You wouldn't think it would be sensible to court scandal and controversy on New Year's Eve. But in this world of celebrity gossip and killer paparazzi, that's what sells. And it sure doesn't hurt if the subject of all this brouhaha has an amazing singing voice.
Such is the case with Franchelle "Frenchie" Davis. On the second season of American Idol, in 2003, the Washington, D.C., native was accepted into the top rank of contenders on the strength of her stunning rendition of "And I Am Telling You." Then, although she had revealed to the Idol organization in advance that, years before, she had been the subject of topless photos (the pictures had already been taken down from the Internet), the suits at Fox strung her along for a couple of months before deciding she could not appear on the show.
Hopes diminished but undashed, Davis bounced back, performing on Broadway in both Rent and Dreamgirls, which ultimately cemented for her a gay fanbase. During the touring run of Dreamgirls, she stopped briefly in Pittsburgh as main character Effie (played in the film by Jennifer Hudson).
Indeed, the Idol tiff would have been long forgotten had the topic not resurfaced when nude photos of Season 6 contender Antonella Barba appeared on the Internet. Barba (who is white) was not disciplined in the same way that Davis had been. With a reserved respect for the vaunted TV institution, Davis cried foul in the New York Post, saying, "It's fantastic if Idol has evolved … if the rules have changed, I believe there should be something to make up for the fact that I was humiliated needlessly."
She left things at that, but her fans were more incensed, going so far as to cry racism, and protesting in front of the show's Hollywood studios. Even Rosie O'Donnell addressed the issue, on a segment of The View. Davis, however, was able to move on. The diva appeared in the 10-year Rent reunion and, this past August, starred in Hartford Stage's Mahalia: A Gospel Musical. At first, she was hesitant to accept the role because "well, Mahalia Jackson is a legend." But the Hartford Courant said she did the role justice, and I'm sure that by now, Davis and her loyal following are thanking the Lord for working in such mysterious ways.
Frenchie Davis with Kierra Darshell and Peter Gozinya. 11 p.m. Mon., Dec. 31. Pittsburgh Eagle, 1720 Eckert St., North Side. $15-20. 412-766-7222