What Lady Gaga taught me about fame
The type of people that I interview come from all walks of life and Lady Gaga is no exception. I never realized how talented she is until I dug a little deeper and came across a video of Gaga back when she was Stefani Germanotta. Her elegant piano playing and soulful jazz voice is not the Lady Gaga that I knew. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this other side of her. It is why I was so happy when she went back to her roots and collaborated with Tony Bennett.
When Lady Gaga first became famous, I'll admit that I had some judgments of her shenanigans, crazy outfits and pop music....but as time went on, I recognized her talent for what it was and grew a tremendous amount of respect for her music, and especially for her efforts within the LGBT community. So by the time, I got to meet her, I was a genuine fan of her as an expressive and creative artist with a powerful voice. A person that I would have totally gone up to if I heard her sing at a local open mic.
I was backstage waiting for her to arrive, just talking with some of her crew. Everybody was super nice. Half way through a conversation, I saw Lady Gaga turn the corner, wearing these adorable pajamas and looking like she just woke up. It was nice to see that vulnerable "human" side to her. As with all celebrities, she was shorter than I expected in real life. She walked over and gave me a big hug, and when our eyes connected, it was authentic and heart-felt. Shortly after we met, her photographer walks over and asks us to face his way for a couple of pictures, which we happily did.
I then continued talking with her and our eyes were locked in on each other. Even with all the craziness happening around us, she was very present with me. I leaned forward and whispered a sentence into her ear that deeply touched her and seemed to open her heart up. I won't share the sentence in this blog because I felt it was a personal moment, but after that, there was a connection that was formed. Our energies felt familiar to each others and we were both very comfortable...almost with a sense that we would probably have been friends in "real life" outside of this crazy illusion we chose.
I then got introduced to her manager and all the individual members of her support staff, including the people who designed all the famous outfits you see her wear. There was one set of angel wings that weighed 50 pounds and I couldn't believe that Gaga, being as small as she is, not only is able to wear it, but also sings and dances her ass off in it. Her stamina is ridiculous. Between all her dancers and crew, I was blown away at how hard they work to pull off the tour. They travel with dozens of buses from city to city and often get little sleep in between shows. It is absolute chaos, yet so beautiful to witness their teamwork. They all hold hands and pray before each show and really move as one unit.
One of my favorite moments was getting to hang out and meditate in Gaga's private dressing room backstage. We were away from all the people, cameras, and madness. This is where I really saw the side of Gaga that I connected with on a deeper level before really understanding why. It's hard to have a sense of "home" when you're on the road for one year straight, so Lady Gaga hires a designer who's main job is to recreate the same "room" in each city's stadium they go in. The room is beautiful and peaceful. White couches put together creating a huge comfortable bed to fall on. White drapes covering every inch of the walls. White roses, candles, and wine. Seeing a theme yet? Peaceful meditation music and spiritual imagery everywhere. This is clearly a place where we don't talk much, but just "feel" and unwind. It felt like a spiritual-recharge room. She also requires certain things like lavender hand soap, flax seed peanut butter, organic ginger and lemongrass tea, vegetables, Ezekiel sprouted grain tortillas, and more. If I worked as hard as she did and my schedule was that chaotic, I would require some sort of routine, consistency, and comfort as well. A few more breaths and then I was taken to the stage.
And this is where it really hit me. As some of you know, I had a brush with fame in my early 20's. I've performed inside both Madison Square Garden and America West Arena. I opened up for both Pitbull and the Pussycat Dolls, and my biggest audience was 15,000 people. However, my record deal and my fame both collapsed and a few years later, I lost it all. I don't share this story with any regrets, because I found my spiritual path and my life purpose through the journey, but there was still a part of me that was holding on to my past. I walked to the edge of the stage and looked out at all the empty seats that were about to get filled up. I closed my eyes and remembered what it felt like to have thousands of fans screaming for you. I got goosebumps and the memory was a bittersweet one. I got flashbacks of all the power I felt during that time in my life and how good it felt to my naive young mind who didn't realize the empire was built on an egoic illusion. I'm not sure how long I was up there, but Gaga's manager clearly saw I was having a moment.
I stood there a few more moments and then finally said Goodbye to everything that I had, and any thoughts of what could've been. I looked at how Gaga was living and I asked myself if I truly wanted that. Or even a more important question...Was I good enough without that? I did some inner searching and I realized that what I actually desire is leaving an impact with my voice and inspiring others to live their fullest life. Quantity doesn't matter as much as the quality. Between my shows on MTV and ABC, I was seen by over 30 million people worldwide. But how many of those people did I impact? How many did I inspire? Unfortunately, the answer was little to none. Because these reality shows are simply designed to entertain. The viewers feed off the drama just to get their minds off the stress of their own lives. I realized that you can impact more people at a small open mic by being real and delivering a message, than you can from being fake on TV and selling out to the mainstream music industry. Inspiration and soul work can't be quantified. It goes far beyond the surface.
I thought about what it would be like to not be able to walk in public without getting hounded for the rest of your life. To have people suing you left and right. To not know who to trust. I also had this realization that if my fame continued, that I would have been completely lost, or maybe even dead by now. It's hard to explain what that lifestyle is like, but it catches up to you really fast. The hard partying and the temptation everywhere gets the best of people, especially when they're stressed out and that's all they're surrounded by. During that time in my life, I was completely lost in my ego and cut off from my soul's calling. I felt like an industry puppet...a mechanical robot....and I never wanted to go back. I look at all the amazing experiences I've had since then and I have no regrets. And this isn't to say that you can't have fame and power and money and not go down that path, but when you come into it at such a young age, when you don't even know who you are, the odds are strongly against you. There's a reason there are so many young stars that grow up to become broken drug-addicted adults.
As I was pondering these thoughts, I went to the bottom floor as the show was about to start. Thousands of people came in filling up every seat in the stadium. There was a little lounge directly in front of the stage reserved for about 12 VIP's. The old me would've relished in this. You walk into the VIP section and all eyes are on you. Since you're in a "special" section, you must be important, right? But the problem is that all these people only want to talk to you because of what they think you can do for them, not because of who you are. And that right there is the epitome of fame. I literally lost every single friend I ever had back when I had my record deal. How could that be? How could all these people who were ready to ride for me anytime suddenly disappear shortly after my fame and money disappeared? None of these people actually cared about who I was. My friendships now are based on pure love for who I am and that can't be replaced. The saying is true that it's lonely on the top. The higher you get on a mountain, the less people there are. I value my current lifestyle so much and find myself much happier now than I was during that crazy time in my life.
The show then began and I saw Stefanie quite literally transform into a super-character called Lady Gaga. She poured her soul into her performance and her energy level was through the roof. There were people crying in the crowd. Lady Gaga's music has saved many lives around the world, especially within the LGBT community. I saw how deeply these people loved her and how grateful she was for it all. She's clearly doing what she was meant to do. Halfway through the show, she performed a slow ballad, and this ended up being one of the most powerful moments of my life. Right when she started, our eyes connected just like they did backstage, but this time they stayed connected for what felt like an eternity. I snapped this photo right when it started, but then quickly realized something powerful was happening between us and put the phone down. This is the moment that she serenaded me. As if it was her way of saying Thank You for the guided meditation backstage. She began singing directly to me and her voice took me away. A spotlight came on behind her and shined right on the both of us. I felt the presence of thousands of people behind me, but it truly felt like it was just me and her. We had an entire conversation in that moment, strictly with our eyes. Pure human connection.
As happy as she is with her success, I felt a deep pain inside her. As amazing as her life is, she was a prisoner to her notoriety and a slave to her fame. And it's not that she regrets it, or that she isn't grateful for it, but there was definitely the human "Stefanie" side of her that sometimes fantasizes about having a normal life again. A life where her schedule doesn't demand her for 20 hours a day. A life where she's not being consumed by the media or being used by those around her. Realizing that I had a moment on that very same stage at the very same spot just a couple hours ago, Lady Gaga looked into my eyes and showed me everything that I didn't want. Her fame. And by doing that, I realized what I actually did want. Her impact. Regardless of what it looks like or how "small" or "big" it is. Our eye gazing continued well into the song and the moment seemed to transcend this reality. I never in a million years thought that one of the most impactful experiences I'd have would be at a Lady Gaga concert......but indeed it was. As the song came to an end, I looked out at the audience and mentally said goodbye to "fame" one last time. Thankful for everything I experienced with it, even if it was just a glimpse. It was a beautiful one. Out of the tens of millions of music artists in the world, I was lucky enough to even get to experience that. I had my time. And I'm so grateful for it. The curtains closed. The lights turned off. Everyone disappeared as fast as they came.
We were all there for a brief moment in time to collectively have an experience.
And isn't that what all of life is anyway? A fleeting moment. After all....Eternity is just temporary moments stitched together. Everything that society thinks matters - Money, Power, Fame, Recognition - is really just an illusion, and often times a distraction from what actually matters - self awareness, inner peace, and love.
If all the world's a stage, then perhaps life is the singer, and we are its songs.