In 2005, recording artist Vonzell “Baby V” Solomon embarked on a journey that changed her life.
At the age of 20, Vonzell made it to the top three on American Idol before she was eliminated. But that was not the beginning nor the end of her journey to stardom.
Vonzell is one of more than two dozen artists on tour with YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, who is a former Idol contestant as well. Todrick gained notoriety for his fast food drive-thru songs and also for producing parody videos — based on popular Broadway musicals and songs. His tour, uniquely entitled Twerk Du Soleil (translation: twerk of the sun), is a combination of his popular YouTube spoofs.
Both Vonzell and her ratchet alter ego,Boonquisha Jenkins, made an appearance in Twerk Du Soleil,which stopped in Detroit July 23 at Saint Andrews Hall. Boonquisha opened the show by facilitating a twerking competition among the audience. Next, Vonzell made a reappearance singing a fan favorite - Whitney Houston's “I Have Nothing.”
Later, Boonquisha came on stage screaming "It's so cold in the D! You gotta be from the D to know that!" in an improv scene mocking popular courtroom shows.And when the audience screamed in support of Boonquisha, Todrick (a.ka. Judge Ratchet) quickly reprimanded anyone who got out of hand. Soon after, Boonquisha threw her wig off and charged across the stage to attack her stagemate who supposedly stole her weave earlier — all in the name of comedy, of course. Overall, the show was full of twerking, ebonics and sing-alongs with a special twist to appeal to Detroiters. During one of his songs, Todrick mentioned that Detroit was the city that inspired him to embark on this tour. Twerk Du Soleil ran for about two hours; after, Todrick stayed for a meet-and-greet, while the remainder of the cast packed the set. These starving artists are scheduled to perform in four more cities, for now.
Although Vonzell does not deem herself as a professional twerker, her alter ego Boonquisha, reigns in the twerking department. Boonquisha is also responsible for Vonzell’s transition from wearing weave to rocking her natural hair -- and not being afraid to proclaim it. Before all of this started, Vonzell worked as a rural mail carrier for the United States Postal Service. After Idol, Vonzell became a spokesperson for USPS.
Vonzell’s sound is very R&B, soul, and pop oriented with a refreshing earthy undertone. The Fort Myers, Fla. native recently released a music video for her self-penned ballad — “Stronger” — which asserts her resilience from previous relationships and demonstrates her faith in finding true love. Vonzell also co-wrote OMG Girlz hit track “Gucci This, Gucci That” in 2012. While not writing and recording new songs, Vonzell is allowing Boonquisha to shine all over her YouTube channel.
Vonzell gave MT the scoop on her alter ego and why she decided to go on tour with Todrick Hall.
V: I met Todrick doing one of his theatre productions. He cast me as Glinda "The Good Witch" in Oz The Musical. Since then, we kinda hit it off; we've been good friends. I never really get to see him because I'm always on the road and doing stuff. One day he said, "I wanna go on tour!" And I was like, "Yeah, that'd be great!" And the next day, he was like, "Okay, I'm going on tour and these are the cities." And I was like "Oh my gosh." He put it together and said he is going on the road and I was just like, "I'm going, too!" And I packed my stuff and we got on the road. Yeah it is crazy. He is bringing to life all of his most popular YouTube videos and also some of his original stuff! It's just a fun show. I'm having a ball. Everywhere we've been -- there's just been so much love. And to be able to hangout with my friend and perform with my friends is great.
MT: Is Boonquisha gonna make an appearance on the show?
V: Boonquisha will definitely make a few appearances in the show.
MT: Your last album was released in 2012, but you are constantly putting out even more singles and music videos. You just put out "Stronger." I remember listening to the album. It has such a powerful message. Are you working on another project?
V: Yeah, I am working on a new project before the year is out. And I will definitely be doing more stuff with Todrick. And more Boonquisha videos and all of that kind of stuff. I'm really excited about the rest of the year because I'm not on the road doing different shows, so I get to focus on my own stuff. So, I've already started writing and recording my new project with my friends in L.A. Yeah, I'm excited about the new stuff that I'm gonna be releasing.
MT: Speaking of Boonquisha and seeing some of the feedback -- in your “Nappy” music video you sang "Nappiest is the truth." I think some people probably took that the wrong way. How did Boonquisha get her start?
V: Well, about four and a half years ago I went natural. And I stopped getting perms and chemicals in my head. I read a lot of studies about the link between chemicals and your health as African-American women. We have health problems that could be linked to the things that we're doing to our hair. I saw a good hair documentary and so I decided to go natural. And when I say "natural is the truth." I mean my hair has never been this healthy and thick and full and long and so I got it pressed down when I came off the road in L.A. and it's like all the way to my waistline. I'm like "Oh my God!" You know -- embracing what God has given me because people will, when I wear my natural hair, sometimes view nappy as negative as a way to describe my hair. I think nappy is beautiful. I'm trying to flip it and show people that is why Boonquisha has that ridiculous afro. What God has given you is beautiful, no matter what anybody says. I guess some people may have taken it the wrong way, but it's all about embracing what God has given you and loving you. And nappy is the truth -- that is truthfully what God gave you. Not that fake stuff from the store.
MT: How does it feel to be the CEO of your own record label?
V: I started my own label because I wanted to be allowed to do my own thing and not allow people to put me in one box. I've been offered to sign on different labels and deals, quote on quote. And it was always giving someone control over what I do and what I sing about; what I wear and that was just too much. I'm a free spirit. I wanted to be able to do my own thing and legitimately put out music or whatever. Some of my friends coming off [American] Idol, signed deals with people and it was done. And when I say "deals" I mean not just record deals, I mean 360 deals. Anything that you do, you have to get consent. Like, I probably wouldn't be able to do Boonquisha, but she makes me happy. And even though she doesn't get as many views as my singing videos, I wanna do what makes me happy. If it's just one person, that's good enough for me. I started my own label so that I could do whatever I wanna do and not have to get permission or be stopped by anyone. Again, some of my friends are at standstill because they cannot get out of the contracts and someone is always telling them: "No, you cannot do that." So, I started my own publishing company and record label so that I can write what I wanna write, sing what I wanna sing, wear what I wanna wear. [laughs] And all of that good stuff.
MT: Why should people see Twerk Du Soleil?
V: There's no rear end to expose and the show really is not even all about twerking. We were all sitting around just throwing out names and just the reaction alone made everybody fall out -- it was hilarious. His [Todrick Hall] vision for the tour was having bold, crazy colors and a circus theme and what-not. That was just something that somebody came up with and we laughed and loved it. So, the show isn't really all about twerking. There's acting, improv, dancing and all of these other great things. Twerking is not done in a nasty way. Kids come to the show, in the front row and are like five years old.
Vonzell’s sophomore album True Story is available on iTunes and other streaming apps.