ALABASTER BOX (AUDITION)
When Lillie walked onstage for the premiere episode of The X Factor 2013, she looked like anything but the 54-year-old grandmother of seven that she is. As soon as she started singing the gospel song, “Alabaster Box,” it was evident that she possessed the gift that all performers wish for—the ability to authentically connect with an audience and touch them deep within their souls. It didn’t matter if you were familiar with the song or even listened to the words; hearing and watching Lille sing with joyous abandon was an emotional experience that brought tears to your eyes.
It was a privilege and a pleasure to interview Lillie on Wednesday, December 4, 2013, six days after she exited the show. Click on the audio player below Lillie’s photo to listen to our thirty-minute interview.
Here is the transcript of our interview. Following the interview, you will find all of Lillie’s performances on The X Factor.
TRANSCRIPT OF LILLIE McCLOUD INTERVIEW
In September, Lillie McCloud walked onto The X Factor stage and delivered one of the most impressive singing auditions ever seen on a TV talent show. Lillie’s performance of the gospel song, “Alabaster Box,” was profoundly moving because she sang with such authenticity, skill and joyful abandon. Lillie, thank you for joining us today.
Hello, Phil. Thank you for having me on. I’m absolutely honored. And what an introduction!
Well, you earned every bit of it. I know you’ve had some success in music earlier in life but then you withdrew from the music scene. How come?
Well, I didn’t exactly withdraw. I was still doing the corporate [shows] and the high-end Top 40 shows out there. But I was just so disappointed with the music industry as far as recording. I couldn’t quite reach a goal that I set out to reach. They tend to put you in a box. The box that I was in at that time was dance music, and although I loved it and had great success and a great following, I wanted to do a little bit more, maybe crossover pop and go into different areas of music. It was just always a struggle. And I just thought, I’m a star when it comes to the dance records, but my bank account says something different. I wanted something more so I decided to just walk away from it and focus on my family at that point.
Well, it was absolutely tough. My children have a lot of grandchildren as you’ve heard, and so I was always leaving to be there for the birth of each grandchild. It was just a thing: “We can’t have this baby without Grandma; we can’t have this baby without Mom.” So I was always leaving all the time and I missed quite a few opportunities and I don’t regret it. I absolutely love the fact that I was there for every birth. And it was quite difficult to balance leaving when they were just born or very young, and to go on the road. It was just hard. I don’t know if I balanced it so well. I missed a lot of things but I think it was necessary. I believe I made the right decision. Now that they’re older, it allows me that opportunity to get out there and really search for my dream. I’m just not planning on stopping until I get it.
That’s fantastic. For people listening, you have three children and seven grandchildren, correct?
I have three children, seven grandchildren and one on the way! One in the oven!
I’m assuming you mean a grandchild on the way. (Please forgive my clumsy attempt at a joke!)
Definitely. I have another grandchild on the way. Number eight! I’m going for the record.
Why did you decide to audition for The X Factor? Why was the timing right to step back into the spotlight? You already mentioned your family was growing. It just seemed like the right time?
Yes, it definitely seemed like the right time. The X Factor—their introduction to who they are and what they do—really struck me as clever. I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to be involved in a show that really has the heart and the best intent for the career of the artist in mind. They didn’t have an age limit or [a rule that] because you had a background you couldn’t be on the show. They were just really open to [including] those who’ve had careers and didn’t quite make it or for those who were really looking for a career and wanted to get out there in the music industry. So I just thought it was a fair opportunity and great timing. And my sister was the one who originally was pushing me to go for it. The X Factor is in their third season, and my sister had been pushing me since season two: C’mon, c’mon, you gotta try it. And finally, I thought, Yeah, okay. This is the place for me. So I gave it a go.
I understand that you were actually feeling pretty poorly right before the audition. I read that you were ill.
Oh, my God, yes. There was a whole lot of stuff going on. I had borderline pneumonia just before the audition. Two days before the audition, I started to cancel. But my guy was going, “C’mon, we can do this. How are you feeling? We’re going to take you to the doctor, we’re going to get some shots in you, get some medicine in you. We’re going to get there, and if you really feel like you can’t do this, we’ll just turn around and come back.” And I’m so thankful and so grateful that I went and I did it. Because honestly, when I got on that plane, I just had this burst of I can do it! that came out of nowhere. I can do this!
Oh, my God! You would have thought Terry was the one that was going on the stage. When we were waiting—we were those people who wait in the long line prior to the original audition—we waited in line in the dead of the cold weather in New Jersey with the blankets and the lounge chairs. I started to go home that night and he was like, “Oh, no you don’t. We’ve come this far and you’re going in there for this audition.” So yes, it’s great to have a support team like Terry. He’s a one-man band!
Speaking of The X Factor, and you auditioned with the name Lillie McCloud, but you recorded previously under the name Nicole McCloud. Can you clear up the confusion about the two names?
Yes. I actually auditioned under the name of Nicole McCloud. Contractually speaking, when you’re doing all the paperwork, you give them your first name and all your information, your background, what you’ve done, what you didn’t do, record labels, everything you’ve done. But for some reason, when Simon got on the Chelsea Lately show, he was speaking about me, and he said, “We have this one singer, Lillie . . .,” and before you know it, the cat was out of the bag as far as my birth name. I thought I’d keep that a secret until the only people who know that are the bill collectors. It never sounds good to say, “Here’s Lillie.” I just thought Nicole was a better stage name. But Simon started calling me Lillie, and I said, Okay, I guess I’m Lillie then. It wasn’t just that one talk show. I understand he went on Arsenio Hall and a couple of other interviews and he was calling me Lillie all the time. So I just embraced it. It’s his show and he knows what he wants to call me. I’d never used the name before. I love the Lord and I thought, You know what, this might be the season that I should use my birth name anyway. I kind of went for it. I know a lot of my fans or the public got a little confused. And what people call haters—I hate to use that word but I don’t know what else to call them—they would say, “Oh, my God, Lillie’s lying, she’s hiding, her real name is Nicole, she’s had records out before and it’s not fair” At first, I was quite disappointed. I even cried about that for a little while. But then I understood that they just don’t understand and they really don’t know what they’re talking about. And I shouldn’t be upset because they just don’t have the correct information. There’s no way to have a record out and hide who you are. Whether you’re Lillie or Nicole or whatever, your life is online and it’s quite easy to find out. In fact, my name’s Lillie Arlene Nicole Jade McCloud, and I could never use all of those names when I’m putting out a record so you’ve gotta pick one. So for me, Nicole was the best choice out of all of them.
SIMON COWELL TELLS CHELSEA HANDLER ABOUT LILLIE ON “CHELSEA LATELY” ON JULY 30, 2013
That’s great. And as far as having a career beforehand, anyone who is an accomplished singer will have had a career of some sort singing It’s naïve to think that somebody’s going to come out at forty or fifty years old and not have had any experience whatsoever.
Absolutely. On that show, if you do your background, there were more than a few of us that have had a professional background, whether it’s Broadway or recoding. Many of us, especially in the older category. So for [the haters] who were speaking in that way, they just didn’t know. They were uneducated on what they were talking about. And it’s quite difficult to be upset with someone who just doesn’t understand.
Your first two songs on The X Factor—“Alabaster Box” and “A House Is Not a Home”—received standing ovations from the judges. But then you started getting mixed signals from the judges, especially Simon. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the difference between singing to please God and singing to please the judges.
Wow, what a great question. Phil, that’s a good one. It’s definitely a challenge. “Alabaster Box” and “A House Is Not a Home” were two songs that I chose. I was able to do my own makeup, put on my own clothing, be myself 100 percent and just love on the Lord and love on the word “love” as I put my message out there. Well, when you go into the competition, it’s quite difficult to be vulnerable [and] give all of those rights away. You give them all away. You’re no longer picking your own songs, you’re no longer doing your own wardrobe or your makeup or your hair, your this or that. You put yourself in the hands of them to develop what they feel is marketable for the market today. And this was tough for me because I went into this thinking that I would just have this opportunity to really bring people closer to God and to let them see that the Lord is a lot of fun. I mean, he’s just a blast to know and to have fun with. And if you could have a party in a nightclub, you can have the biggest party with the Lord. That was my thinking process as I went into this competition. But it was different. So of course it was quite difficult.
Singing for the judges, being judged, was nerve-wracking. Your nerves are just going in every direction. Singing for God, you just sing. You just sing. Good note, bad note, you can sing, you can’t sing, but you’re singing because you just love Him and it’s just all good. So one has pressure and one has—I don’t even know the word for it—a calmness. It’s the difference between black and white, literally. But I thank God for the experience because I gained a new market of fans, different people. I think every time I stepped on that stage, I would say, Okay, c’mon, God, I forgot the words, I don’t know the words, but you know them. C’mon, let’s go sing. Or, C’mon, God, I don’t like this outfit I have on, and it’s really choking me to my neck, but we’ve got a job to do. Let’s just come on out there, hopefully someone’s gonna hear the story, hear the message, and a couple’s going to consider not breaking up or someone’s going to get a better understanding of love, or someone’s going to see God, let’s just go do my job. And that’s what motivated me to keep going through that experience.
It’s hard to stay authentic when other people are dressing you and doing your makeup in ways that are inauthentic to who you are.
It was very difficult. Really, honest to God. But I really ended up embracing it. Sometimes, change is good. And sometimes you can discover new personalities or new people within yourself. When I’m singing a song . . . I have so many different voices, I often joke around and I say, “Well, it depends on the story who’s coming up to the plate to bat the ball.” I never know what girl is coming out to play the game. So there are many sides of me, and to be introduced to even yet another was quite interesting to me, and I really did end up embracing that. I’m that girl who, if I like my hair this way, it’s going to stay that way for years until I’m ready to change it. Or if I like my makeup or if I like a certain way, I kind of stick with it until I’m ready to change it. Although I do feel that I’m a chameleon and I can [become] whatever the situation calls [for]. The “me” that I am is kind of concrete; I like the coffee I like, I like the wine I like. But with The X Factor, you better be ready for change constantly. Constant change, constant change. And [I learned] to kind of like it. It was fun playing dress-up and Barbie doll and all that stuff.
As long as, like you said, you have that foundation of core authenticity, which you obviously do. You know who you are. Speaking of which, you’re fifty-four years old, which shocked the judges because you look so much younger. How do you stay so young at heart?
Awww, that’s so sweet. I’m happy. I think that’s half of it. I believe how you feel on the inside can show on the outside. I’m happy and I love children I can’t even put into words . . . I get goose pimples when I even say the word “children.” So I’m always around children, whether it’s my grandchildren or . . . I often go to the park just so I’m around children. And I end up playing games with children that I don’t even know. I love children and I think that may have a little bit to do with it as far as being young at heart. I’m the girl that goes to Disney World and rides all the kiddie rides because the adult rides are too scare for me. I’m the one who goes to ride horses but I ride the ponies. But I love horses. I love riding them.
On talent shows like The X Factor, The Voice and American Idol, the best singers are often voted off too soon. In my mind, you were head and shoulders above the other contestants but you finished in eighth place. Obviously, that’s disappointing but did you enjoy your time on the show overall?
I really enjoyed my time overall. Again, it was an emotional roller-coaster for me. I honestly cried very often because I was fighting to be who I am. And I just didn’t want anybody to bother with that. You can give me a couple of ideas but don’t just completely remove me from who I am. So I was really fighting it, in fact. But in the end, I have to say I really enjoyed the learning process. I really did. I would have rather had stayed on much longer, but I trust the Lord; I said that I was walking with Him. And I believe that this was the bus stop that I was supposed to get off on. And I know this is true because of the wonderful things that have been happening in the last forty-eight hours because of this journey on The X Factor. It was a great place to launch my career from. This is what I can say. It’s a great launching ground. I’m very happy for the experience; I would not have traded it for anything in the world. And I believe God knows what He’s doing. We’ve really touched a lot of people around the world . . . and people who didn’t even believe in God are calling out and [saying], “Oh, my God, I still don’t know what’s out there but I know there’s something and I’m gonna research.” Or people whose children were ill or dying and they couldn’t come to grips with it; they would call and [say], “You really touched my soul.” Or all kinds of amazing texts and e-mails and reaching out on Facebook with miracle stories. So I know God had me there for a reason. And I did my job. I did what the Lord wanted me to do and I’m praying that He’s pleased with that.
You just nailed it when you said you touched people’s souls. It was hair-raising watching you sing “Alabaster Box” with [such] unabashed joy. You did touch people where they live. And no matter what someone’s belief system is, they’re going to feel touched in that way and think, There’s something more here because you just showed it to me.
Yes, even I was being ministered to. I promise to God, when I was singing that song, it wasn’t me. I’ve said that to so many people because honestly, I went into the bathroom to rehearse the song just minutes before [going] onstage. . . and nothing. It was bad. I had sung the song one time, it came out great, and then I went to say thank you to a security guard who was in the hallway and nothing came out. And I came to Terry backstage and he saw my face and he said, “What’s wrong?” And I said, ‘Oh, my God, I only had one of those in me. And I sang it in the bathroom. What am I gonna do?” And just seconds before going on, they wanted to interview me again, and I promise you it was like every archangel in heaven came down and came inside of me and around me and I was completely fearless. My talking voice came back. I’m never fearless. I’m always nervous before I go onstage. Even Top 40, I’m nervous before I go onstage. But this moment I had no fear. The feeling that came over me was unexplainable. And they said, “What are you gonna do?” And I said, “I’m going to go out there and do a Muhammad Ali.” And I got behind stage and I was bouncing around like a little kid. And I got on the stage, started singing this song, and I was listening as I was singing, if that’s possible. Trust me, I was. And when I finished, when I looked at that video the next day, and I saw that girl, that was me, but it was the child in me. I mean, I really looked at it and I was going, That’s a child. That was God, that was God. And so many things that you guys didn’t see because they cut it for television, is when I finished that song . . . and again, I said, C’mon, God, let’s go; if we save one soul, we’ve done our job. That’s what I said two seconds before I hit the stage. When we finished that song, in the audience . . . Kelly [Rowland] turned around and she said, “God is in this place, God is in this place!” And then Demi [Lovato] started talking about God. They were talking about God. I didn’t have to say one word. Not one word. They were talking about God; you had had to have been there. It was the most amazing experience in my life ever to this day. Oh, my God, it was amazing. And you had children from six years old to eighty-six standing on their feet. That was God.
When you talk to musicians and artists and people who create, they always say . . . and I can relate to this, too . . . your best work doesn’t come from you, but through you. And it sounds like that’s exactly what happened here.
Exactly. Wow. Very well said. Yes, God has a mission and he will be glorified. He will have His way. As I’m having friends in America and people who love me, and I love them back, [who say they’re] sad for me because I’m no longer on The X Factor, I would say to them, “Don’t be sad for me because He knows what He’s doing. And there was a reason for me getting off that bus stop. And I gave the bus stop a name. Its street is called The Glory. That’s [where I] should have gotten off, right at The Glory. And I know it because of what’s happening now. There are many, many wonderful offers and things that are happening, and I just know it’s all God.
That’s wonderful. What did you learn ultimately on The X Factor that will help you in your career going forward?
Well, honestly, Phil, I thought I was humble. But I realize that I wasn’t until I got on The X Factor. Because some of these people will make you want to just . . . I don’t know . . . scream? I’m trying to be nice in how I’m saying it. Because you’re told what to do, when to do it, when to sit, when to stand up, where to go. And it’s a very trying day for everybody. And so sometimes you run into people who just have a bad day. And you unfortunately get the bad end of the stick because of that. So I learned to be really calm. It was one of the most valuable lessons I learned from The X Factor. And I learned it to the point where I really got it. I mean, I got this thing. And I never had that before.
And I also learned, musically, I never could sing in the morning. So I’ve never had vocal coaching, ever. And here, we must [have] vocal coaching, [we] must warm up. And by the time they were through with me, I could sing anything at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning, the same as I would in the evening. So I would say to people, “Warming up the vocal chords and vocal coaching is number one to singing and being able to protect your vocal chords for your career, for your life.”
And also, I learned there is a different me. There’s a girl who can change her look and have a different type of style, embracing different clothing and different looks, I guess. I learned that’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing to be able to change.
I learned that there are more people in the world who love than there are not. And I didn’t know this, because the news doesn’t show you this. There was so much love in many parts of the world, from Africa to Brazil to the Middle East. There’s a come-togetherness, a need from the people, that we don’t know is out there because there’s so much going on. But the Lord was kind enough to let me have hands on from some of those fans. I could go on and on about the things I learned from The X Factor. It was the biggest blessing I’ve ever had, on that show.
Did you expect to receive the level of passionate fan support that you did?
No, I did not. I should have known better because it’s not about me, it’s about God and what He’s trying to do through me—what He will do, he doesn’t try to do anything—what He will do through me for the time that He’s using me. So I should not have been surprised, but we’re human. So yeah, just totally shocked. Even now as I go through the feedback—and I’m off The X Factor so I assumed, Well, [the fans are] going to stop calling, they’re going to stop writing, they won’t be as interested, but [to the] contrary—they’re still writing and more are calling in and more are connecting to me. And the stories, the stories are just, wow, it’s just amazing. I just say, “Look at God.” This is all I can say. “Look at God. What are you doing, it’s amazing. It’s amazing!”
The X Factor was a tremendous platform for reintroducing yourself to the American public, and very valuable as you just said for such important lessons. What’s next in your career? You said that in the last forty-eight hours, things have been happening. What is next?
What’s the best way for your fans to support you right now and keep in touch with what’s happening and going to happen in your career?
Well, I would say, if they would to continue to know me through Twitter and through my Facebook [page]. On Twitter and on Facebook, I will be putting my website and an e-mail address for my fans to be able to reach out to me and we can just stay in contact, definitely.
Click here to follow Lillie on Facebook.
Click here to follow Lillie on Twitter.
Once they go on the website, they’ll be able to see where I’m performing, what I’m doing. There’ll be a small wait process because I’m still signed to The X Factor for at least six months. So there are a few things I can do, and many things I cannot at this moment. But that’s just a short period of time and there’s a lot of work to be done within those six months. And we will be ready to rock and roll right at the end of that.
Lillie, thank you so much for sharing your time and thoughts with us today. And thank you for sharing your gifts with the world.
Well, I really thank you for having me on and being able to tell my story. And I just want to [say] to anyone who has a dream, never give up your dream. It’s never too late, and you’re never too old and you’re never too anything to achieve whatever it is that you want.
As Lillie mentioned in our interview, immediately after her audition the Internet was aflame with detractors who pointed to her singing career in the 1980s and complained that she shouldn’t have been allowed to audition. Lillie herself had been upfront about her previous successes. Here’s an excerpt from an article on Yahoo Music:
As for the public debate regarding whether someone as seasoned as Lillie deserves another chance in a forum like “The X Factor,” Lillie points out that there are plenty of singing-show contestants with similar pasts. “There’s so many of us who have had careers before, from ‘American Idol’ to ‘The Voice’ to ‘The X Factor.’ If you search the background on every contestant, you’re going to find quite a few that have experience in this industry. But we’re here on these shows because we didn’t make it.”
Personally, I think anyone without a current recording deal should be allowed to compete on these types of shows. As Lillie commented in the above article, “I just walked away from it because it just wasn’t going well. You know, you have a record out there, and to some people it’s like, ‘Oh my God, she’s a superstar!’ But when you look in your bank account, you’re not.”
Perhaps it’s time for Lillie to reach the stardom she never quite attained in her first go around. I’m rooting for her to go all the way.
In the next round, which determined who would make it into the top sixteen acts, Lillie did it again, inhabiting this Luther Vandross standard. Truly, it’s like watching Diana Ross compete against a bunch of high school kids.
THE X FACTOR
A HOUSE IS NOT A HOME
THE X FACTOR
WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN
THE X FACTOR
ALL IS FAIR IN LOVE
THE X FACTOR
WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER
THE X FACTOR
THE X FACTOR
THIS WOMAN’S WORK
THE X FACTOR
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