NEW YORK – Rashidra Scott is a Broadway singer, dancer and actress. Armed with a degree in music from Boston’s Berklee College of Music, she has been a featured vocalist for Walt Disney World, Disney Cruise Line and Hong Kong Disneyland, as well as church music ministry, civic and social performances, pageants, regional theater and tours.
In addition to “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” her Broadway credits include “Avenue Q,” “Finian’s Rainbow,” “Hair,” and “Sister Act.” Rashidra’s television appearances include Violet (the singing nurse) on Sony/FOX’s “Rescue Me,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Dancing With The Stars,” the 2011 and 2014 Tony Awards, “The View,” “Good Morning America,” “The Today Show,” “The Wendy Williams Show,” and nationally televised parades. Most recently she appeared as “Josephine” in “Ain’t Too Proud” at Berkeley Repertory Theatre.
Q: How old were you when you first started singing, and where did you make your singing debut? If in a show, what role did you play, and at what venue?
Rashidra: My mom first realized I could sing when I was 3 years old. The first song she heard me sing was Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All.” I participated in Star Power and sang in various community functions at home.
Q: Where did you grow up?
Rashidra: I grew up in the Hampton Roads area of southeastern Virginia (Virginia Beach).
Q: Pageants were a large part of your childhood. How old were you when you started participating? What did you win, when and where?
Rashidra: My first pageant was when I was 5 or 6: Little Miss Black Local Talent. I think my mom was afraid of beauty pageants; she didn’t want aesthetics to be how I defined myself at such a young age, so I did talent-based pageants when I was younger.
I also held the titles of Little Miss Norfolk, Future Miss Black Virginia and was Miss Virginia at Hal Jackson’s Talented Teens National Pageant.
With my involvement in Hurrah Players (our local community theater) we would be the entertainment for the Miss Portsmouth-Seawall Pageant, a local preliminary in the Miss America Organization. Growing up with that experience and knowing the scholarship opportunities and recognition of community service and involvement that’s fundamental to the MAO, I competed in the system from 2000-2004.
- Miss Virginia Peanut, and placed in the Top 10 at Miss Virginia 2000
- Miss Boston 2001, placed in the Top 8 at Miss Massachusetts and won talent
- Miss Hampton Roads 2002, placed Top 10 in Miss Virginia 2002 and won preliminary talent
- Miss Portsmouth-Seawall, placed fourth runner-up at Miss Virginia 2003
Q: You earned a bachelor’s degree in music with a concentration in music business/management from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. Has this degree been beneficial to you in your professional career? In what ways?
Rashidra: I generally joke that I haven’t used my degree a day in my life since graduating, but I honestly believe it helps me separate the business from the personal. We hear “no” so much more than “yes” in this business, and it can be easy to take every rejection personally – to think you didn’t sing well enough or wear the right thing or somehow you failed at presenting yourself properly.
My degree has absolutely helped me keep in mind that there are so many other factors that go into final casting decisions: If there’s a trio of girls, they try to match our height and size as well as blend. You can be the “best” person in the room, but if you present an inability to blend (physically and sonically) with the other two girls they want to cast, you won’t get the job.
It’s also taught me to always read every point of a contract.
Q: Why did you pursue singing as a profession? Was there a defining moment when you knew this is what you wanted to do?
Rashidra: I always wanted to be a professional singer. I earned a degree in music business/management so I wouldn’t be completely clueless about the mainstream music industry. My dream really was to be a studio singer/recording artist, but because I grew up doing community theater and then went to a part-time performing arts high school, that bug was also there.
I remember being on vacation with my parents at Walt Disney World watching “Tarzan Rocks!” at Animal Kingdom, and I turned to my mom in the middle of the show and told her that that was what I wanted to do, that I needed to be in that show. After the show I found the call booth and asked someone who worked with the show how I could find information to audition for it, and the rest is history. It was a full circle moment when I finally was part of that show.
Q: How many years have you been a professional singer, and what was your first professional gig?
Rashidra: My part-time job in high school was singing for Spirit Cruises (Spirit of Norfolk) in the summers of 1999 and 2000, so I guess that was officially my first professional gig. But my first post-college/I’m-an-adult-with-bills-to-pay job was with Disney Cruise Line (Disney Wonder) in 2004.
Q: Did you take voice lessons while growing up? Who were your teachers?
Rashidra: I absolutely took voice lessons growing up. My first voice teacher, Emma Harris, worked on “getting the man out of my voice” because I’ve always had a deep/lower female voice. In middle and high school I focused specifically on classical/legit training, and in high school I learned belt technique from Chip Gallagher at the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts.
Q: Did you study a specific technique that helped strengthen your voice and help with longevity in your career? Do you still use any of the same techniques in your professional career?
Rashidra: All of the above. Classical training is always a helpful base. Many believe that one can’t sing classically and belt, but I’ve not had vocal issues from doing both. Performing eight shows a week, while it sounds easy, can be physically and vocally taxing. Add to that any extra events, auditions, readings or workshops and it can be overwhelming and wearing on the voice. If ever I’m feeling vocally fatigued, I always fall back on my vocal training.
Q: Do you have any rituals when preparing for a vocal performance? Vocalises, specialty drinks, meditation?
Rashidra: I always do a vocal warmup for anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on what I’m about to perform. I always record my vocal warmups from lessons with my voice teacher, Marlon Saunders, so I have about an hour’s worth of vocalises from which to choose.
One basic warmup set I always do is from a CD that came with one of my class books from college: Anne Peckham’s “Elements of Vocal Technique,” and then I sometimes put the rest on shuffle.
Depending on the show and role, I may really keep up with journaling, yoga, or working out to keep myself in the right space spiritually and physically so I’m not bringing bad energy with me to work, but so I’m also prepared to not take anyone else’s bad energy onto myself.
My main show drinks are water, coconut water and ginger tea. If I’m doing a vocally taxing show, I drink mostly ginger tea throughout because ginger is an anti-inflammatory and it just feels really good on tired cords.
Q: How do you prepare for an audition?
Rashidra: I read through the script if one is provided, and I try to memorize or at least highly familiarize myself with any sides and songs/lyrics if time permits. Sometimes you don’t get audition materials until the day before, so I’m not quite as prepared for those as I am for something for which I’ve had the material for a week or two.
Q: You’ve performed around the world for community theaters, regional theaters, theme parks, cruise lines, concerts, symphonies and Broadway. Currently we can see you on Broadway in the Tony-Award-winning “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” Do you have a favorite show(s)?
Rashidra: One of the most special shows I did was a regional production of “Hair” at Arizona Theatre Company. Without getting into politics, having our first day of rehearsal in Arizona on election day 2008 was noteworthy, but our director, David Ira Goldstein, created such a special environment for us to help us find the closeness and intimacy of a tribe who’d been together for years and not just six weeks of rehearsals.
Q: When “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” was nominated for seven Tony Awards in 2014, and Jessie Mueller won for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Musical and Brian Ronan won for Best Sound Design of a Musical, how did it feel? Where were you that night? How did you and the cast celebrate the wins? Did it change the atmosphere backstage at the show?
Rashidra: Because we performed at the Tony Awards we were at our theater for the telecast. We were sitting on the floor in the lobby putting on our makeup and putting hair in pin curls or wig prep.
We rode a bus to Radio City before our performance time and were so worried about getting back to the theater in time to watch the Best Actress category (I think it was presented about 20 minutes after our performance was done, but there wasn’t a holding room for us at Radio City and we just HAD to get back to a TV to see if Jessie was going to win). We literally ran to the bus, made it back to the theater in time to run down to the lobby (three floors below ground) and watch the Best Actress in a Musical presentation. Our entire cast was screaming and jumping up and down in excitement for Jessie’s win.
She’s such a grateful, humble person. About a week later I said to a cast mate, “Nothing about her has changed. I keep forgetting she’s a frickin’ Tony winner. She has a Tony!”
Q: You’ve performed for countless awards shows and TV specials. Did you ever encounter a bad experience during one of them?
Rashidra: I have to say I’ve never had a bad experience with a TV show. The worst moment (at the time … first world problems) was when our camera blocked a rehearsal for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The rehearsal was on a Tuesday right after our show (“Sister Act”), and it was freezing and pouring rain/sleet. Umbrellas were giving up from the wind, and sleet was pelting us in the face. Some people found trash bags and cut holes for their head and arms for makeshift ponchos. Trying to do our choreography full out under the circumstances proved to be slightly unpleasant, but also hilarious.
Q: Have you ever made a mistake during a live performance? What happened? How did you handle it?
Rashidra: During one show of “Finian’s Rainbow” when stage right and stage left were to turn their backs to a character center stage at separate times, I accidentally turned with the wrong side of stage and was the lone person on my side facing the wrong way. The turns were about four counts apart, so it wasn’t worth it for me to do it over.
I’m more than sure that over the course of all of my life and time performing I’ve made many more mistakes, but that’s the one that comes to mind now. But, with anything that happens, you just have to keep it moving and keep going.
Q: Do you have a favorite genre of music to sing? Do you have a favorite genre of music for listening?
Rashidra: I don’t know that I have a favorite genre to sing. I enjoy singing and listening to jazz, gospel and old school R&B.
Q: Do you have go-to, no-fail audition songs?
Rashidra: I will try to justify “I Got Love” from Purlie for any audition.
Q: What scares you?
Rashidra: Getting complacent and not striving for more. My artistic self always wants more and new. Lack of challenge can get boring.
Q: How important is it for aspiring professional singers to have proper vocal training?
Rashidra: I think it’s imperative to have proper vocal training. There are definitely individuals who somehow don’t lose their voices without training, but I would not have been able to make it through 13 performances a week on Disney Cruise Line or eight (sometimes nine) shows a week on Broadway or any other rigors of my professional career without having proper technique to depend on.
Q: When you moved to New York City, did you have a job lined up, or were you taking a chance? How long were you living in NYC before you were cast in a show? Have you worked any other jobs while waiting for a Broadway gig?
Rashidra: I took a chance. I was popping in and out of NYC for about three months before I booked a show in the Berkshires (“Funked Up Fairytales” at Barrington Stage Company). That show got extended so I came back to NYC and went straight from Grand Central to rehearsals for my first New York City show (“The Rockae” with Prospect Theater Company).
I always consider that my official move date to New York City because that stopped my going home every one to two weeks until my agents called with an audition appointment. I received my offer for “Avenue Q” (my Broadway debut) three months later.
Between “The Rockae” ending and starting “Avenue Q,” I worked holidays at Bath & Body Works. It was a fun job for me … except I spent most of my paycheck at the store. 🙂
Q: Do you have an agent, a manager, or both? How important is it for artists to have one? And how do you know which agency to select?
Rashidra: I have an agent (well, three agents work in the office). I love (having) them. I know people who have either an agent or manager, some have both, some have no representation at all. I was very fortunate to find my agents. A former cast mate from my first DCL job transitioned from performing to working at this agency, and when I told him I was moving here he kept in touch with me and let me know when I could audition for the office. I’ve been with them ever since.
We have a great, open relationship: Many times they have the overall picture of my career in mind more than I do, and they kind of act as managers in the sense of getting me to see how taking, or not taking, a specific job will affect my career in the long run.
Q: Do you find Broadway performers being generally supportive of one another, or are they too competitive?
Rashidra: There are bad apples in every bunch, but for the most part I find that we are very supportive of one another. I don’t know if it’s more so once you get to a certain point in your career when you realize you’re either going to get the gig or not, and not getting the gig is not always in your control. The bigger picture is to make and leave the best impression in the room.
There’s no point being mad or catty at someone for booking something over you. We all have things we’re meant to do.
Q: How often do you audition for shows?
Rashidra: That varies. Some times of the year are busier than others. I was out of town for three months doing the premier regional production of “Sister Act” and missed at least two big auditions (much to my agents’ dismay). Sometimes I’ll have three or four auditions in a week, and sometimes I’ll go months without anything.
Q: What is the average length of a Broadway contract?
Rashidra: Principals are generally contracted for six months to one year, and ensemble has run-of-show contracts.
Q: Do you have any pet peeves in rehearsals, onstage or in auditions?
Rashidra: Disrespect, not paying attention, and not giving 100 percent every show are huge pet peeves of mine. Giving 100 percent doesn’t mean killing yourself every show; we’re not always at our best because we’re human, but it’s really annoying to work alongside people who only do their best show when they know people in the audience. I don’t find that mentality so much here on Broadway, but I’ve definitely run across it.
Q: Was there ever a time when you didn’t get the gig? How did you handle the rejection?
Rashidra: Plenty of times. Rejection is 98 percent of this business. The best way I know to handle rejection is just to realize and accept that not everything is meant for me and that’s OK. Mine will come.
Q: How high of a priority is it to network in the NYC entertainment community?
Rashidra: I’m such a homebody. I’m the worst at going out and networking. It is important to have a presence and know people, but overall having a good attitude and reputation are paramount.
Q: What inspires you?
Rashidra: My fiancee pushes me to challenge myself in my career. My peers, coworkers and friends inspire me daily. As cheesy as it sounds – to see people I know on TV, in movies, writing and creating new works – that pushes me to do more.
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Rashidra: The most challenging part about being in a long-running show is keeping things fresh. When you do the same thing eight times a week for more than a year, you really have to work at staying in the moment.
Q: What has been the highlight(s) of your career?
Rashidra: I think the DNC (Democratic National Committee) buying out the audience for “Sister Act” to use for a fundraiser was one of the most special moments. The Secret Service was everywhere, and snipers were on the roof of the theater and surrounding buildings, and as soon as the show was finished, the curtain came down and President Obama and Whoopi Goldberg (one of our producers) came onstage. President Obama made a point to shake all of our hands and acknowledge all of us, and then after we got changed (in the lobby because our dressing rooms were inaccessible for security of the president), we got to watch him give a speech on our stage. It was pretty spectacular.
Also, having Carole King tell us she would never come see the show and then having her surprise us all and walk onstage after bows when none of us had a clue she’d even seen the show. She sang “You’ve Got a Friend,” and then passed the mic down the line of our cast so each of us could sing a section.
Q: How important is marketing in this business?
Rashidra: With the emergence of social media it’s becoming more and more important to have a strong social media presence.
Q: What Broadway show is on your bucket list to perform?
Rashidra: Aida is absolutely on my bucket list. I had a chance to do it regionally, but had to back out because I booked “Sister Act.” Terrible position to be in. (wink)
Q: What is next for you? What goals have you not reached yet?
Rashidra: I’ve been saying for years that I want to develop my own cabaret show, so definitely working on that.
Q: To what or whom do you credit for your success?
Rashidra: I know this first answer can be controversial, but I first and foremost credit God for the gift of singing/performing.
People I credit:
- My parents for getting me to and from all of those rehearsals and performances;
- Hugh Copeland, who runs the community theater where I grew up;
- Gail Harts, whose dance company I performed and competed with for 10 years;
- Joyce White-Tasby, Mrs. Uzzle and Ron Harris for being my piano teachers and helping mold my musical ear;
- Mrs Harris and the countless voice teachers I had growing up and in college for helping hone my voice and teaching me how to properly use it;
- Everyone I’ve worked with in my professional career because whether positive or negative I’ve learned something invaluable from everyone I’ve crossed paths with so far. And I hope to continue this – growth is such an imperative part of this business and life, and without life experiences, what do you have to take in to each role?
Q: Do you have a favorite book, movie, song or artist?
Rashidra: My taste and mood change frequently. Currently I cannot stop listening to the “Hamilton” cast album. It really is THAT good.
Q: What advice do you have for anyone wishing to perform on Broadway?
Rashidra: Don’t burn bridges and always be professional. I got my agents from a former co-worker who, after working together, felt I’d represent him and the agency well. That says a lot. I first got involved with “Beautiful” after working with our lead producer at The Muny one summer. You never know what or who will lead you to something new. Leave them wanting to work with you (again).
Don’t wait until you get to Broadway to care about what you’re doing: Build a great work ethic no matter where you are.
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Lead headshot photo credit: Mike Quain