Singer Judith Hill is the beautiful woman with the angelic voice who blew us all away with her duet with Michael on his hit, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” from the ‘This Is It’ movie. But there is a lot more to this lovely artist than the little bit we saw of her on the big screen. Judith has graciously agreed to play ‘20 Questions’ with MJFC and we know that you will enjoy getting to know her as much as we did!
1. When did you know that singing was what you wanted to do with your life?
"I knew that singing was what I wanted to do when I started singing in elementary school choirs. It felt so natural and fun. And then, the passion grew when I would listen to Motown and early jazz singers. There was nothing else in the world I wanted to do more than create the magic I heard on those records."
2. Who were your biggest musical influences growing up?
"My biggest musical influences growing up were Michael Jackson, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, The Clark Sisters, Vanessa Bell Armstrong, The Temptations, Louis Armstrong, and Janis Joplin to name a few."
3. Would you consider yourself a Michael Jackson fan? And, if so, how long have you been a fan?
"Yes, I’ve been a Michael Jackson fan since I was a little kid. My first performance in elementary school was “Man In The Mirror.” And growing up, my cousin and I would always listen to Michael bouncing around in the house. I remember “Jam” and “Remember the Time” were some of our favorites."
4. How did you get the gig working on Michael Jackson's 'This Is It?'
"A musician friend of mine recommended me for the gig. I did a little audition and a week later they selected me for the tour."
5. What was that very first rehearsal with him like for you?
"My first rehearsal with Michael was amazing. I was in shock that Michael Jackson was standing in front of me. It was like a dream. He walked around the stage personally introducing himself to each band member. He was very soft spoken and kind. But, at the count off of the first downbeat, the Michael Jackson we all scream our heads off for was unleashed. He was like two different people-the electrifying performer and the gentle person. Definitely someone who was tapped into another world of creativity, magic, and beauty. Very inspiring."
6. We've all heard that what we see in the film - where you and MJ are rehearsing "I Just Can't Stop Loving You" - was actually the first time that the two of you had run through it together and yet, it turned out so amazing. What did that feel like?
"The first rehearsal of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” was very special for me. I did not know what he was going to do, so it was like a wild adventure. Michael was very strong. When he grabbed me and pulled me in different directions, it kind of caught me off guard. But it was fun! Afterwards, I was like, “Oh my gosh! Did that just happen?” That first run through was good for me to see how dramatic he wanted it to be. Also, the gospel ending was so exciting. I couldn’t wait to exchange vocal riffs with Michael. One time he hit this really really high note. We were all like, “Wow!”"
7. Did you go see TII when it came out? If so, what was your reaction to the film?
"I was excited to see “This Is It” but I was also very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, especially because these were only rehearsals and the entire world was going to see it. But, seeing it with the whole This Is It family at the private screening was very special. We laughed and cried together. It was the first time we got to celebrate Michael’s life together after such a tragedy."
8. Your life has probably been a whirlwind since the events of last June. How are you (and others involved in TII) handling your new found fame? Is it opening doors in the entertainment industry?
"I feel honored to carry such a special association. It has opened up doors in the industry."
9. Since the O2 residency didn't happen, what have you been doing with your time?
"I have been writing songs and preparing for my solo album."
10. How did you hear about Michael's passing? What was your immediate reaction to the news?
"I first heard about Michael’s passing when grabbing something to eat before heading off to rehearsal that day. I was in shock. I didn’t really accept it right away. I don’t think I have felt “normal” ever since. I see life through the tinted shade of Michael’s passing. It’s so devastating and I’m still waiting to wake up from this bad dream."
11. How difficult was it to perform at the memorial service? Did you have any reservations about doing it?
"Singing at Michael’s memorial service was actually helpful for the grieving process. Music in that context is always the most healing for me. I was honored to do it. I wanted to do whatever I could to encourage his family and friends. Listening to his music and preparing for the service was all tears for us. It was really hard to get through. But, the Staple Center was pin drop silence at the service. The grief was so severe in that room. So Michael’s songs like “Heal The World” were just heaven sent and so inspiring at that service."
12. We have heard a lot of comments about Michael and his health. Some say he would have never been healthy enough to do the O2 concerts. What are your feelings? Do you feel he could have performed?
"Michael was very powerful when he got up on that stage. I never spent time with him off the stage, but from what I saw he was very focused and passionate about his show. I think he could have done it."
13. You and Michael actually have a lot in common in terms of how your music comes to you and being seen as a prodigy at a young age. How do you think your life would be different now had your career taken off when you were just 8 years old?
"If my career launched at 8 years old, I think I would very good by now, lol! I think it’s so good to start when you’re a kid, because you learn how to do it before a lot of the problems in adulthood start showing up. But, I was a very stubborn kid. So, I needed to find my own way or else I wouldn’t be doing it right now. My parents really pushed me when I was young, but I was pretty rebellious. I didn’t like being told what to do. So they backed off, and I learned to love it on my own. I think everything that has happened in my life so far was been vital to my story. It all contributes to the music I make now."
14. You announced last April that we would see a new album from you soon. When do you expect to release it?
"Well, last April I had finished a CD that I was about to release. But, I decided not to release it after everything that happened with Michael. I have new stories to tell and I’ve been in the studio cutting new music. I’m very excited for the release of this new album. I don’t have the official release date yet, but it’s coming soon."
15. Your song "I Will Always Be Missing You" is a beautiful tribute to Michael and you sing it with such emotion. Can you tell us a little about the song; what inspired you to write it, what it means to you?
“I Will Always Be Missing You” was something I needed to do. I remember the imagery like it was yesterday - how he held my hand, smiled, laughed, and looked into my eyes during the duet. And I remember how the crew started collapsing the stage just hours after his pronounced death. I remember that every “bang” sound of the boards being taken down was like a bullet shot to my heart. I remember how chaotic the world had gotten in response to his death. It was like I was in the middle of this tornado of cameras, candles, weeping fans, Michael posters and memorabilia and all I could hear was this very deep, haunting classical motif in the style of Chopin. On June 25th, we all sat in Kenny Ortega’s candle lit office listening to some classical music Michael had in his dressing room. So, “I Will Always Be Missing You” is like a serene moment of sorrow that sums up all of the emotions I felt on June 25th."
16. How do you feel knowing that 'I Will Always Be Missing You' will be the Theme Song for The Michael Jackson Fan Club?
"I feel very honored to have the song as the theme of the Michael Jackson Fan Club. I can’t think of a better place for it to be. I wanted it to be of comfort to the people who love him. That’s why I wrote it."
17. Did Michael ever offer you any advice and if so, what is the best advice that he gave you?
"Michael coached me on taking the bow and taught me a lot about the stage. He was the master of the stage."
18. What is the most important thing that you learned from him?
"The most important thing I learned from Michael was his innocence. I think his childlike innocence was part of what made his world so magical and his music so inspiring. His sense of excitement, adventure, and honest hope was untarnished. Sometimes I’d watch him, and he really did seem like a boy in a fairytale land. But watching him really did encourage me to rekindle my dreams and hopes. As an artist, it’s all about creating that world people can escape to. Michael also taught me the art of showmanship. His every movement, gesture, and vocal idea told a story. He never let a second go by where he was musically disengaged. He was 200% passion when he got on that stage."
19. If you could say one thing to Michael, what would it be?
"Thank you. Thank you for choosing me to share such a beautiful moment with you. There were so many that would have done an amazing job, so I feel so honored beyond words. I’ll do my best to carry on and make you proud. You were the sweetest and most inspiring person I’ve ever worked with. The world suffered a great loss when you died. But you’re legacy gets bigger everyday. I love you so much."
20. If you could say one thing to the Michael Jackson fans around the world, what would it be?
"To Michael Jackson fans---let’s take the inspiration Michael has given us and make an amazing future. We live in an age of criticism and negativity. But, let’s not be apart of that. Let’s start healing the world with our words and work hard to make that better place Michael so wanted."
* MJFC would like to thank Judith for giving her time in order to conduct this interview and also for the use of her hauntingly beautiful song, “I Will Always Be Missing You.”