Ladyboi (aka Tony Yalda) was born in Beirut and spent the first four years of his life in Athens, Greece, before his family moved to the United States, where he was raised in Chicago. He started singing at the age of two and he went on to attend DePaul University’s Theatre School to study theatre management before transferring to Roosevelt University’s Theatre Conservatory. Then to Los Angeles to pursue acting and after months of struggling, he landed his first role in Lisa Kudrow’s HBO series, “The Comeback.” Then came his first feature film, “American Dreamz,” starring alongside Hugh Grant and Mandy Moore. Ladyboi continued to star in films and television shows including “Meet the Spartans,” “Taqwacores,” and “Cyrus: Mind of a serial Killer.” Despite this impressive success as an actor, it wasn’t long before he gave in to his first and greatest passion: music. His teen years were spent obsessing over the music of Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin. Then on one fateful day in April of 2007 after hearing the vocals of Amy Winehouse for the first time, he realized that he could no longer deny this calling.
Ladyboi started an acoustic band called The Seekers and a rock band called The Coasts, but both projects petered out within a couple of months. In late 2009, he started a band called The Hollabacks, which gained national recognition and success. The band won the 2010 Slurpee Battle of the Bands competition; opened for N*E*R*D at the Fillmore East; was invited for a live session at Wolfgang’s Vault; had two songs featured in the thriller “Cyrus” (starring Lance Henriksen); and were the face of Slurpee for six months.
“I decided to continue writing and recording as a solo artist. First collaborating with Hollabacks bassist and Minneapolis native, Jeff Bernett, who introduced me to Ryan Liestman (keyboardist for the Jonas Brothers) and Michael Bland (drummer for Prince and The New Power Generation and Soul Asylum), and they quickly joined the project as songwriters and producers,” he told OUT in Thailand Magazine. Ladyboi left Hollywood and moved to Minneapolis in October of 2011 to complete his debut album. Working tirelessly, the solo project is currently set to take off this Spring. He is the self-proclaimed “crazy soulful Arab punk who’s taking over the world.” And he means it.
“I grew up in Chicago where there is a strong Asian community, and I have many Thai friends whom I met at school as well as Japanese, Chinese and Cambodian friends. I currently do not have immediate plans to travel to Thailand, but it has always been on my list. I am hoping to draw enough attention to my music that I may make Thailand a travel destination sooner rather than later.”
Ladyboi does not divulge his age, “My dear gent, you never ask a ladyboi her age! I can tell you I am an Aries. Pretty much in every sense of the sign. I’m passionate .Compassionate. And I like it to always somehow to be about me!” he laughs. “I currently am very single. I haven’t had a boyfriend since late 2008. My last relationship ended kind of harshly and I was a bit torn up over him. I met my ex in New York City. It was kind of love at first sight. We dated for almost a year, some of it long-distance as I had to return to Los Angeles, for work. The relationship had a lot of ups and downs, especially since he’s bisexual, Indian, and a Catholic. So, needless to say it was a turbulent disaster that unfolded ridiculously. But I loved him, and I loved him hard. And if it wasn’t for him,I wouldn’t be a singer because I didn’t start writing music until we dated. My entire album, O MY GOD, is a personal diary of my experiences with him.”
But that has not put him off love: “I am definitely open to a relationship now, but if you asked me 6 months to a year ago, the answer would have been a fast NO. But when I started working with Michael Bland on this album, he really helped me with lowering my guard. He kept telling me that my music had to come from an honest place. It wasn’t easy to deal with everything I realized about our history, because I saw a lot of my own faults and insecurities. And I had to take my part of the responsibility of the causes I made too.”
Ladyboi lists Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Etta James, Tina Turner, and Led Zeppelin among his musical heroes. “Of the more recent, I absolutely adored Amy Winehouse. I literally gained the courage to sing, and pursue a career because I heard her music. I just wanted to do it. And I’m eternally grateful for her raw honesty. It changed me. I believe it played a huge role in me becoming Ladyboi.” He describes his music as a combination of George Michael and Prince, mixed with Eurythmics and punk elements.”
He is one of the growing band of artistes who are OUT and proud: “I don’t believe being gay and out can damage my career. I believe the more honest and comfortable you are in your skin will only bring forth more opportunities and success. I believe we are born perfect in our space and time with the desires (and I don’t just mean sexually) that we have because it is those desires that lead us towards our enlightenment and happiness. I am grateful for the pioneers who have paved the way for me. My debt of gratitude cannot be repaid by lying and denying who I am. We are a beautiful community. We are kind, compassionate, smart, creative, artistic. We have so much to offer our society, our friends, our family.
Why should we have to shy away from our personal lives? I want to freely speak, sing, and share my experiences of love. I, like any heterosexual human being, have fallen in love, was hurt, was happy, was sad. I have days that are great, and others that suck. Sometimes I love and hate my parents. Sometimes I don’t want to go to work, and other days I do. From what I can tell, these experiences are not so different from any heterosexual person I have met. So why do I have to be hush about my life? I encourage every member of the LGBT community to blab about their lives just like I have in this interview. Let it out. Show everybody you are just as much a 3-dimensional human being as the next person.”
He would love to duet with some top stars: “It would be a dream to record with Sir Elton John and George Michael. I think I would need a couple of days to cry and freak out because I am a HUGE fan. Annie Lennox, Boy George, Prince, Madonna, Tina Turner. CHER! I am basically writing a big wish list here as if Santa is gonna see this article, and deliver these artists in a basket with a red bow for Christmas. And of course, I don’t think I’d be gay anymore if I didn’t say Lady Gaga. Someone from Gay Headquarters would definitely revoke my gaycard in a heartbeat.”
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