From comedy to acting to recording her very first album, Mikalah Gordon can do just about it all! Gordon jump-started her career on American Idol, leading her to a range of different opportunities and discovery of talents. Now, she recently recorded her very first album coming out September 9th, hosts Channel Qs The Morning Beat, and was featured on Jimmy Kimmel Live. She is passionate and open about her identity, culture, and family, in which she boldly pours into all her mediums of work.
Mikalah spoke with us about her new album and the inspiration behind many of the tracks, as well as her career in hosting, comedy, and acting! She also gave us insight into her childhood, internal discoveries, and personal challenges. Continue reading for the full interview.
At only 17 years old, you were a Top 12 contestant on American Idol Season 4 kick-starting your career from a young age. One of your upcoming songs “Good Girl” acknowledges this time in your life. How did it feel to be in the spotlight from such a young age?
I will always be very grateful for my time on American Idol and the season I competed in. There is something about the OG seasons with the OG judges that makes it a little more special for me. It was also a very different time in reality television. In my song “Good Girl” I talk about competing next to America’s Sweetheart. I was a curvy little Italian Jewish brunette with a big personality, who was young and fearless. You have to think, we didn’t have Kim K or Cardi B yet. So, I think I was a shock to the nation to say the least. I got some heat for asking Simon to prom and saying I’d buy my mom breast implants because that’s what she wanted. HAHA! Like, Girl! But I was real and authentic. And I was struggling a lot internally with things that America never saw. I dealt with a devastating death the day before I left for top 24 and continued navigating the show with that, and a grieving parent who was also my guardian. “Good Girl” is a letter to my 16-year-old self, saying how proud I am of her and how if I could’ve done it differently, I wouldn’t have.
Looking back, what did you take away most from being on the show?
I remember Simon saying to me “Mikalah. 50 percent of America will adore and love you and 50 percent of America will hate you.” I learned very quickly that I wasn’t for everybody. I mean middle America ripped me apart. The message boards were rough. But I also knew that I never wanted to be lukewarm. I am either for you, or I am not. And there is no confusion about that. To this day, the people that love me, ADORE ME, and the people that don’t, simply don’t have taste. Lol!
During the height of the pandemic, you had a hard time, going through losses and isolation. Tell us what music means to you and how that became a channel of expression for you?
The pandemic was difficult for me. I had to start hosting my national radio show inside my little apartment talking about such heavy news stories, and grieving the sudden loss of my grandma. I definitely hit rock bottom in 2020. For the first time in my life, I remember thinking, “if I don’t wake up today, I am at peace with that.” I knew I was in a bad place. So, I called my brother and best friend, Brandon Rogers, and he agreed to let me come over and just sing it out. And he has really bad asthma. So, you could imagine how terrifying it was for him to let me into his house. That sweet angel boy. He never judged me. He just loved me. The truth is, I didn’t intend on making an album. I just didn’t want to be sick anymore. But, here we are. I’m very proud of that.
You’re currently gearing up to release your newest single, “Hands Off,” what inspired the track?
“Hands Off” was not supposed to be the single of the album. It was actually written as a song for sexual abuse survivors that I wasn’t even sure would be released. But once Roe v. Wade was overturned, I wanted to do everything I could, as a woman, to empower and protect women. It’s 2022 and women are still living in this patriarchal society. I love men, and I have been blessed to know some of the best, but, until women can govern their bodies, be paid equally, and have proper benefits with things like maternity leave, I am not going to stop fighting. We are the mothers, sisters, aunts, and daughters that keep this world going. Women deserve all good things. Period.
Your debut album “VIVIAN,” releasing on September 9th, is named after your late grandmother. Can you tell us more about what inspired you to name your album after her?
Oh, my sweet Vivian. When my grandma died, my world fell apart. It felt like every emotion I had held in my whole life came exploding out of me like lava. She was like a parent figure. She adored me. She was a little Italian Catholic conservative woman, but always loved and appreciated my wild side. She would laugh so hard and say “Mikalah you are such a nut!” Oh, I loved making her laugh. When she died, I became very reflective. I was forced to get help, go to therapy, and begin healing traumas and generational curses we all had ignored for so long. Each song on this album is inspired by a huge moment in my life. Good or bad. Life is short. We have one chance at this thing. My grandma’s death inspired me to begin living life to the fullest. Take the trip. Do the hard things. MAKE THE ALBUM. Do all the things you’re afraid to do. Hence- Vivian The Album.
What song resonates with you the most on the album? Do you have a favorite?
Oh God, it’s so hard to say. Every song is so different and special in its own way. But I’d say my current favorite is “Witness.” I wrote it as a duet for my brother and I. It’s just so heartfelt. No one knows you like your sibling. They bore witness to every single thing in your life. When your parents pass, and memories are gone, your siblings are your final proof of the life you lived.
The album has 8 songs, which are supposed to follow a certain pattern of 8 lessons you’ve learned in life. Can you talk about some of the most important lessons you’ve learned and how music helped you express those feelings?
This whole album takes you on a journey from start to finish of my life. From early childhood, to moving out when I was 16 and moving to LA, to the present day. I didn’t write this album to make pop hits. I wrote this album with the intent of sharing my truth and really healing from it. There were quite a few times I was like, “Girl. Do you really want to share your business like that?” But like, why not? I have learned that shame and guilt were just learned behaviors. They don’t belong to me. What belongs to me is the pride I feel in being my best, most honest authentic self. Oh God I sound like all those self-help books I read. But it’s true! Lol! I’m so grateful for lessons in grief, patience, perseverance, forgiveness, humility, vulnerability, honesty, and self-worth.
What was your process like, in terms of writing “Vita,” your personal love letter to your grandma which is featured on the album?
We wrote “Vita” in about thirty minutes and I didn’t actually sing it for about six months. Every time I started to record; I would just start to cry! And then I’d look at Brandon and he would start to cry! The special thing about the song “Vita,” is that everyone has a “Vivian.” Everyone knows the feeling of losing someone or something that you loved so very deeply. She always used to say that when she passed, she wanted me to sing “Amazing Grace” at her funeral. Here is a beautiful story I will share quickly. I was laying in my grandma’s bed with her after she passed. And I said “grandma. Give me a sign if you are okay.” And wouldn’t you know, over the radio, “Amazing Grace” began to play. Makes me tear up to this day. So, if you listen to the bridge, we begin it with the chords of “Amazing Grace.” I also give her a special nod in one of the lyrics “so tell Tom and Frank we said hey”. Tom is my partner Lisa’s father, who we lost 7 years ago. Frank is my grandpa, Vivian’s husband. It’s a very special song. Just don’t ask me to sing it live!
The songs “Lucky” and “The Role” revolve around themes of love and being comfortable in your sexuality. You’re very open about being a queer artist. How has your career and life changed since becoming open about your identity?
I was raised in a very religious conservative family. We didn’t talk about anything with real depth. It was a very wash, rinse and repeat existence. However, my mother was the black sheep of the family. And she was a lesbian. And my father’s mother, my grandma, was a lesbian. To be honest, I’m a third-generation lesbian and if this was the Girl Scouts, I would be the ambassador! It was such an interesting experience though, because we could never talk about it. My mom told me if I ever had sex, I would get pregnant and my career would be over. I remember taking pregnancy tests while I was still a virgin because I was terrified! After I moved to LA, I started discovering myself. I never really “came out.” I just started dating whoever I fell in love with, and people were either cool with it or they weren’t. I wrote “Lucky” for Lisa, my partner. And the title speaks for itself. I met Lisa at a gig in Vegas and my world turned upside down. I remember thinking, “OMG it’s her. This is my person.” I just knew she was made for me. How can a love so pure like that be wrong? It’s not.
I wrote “The Role” a few years ago after Lisa and I had been together for a few years. We both grew up in super religious households so sex and intimacy were always treated with such disgust and kind of like a secret. The idea of feeling pleasure from sex was not even a thought! So, this song really is just a beautiful way of normalizing intimacy and the desire for sexual pleasure. Giving permission to ask for what you want and enjoying it.
The song “Hands off” touches on your personal experiences with sexual assault and women’s rights. Do you feel a closer connection with your listeners because of the vulnerability you allowed yourself to pour into this album?
I remember sitting in my therapist’s office and telling her that I had been raped when I was 20. I said it so nonchalantly that she actually made me say it again. I immediately burst into tears. I had held this secret for so long and I felt like no one would even care if I told anyone. I thought it was my fault for so long and I believed I deserved it. That actually makes me cry still, because so many survivors feel that way. As I have begun opening up about my story, I have become a first for so many people. They tell me their abuse story and say “I’ve never told anyone this but…..”. I hold so much space for those beautiful people who trust me enough to share that with me. It makes me feel so close to them, and it helps my ability to stay vulnerable. I just want anyone who has been the victim of abuse to know that I wrote this song for YOU. This is OUR song. I hope you feel the love I am sending you through this song. And I hope it empowers you to share your truth.
Tell us about your song “Witness,” which you recorded alongside your brother, who just recently left to join the U.S. Army?
I remember my brother called me and he was really going through it. He was a bug exterminator at the time and he was looking for some direction. So, he called me, and told me he was going to the Army. My first instinct was to start crying out of sheer panic. Might I also say I am very very grateful for all the men and women who serve our country. I love you and your families. Anyhow, I said “Sam. If you go to the Army, I have one request. I want you to sing on my album. You have always been so incredible and I want you to follow your potential.” After his wife and I pushed him, he finally agreed. He always wanted to be a country star which I find so funny considering we are Italians from Vegas. But, when you hear his voice, you know my brother is a country star. It’s a beautiful lesson in believing in yourself, and finding your hidden potential. Sam, I love you so much buddy.
What do you want your listeners to take away from the album?
I want listeners to feel whatever they are meant to feel. Whether it be to cry, or yell, or find the courage to stand up for themselves. I put myself completely out there in the hopes that my story can be somebody else’s survival guide.
You are a multi-faceted artist, ranging from music, to comedy, acting, and hosting. How do you balance these different passions?
I am about to share with you a very vulnerable and embarrassing story that ended up being the best piece of advice for me. Years ago, I was talking with my partner Lisa, and I said “Oh Lisa! Isn’t it great! I can host the show I’m singing at and in the middle, I can do a little standup routine. It’ll be great! People will think to themselves WOW! That Mikalah! She can really do it all!” I was so pleased with myself and expected Lisa to fawn all over me because obviously she is so lucky to have such a multi-faceted artist with range! And she looked at me dead in the eye and said “Mika. Nobody cares that you can do it all.” Oh my God I was so mad at her at first! But she was right! People don’t care that I can do it all! People are just trying to focus on their own tasks at hand. Here I am schlepping myself around as this one woman show and worrying about everyone thinking I could do it all! It was the best lesson ever. Also, a humbling one. I would however, like to say for the record….. I still can, in fact, do it all.
You created your own YouTube series, Idolatry. What inspired you to start this?
After American Idol, I got hired to host American Idol Extra. It was an American Idol after show where I interviewed the judges and the contestants and I really loved it! When the new American Idol started and debuted, I realized they didn’t have an after show. So, I got some sponsorships, called a producer on American Idol, and put together the show. I booked everyone that season by legit sliding into the DM’s. I also convinced Beaches in West Hollywood to let me film there, and even made it to the finale to interview all the judges and Ryan Seacrest. One thing about me, I’m going to create space for myself and get the job done!
Your portrayal of Melania Trump went viral! And you got to go on Jimmy Kimmel Live and reprise your role on a sketch – can you tell us about that experience?
During the height of the pandemic, a friend of mine, John Di Domenico called me. He is the number one Trump impersonator in the world and he was killing it on TikTok. I was so devastated about my grandma that I was willing to do just about anything for a laugh. My co-host of my morning show also kind of dared me to try and get 1 million followers on TikTok. So, I agreed to be his Melania and we impersonated the entire presidency. The next thing you know, I’ve got 1.6 million followers on TT and Jimmy Kimmel asking me to be on his show. It was a trip!
Comedy is a big part of your life. How did it all start for you? And do you plan to keep it a part of your career path?
My favorite thing to do in the whole entire world is to laugh. I mean really belly laugh! Early on I learned I could get myself out of trouble and lighten any dark situation by cracking a couple jokes. And it just came so naturally to me. I love singing because it makes people feel. Think about it. You’re sad? You listen to sad music. Happy? You listen to happy music. But that’s also how comedy works. Someone could be so down and devastated. Or just looking for a little joy. Comedy gives you the ability to really make people feel good. Distract them in a way. From whatever they’re going through. I’m grateful to have the ability to do that. And I always will.
You worked alongside comedian John Di Domenic on Jimmy Kimmel Live – are there any other comedians you would like to collaborate with?
First of all, I would just like to say how much I adore John Di Domenico. I would like to share my favorite story with us. We were getting ready to do a big shoot as Melania and Trump a couple years ago but I needed to do a quick photoshoot for this new endorsement. I pulled out this baked cake this company sent me and all of these goodies and did a quick photoshoot. As I started getting ready for mine and John’s shoot, I left the cake on the table. When I came back the cake was half gone. John very innocently said he had a few bites and it was delicious. What I forgot to tell him was that it was a weed cake. The company was an edible company! To make a long story short, he ended up getting so accidentally high and I had to drive him home. We didn’t even do the shoot. It was a sight to see though. Melania and Trump hauling ass down the freeway while he was crying and panicking thinking he was going to die. Needless to say.. we haven’t touched an edible since. Haha! But to your original question, I think I’d love to collaborate with Leah Remini and Michelle Visage. I have been manifesting this for quite some time, but it truly is what I want. They would play the perfect mother and aunt to me in a sitcom produced by Fran Drescher. Ugh. Could you even imagine?
You’re currently the host for Channel Q’s Morning Beat, where you discuss the latest in LGBTQ+ news, pop culture, and entertainment. Was the transition from American Idol, and singing, to comedian + host + singer an organic progression?
I think above all things, I’ve just always been unapologetically myself. I don’t consider myself a host, or a comedian. I’m just and have always done my own thing with my own personality. So I think that’s why the transitions are always an organic progression.
Tell us about the show? What do you like most about hosting the Morning Beat?
The Morning Beat is so special to me. Our catch phrase is “giving everyone a voice.” It’s true. I am a big advocate for humans. So many stories never make mainstream media. It is my job to find those stories and tell them with a big voice. I do just that.
Are you planning on touring with your new album soon or any other performances on the horizon we can look out for?
I love to tour. As much as I love social media, there is nothing like being face to face with friends and fans and getting that really personal connection. So yes. That’s definitely happening. I honestly am just waiting for my brother to get back from the Army in December. It wouldn’t seem right to go on tour without the star of the album! I also have a big event I’m putting on in October that raises money for women who have suffered physical and sexual abuse. A lot will be coming up and I can’t wait to share this journey with everyone.