A smartly attired middle-age woman paused outside the downtown Ace Hotel on Tuesday evening to ponder a poster of New Orleans bounce rapper/reality TV star/twerk pioneer Big Freedia.
“I don’t know who Big Freedia is,” the lady admitted. “I’m from Texas.”
Had she stuck around, she could have met the Queen Diva herself. The Ace hosted Tuesday’s premiere party for the new, sixth season of the Fuse network show that chronicles Freedia’s ever-colorful life and burgeoning career.
Only an hour behind schedule, Freedia made a grand entrance perfectly suited for Fuse to live-stream on Facebook. Accompanied by the One Shot Brass Band – most members are alumni of Southern University’s famed Human Jukebox marching band – and a second-line of stylish revelers, Freedia lit up the previously sleepy lobby.
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The procession paraded into a ballroom where the show would be screened ahead of its national premiere later that night. Freedia settled into a fuzzy pink throne to watch.
For the sixth season of Fuse's highest-rated show, episodes are expanded from 30 minutes to one hour. Also, the reality show’s title has changed from “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” to “Big Freedia Bounces Back.” The new name resonates beyond the “bounce” pun.
Season 5 wound down with Freedia potentially facing prison time after pleading guilty to fraudulent use of Section 8 housing vouchers.
“Things were going so right for me,” Freedia says in the new episode. “I was at the peak of my career. Things was exploding in every direction.”
Last week's episode of the reality show “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce" featured real drama, …
Prison could have potentially negated the years of hard work invested in Freedia's up-from-the-bottom, only-in-New Orleans success story. From surviving a tough Third Ward neighborhood as a self-described "sissy," Freedia emerged as the meticulously made-up national face of bounce, a highly energetic and risque hip-hop sub-genre that originated in New Orleans.
In August 2016, a federal judge handed down a sentence of three years of probation, plus $70,000 in restitution and fines.
Freedia considers the legal drama to be the most difficult episode of her life, other than the death of her beloved mother, Vera, from cancer. But this year, the 39-year-old is indeed “bouncing back.” And making big moves.
Season 6 opens with Freedia receiving a reality check from attorney Tim Kappel: “You are a convicted felon now.” As such, the dedicated pot smoker must submit to periodic drug tests. Cameras tag along to a clinic in New Orleans East, where Freedia signs in with her birth name, Freddie Ross. A technician escorts the star to a decidedly un-glamorous restroom; Freedia subsequently hands over a urine sample. It comes back clean.
Enjoying newfound sobriety, Freedia swears off weed. “I thought it helped me be creative. That is totally not true…Weed makes you dumb.”
At crucial career junctures, clear-headed decision-making is required. After a slew of independent releases and a cameo on the Beyonce single “Formation,” Freedia contributed a song, "Make It Jingle," to major label Interscope Records' soundtrack for the 2016 Jennifer Aniston/Jason Bateman comedy “Office Christmas Party.” The Season 6 premiere shows Freedia attending the film's red carpet premiere in Los Angeles and shooting a video for “Make It Jingle.”
The all-night video shoot was a revelation. Impressed with the professionalism of the Los Angeles dancers and video crew, Freedia ponders shaking up her longtime "shake team" in New Orleans: “They don’t play in L.A. It’s so much different than what I’m used to working with in New Orleans.”
Thus, in January, Freedia held open-call auditions at a Toledano Street studio, demanding that longtime members of her squad try out for their old jobs. Tootie, a larger-than-life personality, and the other female dancers reluctantly agree. Male dancers Skip and Flash are bitter about being left off a tour, and believe they deserve a raise. “Freddie’s like a Christmas tree," Skip says onscreen, "and we’re the lights and ornaments."
They show up at the audition, but refuse to dance. Flash and Wilberto, Freedia’s director/producer, nearly get into a physical confrontation.
The dramatic arc that is set in motion finds Freedia at a crossroads: Is she willing to jettison longtime associates in order to step up to the next level of her career?
Strolling along Magazine Street with desserts from Sucre, Freedia tells Tootie, “I have things that I’m trying to accomplish. I’m gonna take some people with me and I’m gonna leave some people behind.”
Who from Team Freedia will stay and who will go looks like a theme for the upcoming season of "Big Freedia Bounces Back," which continues Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Fuse. Tellingly, Tootie and her father were on hand at this week's premiere party; Flash and Skip were not.
In the question-and-answer session that followed the screening, Freedia said that, off-camera, things got “real ugly” and “almost physical” with Skip and/or Flash. They are unlikely to return to the fold: “I don’t think I’ll be going backwards," Freedia said Tuesday. "I’m about pushing forward.”
That said, the show “is going to get juicier.”
Watching that first episode in a room full of family, friends and fans, Freedia said later that evening, was a trip.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, is this really me stepping it up and being a boss?’ I was saddened by some of the parts in the show, but I was also happy with the way things turned out.”
Is Freedia comfortable with airing such dirty laundry on national TV?
“I’m very comfortable. I’ve been doing it for going on six years now. I’m very happy with recording, and knowing what I’m doing.”