exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.”

But you didn’t end up doing gospel music.

Gospel wasn't my calling — to the dismay of my father! I found Bjork and I found Madonna and I found Britney Spears. And then I found Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor. I love women singer-songwriters; I think they just have a very beautiful perspective on love and tragedy and hope and joy. And so, I really dug deep into that and I found my voice in their songs. Also, I could connect with this because my mother played Celine Dion every day. I know every Celine Dion song known to man!

I know you grew up in a Baptist family. Were your parents accepting of your sexuality?

In my household, I was taught that religion is very inclusive. At Catholic school, not so much. I went to Catholic school from kindergarten until 12th grade, because I had scholarships, and it was hell on earth. We had a theology lesson every day, and they told you that being gay is wrong and lots of other awful things that they shouldn’t tell children. And I am just so fortunate to have a parent… my father has passed now, but to have a mother who is literally just one of the most amazing creatures on earth, who taught me that you can be whoever you want to be, and God loves you just the way you are. And if anyone tells you different, they can f*** off.

How old were you when you came out?

I was probably age 5 or 6. At that age I was still shy, but I was confident. I grew up around a lot of sisters, and I just watched how they handled themselves, and I was like, “OK, great, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” And I told my mom one day that I would love for this boy to come over and I would just want to watch TV and we can have snacks and be really cute. And she was like, “Why?” And I was like, “Because I like him!” That wasn’t a foreign idea to me, because I had beautiful parents who didn’t say to me, “This is who you should like, this is what you should want and this is what’s right.” The best thing my mother ever gave me was saying: “Go figure out what you believe in, what you are and who you are, and come back to me. And if you’re hurting anyone, I’ll tell you what’s wrong. But if not, I’ll let you be who you are because that’s who you are.” She said, “When you leave my house, don’t let anyone raise you. I’ve raised you to know what’s right. So just do right.”

One of your earlier music videos, for “Marrow,” was actually shot in a church, which must have been full-circle for you.

Yes, the director, Jake Wilson, found this church in North Hollywood that would let us do it there. I went to the church and I spoke to the pastor, and she — she, which we love! — was like, “Great, you can do whatever you want to do in here. Just don’t fornicate.” And I said, “You got it!” My message was that, for that video in particular, is that we’re all welcome in the church. I have people of different orientations in that church, in that video — different races, different genders, some gender-nonconforming, some trans. I wanted to make sure that it was very apparent that love can be seen in many different aspects — and also in a place where it’s supposed to be holy. It can still be holy and not be something damning, just because we don’t agree full-on with what the church might say.

The above interview is taken from a portion of Vincint’s appearance on the SiriusXM show “Volume West.” Full audio of this conversation is available on demand via the SiriusXM app.

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