Frenchie Davis Stars on Broadway

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Frenchie Davis was hesitant when she was offered the title role in Mahalia: A Gospel Musical because, as she said: "Well, Mahalia Jackson is a legend."

It's true.

Frenchie Davis Pic
Mention Ms. Jackson's name, and there's a reverent hush in respect for the woman who brought gospel music to a wide audience beginning in the 1930s and continuing until her death in 1972 at 60.  Jackson's inspirational singing and spiritual presence was also an iconic part of the civil rights movement.

In late spring, Davis was winding down her run in the Broadway musical Rent and was considering a range of options – not the least of which was a long vacation after playing eight shows a week for four years.

"My grandmother loves Mahalia, and she cried when I told her that they offered me the role. She said to me, 'If you don't take that role, I'm going to slap you.'"

Besides Rent, Davis appeared in off-Broadway's Monica! The Musical and played Effie (the role made famous by Jennifer Hudson) in a national tour of Dreamgirls. But to many people, she's best remembered as the powerhouse singer who was an audience favorite in the second season of TV's American Idol.

Davis has mixed feelings about her Idol fame. She won some notoriety – and support – following her disqualification in 2003 after topless photos of her appeared on the Internet. She says she had been upfront about that part of her past when she was selected, only to be disqualified as "inappropriate" later in the season.

(In season six, racy pictures of Antonella Barba surfaced on the Internet. She remained on the show but was voted off before the field narrowed to 12 contestants.)

"After what I can only describe as a double standard, I can't even pretend to be OK with them [American Idol producers] anymore," Davis says. "I'm done being diplomatic about my experience with the show."

She says she doesn't watch the show any longer, distressed about the number of people who have been humiliated by the process and how winners are chosen.

"Every time someone calls me Frenchie Davis from American Idol, I cringe," she says. "I think there's more than enough to me now to [stop putting] that after my name."

That goes for other former Idol contestants who have found success in Broadway shows or films based on Broadway musicals.

In New York, Fantasia is starring in Broadway's The Color Purple, Tamyra Gray was featured in Bombay Dreams, and Constantine Maroulis is in The Wedding Singer.

SOURCE: The Dallas Morning News

Matt Richenthal is the Editor in Chief of TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter and on Google+.