Last year’s Straight Outta Oz, an aural and visual journey into the mind and times of American Idol alum and former MTV personality Todrick Hall, was praised and lauded by several publications, including the Inquisitr and Billboard magazine, as being one of the most promising shows of talent and flair from one of the most underrated entertainers to exist in our current pop landscape.
The L. Frank Baum-inspired offering, which Hall, 31, himself stated was jointly inspired by his own personal connection to the coming-of-age tale of fictional heroine Dorothy Gale, as well as Beyonce’s Grammy-shunned Lemonade project, was filled to the brim with smart and honest lyricism about the highs and lows of celebrity life (“Dumb,” “Expensive”) and same-sex love (“Color,” “If I Had A Heart”), catchy melodies that redefined what “ear candy” meant (“Lyin’ To Myself,” “Green”), and cameos from several mainstream notables, including ex-Idol winner Jordin Sparks (the Black Lives Matter-influenced “Water Guns”), singer Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls fame (“Papi”), and Oscar-nominated actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Blah, Blah, Blah”), that far surpassed anything that he had ever brought to the proverbial table before.
Did it necessarily need a deluxe version? No, not really, but we got one on Tuesday, anyway.
First, the good stuff. Just as always, Hall puts every ounce of his heart, soul, and energy into each of the new pieces that update Straight Outta Oz, even when that moment may feature someone that is more recognizable than Todrick.
The first add-on to the extended track list, “Black & White,” with assistance from three-fifths of acapella group Pentatonix, Mitch Grassi & Scott Hoying as Superfruit, and female vocalist Kirstie Maldonado, fits perfectly as the transition of a young Hall being ordered by his peers to dull his inner light from those who prefer to live more ordinarily and “normal,” and a teenager who ultimately realizes that he’s not like other boys in the touching “Color.”
Fast forwarding to the up-to-date closer of Straight Outta Oz, we now get “Low,” a remixed take of the 2015 one-off single, that now includes a verse from Hall’s latest boss, LGBT icon and TV Drag Race header RuPaul, as well as recreated scenes from the original video which are now interspersed with moments of a dolled-up and messy Todrick going into battle with himself (it’s a lot less complicated and weird than it sounds, I assure you).
The moment could’ve easily overpowered the entire project, both old and new, but for some reason, it works perfectly and somehow manages to best what was already one of Hall’s best works.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for two of the most questionable changes to Straight Outta Oz, beginning with a re-recorded edit of the emotional “Lion, Tigers and Bears,” originally performed by ex-Glee kid Amber Riley, and redone by recording and reality star Tamar Braxton (Braxton Family Values).
While Braxton clearly has the pipes to pull just about any tune off, she oddly chose to go for more reserved and sensual vocal display on a song that’s supposed to express the unconditional love a parent has for their child. Furthermore, Tamar’s acting skills in the new “Lions, Tigers, and Bears” clip almost reads from a come-hither perspective, as opposed to a “mama loves you and will always be here for you” standpoint. It’s very peculiar, to say the least.
Also different, albeit solely from a visual stance, is “Expensive,” Todrick’s twerk-ready ode to self-worth, that now involves a makeshift runway scene questionably starring several contestants from the upcoming ninth season of RuPaul’s Drag Race, along with former contenders Shangela (seasons 2 and 3), Pandora Boxx (seasons 2 and the first All-Stars run), and a somewhat unrecognizable Jinkx Monsoon (winner of season 5).
The involvement of the Drag Race oldies and newbies makes sense in the interim, considering Hall was a judge for the recently-aired All-Stars 2 and is seemingly primed to return for season 9, but no one ever asked for what basically amounts to an extended preview of the season that is set to premiere later on this week.
On top of that, to make their involvement work, scenes from the first “Expensive” that featured some of the most memorable queens to ever take the stage of the former Logo network-owned property, such as season 6’s Laganja Estranja and season 4’s Willam Belli, the only RPDR contestant to ever be disqualified from the competition, were either shortened down or completely removed, which might bring forth complaints related to the reported issues that both performers had with the production team and Ru after leaving the show.
Whether or not Todrick realized this beforehand is hard to say, but an argument of favoritism to remain in Ru’s good graces and maintain a position as an RPDR judge can be made here — and that’s not a good thing.
Nonetheless, despite those faults, the deluxe edition of Straight Outta Oz does marginally build on what made the first version so phenomenal in the first place: the songs are still great, the performances are still top notch, and Hall is still absolutely deserving of the spotlight that still has yet to fully shine on him.
However, too much of an attempt to clean up the bad parts can also end up affecting the good. For that sake, let’s all hope that Todrick Hall is done altering Straight Outta Oz — that yellow brick road can only go so far.
[Featured Image by Cindy Ord/Stringer/Getty Images]