Big Freedia, the ever-colorful Queen of Bounce, will host the New Orleans segment of “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021,” the show’s producers announced Monday.
Freedia will be joined by another New Orleans native, R&B singer/songwriter and Maroon 5 keyboardist PJ Morton, who will sing “Auld Lang Syne” as the lighted fleur de lis drops at midnight for the Central Time Zone countdown. No in-person audience will be allowed because of coronavirus restrictions.
“We are beyond excited that Big Freedia and PJ Morton, two of New Orleans’ brightest musical lights, will be shining for our city and before the entire world as we ring in the new year.” Mayor LaToya Cantrell said in a statement released by the ABC telecast’s producers, Dick Clark Productions. “Even though we won’t be watching this performance in person, we will be watching from the safety of our homes as ‘Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021′ rings in the new year with that special New Orleans flavor.
“We’re also excited that this event will employ nearly 70 local crew members, many of whom have been shut out of production jobs due to the pandemic, and that the world will remember that New Orleans will be the safest place to visit and enjoy our music and culture in 2021.”
The news about Freedia, whose creative contributions include largely introducing the world to the frenetic, rump-shaking, sexually provocative form of dance known as twerking, concludes a drama that pitted state officials against the mayor’s office.
Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser wanted contemporary Christian pop singer Lauren Daigle, a Lafayette native who has achieved national stardom, to host. The state, along with the city and other entities, has for the past four years partnered with the New Year’s Eve broadcast to cover the New Orleans segment’s production costs, in the belief that the show promotes the city and state to potential visitors.
The main broadcast from New York cuts to New Orleans several times; the number and duration of those New Orleans spots are negotiated with Dick Clark Productions.
This year, Nungesser predicated the state’s $500,000 contribution on Daigle’s participation, as she is the face and voice of the state’s new tourism marketing campaign. Because this year’s production would be smaller, with no live audience, the state’s contribution was to have covered the entire production cost.
But according to Daigle’s representatives and Dick Clark Productions, she was considered during preliminary discussions, but never was formally offered the job.
Upon learning that Daigle was being considered, Cantrell fired off a testy letter to Dick Clark Productions arguing that Daigle should not be on the telecast because of her participation in an unpermitted French Quarter religious rally in November that violated coronavirus restrictions.
Nungesser subsequently withdrew the state’s $500,000 sponsorship. The city then said it would cover the telecast’s production costs with money from the New Orleans Tourism and Cultural fund, a discretionary marketing fund created as part of Cantrell’s infrastructure negotiations with the hospitality industry last year. It was intended to directly support the city’s cultural events.
The bulk of the city’s $500,000 contribution, fund board members said at a recent meeting, would go to the Solomon Group, the local production company that handles the logistics for the New Orleans telecast.
A Dick Clark-branded New Year’s Eve special has helped ring in the new year for 49 years, outliving its namesake host. Ryan Seacrest will be hosting the main broadcast from Times Square in New York for the 16th time this Thursday. He’ll be joined by actor Billy Porter, who hosted the New Orleans segment last year, and Lucy Hale, plus performers Jennifer Lopez, Cyndi Lauper, Jimmie Allen and Machine Gun Kelly.
The singer Ciara will host the West Coast countdown from Los Angeles, joined by performers Brandy, Doja Cat, Ella Mai, Lewis Capaldi, Maluma, Megan Thee Stallion, Miley Cyrus, Nelly, and Saweetie.
With public New Year’s Eve celebrations largely prohibited because of COVID-19, viewership for “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve,” which is typically the night’s highest-rated show, is expected to be higher than usual.
The live show kicks off Thursday at 7 p.m. Central Time on ABC.
The New Orleans segment will likely give many of those millions of viewers their first glimpse of Big Freedia, who hasn’t technically “replaced” Daigle as host, as Daigle’s participation was never confirmed.
Born Freddie Ross Jr., Freedia is an up-from-the-bottom, only-in-New Orleans success story. From surviving a tough Third Ward neighborhood as a self-described “sissy” and toiling long hours at a local Burger King, Freedia spent years on the local club circuit and grinding it out on the road to emerge as the meticulously made-up national face of bounce, a highly energetic and risque hip-hop sub-genre that originated in New Orleans.
Bounce rap employs repetitive, call-and-response choruses and a skittering beat. Freedia’s style was well-suited to the genre. She notched a slew of locally popular singles, including “Gin in My System,” “Azz Everywhere” and “Y’all Get Back Now.”
Freedia’s cottage industry encompasses recording, touring, an autobiography titled “Big Freedia: God Save the Queen Diva!,” branded bubbly and aprons, collaborations with the likes of Beyoncé, Lizzo and Kesha, and six seasons of a Fuse network reality show, alternately titled “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” and “Big Freedia Bounces Back,” from 2013 to 2017.
This year, Freedia launched Big Freedia’s Garden Cookout, a weekly cooking-themed webcast at the New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park’s Kitchen in the Garden pavilion. The Friday night events are livestreamed on Freedia’s social media outlets.
Freedia’s stage persona is often referred to with feminine pronouns. Freedia recently wrote in the online magazine The Root, “I was born male and remain male — physically, hormonally and mentally. But I am a gay male. Some folks insist I have to be trans, but I don’t agree. I’m gender nonconforming, fluid, nonbinary. If I had known the ‘queen’ in Queen Diva would cause so much confusion, I might have called myself the king!”