Updated: Oct 26
The new singing competition "Sing On!" has been a big hit since making its way to Netflix this past September. Hosted by none other than American actor Tituss Burgess, each episode features a number of different singers from across the globe. The contestants all have a range of different singing abilities and backgrounds yet all have the same objective of hitting the right notes on a number of different songs for a chance to win up to $60,000, but there’s a catch.
Instead of having a panelist of judges holding the responsibility of who gets eliminated and who moves on to the next round, it’s up to the contestants themselves to vote off a singer each round.
Taking part in this competition is no easy task, as the singers have no clue what song they’ll be responsible for singing accurately, and the tension is at an all time high when it’s up to the contestants to decide who doesn’t make it to the next round. Nonetheless, first place winner Frankie Cena, who took home a grand prize of $40,400, explains how he managed to triumph himself to victory and what’s next for him following his big debut.
First and foremost, congratulations are certainly in order! I’m sure you must be on top of the world with this huge victory, and I’m sure your friends and family are so proud of you. I’m dying to know what the experience was like, tell me all about it.
Thank you so much! I honestly wish everyone could have won, but I’m just so grateful. As a kid I watched all the singing competitions, game shows and reality TV. This show is like a combination of "American Idol" and "The Weakest Link", so as soon as I made that connection it brought me right back to my childhood days.
“I loved these shows growing up so to be able to compete in this type of show was a complete dream come true.”
I could only imagine your excitement to have an opportunity like this and be able to fulfill your dreams! How did you even hear about this competition and what was the audition process like?
So in the U.S. they did these open casting calls but they didn’t say it was for Netflix or what the show was gonna be like. It literally just said “looking for people who love to sing karaoke”. They casted all over; New York, Atlanta, Chicago, L.A, Nashville etc., so that’s how most people got casted. For me, I’m a Canadian citizen and I live in Canada.
The only reason why I heard about it is because I was in the U.K at the time and they were looking for people in the U.K. with American accents. I just got lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and I got to audition just based on the fact that I was in the U.K.
Right place, right time. I don’t think there’s any better way to put it and because of it, you’re now $40, 400 richer. What do you plan on doing with the prize money that you received?
Well originally, I was planning on taking my entire family on vacation but [because of] corona that’s probably just not in the cards right now. Although, I’ve just moved from Vancouver to Toronto, which is basically Canada’s New York or L.A. It’s the place to be for entertainment, so a lot of the money is going to be dedicated to building my life and entertainment career here in Toronto.
How were you introduced to the entertainment/music industry? Were you always musically inclined from a young age or was singing just a pass time for you?
Well the show is interesting in that sense because you have people who aren’t trained at all and don’t have nothing to do with music when it comes to their careers, and then you have people who are pursuing music professionally. For example, Elise who was one of the other contestants on my episode striving to be a country star. She wants to be the next Carrie Underwood and that’s her full time gig.
Me on the other hand, I fall somewhere in the middle. I’m musically trained, I've performed before around the world, I've done paid gigs, and ever since I was six I've been singing. I was also in the boy’s choir and school choir and a couple of serious performances but it’s not my main pursuit. While I'm not trying to be a recording artist I do love to sing for sure.
Going back to your time on Sing On!, the host Tituss Burgess is a big pillar in the LGBTQ community. What was it like getting to meet and work with him? Did you know he was hosting the show going into it?
Oh my god, I loved Kimmy Schmidt and I watched it very religiously so I was definitely familiar with Tituss! We had no clue Tituss was the host until the day that we filmed and when we heard it was him all of our jaws dropped. Everyone was so excited and happy and it was just really fun.
Our platform is very big on shedding light on members of the LGBTQ community and also minority groups that don’t receive the proper recognition. Being that you’re a member of the LGBTQ community I’m sure it’s no mystery that this industry will have plenty of obstacles. What advice would you offer to someone in the same boat trying to do what it is you’re doing?
First of all, the fact that me, John, and Tituss were all on stage together in the finals was such a beautiful moment because all 3 of us are part of the community so that right there was just powerful because you don’t see that often on TV. Netflix did a great job casting a very diverse group of people. I feel every episode you were definitely seeing a large variety of people, and I really respect Netflix for that.
Beyond that, I only came out 3 years ago when I was 26, so I’m still very fresh to this whole thing and still trying to navigate the entertainment world now as an LGBTQ man. It’s different for sure because I identified as one way and auditioned as one way for so long, but in a lot of other ways I’ve been pretty welcomed and so far I feel that I can be myself when I’m in an audition. I have to hope that the world is open to gay host and gay men in television.
The advice I would give to someone in my shoes would be to be a Tituss. Tituss is showing us that he can be his true self and is now hosting two shows. He’s obviously been nominated for so many awards and he’s done so by being his true authentic self, and I hope I can follow in his footsteps.
If it took that long to know who even the host was I’m curious to know when did you discover that the show would be aired on Netflix and did you think it would be this big sensation?
You really don’t find out these details of these shows until the last minute. They’re so tight about it, so honestly I probably didn’t find out till maybe a week before. They really had to keep everything so secretive. A lot of casting in America is very vague, so while I had a feeling the show would be pretty big I didn’t realize how big and definitely had no clue the grand prize would be such a large amount. It was really crazy when we started finding out all this information.
I think what also makes this show pretty interesting is that you’re basically put on the spot. It’s not like Dancing With The Stars where you spend hours learning each routine or American Idol where you sit and practice that one song till it’s perfect.
You literally don’t know what song you’re singing until that very moment so how did you prepare yourself for this competition?
It’s a lot of pressure and no disrespect to everyone else because I really loved everyone on the cast but I was ready for that kind of pressure, and I was ready for that idea of you only have one chance. That’s something that comes in handy from doing debate and Mr. Canada and all these things that I’ve done. It prepares you for what each opportunity you have really means so I just tried to psych myself up.
It wasn’t shown on the show, but in between the rounds I would just go on my knees and talk to myself and try to mentally prepare myself for each round. Even once the voting ended I shifted and had said to myself 'you don’t have to worry about anyone else but yourself now...just 2 more songs'. I think debating for most of my life really helps in terms of mentally preparing yourself for that kind of pressure.
What was it like learning all these different songs? Were you given a list of songs that you’d potentially be responsible for singing or did you just have to pray that each song that came up you were familiar with? Were there any songs that you never heard of and just had to wish for the best?
We were basically given a list of potential songs but we didn’t even know that it was about how well you hit the notes. They basically gave us all these songs that we’d have to become familiar with but we didn’t know what would happen with those songs. It wasn’t until the day that we filmed that we found out the main objective was to sing each song on key. The song I really struggled with the most was I Think We're Alone Now because it was not a song that I knew very well, so I remember just being so nervous for that song and saying to myself 'don’t fu*k this up'.
Aside from your time on Sing On!, from what it looks like it appears you and the contestants are actually pretty good friends. I had seen on your YouTube channel that you, John and Elise, who were 2 other contestants on your episode, were playing a game of song association. To me it seemed like you guys are a pretty close knit group of friends aside from the tension I’m sure was created through the show and being responsible for voting each other off.
Well as soon as we finished filming I knew that I wanted to see them again, and I also knew that hopefully we would get some buzz by being on Netflix so I figured let’s make the most out of it. It just so happened that 3 of the contestants lived in Nashville, and I had never been to Nashville so I figured I have some money coming so I proposed to them that I could fly out there and we could record some songs and do some videos. Unfortunately, Sabrina couldn’t come, so John, Elise and I did a couple collaborations during my time out there.
In terms of the tension, some people were definitely more petty than others but it’s a huge opportunity and a huge prize, and I truly felt bad that not everyone could win but of course, there could only be one winner.
What was your family's reaction like when they heard you were going to be on this big show?
Well I kept it a secret for a long time as we’re required to but we did a socially distant viewing party and everyone got to find out live that I won. It was obviously so incredible to see my family and friends experience that. That was also right before I moved to Toronto, so it was my viewing party but also like my going away party as well.
What was your relationship with your family like growing up? Are you the only one in your family that’s into music the same way you are?
I’m very very close to my family. We're a big Italian family so lot’s of love, lot’s of fighting, lots of yelling and everything. My grandma, my sister and my mother all work with me in the company so I see them a lot and obviously now that I’m in Toronto there’s a little more distance but still a very good and supportive family.
In terms of musical background, there's none in my family at all. My dad is very shy, my sister is quite shy and none of them sing, but I definitely got the boisterous personality from my mother. She is very out there and even though that didn’t transfer into entertainment, she’s just very out there with everything she does in life and loves being loud, so I definitely get that side from her for sure.
Other than your mother, what is one celebrity you feel like you look up to and can envision yourself being one day?
I would definitely say Ryan Seacrest just because he has what I want ultimately. He has a game show, a radio show and a talk show. For me that is the ultimate dream as a host to have a game show and a talk show one day. I know I’m far away from that right now but that’s definitely what I’m constantly working towards so he’s definitely a huge inspiration.
I see you’re also a speech/debate coach for a high school. How did you get into that field, and what’s your experience like working with kids?
I debated in high school and then I started coaching at the high school that I went to. I was a volunteer and I worked with the kids for about 5 years and eventually I was asked to be a paid coach and that became my job that got me through university. Now I own a school for speech and debate, so I teach students from all over the country and some in even different parts of the world now. While that is my main gig, now that I’m in Toronto I'm focusing more on TV hosting and entertainment.
Well it’s no mystery that you have a very extensive resume! I see you were also Mr. Canada back in 2012. How did you get into pageants and what was it like?
I think the key takeaway that I would want to get across in any article is that if you want to do something in life you have to have your eyes open, your ears open and you have to go for every opportunity that comes your way. People who have dreams but they don’t take any action on it are helpless. You have to be someone who’s always fighting.
Whether it was debate or Sing On! or Mr. Canada, my eyes were open. I had seen that they were casting for Mr. Canada through a friend of a friend. Everyone around me said I should do it and then one thing led to another and suddenly I'm on stage as Mr. World singing and winning the talent portion. It was a whirlwind, and I never imagined that I would be in a pageant as a kid but it was a great platform for me.
Was there ever a time in your career whether as a debate coach or in the entertainment field where you felt you were discriminated against because of your sexuality? If so, how did you manage to overcome it?
I would say that I have been really lucky in my adult life to not have experienced that but definitely as a kid being bullied for at the time being called gay while identifying as not gay was just really difficult for me. It created an identity crisis and I cried so much as a kid. Just ultimately being in choir and being a teacher's pet was obviously not cool to my other classmates, and I was definitely the victim of bullying from elementary school and a little bit of high school. I always say to just try to have a thick skin and try to ignore what the bullies will say and find people who love you for who you are whether that be friends or family.
I’m just so blessed being from Vancouver and now Toronto which are two very gay friendly cities, so in my adult life I have not experienced any discrimination although there were a couple of hosting gigs that I feel like I didn’t get and it’s made me wonder maybe they were looking for someone more masculine or straight seeming etc. Of course I wonder if my sexuality comes into play or not in these scenarios, but if it is I’m not going back to hiding who I truly am.
Being a survivor of bullying and also having the privilege of working so closely with kids, what is something you instill in your students aside from debating skills that you feel will help them in their future?
To be honest debate is so hard and my students are under so much pressure but I think the first thing I tell them unrelated to debate is first to follow your dreams. Their parents put a lot of pressure on them to go to an ivy league school and follow that academic path, but I always remind them to check in with themselves and make sure you’re making yourself happy first.
I think beyond that we teach them how to handle defeat and how to take on failure. I’m so happy that I had all these amazing opportunities in my life, but I’ve been rejected from thousands of gigs at one point. I always say if my debaters can’t handle one loss in one round, then they're never gonna be debate champions and it’s the same with entertainment. If you’re not ready to handle a lot of rejection then you can’t expect to be a star. I’ve come so far but I know I have to prepare myself for a lot more no's before I hear another yes.
What do you feel is the next big step for your career? Are there any new projects we should be anticipating?
COVID is definitely making some things tricky but being in Toronto for two weeks I’m already auditioning all the time just for different things; some TV hostings, some commercials and I filmed two TV auditions not too long ago, so there’s a lot of potential but nothing is set right at this moment.
Looking forward, where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I definitely want my own show; that’s my biggest thing. I’ve been on all these different platforms as a contestant and I’m ready to now take on my own. It’s not to say I don’t love being a contestant but I’m truly ready to have something that’s mine. That’s what I have to now put out there and move towards and fight for. I know it’s hard and there’s very few shows out there so it’s extremely challenging, but I’m willing to fight for it.
I love reality TV so much and there’s a lot of older hosts that are getting up there in age so any show like American Idol, The Bachelorette or Chopped would be a dream come true. I’ve loved the spotlight since I was a kid and always wanted to be the center of attention and I still do ultimately, so that’s why I go on all these shows and put myself out there because I want to be seen and known; that’s my dream!
It’s no mystery that Frankie will stop at nothing to achieve his dreams, no matter how long it takes, and we at Gaye Magazine will be sure to keep the gayes in the loop on all things Cena from here on out!