Interview: Margie Mays

Former American Idol contestant Margie Mays and her love for Musical Theatre!

Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Guthrie TheaterMargie Mays is based in Los Angeles, California. She is a singer, songwriter, actor, and host. She appeared on seasons 2 and 3 of American Idol on ABC. She also teaches voice and piano lessons and wants to aspire young artist and performers. Currently, Margie is playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical in the heart of Hollywood at the Hollywood Majestic.

We are lucky to interview her about her Musical Theatre experience!

How long have you been doing theatre?

My first role was age 7; I was the lead in the 1st and 2nd grade play called "The Tour" (it was a musical guide of the human body). I have pictures from it, and I'm STILL wearing my hair in a high ponytail with a pink scrunchie; some things apparently never change. However, in my adult life, I am actually just beginning my professional theatre career! My theatre debut is in two days as I type this - I'll be playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical at the Hollywood Majestic! But let that not fool you - I have ALWAYS had a love for theatre since I was very young. I was in every musical and play my school would put on while I was young. However, as I got a bit older and my parents started getting me more college-focused, they started enforcing a strictly "school and sports" household, and I wasn't allowed to do local theatre. That definitely was a bummer and added a whole element of shame around what I truly knew was my calling (being on stage). As I got into my college years, I stopped doing theatre altogether because I didn't think I was talented enough (I didn't necessarily have any proof of this, it was just a lot of shame and fear).

However, there were two game changers for me: American Idol and the pandemic. This dirty duo changed everything for me... truly changed the course of my life. When I first went on American Idol (I was on seasons 2 & 3 on ABC, 2019 & 2020), part of our job as artists on the show was to identify and stick to a specific "genre." The options did not include musical theatre, so I went with pop. I remember feeling consistently boxed in by this label. When you get on a platform such as Idol and you are surrounded by SO MUCH talent, you start to notice what sets you apart and where you shine. Looking back, it is no surprise that my best performance on the show was singing "Never Enough" from The Greatest Showman. I remember being completely sleep deprived, on the verge of being sick as a dog, and yet my instrument sang that song so easily. Probably my favorite performance moment of my life (so far). Something clicked for me in that moment. It was my Cinderella moment (and my first standing ovation from all the judges). That moment planted a seed that would begin to sprout during the next chapter of life... the unexpected pandemic.

When the pandemic struck, I was in isolation in my apartment for months on end. I was also concurrently going through a really sad breakup, and to heal myself, I transformed my apartment into a stage. I started taking Zoom classes at Broadway Dance Center every morning (I was NOT a dancer at all. I was so embarrassed I wouldn't even turn my camera on for many months), and I started filming myself singing all the musical theatre songs I knew. Before I knew it, I was addicted. I was ordering costumes, REALLY getting into character, started diving into all the elements of acting, dancing, and expanding my repertoire song by song.... After months of this, I just knew that that was where I needed to go once the world of live performance opened up again. And then my first open call performance was at the Hollywood Majestic in late 2021. I walked in and had a mere two songs in my "song book," one of which was actually Legally Blonde from Legally Blonde the Musical... and long story short, here I am about to be singing that song FOR REAL, on stage, with an amazing cast, at that same theatre. I am so excited and nervous and fulfilled at once.

What inspired you to do musical theatre?

I feel like I accidentally segued into this question while answering the last question, ha! But.... it's always just been a knowing inside me. I think that's a shared feeling for many artists. Somewhere around 8 years old, you start to have a bit of self awareness and ideas about what you want to be when you grow up. I feel like I was just pre-downloaded with the understanding that I needed to be a singer/actor. Any time my parents would take my siblings and I to a musical, or we would watch movie musicals (cough cough Xanadu & Grease... two of my first movie obsessions), or singing shows (American Idol), I would be stirred from so deeply within that I wouldn't be able to sleep. They have excited me exponentially since I can remember. They still do. Sometimes I have to intentionally NOT watch any musicals before bed because I know I will get too excited to fall asleep.

What is your favorite musical?

Ugh, I'm a maximizer so it's always hard for me to pick a "favorite." I think it's a toss-up between Wicked and The Last Five Years. Wicked because it is just so fantasmical (fantastic + magical). I remember I skipped school on my 18th birthday and drove to NYC with one of my friends, and we went and saw Wicked. Such a great day (and I was my high school valedictorian.... so I was NOT a school skipper. Ha!). And then The Last Five Years because, gosh, I just really love the music and the story. Having gone through my first big heartbreak over the pandemic, that musical (and Legally Blonde the Musical) really healed me. I felt seen in the songs.

Do you have a dream role?

To be honest, what I'm playing right now - Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical. Someone PINCH ME!!! Another dream would definitely be Glinda (Wicked).

Favorite musical song?

Oh this is so hard! Right now, because of where I am in my own life, I always cry at "Find My Way" from Legally Blonde the Musical. But also, "The Next Ten Minutes" from The Last Five Years - that one is so gorgeous and beautiful. I think it's genius the way they meet in the middle.

How has the last couple years changed you as an artist and a performer? Oh my goodness, I have completely transformed in the last couple years. Idol changed me by opening my heart and showing me that I can be exactly who I am. And that my dreams are not too big to say out loud anymore. Then the pandemic and my breakup changed me because I had to do a lot of deep diving, heal old wounds, and find that all the strength and love I needed was within me all along. In the last couple years, I have really seen myself go from a girl to a woman. My goodness, that transition doesn't come smoothly. It was birthed by a lot of pain. But I am so happy to be coming out of the cocoon. Getting to step on the stage as Elle in a couple days time feels like my butterfly moment. I could cry! Of joy!

How does it feel to perform in front of a live audience again?

SO GOOD. I've done a couple cabarets recently in LA, and oh how I'd forgotten the joys of a microphone, a stage, and that feeling you get when it's "go time." I love the adrenaline. I love the feeling of "clicking in" and leaving it all on the stage. When the lights shine on me, I come alive. All the critiquing, all the questioning that one has in rehearsal goes away. I know where I'm supposed to be. It's SO FUN.

Any special projects coming up that you are able to share?

Yes!! Well, for starters, I am opening my first professional theatre show on April 1st! I will be playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde the Musical for a 2+ month run at the Hollywood Majestic in Los Angeles. Elle Woods is quite literally a dream role. I feel like I have so much in common with her character and her story. My heart is beyond grateful to get to be a part of this story. It's hilarious and it's heartwarming... it's so beautiful. The process of doing my first show (and being the lead in both a vocally demanding and iconic role) has been overwhelming and a rush all at once. I love being challenged and feeling myself grow. Outside of theatre, I am about to release an original song and music video that I'm really pumped about. The song was born during the pandemic in the woes of my first big heartbreak, and getting to heal through music and art is such a beautiful blessing. And it's a whole new sound for me as an artist (compared to other original stuff I've released). It's much more raw, and all about the story. I'm so excited.

Review: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS at Guthrie Theater

Thank you Margie Mays for your time!

Headshot Photo by Steph Girard

Legally Blonde Photo by Kaia D'Albora, edited by Brayden Hade.

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