Maybe you know Wayne Brady as the hilarious, lightning-fast-on-his-feet star of the improv show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Or the host of Let’s Make a Deal. Or maybe you’ve seen him on Broadway in Kinky Boots. Or on Don’t Forget the Lyrics!, or How I Met Your Mother, or The Wayne Brady Show or perhaps he was that guy who played on that cruise you took years ago.
But after winning season 2 of The Masked Singer on Wednesday night, Brady wants you to focus on just one of those aspects of his long, storied career: his singing. “I’m an actor first and foremost and a singer first and foremost,” Brady tells Billboard about the order in which he views his professional strengths.
“I’ve had a career that I feel is like the blind man and the elephant: People each have a certain thing they like, a box that they put me in. I’m not a stand-up comedian, so if the only thing you’ve seen me on is Whose Line? that’s cool, and I’m glad that you love that. But you have to take a step back and ask, ‘Well, what did I laugh at on Whose Line?‘ Yes, I do all the physical stuff and the comedy stuff, but I also did the musical stuff, not sounding like someone who is a singer, but because I am a singer.”
Brady knows he can’t get mad at audiences for not always remembering that he’s also a singer who released his debut album, A Long Time Coming, in 2008. That mix of mostly orignals and covers of songs by The Beatles and Stevie Wonder earned him a Grammy nomination in the best R&B traditional vocal category for his cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” putting him alongside such heavy-hitters as Al Green, Raphael Saadiq and Jazmine Sullivan. He plans to remind those fans that music is his first love in January when he releases an EP that marks his return to music after, yes, a long time.
“When I released my first single 11 years ago… the bias, and it’s a good bias — how many people do you know who can walk into a place and when someone recognizes you they smile immediately and laugh?” he says of the typical reaction he gets from fans. But, despite his onstage persona, he says he’s actually a very shy, somewhat reclusive guy, which is why it took him a long time to realize that when people point and laugh they’re not laughing at him, they’re excited to meet the guy who makes them feel good every day.
“So if someone has the bias that, ‘You make me feel good every day,’ I couldn’t take it personally,” he says. “But when the record was released, the bias of that ‘he makes me laugh’ thing was so strong that my team had to go old-school and put the single out with a black label and run a contest with stations to see if listeners could figure out who it was.” Like on The Masked Singer, the guesses included Jamie Foxx and Brian McKnight, until the big reveal.
This time, though, Brady is excited that he can put out a collection of music that doesn’t have to pull any punches about who is on the cover thanks to his long, eclectic résumé of achievements. “We can let he music lead [this time],” he says. The first volley in that reboot is the just-released smooth R&B tune “Flirtin’ With Forever,” which Brady says is an apt title because he’s been flirting with music for a long time and “she’s been really, really good to me and now it’s time to make a commitment.”
The plan is not to just drop the collection and go back to his day job being a funnyman, though. He’s committed to getting back to being a dedicated singer and songwriter. “I am so happy and I’ve gotten so much from the journey,” he says of the work he’s put into the six songs he co-wrote with the same team from Long Time, production crew The Heavyweights — All-4-One lead singer Jamie Jones and Jack Kugell — with the single produced by G’harah “PK” Degeddingseze (Chris Brown’s “Fine China”).
He’s still putting the finishing touches on the planned six-song EP, but Brady’s hopeful that his Masked Singer win could help manifest some of the guests he’s trying to wrangle for the other tracks. “I have a song called ‘Good Crazy’ about being a middle-aged dad with some money in your pocket and just dating crazy people and there’s a rapper I’m in love with named Snow Tha Product who I’m dying to get a verse from,” he says of his wish list.
That roll call also includes possibly landing hip-hop legend Big Daddy Kane on the song “Free,” as well as finding spots for Rhythm & Flow breakout Old Man Saxon and one of Brady’s all-time favorite singers Allen Stone. “He’s the white Jesus of R&B.”
Watch the “Flirtin’ With Forever” video below.