Linda Eder :: The Little Farm Girl With The Big City Voice
When you speak of versatile voices of our time like Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and Whitney Houston, you have to include the incredible Linda Eder to that list. Having a career that as thus far spanned over 23 years, she has been successful at doing it all as a singer, Broadway and theater, recording albums, and spellbinding concerts.
Getting her first notoriety by becoming a winner of TV talent competition show pioneer "Star Search" in 1988, Eder went on to get her first big break with her first stage production which went on to becoming the an eventual Broadway hit "Jekyll and Hyde" in 1997. Her role as Lucy earned great acclaim including a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award nominations, and a Theater World Award win. Linda gained more attention again in her role in "Camille Claudel" six years later in 2003.
But it is Eder’s versatility that separates her from the other good singers and places her amongst the greats. Her vast recording resume includes country-pop, Broadway standards, pop covers and movie soundtrack hits. Most of her recorded hits come by way of composer Frank Wildhorn who discovered her with his casting of her in his "Jekyll and Hyde" musical. In her 22 year recording she has put out 14 solo albums. In concert, Linda seems to be able to keep her audiences mesmerized with her transcendent voice much in the same way as her two influences Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand have.
Though her desire to work so hard anymore has definitely diminished, she continues to perform and record regularly and is currently on tour now in an eight week coast-to-coast show. With a tour stop scheduled in San Francisco on February 16 at Yoshi’s Jazz Club, I recently chatted with Linda and got her take on the current TV talent competition shows, how her marriage to composer Frank Wildhorn limited her exploration of original material fro other composers, why she decided to record with ex- again, and why she is just a little farm girl at heart.
Reality show roots
BeBe: With all the attention that the current barrage of talent competition Reality TV shows are getting these days, I have to bring up the fact that you were a winner of the one of the original television talent search contests "Star Search" with Ed McMahon back in the day.
Linda Eder: Yes, I won "Star Search" back in 1988.
BeBe: That’s where it all started for you, so to speak, in terms of national exposure, and definitely, with your musical theater and recording careers. I have had the opportunity to also interview the first ’Star Search’ winner Sam Harris, and as I discussed with him, the format of the pioneer of such talent shows, ’Star Search,’ differed so much from those that are out there today. Today, the talent competition shows seem to focus much more on the ’reality’ aspect of the shows which really seems to be what makes the contestants instant stars more than their actual talent. Do you have any thoughts and/or commentary on today’s talent shows?
Linda Eder: Well, I think they (the talent show contestants) are becoming stars for two reasons. First, they obviously have to have talent, but there are a lot of people out there who have the talent. With these you are learning who they are so quickly over such a short amount of time. That’s what is helping to make them successful. They are not all obviously going to go on to have the careers of Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. That requires a real combination of all of it at its highest level. The shows themselves, I don’t watch them until the final rounds because I don’t like the audition process. That’s all the reality TV aspect of it, and I don’t like any of that. And now, I’ve just reached the point that I’m just tired of them. There are too many (shows).
Long road to Broadway
BeBe: They’re kind of like talk shows. Every time you turn on the television there’s one on.
Linda Eder: But, at least with talks shows there are a million topics you can talk about. With talent shows, they all have some type of gimmick attached to them, but they are basically just talent shows. There is nothing special about them. There is just way too many. You can’t turn out too many stars because they are not going to shine as brightly, you know what I mean?
BeBe: Well, that definitely wasn’t the case with your win on ’Star Search,’ because from that show you went on to land your first major role, Lucy in Frank Wildhorn’s ’Jekyll and Hyde,’ which you performed on various stages for many years because it took awhile for the musical to land on Broadway. What, it was a 7-year journey to Broadway?
Linda Eder: Yes, it was a long process. I was approached by Frank (Wildhorn, her eventual husband), and my audition technically wasn’t an audition because at that time (1988) they had a production they were trying to mount, and I did I fact audition for that one, but that production never happened. But when it did launch (1990), it just sort of became my part and created around me which certainly is an advantage.
BeBe: Of course because many of us have seen the traveling versions of ’Jekyll and Hyde’ and we can’t get past any other Lucy but you.
Linda Eder: Well, I appreciate that, thank you.
BeBe: Now, you do also have a nice resume of other theater work, but do you think people may have expected your career to take on more of a Bernadette Peters sort of career where you are completed cemented on the Broadway stage because of the great amount of success you received from your inaugural role?
Linda Eder: Yeah, people have the need to label things. Depending on how they discover you that is how they are going to label you. If they come to my shows enough they would gradually get that I can do different types of music pretty affectingly and I like all kinds of music. The education of my fan base of me grows the more they come to my shows. But definitely when you are in a show like ’Jekyll and Hyde’ and then you get the television exposure as a result of that, it does cement you as being known as a particular type of performer. And I started to rebel a bit against that because I knew I could get other things, and that’s why I made ’The Other Side Of Me’ album (2008, a country-pop blend of contemporary songs) to shake things up and say,’Hey listen. This (Broadway music) is all I can do.’ In fact, I don’t even really consider myself a Broadway performer. I had only done the one show. I started out singing in nightclubs. I jut consider myself a singer. I sing whatever feels good and feels right.
BeBe: Well, you have mentioned before that Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand were two major influences for you. And it is interesting as I listened to what you just said, and I look at how your career has gone, your career does remind me a lot like Barbra’s with her career also starting in musical stage work, and she getting a big break right off the bat, and yet she is a consummate recording artist and concert performer as opposed to a Broadway performer. She didn’t get caught up in that labeling, as you say, as well. I’ve seen you in concert before and you are a wonderful performer on a concert stage as well.
Linda Eder: Oh, thank you.
BeBe: You know when I think about other interviews with female vocalists, those two names, Judy and Barbra, invariably always come up as the two people who have most influenced their singing. In our generation, those two names seems to always come up. But you must also hear those same type of comments about you being an influence on the next generation of female singers. Young girls look at your work and how you are as a performer and say that is how they want to perform as they develop. How do you feel about that sort of adulation?
Linda Eder: It’s amazingly flattering. I do get it all the time from people, just the other day in fact (laughing). That type of thing does go on, and it’s just the cycle of life (modestly speaking).
Back With Wildhorn
BeBe: Your most recent album that you released in 2011, ’Now,’ reunites you with doing music with Frank Wildhorn. Can you tell me what occurred to get you back in the studio working again with your now ex-husband Frank Wildhorn after six-years of not doing so?
Linda Eder: The truth is that he has been asking me ever since we split up to make a record with him, and I didn’t want to because I’d been doing his music for so many years that I really wanted to my own thing and push myself on my own. I didn’t want to work with him on his stuff. Over the years of being with him, I had sort of been passively aggressively controlled into only doing his material. I sang cover songs, but he really didn’t want me to sing anyone else’s original music. And I sort of went along with it. I regret that now in hindsight. There are a lot of great writers out there. So, I really wanted to be on my own, but after six years or so, I finally realized that we would probably work together again one day because the fan would really like it. And, it would be good for our son (Jake, now 13). Frank had been pitching several new album ideas to SONY, and the one that they liked was the idea of us working on an album together. So, he came to me with that, and I agreed.
BeBe: Well, we thank all the lucky stars on that one.
Linda Eder: Yes, it worked out nicely.
BeBe: Just as with Judy and Barbra, you have to be aware of your huge gay fan following. Your current concert tour that you began on February 2 in Ohio will be bringing you to the gay mecca of the world, San Francisco, on February 16 at the world renown jazz club Yoshi’s. And as I look back at the start of your Broadway work back in 1990, it was during a time when theater was being really hit hard with the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. Having spoken with other Broadway stars such as Jennifer Holiday (’Dreamgirls’), Betty Buckley (’Cats’), Sheryl Lee Ralph (’Dreamgirls’), and Stephanie Mills (’The Wiz’) who all were performing Broadway shows in the late 80’s and early 90’s, they have told me off how they recall how AIDS affected the theater community to the point of almost shutting down Broadway. How did you view what was going on in theater at that time in relationship to AIDS and its affect on the theater world?
Linda Eder: I really wasn’t aware because I started out singing in nightclubs and didn’t really know any other theater person until I met Frank in 1988. And eventhough ’Jekyll and Hyde’ began in theaters across the country in 1990, it took 7 years before making it to Broadway, so, I didn’t really come to the Broadway theater and community until 1996. So, until then I wasn’t really that connected to it. So, I can’t say that I experienced first hand what was going on with AIDS and the Broadway theater community.
BeBe: And, what about your gay following? Because once again like Judy and Barbra, you’re probably one of our icons!
Linda Eder: (After a bit of laughter) Well, I can say if I didn’t have a gay following with the type of songs I’ve been doing, I must be doing something wrong (followed by more laughter).
BeBe: Touche on that one. I guess you’re right! I like that Linda. With you coming to San Francisco soon, how often do you get a chance to sing here on the West coast?
Linda Eder: Well, that’s a long flight when you travel, and I don’t like to fly. I do as many as I can, I just don’t like to fly. Obviously, I do because it’s apart of my job, but I mostly perform in the Midwest and East. Back here (New York) there is just so many places to perform especially with me being associated with theater. So, I ten to make it out to the West coast and San Francisco at least once a year.
BeBe: You have 13 dates between now and the middle of April taking you coast to coast ending in New York. Is this the same show you are traveling with over the next 2.5 months, or will each show be a bit different?
Linda Eder: Well, I put together a show together each year that I sit with for at least a year. This show I’m doing now is based on a show called ’Songbirds’ where I learned a lot of songs by iconic female singers and great iconic songs mixed in with my stuff from my different albums and my so-called hits. But, I am working on new material for later this coming year, and we have just begun the process of that.
BeBe: Over the length of your career you have put out 14 solo album projects. And as I reviewed them, you put them out at a different pace than how people put out recordings today. You were putting out a collection of songs about one album every other year. There are sometimes 3 or more years between recorded sets with artists today. Would you like to record at a slower pace?
Linda Eder: Well recording is fun no matter what. It really is based on the demand or whether wants you to make a certain record or whatever. But, the whole record industry has changed so much. It’s a whole different animal nowadays. But, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I think it’s just my own natural progression of getting older and my desire to be at home that has put me at a slower pace than before. I’m a homebody. I’m not so driven to work as much.
BeBe: I think I read somewhere with you saying that you were just a little farm girl at heart.
Linda Eder: That’s true!
Linda Eder will be appearing in San Francisco on her current tour at Yoshi’s Jazz Nightclub on February 16 with two shows. For tickets and more information go to the Youshis website.
Linda Eder will be appearing in San Francisco on her current tour at Yoshi’s Jazz Nightclub on February 16 with two shows. For tickets and more information go to the Youshis website. For more about her upcoming tour, visit her website.