Frankie Grande was an entertainer in his own right before half-sister Ariana Grande even hit Nickelodeon. Now, as both her biggest fan and a true multi-hyphenate performer (he’s done everything from Broadway to Big Brother), he’s balancing his social-media celebrity with preparing for his upcoming one-man show Livin’ La Vida Grande.
Billboard spoke with Grande about his personal history onstage and in music, as well as his favorite strategies for social media — read on for the full Q&A:
How did you first get into theater and performing?
When I was in fifth grade, I auditioned to play the role of Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie by singing Bette Midler‘s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” — the worst audition song ever. I started singing the song, like, “You are the wind beneath my wings,” and she was like, “Thank you so much!” Then I was like “Flyyyyy…” — I sang the entire song. And I got the role! From that point, I was hooked. I was like, “I’m going to be the lead in every show ever for the rest of time.” It was so fabulous.
I was pre-med in college, and so since a lot of people take a year off before they go to med school, I decided to take the time to pursue theater — six months later, I was on Broadway. It just happened, and everyone was like, “I can’t believe that happened!” I couldn’t either, but it did. I just stuck with the theater for the rest of my life.
What’s your favorite role that you’ve had?
I have to say, Franz in Rock of Ages. I had three final callbacks for that role before I booked it — it was something that I’d dreamed of. I wanted to play that role. I love that show. Plus, I got to play the last Franz ever on Broadway, because I closed the show. It was just such an unbelievable set of circumstances — I can’t imagine it being topped. I’m looking forward to trying though!
As a performer, who are your top five biggest influences?
Kristin Chenoweth for sure — I adore her, and the way that she navigates Broadway and television. I think it’s so clever and smart.
I’m obsessed with Maggie Smith — the way that she can be the most brilliant actress in every single situation and then do Harry Potter, and still make me cry while she’s casting spells with a wand? I love Maggie Smith — this is going to be the most random list of people ever.
Madonna is my absolute queen — as a performer, there’s no one better than her. I just saw her [on the Rebel Heart tour] and I was like, “How are you continuing to raise the bar?” Hers was the first concert I saw, when I was 7 years old. That was Blonde Ambition, and I’ve seen every single one since.
Celine Dion — she’s my ultimate. I’ve always said there’s no one on this planet that can riff within the chord like Celine, and then of course my sister came along and disproved that theory. I think Celine and Ariana are just the two greatest riffers on the planet. It’s the musical precision that they have within their singing — that’s what I love about Celine and my sister. You can dissect anything they do and it’s all perfect.
Is that five? Ariana is five. Absolutely Ariana is number five — she inspires me every day.
Have you been to Ariana’s most recent tour [The Honeymoon Tour]?
Yes — I have my own track that I do at her concerts. During certain parts of the show she wants to see me at certain parts of the stage. For example, during the glove part, I’m downstage left so that we can laugh about it if it goes badly or smile about it when it goes great, because the gloves are so technologically all over the place. I’m at the tip of the stage for “Break Free” because that’s, like, my song. I’m always holding my mom and sobbing when Grandpa’s voice comes on, because it’s still such an emotionally raw moment for me.
What’s your favorite Ariana song?
“Break Free” for sure — and now “Focus.”
What was your first social-media platform?
I had a MySpace that I didn’t really use, but I was in the first round of colleges that got Facebook — so it was a pretty big deal that we got Facebook. I was obsessed. That was probably the thing that started this entire ball rolling!
What is your favorite platform now?
My favorite one is Twitter, because I don’t feel the need to limit myself. I feel like I can do 40 tweets in a day if I want and it’s OK. Also, it’s kind of like the hub — everything goes through Twitter. It’s the best way for people to get news about me. If they want to know where I am or what I’m doing or what’s coming next, it’s all on Twitter. I always call it my central nervous system — everything links back to Twitter.
What’s your best piece of advice for people who want to expand their social-media reach?
Just be honest — allow the platform to be a reflection of who you are and what you’re feeling: the good, the bad and the ugly. I don’t approve of using it to attack, but you can let the world know how your life is going. I think that makes it, especially for celebrities, easier to show that we’re human too. Like, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?” We’re real people. I’ve had many emotional breakdowns on Twitter, and my fans have been like, “Don’t worry, we’re here — we got you.” I think that’s why I have so many followers, because they know that I need them as much as they need me.
What’s coming up for you that you’re most excited about?
I’m bringing my one-man show to L.A. in January, and I’m very, very excited about that. I’ve done it in New York several times, and there was a moment where I was going to tour it — but then other opportunities came along. I’m going to perform it on the West Coast for the first time, it’s called Livin’ La Vida Grande. I usually choose a section of my life — the last one was Big Brother to Rock of Ages, so now maybe it will be from Rock of Ages to what’s coming next? We’ll see. It’s me onstage singing for 90 minutes, and really just communicating with the world and the audience. I like talking to the people. [Laughs]
Purchase tickets to see Livin’ La Vida Grande in Los Angeles here.