Worship leader and ordained minister by day, drag queen by night, and semifinalist of this season’s The Voice, audaciously talented singer Chris Weaver is a force to be reckoned with. His powerful yet salaciously angelic voice has brought Weaver to new heights, some he never dreamed he would accomplish, yet he knew if he didn’t try, nothing would ever happen.
Raised in the church since the age of three, Weaver went to school in Iowa and discovered a whole new life as alter ego Nedra Belle while doing drag for Halloween, and then taking it to a another level. Trying out for “The Voice” got him four turned chairs, Jennifer Hudson as his coach and a spot in the last level of the semifinals. Weaver is also nominated for a Glam Award and is set to perform at the awards on January 21.
I spoke with Weaver, originally from Long Island and now based in New York, and found him especially organic, warm and really funny as well, with an interesting story to go with it. I caught him after his return from Iowa, where he spent Thanksgiving weekend. We talked about his time on “The Voice,” his church and his drag, as well as his ultimate passions.
How was Iowa?
OMG, it was amazing!
Don’t lie to me.
Everybody keeps saying that. Well, because I lived there, and to be back was like…
I can’t even imagine how amazing Iowa could possibly be. How did you discover drag?
Actually, I was living in Iowa, and it was Halloween, so I went to the Halloween contest. I came as Nedra, and I came in as first runner-up. Someone asked me if I had ever thought about doing drag, and I answered, “No, not really.” (Of course I had.) So they invited me to perform at a Toys for Tots benefit show. I remember there was no one to paint me, so they just put some lips and eye makeup on me. I looked quite terrible. I did “And I Am Telling You” and “I’m Every Woman.” The show director said, “Wow, your lip sync is amazing. We should really get you into this.” That’s kind of how it all happened, and then they found out that I sing live. Then I did my first live number, and it was really…yeah.
So you really began with a lip sync?
I actually lip synced.
How come you’re not on “Drag Race”?
For years and years and years, I had no desire to do it. But I have a different outlook now. I mean, it’s not pressing; it’s not a running in my heart to do it, but I do understand that it is a way to reach people, to get your name out. So I’m not opposed to it.
So after doing drag, you somehow decided to audition for “The Voice”?
I was singing at a church also while I was doing drag. So I was working as a worship leader at the same time.
What kind of church? So is a worship leader like a pastor?
The one in New York is like a Pentecostal background. I consider myself the music department. But I was an ordained minister in my old church.
Can you marry people?
So you were working in a church, and then?
I had pretty much been doing both simultaneously. I’ve been doing drag for six years next month. … Last year they actually found out that I’d been doing drag at my church. So we ended up doing a Christmas show there, a Christmas drag show, for our Christmas program at our church. It was me, Lady Jasmine, Jada Balenciaga, Monet X Change and Barbara Tucker.
So how did you come to audition for “The Voice”?
Actually what had happened was when I left Des Moines in 2013, I moved to Iowa City. They had auditions in Chicago, so I auditioned in Chicago. I did make it to the open call. The next year I did the open call when I worked in New York, and I did not make it. I had the same producer for both cities, for both years, which is crazy, because I sang the same song, and he stopped me at the second audition and asked me if I knew anything more current. I told him not really. Then the next year I got a private audition. I had a friend who is an ex-producer for “America’s Got Talent,” and they had emailed him for people to recommend to audition. So I ended up doing it, and I made it through all the interviews, and then I made it through to the executive auditions. Then I made it to the blinds, which is funny, because in all those two years that I did not make it with my audition song, I sang the song that I had done in my original auditions.
How many chairs turned?
What happened when you told them that you were a drag queen?
Jennifer was the first person to say, “You know what we want, I want to know what you want.” So I told them that I grew up in singing in church all my life, and that I’m also a drag queen. At that moment Miley and Jennifer’s face just lit up. Miley actually got out of her seat and started vogueing. It was great.
After all of that you made it to the semifinals. What was that like for you?
After that you move on to the battle, so the nervousness when you realize that you are one of the powerhouses of the season as far as votes-wise… So we were all sitting there, and we didn’t know. I remember that I wanted to be challenged, and “That Dangerous Woman” was definitely the song to challenge me. I wanted this, but I didn’t want it to happen that soon. We met with Kelly Rowland—she was our adviser—and there were just some things that weren’t working with the song at first. We actually got through it, and we had to really learn with this that less was more. So we went out with this, and we killed it. I wound up winning that battle.
Out of the finalists left, do you have a favorite?
First of all, I can’t believe that Janice is gone. Davon was my roommate. He’s so diverse. Keisha is amazing. Everyone on the show is so solid.
Where would like to see your career go from here?
Definitely music. I’ve been realizing that there were so many people that I’ve met before and after who had dreams of pursuing music, or whatever it is that they want to pursue. You only have one life; win or lose, at least you can say you’ve tried. For me, that’s such a passionate thing for me right now. It’s a fact that I am living in the best moments of my life, and I almost did not do it, because I waited until the last minute to hand in my video. I think about how I could still be just sitting here and waiting. That’s my real thing. It’s to push people to just do it.
Funny, I was at a party one night, and I think we ended up at a friend’s house, and it was noon. I told him that I couldn’t believe we were still up. He looked at me and said, “One day we’re gonna wake up and say we were crazy.” Then I said, “You know what, one day we will wake up and not say I wish I would have.” So that’s really my passion, to just try it. Worse comes to worst, if it doesn’t work out you can just go back to what you were doing. Since I’ve been on the show I’ve gotten so many messages from so many parents saying, “Thank you for being in the church, and thank you for being open and honest about who you are. I have a daughter or son who’s just come out, and they have such a heart for ministry, but I’m trying to direct them to some other place. I don’t want the church to hurt them.” So that really took a hold of me. This is the current state of the church, discouraging your children to go into ministry, because they are afraid that the church will hurt them. What kind of world do we live in? That’s been a very hard passion of mine.
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