Rumer Has ‘It’

Rumer Willis at Feinstein's | Story by Jeff Kaluzny

It’s easy to initially dismiss the talents of a person who was born to parents who are Hollywood royalty.  We enjoy the underdog and we love relating to the perceived struggle they had in their attempts to get noticed.  When I initially received word that Rumer Willis, the first-born child of, and media anointed heir to the Bruce Willis / Demi Moore legacy, would be headlining her own one-woman cabaret show for two evenings at Feinstein’s  I rolled my eyes.  Could she sing?  We recently learned she could dance circles around the rest as she earned the Mirror Ball Trophy on Dancing With The Stars, but now singing?  So, I Googled “Rumer Willis singing”, and I am most certainly glad I did.  What I found was a voice of an artist that didn’t just sing a song but related to the words coming out of her mouth.  What I found was a voice to be a fan of.

Ms. Willis is, in fact, that underdog we would normally find ourselves rooting for.  Because the public is so open to embracing a talent that doesn’t seem to have taken a seemingly privileged road, we put up our guards to offspring of celebrities who also happen to be talented in their own right.  Within the first 3 minutes of my conversation with her she was no longer “so and so’s” child, she was a very thoughtful and poised young artist with a demeanor and voice that was engaging and calming.  Rumer Willis is her own woman with something to say, the confidence to say it, and the chops to back it up.  Having making her one-woman cabaret debut at the legendary Cafe Carlyle in April, she was received by none less than The New York Times with glowing reception and praise for her presentation of well known standards from the American songbook.

I need to say, ‘Holy cow’!  You’re getting some fantastic reviews! <laughing> So far it seems that way.

You’ve obviously have always known your own talents.  Were you surprised by how well you’ve been received by publications like The New York Times or were you confident going in that you’d be so well received? <Rumer> To be honest, I wouldn’t say that I expected that kind of review.  But to get such a lovely review was incredible and such an affirmation of not only my talents but also seeing the way that someone can go beyond simply saying ’It’s a great show’ and ‘She’s talented’ but they also really understood what I was trying to say.  I feel they really got to see a piece of who I am and was able to relay that in their review was very validating.

Growing up, did you always sing and dance? Oh, not at all.

Really? No, I was never a dancer.  I really just only learned how to dance on the show.  But, I’ve been singing my whole life.

What do you sing in the car?  What have been your inspirations growing up? Etta James, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Wynonie Harris.  I mean, pretty much all of, I would say, the jazz and blues greats.  I love Sam Cook.  I love Al Greene.

In the show you’re bringing to Feinstein’s, what are you wanting to convey and what can the audience expect?  Is there an overriding theme or is it just a fun night of music? 
 There’s certainly an overriding theme.  I didn’t even think of it or plan for it to be when I was putting together the setlist.  It’s kind of a conversation with the audience about love and about relationships and connecting with people.  A lot of it is just using song and my own stories and stories that friends have shared with me to just kind of open up a conversation about how we in this generation that’s full of immediate gratification, social media , and sexting and texting.  Even sitting across from someone and being on your phone so much that you can’t connect with them.  It’s just about all of the things that everybody struggles with.  I think I picked that topic specifically because I don’t think that it really has boundaries in terms of, you know, your job or your upbringing or whether you’re famous or not or whatever.  I think that love and relationships are something that everyone struggles with.

Chicago The Musical - Rumer Willis as Roxie Hart

Chicago The Musical – Rumer Willis as Roxie Hart

After her win on Dancing With The Stars Rumer made her Broadway debut joining the cast of Chicago in the role of Roxie Hart for a critically lauded 7 week run.

With your performance as Roxie, is it safe to say this was your first production on a large scale?  Definitely on a large scale.  I did a few shows out in LA for a little while with this company called, For The Record.  That was definitely more like dinner theatre.  So, yes.  Chicago was definitely my first entry into such a huge audience.

You beat your parents to Broadway, specifically your father.  Did you give him any opening night advice?   I think the main thing was conveying to him what my biggest challenge was.  That being the 8 shows a week.  That more than anything else is the biggest struggle I would say for anyone going into a Broadway show.

Is that something you were expecting?  People definitely told me it was tough but I don’t think you really have any idea until you get into it.

Did you build any pre-show rituals or superstitions during the run?  Not really.  I’ve never been much for that kind of thing.  I think you just get into a groove.

You did the bulk of your growing up in Idaho, yes?  Yep

Given that when you were born to two of Hollywood’s biggest box office stars yet you were raised away from the LA hubbub did you ever feel that culture shock when you visited?   You know, I don’t think I ever really felt the culture shock because I traveled around with my parents quite a bit as a kid.  But, I think I definitely started feeling a media shock I would put it when I got a bit older and we moved out here full time.

How old were you then?  I think I was 14.

Oh!  Just in time for adolescence.  Yeah. <laughing> Oh joy!

I don’t want to harp on the stupid little small stuff but we are a gay magazine and we do love the dish.  You’re of the same age and generation of some of those people that made some less than advisable choices in the spotlight.  Do you credit your Idaho upbringing for avoiding that kind of mess?  Well, I think a lot of it is growing up in Idaho and not have as much exposure out here to some of that as I was getting older.  But I also felt that there was too much that I wanted to do and accomplish to allow myself to, you know, waste my time with that kind of stuff.  There’s always time to go out and do those things and that’s just not really who I am.  Although, I would say you know, it’s funny how people seem to think that that is who I am.  But I’m definitely not a party girl.  I’m a homebody to the core.

A homebody?  What’s your favorite recipe to cook when you’re at home then? Ooooh.  Let’s see.  I make this really great Southwestern Chicken with this Spicy Mango Peach Salsa that I’m a huge fan of.


When you’re not working or traveling for your show what is your perfect weekend? Well, I usually watch Game of Thrones on Sunday and RuPaul’s Drag Race on Mondays.

AMEN!  <laughing>  I’m a big fan!

Who’s your favorite queen? BOB!  I’m a big Bob The Drag Queen supporter.  But, I think actually all of the top 3 are pretty incredible.  It’s a hard choice I would say even more than any other season I’ve seen.

Exactly!  Would you want to be a guest judge on the show? Oh, most definitely!  I would in a heartbeat!

Did you get a chance to make it to DragCon this weekend? Ugh!  I didn’t, but I wanted to.  I’m a huge fan of the whole culture.  I think it’s fantastic.  The artistry is just getting more and more incredible every year.

I will be more than happy to take you to Oasis, our local haunt that does phenomenal drag shows while you’re here. Oh, how fabulous.

Back in May, Rumer made waves with her opinions on the use of a photographer modifying her physical structure in images for Vanity Fair magazine.

Regarding the images that recently appeared in Vanity Fair, you decided to call out the fact that the images were touched up to modify the shape of your face.  Would you mind expanding on why you decided to not let it go by silently?  I can’t talk too much about the Vanity Fair thing because it is still a bit kinda complicated.  But, I will say this, it wasn’t Vanity Fair.  Vanity Fair had nothing to do with actually altering the photo.  It was the photographers.  But I think my main point, and it’s happened to me before once when I was a model for a lookbook for a company called Franziska Fox and they did the same thing not just with my face but with my body as well.  I think my main issue with it was just, you know, there’s enough of a media “checklist”, that women of this generation feel like you have to fit into all of the check boxes to feel beautiful.  I just don’t think that’s right.

I’ll be the first one to say that I’m not opposed to taking out a blemish or if there’s a weird crease that it gets fixed but fundamentally changing the way you look by either making a feature smaller or taking away the definition of your muscles or making you look skinnier.  I just don’t think that it’s right and I think that in an inadvertent way whether or not people realize it you’re basically sending out the message that how you look naturally is not ok.  Or, it somehow is not pretty, or it doesn’t fit into the confines of what the person editing the image thinks is beautiful and I think that it’s hurtful.  Look, I definitely got a lot of backlash on Instagram for using the term ‘bullying’.  You know, as someone who has dealt with a lot of bullying in my life I would never want to diminish the meaning of that word or what that means for much more intense and dire situations.  My intent was only to show that in my mind if someone is saying whether it is done with words or actions changing the way that someone looks is a form of bullying in my mind.  It’s, again, saying ‘I need to fix you to make you beautiful’.  That’s how I view it.  People may have a different opinion and that’s theirs to have.

Rumer will perform two shows, Wednesday, June 22 and Thursday, June 23 at Feinstein’s at the Nikko Hotel in Union Square.  For tickets go here!

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