Openly gay songstress Melanie Lowe wowed South African audiences when she took to the stage for SA Idols in 2002, where she went on to bag third place.
Almost seven years and one SAMA later, Melanie is sticking to her music, performing and creating songs straight from the heart.
She recently opened for Katie Melua’s South African tour and earlier this year was again nominated for a SAMA in the “Best English adult contemporary album” category. She also still finds time to run Mellow Music, which is aimed at helping struggling young artists.
Durban-born Melanie recently came out to the public and also announced that she is engaged to fiancÃ©e Angela in a letter to her fans. With wedding bells in the air, the blushing bride-to-be continues to perform moving live gigs and writing new material for her upcoming Living The Truth tour. She seems truly liberated and renewed by her coming out process.
Mambaonline spoke to the star about growing up gay and closeted and what it took for her to live life with integrity and honesty.
When did you first come out to yourself or realise that you were lesbian?
I’ve always known there was something different about me. I noticed from a very young age that I was drawn more to women than to men. I had no idea what it meant but I instinctively guessed that people wouldn’t understand the thoughts in my head and so I kept it to myself. I thought there was something very wrong with me. I had boyfriends. I said all the right words and tried desperately to fit in.
What was your family like?
We were brought up in a very Christian household and I was told it was against the bible so I figured if God didn’t like it, He would definitely help to cure it and I asked Him constantly to cure me. I had a crush on a girl in my standard for three years and it was pure torture trying to be normal around her, and trying to pretend to my family that all was normal and well in my life. As dramatic as it sounds, there were times when I didn’t actually want to be alive anymore.
And after school?
I had a boyfriend and I just knew I couldn’t continue with that so I had to break his heart. It was awful to hurt him and not be able to tell him why. Not long after that, one of my oldest friends and I were sitting in my room and, after several hours of talking in circles, trying to guess each other’s secret, we made our confessions and both discovered we were gay. I was 18 years old. Finally I knew what I was and that I wasn’t alone. That in itself wasn’t a challenge but what followed was.
When did you come out to your family? How did they react?
I was offered a gig at a new club called Cleo’s. It was only for women and my folks just couldn’t understand why women would want a club without men. One night I was sitting on stage, strumming my guitar when the door opened and my parents walked in! They had come to support me singing. I don’t know how I didn’t collapse on stage. To make it worse, a very butch woman tried to stop my dad from coming in because it was for women only. She even tried to hit him! It was a nightmare… As if that wasn’t bad enough, the next day there was an article in the paper about “the resident lesbian singer, Melanie Lowe, at Cleo’s”. When she read that, my mom finally asked me if I was gay and I couldn’t lie to her face. It wasn’t at all well accepted, as I had anticipated. The next few years were a huge challenge as I struggled with their displeasure while battling my own demons.
Are you excited about your upcoming nuptials?
So excited! Sometimes it’s hard to take in the reality of it all but yesterday I had an enquiry for a show next year in March and I said, “Sorry, I can’t do it as I’m getting married then!” It was quite a feeling. We’re a bit like kids with a new toy.
Have you always wanted to get married?
A part of me always has, yes. I guess I’m old-fashioned in that way and I’m a romantic. I believe it’s the ultimate way to show your partner how much you love them. Making a commitment so huge requires trust, and with that trust comes vulnerability. You are putting your heart into their hands.
Tell us why Angela is “the one” for you?
Because my soul recognised her the minute she entered the room, and since that moment, nothing has felt right if she isn’t by my side. She’s the reason I packed up my whole house and moved my cats, my bird and myself [from Durban] to Joburg. We were inseparable from the first moment and the thought was inconceivable that I would have to survive from day to day not knowing when I would see her next.
Melanie and Angela
How did you meet?
My best friend, Steve, and I had come up to Joburg and we decided to go out to a restaurant in Greenside. I was sitting slightly angled away from the door but I knew when she walked in. Something made me look in the direction of the door and I remember grabbing Steve’s leg and saying, “Oh my word, she’s gorgeous!” I couldn’t take my eyes off her for the rest of the evening and all my friends decided it was their job to do something about it because we were both so shy. It took several hours for us to start talking to each other. We only left that restaurant in the early hours of the morning. I changed my flight and stayed a few more days and, by the time I finally went back to Durban I knew she was going to be a permanent fixture in my life.
What do you think about the recent SA Idols scandal, involving Jason Hartman and Sasha-Lee?
I feel very sorry for Sasha-Lee. It’s horrible to have something so big given to you and then have it taken away. She handled it all with grace and dignity; two very important qualities needed to survive in the music industry. It wasn’t either of their faults that things worked out the way they did, but at the end of the day the voting results showed a clear winner, and that person should hold the title. I’m sure both of them realise that the title is irrelevant at the end of the day. It’s what you do with what you have that counts. I came third and yet I’ve still made a career for myself.
Many believe that American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert didn’t win because of the speculation over his sexual orientation. Do you think that being gay caused him to lose to Kris Allen?
Nobody will ever really know. I don’t think there was ever a clear winner. I think it’s wonderful that he got so far and it’s a sign of how much more receptive people are becoming to homosexuality. If his being gay had been an issue, I think we’d have lost him far sooner in the show, which means people were actually voting based on his talent as a performer and his wonderful attitude.
Do you think that if you had come out during the filming of Idols you would have been out of the competition earlier?
I considered myself straight at the time so coming out wasn’t part of my fear. I know that sounds bizarre but I was engaged to a man, I was convinced I was doing the right thing and I thought I’d managed to get over my “phase” with women. What did worry me was the fact that had anything from my past come out at that time, people would have assumed my engagement was a farce – even though it was real to me. I knew I couldn’t possibly explain it all to everyone, let alone what was in