Emulating Michael Jackson’s charm, dressed in an all black suit with reflecting gold accents and dazzling jewelry, sits Grammy nominated and Tony Award-winning artist Myles Frost. The energy was contagious that night at Montclair State University on Nov. 29 as the crowd was anxious to hear what the star of “MJ: The Musical” had to say.
Making his way to Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony (EGOT) status, the recently signed artist to United Talent Agency (UTA) talked about his success in broadway shows like “Legally Blonde,” “Cinderella” and eventually “MJ: The Musical.” His innate talent was always there, but he explains the path to his rising success wasn’t easy.
Born in Maryland, Frost attended a predominantly Black school in Prince George’s County up until eighth grade.
The epitome of Black excellency, Charmayne Strayhorn, Frost’s Mother, sought a better education and more opportunities for her son and daughter, Morgan Peele, and eventually moved them to the city of Gaithersburg with a primarily White and Asian population.
Frost performed “Billie Jean” at his high school talent show while his mother proudly filmed him on her iPad. Years passed and Ephraim Sykes, the initial star of the musical, left the role, leaving people wondering: Who will play the King of Pop? This opened a pathway for Frost as his acting coach, Lelund Durond Thompson, came across a video on YouTube asking him if he was able to still sing and dance like Jackson.
It had been years since Frost had actually performed that number. But Frost didn’t believe in dreaming too big and made a promise that his grandmother would witness his big break. His faith in God kept him going at times where he was stuck. After practicing for hours straight, Frost sent a video to producers awaiting an answer that would make or break the promise he had with his grandmother. It was just two months before the self taught artist turned 22 and heard he would have big shoes to fill.
Before Frost landed the role as Jackson, he played different roles throughout high school that taught him many things along the way. Adapting to a new environment can be difficult because of the change that comes with it. As for Frost, while transitioning to a predominantly White institution (PWI) he emphasized that he felt ostracized in the environment he was in.
“Just to put it bluntly, I didn’t know how to interact with White people,” Frost said.
As Frost tried to navigate through his new environment, he constantly found himself in the school’s chorus room – just him and a grand piano. During lunch, a White teacher approached him and stated, “I hope there’s a voice behind that beautiful piano playing because we need more Black kids for this musical we’re doing.”
Frost was seen as the “Token Black Kid” who was deliberately there to create an illusion of diversity. What many fail to realize is diversity and inclusion are interconnected concepts but a long way from interchangeable.
After auditioning for the musical “Hairspray” and landing the role of Seaweed, Frost would soon face the ultimate “rock bottom” of his culture shock as a Black man. During his first cast party as all the seniors presented their final farewell speeches, his castmate stated, “Myles, I just want to say first of all, congratulations. I love you bro. But this has been weighing heavy on my heart. When I didn’t get the role and you did, I wanted to commit suicide.”
The crowd was shocked at once as Frost finished this story.
“That’s never something that I’ve ever talked about or ever discussed,” Frost said. “Depression, suicide, anxiety – none of that growing up. I mean I’ve known about it, but it’s not something we talked about in our household or in our communities.”
The topic of mental health is something that is not prevalently applied enough in the Black community. It is often ingrained in Black women to be strong. To have thick skin. For Black men not to cry. It is an ongoing battle to have more Black therapists who know what it’s like to be Black in a White man’s world.
Society frequently sees Black people, who are often the blueprint in many aspects, as a threat – consciously and subconsciously. Frost, however, elicits for one to keep moving forward through mostly their actions instead of their words.
“There’s always going to be somebody younger than you who’s on your a**,” Frost said. “The more you realize and acknowledge that and stay ahead of the curve, the longer you will last in this business and that’s what [Jackson] did and that is what I appreciated about [Jackson].”
Frost, evidently inspired by Jackson, admired how he was open to change and his evolution. He expressed the vast differences in Jackson’s demeanor and attitude of him being shy during the debut of “Off the Wall” then evolving into a driving force in his pieces like “Thriller” and the “Bad” Tour.
“Change is very important,” Frost said. “Change is with the times. Keeping up with not the trends, the times. It’s two different things. It’s acknowledging what people are interested in while not creating something that’s not here today and gone tomorrow. And that’s hard to do.”
Frost valued the effect of repetition just as Jackson did. At just 21 years old, he studied the way Jackson moved, sang, talked, even down to the scintilla of his mannerisms, throughout the different stages of his life. He made an effort to ensure people leaving the show felt better than they when they came.
Frost couldn’t control his feet as he glided on stage, emulating Jackson’s dance moves, when he talked about training to play one of the greatest performers alive. He pointed to the scars on his hands that formed when he was perfecting the “Thriller” number.
“He’s been through a lot of stuff,” Frost said. “I really hope people will believe me when I’m talking about certain struggles that I’ve never experienced, that the majority of the world has never experienced. I don’t want people to say ‘[oh] this is great acting right now.’ I want people to go ‘Myles, are you okay?’ Like I want people to feel that.”
The crowd erupted into a standing ovation as Frost took a final bow.
But the party didn’t stop there. Guests had an opportunity to attend a meet-and-greet where they received personal autographs and pictures to commemorate the evening.
Jade Rodriguez, a freshman psychology major, couldn’t stop smiling from the experience.
“My cheeks hurt from smiling because the entire thing was amazing,” Rodriguez said. “When he started to tell us about his personal life, I got to see him more as a person and more genuine, not only just the amazing artist that he is, but also him as a human being. I feel more connected and vulnerable with him as if I’m his friend or family, which is like a really deep connection.”
Danny Gonzalez, a freshman theatre studies major, resonated with Frost’s personal connection to music.
“My favorite part about this lecture was when he started talking about his relationship with music and how that really started him off, sort of like gospel music and just learning from that,” Gonzalez said. “Because like, I’m a piano player and a guitar player myself. So, as a musician, it lights a fire underneath you know where. It was so eye opening to see how other musicians connect with that. It’s not like a single experience. It’s a multiple people experience.”
For Frost, he knew his destiny and discovering that “it” factor had no age limit. He stands here today inspiring a whole new generation proclaiming their future is anything they want it to be.
Like the late 13 time Grammy winning artist once said, “Study the great and become greater.”