Broadway star Billy Porter has won a Tony, a Grammy, an Emmy and also has the distinction of bringing the tuxedo dress to the red carpet.
At the 2019 Oscars, Porter changed the fashion conversation, attending in a velvet tuxedo gown by designer Christian Siriano.
He called the “antebellum tuxedo gown” his biggest style moment.
“Because it was the one that changed everything,” he told me on “Renaissance Man.”
“It was the image. It was the moment that in the zeitgeist, that will forever be the thing that literally changed the face of fashion forever.
“And I have to speak it. And I speak without ego. It’s just truth.”
Of course, other male stars like Harry Styles have embraced dresses but Billy was first — and, no doubt, the most dramatic.
“Call me whatever you want, conceited. Call me arrogant, call me whatever,” he said, noting that the look was risky.
“As a black queer man for my entire life, to sit in the fullness of my authenticity, going to the Oscars in a ballgown could have gone horribly wrong for me.
“And I would be back in Pittsburgh teaching at my alma mater Carnegie Mellon right now.”
Instead, he’s here, still making waves and blazing trails across all parts of showbiz.
Most recently, he played a choreographer in “80 for Brady,” and he is releasing a new single this month and launching a multi-city tour on April 28.
“I wanted to be the male Whitney Houston when I grew up. My first album, an R&B album came out in 1997,” Billy said.
“The business was very homophobic. They kicked my black gay ass out. I”ve come back on my own terms.”
He’s also narrating “Black + Iconic: Style Gods,” part of a BET docuseries on various aspects of black culture.
“When I got the telephone call, I was very moved,” he said of the project. “One of the hardest things for me as a black queer person is being rejected by your own. And I’ve gotten to the space, blessedly, where to reject me and to ignore me and to dismiss me is to make you look like an idiot.
“So, there were smart people over there at BET who said, ‘You know what? We might need to start embracing our queer brothers and sisters.’”
He grew up admiring people such as Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones, Oprah Winfrey, Houston and Gladys Knight, to mention a few. But Billy’s hero is his mother.
She has a neurological condition that has “rendered her immobile,” yet she still fights to get out of bed and “engage with the world.”
But mostly he loves his mother because she loved him.
“I grew up in the Pentecostal church. She was really taught by the dogma of religion to reject me as a gay man. And she rejected that, she chose me anyway. She is what a real Christian looks like,” Billy said.
“And to see that evolution. And to know because it was an evolution. It’s not where we started. But to watch her go through that and come out the other side beside me. I know a lot of people don’t have that.”
He’s also fascinated by another woman. Her name? Rihanna.