Vincint Cannady was already a rising vocalist and didn’t want or need to compete on Fox’s “The Four” reality singing competition. The Philadelphia native, who blends his powerful pipes with soulful falsettos and huge dance hooks as VINCINT, twice rejected the show’s producers to try out.
The proudly out Black artist, who now lives in L.A., doesn’t like TV singing competitions. The third time, though, in 2018, his manager convinced him that appearing would not only help his career but allow him to show a large audience that “who I am is enough.
“If there are little boys and girls who look like me and happened to be in the LGBTQ life, then they can see that we’re not just the butt of the joke, and we’re not just a fad to be on TV,” he said last week. “They can see that we’re talented, we have a vision, we want something for ourselves, and we have the goal and the willpower to go and do it.”
VINCINT agreed to audition after negotiating a contract that essentially allowed him to perform the songs he wanted and dress the way that he wanted to. However, he said producers still tried to form a new image for him as a conservative-looking R&B singer. While he was raised on gospel music, he was neither. When the producers tried to make him conform by literally wearing the formal attire of a recently eliminated contestant, and singing that contestant’s songs, VINCINT held his ground.
“I am a very outspoken person, and I know what I want,” he said. “I’m that guy who will stand in the middle of the stage and wait for you to listen while the whole show goes by.”
Eventually, “The Four” judges Charlie Walk, Diddy, DJ Khaled and Meghan Trainor made VINCINT a finalist—not that it mattered because he was already on his way.
VINCINT was raised in Baptist home, but his parents always supported him when he came out around age 6 or 7. His dad himself sang in a gospel group and encouraged his singing by signing him up for a choir. He found his calling, but rather than gospel or R&B, he fell in love with the music of Bjork, Madonna, Britney Spears, Ingrid Michaelson, Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. (His two best performances on “The Four” were Radiohead’s “Creep” and Coldplay’s “Magic.”) He ended up studying at Berklee College of Music for his bachelor’s degree.
The 29-year-old began sharing songs in 2016 and released his debut EP, The Feeling, last Valentine’s Day.
Three days after The Feeling was out in the world, the producers of Netflix’s “Queer Eye” reached out. He’d go on to write “Be Me” exclusively for the show, with a quarantine video featuring the show’s five stars. Then, two weeks ago, he released banger “Hard 2 Forget,” the first song from what he said will be his first full-length album, which he hopes to release in November.
“It’s just music where I wanted to help people escape the reality that we’re all in, because it’s psychotic, and I think it’ll drive us all crazy if we don’t,” he said. “It’s music that brings back teen nostalgia for everyone, riding in your car with friends and going to parties with your friends, and kissing boys and kissing girls, and remembering what it felt like to have a great summer night with your people and wake up in the morning and feel fresh and new and young. I want to give people that wild feeling again.”
RIFF: When you released The Feeling, you were probably planning on doing a lot of shows this year. And instead, you’re home. What has your year been like so far?
VINCINT: Yes, I thought that it would be a lot busier than it was. But surprisingly, it’s not been not busy. I’ve been doing a lot of virtual shows, which has been really, really great. I’ve been doing a lot of Zooms with fans and getting to talk to them and doing little meet and greets. That’s been really fun for me, and I hope for the fans. It’s obviously not the real thing, but it’s close enough. I’ve been busy every four days out of every week, and I’ve just been working—recording, writing, doing shows.
Have you had time to pursue new or old hobbies?
VINCINT: If by old hobbies you mean eating everything in my house, then yes. Yes, I have been able to really get back into old ways. There’s nothing really much I can do. I’ve been practicing a lot more piano, which has been fun, and I love that. But more so I’ve just been writing, and staying in and journaling a lot more.
The EP you released on Valentine’s Day deals with relationships, but not so much the happy parts of them. What events influenced this record?
VINCINT: I think it deals with all the [angles] on every side of a relationship. The anger, the jealousy, the happy times, the sad times and the chaotic times. It was influenced a lot by my last relationship and by some of my closest friends and the way that they view their relationships, and the way that I view my relationships through their eyes. I think it’s always good to pull from life perspective, and I try my best to do that. I take it from a sense of nostalgia. Really, I want to be able to talk about love and not just a way where it’s super romantic and everything ends well because that’s not the reality of what love is. It’s complicated and it’s beautiful. But it’s messy and it’s uncertain at times.
So the stories that you singing about aren’t just your own, but there are also some of your friends’ as well?
VINCINT: Yeah, but we’re not gonna say who, we’re just gonna say “yes.”
How did the “Queer Eye” collaboration happen?
VINCINT: I was in my manager’s hotel room in L.A., and we got a call. They were asking, “We love this music. We would love to have him featured on this season, and does he have any music that would work for this?” I sent them over some songs, and they were like, “Well, this doesn’t really fit the theme of the season.” So I said to them, “Could you give me a day, and I’ll write a song, if that works, if you can give me that time?” They’re like, “Yeah, we’re looking at other people, but we would love for it to be you.” So I went and called the boys at Fly by Midnight, who had worked on my EP with me, and I said, “Clear your schedule, we have something to do.”
We got together, we wrote the song, sent them over the demo, and they were like, “We love it.” Then I didn’t hear anything for a month because they had to deliberate and because there are 1,000 teams at Netflix, and everything has to go through approval. And then they called, and they were like, “We love it. It’s going to be the single,” and I screamed at the top of my lungs because I had been freaking out for maybe four weeks, but it worked perfectly. It kind of was a godsend, really. It just came out of nowhere, but it felt like it was right and it was supposed to be for me.
Are you a huge fan of the show and its stars? Can you quantify how big of a deal it was for you?
VINCINT: I used to watch the original “Queer Eye” with the original Fab Five, so I’ve been a fan forever. Then when the resurgence of the show came, I was like, “This is really cool. Look at these guys being super flamboyant and super gay and super awesome but also helping others.” Then getting the call, I was like, “Oh shit!”
You know when you think in your mind, like, “Oh, this is never going to happen,” but you wish that it would? For me it was such a full-circle moment of being such a fan and inspired by them and then being welcomed to the family in the sense of helping and bringing inspiration in another way. It felt so right and sure and validating. It was really, really a good moment for me.
Did you have a chance to talk to those guys? I know that the video has each of you watching each other, but that’s not necessarily how videos get made.
VINCINT: I’ve talked to all of them, and they reached and have been very, very sweet. They have been very welcoming and congratulatory, and that’s really great. Obviously, we can’t be in person and really have in-depth conversations because we’re all over the place, and everyone has a different schedule. They have been the sweetest, and very supportive and reposting my music, and it’s been great.
You’ve cited Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Shania Twain and Robyn as major influences for you. Was it difficult or easy to try to relate to female artists when you were younger?
VINCINT: No, ‘cause that’s all I grew up on. My mom was a big diva fan, or still is. We listened to Celine Dion damn near every day in that house. So, of course, me being the dramatic 7 year old, I was like [sings], “It’s all coming back to me now!”—not knowing a thing about what she was going through, but I could resonate with the feeling that it gave me. It taught me how to really dig in.
Listening to women sing taught me how to really understand the foundation of the emotion because it wasn’t shrouded in pride or masculinity. It was very much, “You broke my heart. You’re a fucker. But I still love you, and I’m singing the song because I hate you, but I would love to have you love me the right way.” Listening to women and how they interpreted things, I think, helped exponentially in the way that I write, in the way that I sing, and the way that I feel because it opened me up to a place of not being so prideful to think that I was always right. Long-winded answer, sorry.
You were recruited for “The Four.” Am I completely wrong to think that most people still have to wait in line all day and then audition to be on reality shows?
VINCINT: You’re not wrong to think that at all. That’s very much the case. But, I will give you a little behind the scenes. So, producers will reach out to specific people, sometimes. I’m breaking the fourth wall for this and, like, exposing reality TV shows, but that’s usually how it goes. Yes, there are cattle calls, and there are people who come in from all over the world, but for the most part, the people you see on the show are usually people they called in and have seen or scouted out online or saw them doing shows and knew they had a following.
“Save Myself?” [co-written with Brandon Colbein, Ryan Hartman and producer Tidal] isn’t as much about love, or life, as it is a retort to record labels that tried to control you. How?
VINCINT: I was going to sign a deal with a label that had been courting me for a while, and I was very excited about it. Then it all went to shambles because I think they maybe lost sight of what they were going to do and how I was going to do it. I think they got afraid of trying to represent someone like me, Black and gay, which is nuts to me to think about. It showed me that if I wanted to be who I wanted [to be] … I needed to do it myself.
I needed to stop believing that someone was going to come save me, or fix me, or show me how to do it. I had to realize that while it’s great that you’re there and you want to be supportive, it doesn’t help if you’re not being supportive, and so I’ll have to do it myself. And so I started doing it myself. I wrote that song in maybe 40 minutes because I was heated, and then I heard everyone else’s experience and what they had gone through, and it was like, “This is a running theme, it seems.” And so it was easy for me to write it because I was fed up. I was tired of being promised things and let down.
The title has religious connotation as well. Is that intentional to make it speak to two different things?
VINCINT: What I do with songs is I want you to be able to take what you want from it. So if it feels like that is religious for you, yeah. Go for it. I know what I wrote about, and I rarely talk about what I think the song is about for me because I don’t want to steal anyone else’s feeling about it. I also know it can be taken in a religious sense because sometimes you have to save yourself. Sometimes you have to pull your own bootstraps up and figure it out for yourself. And that’s what I did.
You’re a member of not one but two groups that have been oppressed in this country for a long time. What sorts of things have you gone through since the police murder of George Floyd? What have you thought about or done? Have you taken part in protests, written letters, journaled—
VINCINT: I went to protests, I journaled, I wrote, I cried. I screamed. I got angry. … This is something that isn’t new. At 7 years old, 8 years old, I got the talk from my parents about what I could and couldn’t I do when I went outside. If I was alone, how I should react when I’m around police officers, how I should react when I’m around a group of white people, how I was always supposed to be “on” for my safety. And so, I reacted how every American reacted.
Every American, I would hope, with a logical and compassionate heart, reacted in anger and sadness and wanted to rise up and fix it. But also, it was nothing new. I think because it is in the spotlight more than it has been in the last two or three decades, and because of how big the movement, it is beautiful and amazing to see the entire country and world together to understand that this is enough and it needs to stop. The world, and our civilization, is far too old for this still be happening. It’s not new for African Americans. It’s not a different experience.
So there’s no resurgence of reaction for us. We’re not like, “Oh, look at that. That’s happening now.” We know it’s happening. It’s good to see that you’re joining and watching the TV show now. It’s like, “Glad that you sat down on the on the couch next to me and decided to watch the show as well, because that’s what we’re waiting for.”
How did you handle that talk when you were 7 or 8 with your parents? Was it an uncomfortable conversation?
VINCINT: It was, I think, for me. It was only uncomfortable because I knew that my friends who were white weren’t having that conversation with their parents. It always struck me, and I was always curious, and I would ask my mom constantly, “How come so-and-so doesn’t have to speak a little bit differently when a law enforcement officer is there? How come, how come, how come?” …
Yes, I remember everything my parents ever taught me about being safe in those situations, but I also realized that I couldn’t spend every day wondering if I was going to die or not, if I was going to be arrested for something, if I was going to be in trouble. That was just no way to live. What I could do was live out loud and live very, very brightly, widely, and free and still maintaining the idea that I am not safe in some situations.
I’ll be damned if I’m quiet, if I let it happen. I’ll be damned if I think that it’s going to be the normal for me because I’ll never allow it to be, because it’s not right, and it needs to end. The conversation was needed but helped me evolve in the sense of, “I know why that’s there. Let’s try to fix it so I don’t have to give that conversation to my kids.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.