Leslie Odom Jr. on Leaving 'Hamilton,' Releasing Solo Album: 'I Have Not Come to Terms With All That Happened'

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Leslie Odom Jr. performs during his solo album release party at The McKittrick Hotel on July 11, 2016 in New York City.

Leslie Odom Jr. hasn’t begun to process what the end of Hamilton means for him. The star, who won a Tony for his performance as Aaron Burr in the musical, left the show on Saturday (July 9) night, and he’s hardly had time for a nap before jumping right back into the grind. He released his self-titled jazz album on S-Curve Records on June 10, and on Monday night, he celebrated with a concert and release party at the Heath at the McKittrick Hotel in New York City.

“I have not come to terms with all that happened in my life yet,” Odom told Billboard backstage before the show. “My body is holding on. It’s waiting for a chance for me to say that it’s okay to take a nap…Somehow, you always have enough within you to do what’s required of you, to do what’s asked of you. But the second you let your guard down, your body is like, ‘Okay, can I get sick now?’ So that’s what I’m sort of feeling.”

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He’s eating chips and hummus and has a calm energy, even though the doors have opened outside and you can hear people milling about and taking their seats in the room. Although Odom admitted that the packed house -- full of fans and friends like Darren Criss and Cynthia Erivo -- probably came because of the “show up the street,” he’s excited to perfect his solo act. While it wasn’t intentional to time the release of his album with his exit from Hamilton, he wants to focus on being a solo artist for a while. During July, he will be in residence at the McKittrick and will play Thursday nights, July 14-28, at the Manderley Bar.

“I’m so excited about the residency,” he said. “I finally have mental space and a tiny bit of rest to regroup and take a step. It’s not about doing something that’s as big as Hamilton. That may never happen again and that’s okay. But it’s about taking a step.”

On Twitter, Odom dedicated his final day of performances in the show to Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the Dallas police officers who lost their lives, and what’s going on in the country still weighs heavy on his mind. He points out that the Tony Awards were the same day as the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and while he felt helpless, he thinks artists are crucial in tough times.

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“You must be an artist and a citizen of the world. You must speak to this stuff that’s happening. You must do what you can to shine a light on it, help people through it,” he said, his voice heavy. “I get to now as a solo artist I get to have even more of a voice and I get to say my own words onstage and connect with people sing what I want to sing.”

There was a theme of endings and new beginnings during his performance. He took the stage a little after 9 p.m. to adoring screams and opened the show with “Autumn Leaves” and “Look for the Silver Lining.” He emphasized the importance of learning and growing as you leave one thing behind and take up another, and he said the song “Joey, Joey, Joey” really spoke to him at this time in his life and career.

“This really is so new to me, and so I thank you all for being here at the beginning of something,” Odom said from the stage. “One of the reasons why Saturday was my last show was because there was a time in Hamilton…there was a time in that room when we were chasing that thing down where we didn’t know what it was going to be. That was like drugs…And so now, it’s a different thing. Now it’s about being a custodian of something. Now it’s about maintaining a show, and those are different kinds of muscles. I used those muscles for around 400 shows. This now feels like that. This feels like the place where I’m learning and growing, failing, failing big. You might see some failing tonight. Let’s keep it between us.”

But there was no failure in sight. Odom spoke to the crowd about the importance of being true to yourself and not selling out. He spoke to the artists in the room “whose time is coming” and he dedicated the song “Nobody Knows You” to the feeling of being willing to give up everything to stay true to your art. 

“It's been such a trip seeing the other side of this coin. I know what feeling broke feels like real well. I know that real well. I know what not being able to pay your bills feels like real well… I know that way better than a room full of beautiful people and Tony awards and Grammy awards. This stuff is all new,” he said. “But I think that for those of you whose time is coming…Here's what I think: Your real power at this place lies in, if you can find a way to not be afraid to go back to that place again then you can always keep your integrity.”

Odom performed eight songs from his 10-track album, and before he took the stage to sing an impromptu encore -- an a cappella version of “Forever Young” -- Odom improvised some fitting lyrics during his last song, “The Party’s Over.”

“An ending doesn't have to be sad,” Odom said mid-song. “Who said it has to be sad?”

Then, to close it out, he sang, “This is only the beginning.” 

Set List

“Autumn Leaves"
“Look for the Silver Lining”
“I Know That You Know”
“Joey, Joey, Joey”
“Nobody Knows You”
“Cheer Up, Charlie”
“The Guilty Ones"
“The Party’s Over”

'Hamilton' Cast Performs at the 2016 Tony Awards

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