In Fix My Choir, where faith-based entertainment meets mainstream, Deitrick Haddon and Michelle Williams use their professional experience to mentor struggling gospel, school and community choirs built on a passion for singing and uplifting those who will listen.
But choirs embody more than just a sound. There’s a variety in deliverance that accompanies everything from movement and rhythm to leadership and teamwork amongst a wide range of personalities that make up the groups. And as with any diverse group of people, drawback is expected.
Throughout the season, we’ve seen Deitrick and Michelle help turn choirs around, not only in their presentation, but in their camaraderie. Members have been challenged to step outside of the box in their performance, put their personal differences aside, open up in communication and apply other tactics that actually work in maintaining a successful choir. It’s clear that the type of direction we’ve seen has been applied elsewhere, so we sat down and talked with Deitrick Haddon to get the back story.
In the interview below, the Fix My Choir executive producer and “king of pep talks” explains how his past has allowed him to counsel and direct choirs and how he hopes to further bridge gaps between people with his new music ventures.
GOSPEL GOODIES: Tell me about when you were called to do what you do…
DEITRICK HADDON: It started way back when I was 10 years old. Something divined happened. I was called by God to preach, reach people and to sing the gospel. I was so compelled by what I felt at that moment that I ran into the next room to my mother and I said, ‘God wants me to lead people and preach and sing!’ She put me right up to preach the next week.
As I would grow in the church – I was the minister of music of my church at 13-years-old – I had a gift at an early age. I was responsible for 100+ voices back then, so I learned a lot just being the minister of music and choir director. I learned how to deal with people, I learned how to be patience with people. So I knew a long time ago what I was called to do.
So Fix My Choir is right up your alley?
I’m telling you, it’s really easy for me. It’s natural for me. It’s my passion. It’s what I grew up in and how I trained to be who I am growing up in the choir.
What was your reaction when you were first presented with the Fix My Choir opportunity? Were you nervous that you’d be stepping into real touchy situations?
No, not at all. I have to shout out the Oxygen Network for just believing in me and also for considering what their viewers want to see. They brought it to me and said, ‘Deitrick, we want to do something that has to do with choirs. We don’t know what we want to do. We don’t want to do a regular competition. Is there something we could do?’ I started thinking and said what we can do is go across the country and find some of the worst choirs and clean them up in five days. They loved the idea and that’s how we’re here today.
With your type of choir background, have you seen yourself in the types of situations you help fix on the show?
Absolutely. I remember when I was so talented and gifted that I was arrogant. It was just too much talent too soon. I would cut up and I remember my uncle telling me one time – I had to be about 10 or 11 – he stopped me in the middle of rehearsal and said, ‘One day you’re going to be in my shoes and you’re going to want somebody to listen to you and respect you when you’re in this position.’ It stopped me in my tracks.
How do you deal with those situations now versus how you would have dealt with them in your past?
When I was coming up, I had a lot of respect from the choir members who went to our church. I don’t know if it was because my dad was the pastor and they’d get in trouble [laughs], but I think they respected me for the talent I had and the maturity I had at a young age. I was very wise beyond my years so I didn’t have a lot of trouble. But the truth of the matter is, I was still dumb. So there would be times that my youthfulness would come out and I’d get angry and I’d get with folks when they’re weren’t doing what I’d tell them to do. Now, I’m seasoned. I’m very patient with people now.
What’s one piece of advice you’d give a struggling choir?
I would say there’s no way to lose when you have a group of people focused on the same thing. The problem is when everybody has their own agenda and own vision and are trying to do their own thing in the choir. First of all, you have to respect your leader and respect the vision of the choir. You can’t bring your vision in the mix of a vision. You have to focus on the goal the choir is trying to reach. Only then is when you can become the choir you’re aspiring to be.
This is totally unrelated, but in Preachers of LA you mentioned wanting to step into R&B and you even put on a small performance with samples. Where do you stand trying to bridge that gap between listeners of R&B and gospel. Is that something you’re still pursuing?
I’m just getting ready to go in the studio and work on that album. That was just me testing out a few songs. I write songs all day, every day. That was just me checking out how the crowd would feel about me doing those types of songs. And they loved it. They didn’t want me to leave the stage. They didn’t show that on the camera, but we had a party.
I think what we’re doing here is groundbreaking. For so long, people are made to feel like they have to leave the church in order to sing something that will connect with people in the world. And unless you’re singing, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus through every lyric, they will judge you and say you’re not of God or you don’t need to be a part of the gospel music industry. But truth of the matter is, none of us are singing Jesus, Jesus, Jesus all day every day. It’s not even realistic. We all have different emotions that we go through. We go through different tests and trials. We go through pain, we’re in love. We go through a lot as human beings living on this earth and we’re not always in the clouds. Sometimes we just want to ride out and go to the picnic and put on some old school music or new school, some Kanye West, whatever it is.
What I’m doing is telling people, ok, we’re going to change this because we don’t want to lose anybody else to the world. People that are talented and gifted to do this type of music, this is going to give them the freedom to do it. My goal is to try to show people how to maintain a relationship with God and still make good music that can relate to every body.
Catch Fix My Choir Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on Oxygen.