SANDY — I’d never seen anything like it: Ten 5-year-old kids belting at the top of their lungs, “The cold never bothered me anyway!” and “Let the storm rage on!” — in a dance class, of all things. It may as well have been a kindergarten chorus performance.
I gave up on forcing the pirouettes and passes and let them have at it. I watched my 4-year-old, Adanna, delve into another world and express herself more intensely and vivaciously than in any argument she'd had with her 2-year-old brother. I watched the children mimic Elsa’s magical hand movements when she creates her ice castle and wondered what kind of magical worlds their own little minds were creating. They were inspired.
I couldn’t wait to see my husband, singer Alex Boye, watch his little mini-me sing at the top of her lungs and frolic around the house with what he called “wreckless abandonment.” When he came home from a few concerts out of town, after hugs and kisses and welcome homes, I turned on “Let it Go” from Disney's "Frozen" and said, “Watch this.” And there she went.
“She’s got Frozenitis, along with every other kid in the country!” he laughed.
His jaw dropped as he watched Adanna sing every word with gusto (I can’t leave little brother Zander out; he was just as involved). When I told Alex I was overrun by a stampede of mini Elsa’s in that dance class, he said to me, “Maybe I should Africanize this.”
Building the kingdom through music
Alex's mother, a Nigerian, always told him that he needed to bring his African roots into his music more. Alex was born in England and grew up listening to the sounds of his mother's native tongue, Yoruba, and remembers singing and dancing all night long at Nigerian celebrations. Although his mother left him at the age of 11, when she went back to Nigeria, Alex clung to his Nigerian culture as he was moved from foster home to foster home and then boarding school, not seeing his mother again for eight years.
After joining the LDS Church (thanks to sister missionaries knocking on his door) and subsequently being kicked out of an uncle's home and becoming homeless at age 16, Alex served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bristol, England, and tried to follow the advice of his mission president, who told him to use his music to help "build the kingdom," or spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Alex later became the head singer of the popular boy band "Awesome," where he went on to sell more than half a million CDs, touring all over Europe.
The band toured with the likes of Mary J. Blige, 'NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Bryan Adams and others, and while they became very successful, Alex didn't feel right about all the lyrics, or the atmosphere he was in. "Somehow," he says, "I don't feel that that's what my mission president meant by using my music to help build the kingdom."
Alex left the band, moved to Utah and became a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, where he has been featured as a soloist. He has released several LDS-themed CDs and says that no music is more inspiring, uplifting or important than music about Jesus.
Alex, now a YouTube sensation, has inundated his YouTube page with mostly covers that he has "Africanized," or added an African influence to. Alex aspires to make "pop music with an African twist" that is not only relatable for Africans, but for everyone. He also hopes to bring awareness to his LDS faith through music that inspires, cultivates, lifts and elevates. "Let it Go" conveys being free, creating, building upon your imagination and letting go of your doubts. It completely encompasses Alex Boye.
As we started bouncing ideas off each other about how to portray Alex's version of "Let it Go" in a music video, I came to realize that right then and there, Alex was creating a magical world of his own, and I simply had to “let him go.”
From inspiration to creation
Alex knew children needed to be in this video, so that very day he called his friend, Masa Fukuda, director of One Voice Children’s Choir — which is based along the Wasatch Front in Utah and is full of child prodigies — and told him his idea for the soon-to-be music video. Masa stayed up all night composing and, by the next day, had produced the song, recorded his choir and successfully interpreted Alex’s vision of an African influence, which he stated was “not his specialty” (Masa is Japanese). Alex was astounded.
When news of the project spread, people just came out of the woodwork, wanting to be involved. From there, the whole thing actually evolved over email. Everyone added their own flare to the video and contributed to the success including the costume stylists, Mandy and Christian McCready with Koko Blush & Co., along with Tara Starling for makeup and Karli Egbert for hairstyling.
In the video’s beginning stages, there were only about 80 choir children performing. With only a few days before the shoot, Masa kept apologizing to Mandy and Christian because more choir kids committed, which meant more costumes needed to be made. In the end, 105 students sang in the choir. Sadly, some had to be turned away.
As for the lead vocals, Alex truly wanted the song to be sung with the heart and soul of a child. He had not seen the movie and, quite frankly, watching a child’s interpretation was what really inspired him. He knew of local 11-year-old singer Lexi Walker and had heard of her success singing the national anthem at a Real Salt Lake soccer game. Alex selected Lexi, also a member of One Voice Children's Choir, to be the soloist.
The location was not hard to choose. Alex knew of the majestic ice castles in Midway, a tiny mountain town near Park City, and contacted owner Ryan Davis, requesting permission to use the frozen tunnels. Ryan graciously agreed, and it seemed like everything just fell into place.
The time for the shoot arrived. Alex flew in from out of town the night before, arriving home at midnight. He got up at 5 a.m. to be in Midway the next morning. The children had to be in Midway by 6 a.m. on a school day, and their poor mothers had to drive them. At the end of the shoot, Alex texted me: “Kids were crying because it was so cold! But they were all good sports. Lexi killed it!”
It was the perfect day for a winter shoot: cold, red noses; beautiful ice castles; and the sounds of a children's choir echoing off the icy walls. Alex had to wear special ice gripping shoes to prevent him from slipping, and, thanks to the costume designers, all the children had warm white robes and boots. The shoot went smoothly and, surprisingly, was wrapped by 2 p.m.
The cost of going viral
From start to finish, Alex’s rendition of Disney’s “Let It Go” was completed in two weeks — and that’s only because Alex was out of town for one of those weeks. Artists move quickly and spontaneously when inspired. The movie went viral in less than that; it reached more than 17 million views in just one week! A month after being put on YouTube, the video had been viewed more than 26 million times. It’s gained attention from "The Queen Latifah Show," "Good Morning America" and "The Ellen Degeneres Show." My personal favorite mention: It’s one of nine answers to the question, “What is your favorite version of 'Let it Go'?” on the trending Buzzfeed quiz titled, “Which 'Frozen' character are you?”
But as we all know, there is opposition in all things, and this video has received its fair share of negative comments on YouTube, as well as from bloggers and other outside sources the general public will never know about. I continue to watch Alex get scrutinized for not having enough black kids in the choir or for something as silly as putting an African influence to a song about winter when “there’s no snow in Africa.” Seriously, people? I read the racial slurs and, of course, that "N word."
Alex reads it and hears it too. And yet I watch my sweet husband let it all go. He’s always told me, "You have to develop a thick skin in the music business." Sometimes I just don’t understand why his black skin always has to make its way into the comments, but he lets it go. He seems to say to himself, “Let the storm rage on, people!”
And there are times, albeit begrudgingly, that I have to let him go — let him do his thing, let him live and breathe his inspirations uninhibited, to be able to influence and inspire millions of people, in hopes of not only making a living for his family but sharing the LDS faith as well. I have to let him go be in the world countless weeks at a time with people from all different walks of life to spread glad tidings of a gospel they know nothing about, in a way that only he is capable of. I have to let him go, even though I’m struggling at home with three small children and a baby bump that’s growing way too quickly for my liking and a house full of dirty dishes and dirty laundry and dirty bums.
Gladys Knight once told Alex that sometimes we need to go out to the trenches of the music business. Sometimes I wonder how he’ll get in there and get his hands dirty while still staying clean. With all the temptations, the greed, the celebrity status, the nasty YouTube comments, and the gold that the music industry has to offer, how can I help protect him and keep him safe from it all? How can I be his right-hand woman when we live in two different worlds? The answer is always the same: I have to let him go and trust in that being from whose mind we, too, were imagined and whose hands we were created. I'll let go and let God.
Julie Boye is a graduate of the University of Utah and mother of 3. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company