Getting seen and heard as a musical performer is no easy feat in this city, and doing it while combating the twin obstacles of homelessness and mental illness is nearly unfathomable. But this shining star has done it, and his nightlife takeover has only just begun. In his home base of Stonewall, he’ll be hosting a benefit variety show for mental illness treatment–which also happens to be his birthday–this weekend, and you know it’s gonna slay. The sky isn’t even the limit for Freddie Cosmo!
Thotyssey: Freddie, how was your Pride month?
Freddie Cosmo: It was good, I took a little break this year from performing, and just hung out… so, that was nice.
That’s cool, we all need to do that sometimes! So, you have some great chops… have you been singing forever?
I like to say that I’m 45 in club years, so yes. ha! I started singing when I was 12, which came with my musical theatre training. I fell in love with singing ever since. I got into music when I was four with piano, so it wasn’t so hard of a transition for me. I would really love to get my chops up on both ends, so I could sing and play again.
Where’s your native land?
I grew up in Philly, and I studied at the New Freedom Theatre. A lot of the people I studied with have gone on to do awesome things: teachers, lawyers, back up singers for Lady Gaga… and of course, there are a few of them who made it to Broadway. I’m in good company.
Did you ultimately come to NYC to get more into stage performing?
I definitely came here to be a “star,” but I didn’t really know what that meant for me until just recently. I hit the ground running when I got here: auditions, hustles, every damn thing.
Then I hit a really bad dip over the past couple of years, and had to think about what success really really means for me. I got tired of theatre, and I put all my focus into nightlife, which I love.
Actually, Stonewall Inn has always been a big part of that. They’ve given me the chance to grow as a performer, and as a person.
I don’t think anyone can really achieve success until they really understand what success means for them, right? And speaking of Stonewall, I first noticed seeing your name–along with your musical partners-in-crime The Cake Boys–as performers with Lavinia Draper’s show there. How did that relationship come about?
So, I got my very first taste of nightlife in Stonewall Sensation, the club’s singing competition. I came in fourth place, but as the competition went on I knew I could get more out of it… so it became more about the exposure.
Lavinia singled me out during the show, and let me perform in Divas downstairs every month. It was the best training I could’ve asked for–she is my nightlife mom for real.
Fast forward to a few years later, and I asked the club if I could host a special event. I created the Cake Boys as a sort of ambiance for my show “Freddie Cosmo and the Cake Boys Presents.” Before I knew it, we were a monthly show all last year during happy hour. Suddenly I’m a producer, booking guests, dance rehearsals, costumes themes, the whole nine–and then hosting and performing as well. It’s been a helluva ride.
Yes, yes I did. It was incredible! Because I’d already done Stonewall Sensations, so I went in knowing what to expect and seeing a lot of familiar faces. I did it for the exposure; I never thought I would win. I said, “oh I’ll probably get eliminated the third week,” and I made the top four. But this time, I wasn’t promoting as heavily as I was in Sensations, so it was really a testament to my growth as an artist.
I took so many risks on that stage and I don’t regret a second of it. I did all types of crazy shit. Every week, I wanted my work to have a message, and I was so proud of myself for staying committed to the show.
I was going through so much at the time. During Rising Star I was homeless, and still battling my depression and anxiety. Oh my goodness, looking back I’m like… wow… it was a rollercoaster, in every sense of the word. You wanna talk about learning what you’re capable of? What!? Everything that has happened in my personal life, Rising Star gave me the chance to put it into art and make it mean something.
Not only have I grown as an artist–I realize that I really want to be… no, I HAVE to be… an activist. This is why my birthday party is also for a great cause. From now on, all the work that I do has to be meaningful.
That’s beautiful! What music really inspires you: genres, artists, shows, etc.?
There’s definitely some go-to artists for me. Prince is first. Madonna is huge for me. Mariah Carey’s recordings… her catalog is impeccable, she is my favorite recording artist of all time. Her body of work is so so special to me. Grace Jones… people sleep on Grace Jones, but she is the truth. I love old Jay Z, Biggie Smalls…
I’m inspired by all different types of music, though. Especially when I’m writing and recording. It always changes. I love Erykah Badu. And I love watching old Janet Jackson tours. So good.
That’s certainly an inspired list! Musically speaking, what would your ultimate goal be? To write full-length albums, or a full cabaret or live set?
My goal has certainly changed. I used to want to only want to record music. Put quite simply, I wanted to be like, let’s say, Chris Brown. But you grow up, and learn who you are, and things change. Recording music is not enough for me anymore.
The other side of the coin is that I was also a club promoter on and off for years. When you’re dealing with mental illness, you have to put yourself in alignment, and I decided to do that personally and professionally. So let me put it like this: I want to create experiences for people.
The show Freddie Cosmo and the Cake Boys gave me a chance to mold myself as a modern day club kid: performing, promoting, producing, all of it. I have to throw the party and do the music. I have an EP mixtape that I’ll be releasing in the fall, it’s called Peter Panic and I’ve been dropping hints about it all year. Then I have other events planned through my company Culture Concierge, which I’m gearing up for.
On mental illness: lot’s of people kind of naively glamorize its “relationship” to art–that it enhances the art, and just makes everything so dramatic and exciting. But, is there a relationship between having a unique artistic voice, and having your mind operate in this very unconventional way?
I’m glad you said that. I think sometimes it is cool to be “crazy.” But I’ve been in environments with artists who are at varying degrees of being unwell, and the one thing I think we had in common was a hypersensitivity about the world as we see it, and the world around us. I believe that people who are dealing with mental illness have a certain power, a certain energy, that others do not. I hope that we day, when we understand more about the topic, it’s not considered an illness.
So far as the connection to art, there is absolutely the opportunity to explore your capacity in a different way, because you are already in tune with yourself. Art is usually the best way to channel it, but I’ve met people who do other activities as well.The most important thing to do is to recognize it and keep it under control, whichever way you choose.
People with mental health issues usually recognize at some point that they are unique. The trick is to take control of that uniqueness, to make it work for you.
That’s great advice for everyone! And that brings us to your birthday show at Stonewall, which also serves as a benefit. First off, tell us about cause your throwing it for.
So, this is for the National Alliance for Mental Illness right here in NYC, which covers a wide range of mental issues. They also have a focus on minority groups. They are the largest grassroots organization in the country, and they provide education, advocacy and even requests and referrals over the phone.
It’s the first time I’ve done a benefit, but I definitely have a new appreciation for partying… so I’m really excited.
Congratulations! I see you’re co-hosting with the lovely Blackie O – how do you know her?
Blackie actually came to a show I did at Albatross last summer with the Cake Boys called “Make America Cake Again!” We talked about working together for a while, and we’ve always been one degree of separation apart. I love Blackie so much! So when I was putting the show together, I really wanted to co-host with a queen. I want people to see that there can be a variety on the nightlife scene. So I’m really looking forward to what we come up with during the party.
What else we can expect from the night?
You can expect a lot of laughter, dancing and live performances. Coffee Cake Comfort is baking some free cupcakes and cookies for everyone. GayTrippersNYC is gonna be in the house. You’ll learn, you’ll laugh, you’ll gag, and somehow I get the feeling there’s gonna be some surprises for me!
Sounds like it’s gonna be a great night and a great cause! Okay, anything else to report or say?
Everyone is invited to the party. Bring a friend, bring every damn body! And just be on the lookout for a lot more from me in 2017. I’m so grateful to see another year, and celebrate my birthday at the place where I get too drunk. I meant to say, the place that I call home! Just kidding I had it right the first time.
Okay, in closing: what would your drag name be?
Oh that’s an easy one: Ann Arkey. There are no rules (that’s what they’d put on my flyer for my shows)! I may have thought about that question ahead of time.
Well-played! Thanks Freddie, and see you Sunday!
Freddie Cosmo will co-host his birthday show and benefit for the National Alliance for Mental Illness at Stonewall with Blackie O on Sunday, July 16th (6pm). Follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.