“The Wiz ”Star Avery Wilson Talks His 'Bold' Scarecrow Performance in Hit Broadway Revival (Exclusive)

"It took me so long to get to the point of being unapologetic about who I am," 'The Voice' alum tells PEOPLE

<p>Jamie McCarthy/Getty</p> Avery Wilson

Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Avery Wilson

The Voice alum Avery Wilson is leaving his mark on Broadway!

The season 3 contestant of the hit NBC singing competition series stars as the lovable Scarecrow in the hit revival of The Wiz on the Great White Way. Based on L. Frank Baum's beloved children's book, The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wiz premiered on Broadway in 1975 and became an instant sensation for transforming one of the world's most enduring fantasies into an all-Black musical extravaganza. The current production came to Broadway after touring the country across to 13 sold-out cities across America.

The iconic 1978 film adaptation starred Michael Jackson in the Scarecrow role alongside a cast that included Diana Ross, Mabel King, Richard Pryor and Lena Horne. For this latest production, Wilson, 28, stars with Nichelle Lewis as Dorothy, Deborah Cox as Glinda, Melody A. Betts as Aunt Em and Evillene, Kyle Ramar Freeman as the Lion, Phillip Johnson Richardson as the Tinman, and Wayne Brady as the titular Wiz.

PEOPLE caught up with the "Change My Mind" singer to discuss his Broadway debut, the legacy of The Wiz and his time spent on The Voice.

Related: Deborah Cox, Common, Sherri Shepherd and More Stars Hit Yellow Brick Carpet for Opening of The Wiz on Broadway

Has your Broadway path taken you by surprise?

It is a bit of a surprise, but I also was kind of prepared in my mind because I've never not been the creative kid. I don't know all of the history of Broadway and all the shows, but I did frequent a couple shows a little while ago, maybe two or three years ago, and I was like, "I want to do that." I know that takes a lot of time and a lot of your energy and effort of your personal life and creative life, so I was like, "I don't know when I don't know how, but at some point I want to get the right role for me and I want to walk into it and show people that I am way more than just one-dimensional. I'm not just a singer." I hope that that's coming across, and I believe that the hard work that I'm putting in is showing that.

Did you grow up watching The Wiz?

Oh my gosh! The movie I grew up with as a kid, for sure. Over and over again I remember watching "You Can't Win," that specific scene, but the crazy thing is that I never envisioned myself being in the role. I just was so, I guess, in awe or enamored by Michael Jackson and not seeing him be the entity that he is with the hat and the glove and the sparkles and the this. He was a very different thing on screen. It was a transformative thing that I thought was so interesting to me. But I feel like it's just a part of our culture, to be honest. It's something that we all grew up with, I feel like, whether it be the stage play or the movie, but the movie was my introduction.

<p>Jeremy Daniel/Tribune News Service via Getty</p> The Wiz

Jeremy Daniel/Tribune News Service via Getty

The Wiz

How do you wrap your mind around the fact you're playing a role made famous by Michael Jackson?

You know what? Wrapping my head around it is such a way to say it, because I feel like I don't have enough head to wrap around it. It's kind of crazy. It's Michael Jackson and I have a picture of him, like a portrait, tattooed on my forearm from the Thriller era. I feel like I kind of manifested this a long time ago, but you know what? I try to go into it just being inspired by them and being grateful that I have the opportunity to show my own take and my own ... I don't know, my own respect. I feel like it's more of a respect thing for me. The people that have came before me that have played this role have done really amazing work and iconic enough work to etch themselves into our minds and into the space of creativity, so I'm just glad that I get a chance to take my own stab at it and ease on down the road my own type of way.

Your portrayal of the Scarecrow is fabulously queer coded. Was that a direction given to you or was it something you brought to the role?

Well, I think art for sure imitates life. I'm a bisexual man, and I don't hide that, so naturally so there were just things that I would read and I was like, "I can play a little bit into this aloof type of mentality and mix it into myself", but I connect with the story so much just being in environments in my life that have kept me kind of trapped in my mind. Maybe not physically, but just trapped in my mind for so long. I had people that came into my life that were queer and then also not queer, but they came and saved me and they were my Dorothy. So I was like, "You know what? This story is so reminiscent of my life, there's no way that I don't feel like a bit of scarecrow is a bit of Avery Wilson."

So naturally so I would just kind of give it the flair that is me and I thought that that was something that would be interesting because I don't feel like it's ... I feel like it's bold, but I don't feel like it's avant-garde and loud. But you can see it obviously and I'm not hiding it. It took me so long to get to the point of being unapologetic about who I am. I wanted a role like this that is so iconic to have something for people to see young men, young women, old, whether you're straight or bi or gay, whatever you are, I just wanted people to see there's a freedom that you can have, even when you, I guess, are deemed in a group of people or in a situation where you are not at the top of the list when it comes to certain things. So you can be free.

<p>Jamie McCarthy/Getty</p> Avery Wilson in The Wiz

Jamie McCarthy/Getty

Avery Wilson in The Wiz

What's it like star in a production alongside pop star Deborah Cox?

Other than the fact that I don't get to witness it face to face because we're not in the same scenes, but I get to hear it every night and I'm just like, "This is crazy." Because who doesn't love Deborah Cox's voice? I mean, truly. It's something that I think that is embedded in all of us, especially anybody in the queer community, but in general, she's the closest thing we have to a Whitney Houston today.

Have any of your The Voice coaches come to see you in The Wiz?

They haven't come yet ! CeeLo has sent his love through a contestant that was a friend of mine. I've also told Christina Aguilera that I was doing this before I even got the role, and she was like, "I want to come see it", because I had did some background work with her singing alongside her on tour. So I stay in touch with, I would say, a good majority of them. They haven't come yet, but I'm sure they will because we're believing that we will extend.

The Wiz is now playing on Broadway.

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