America’s got talent here she is !!
Toukan & Palmyre : Can you introduce yourself ?
Mennel : My name is Mennel, I’m almost 24 and I’m a mix of everything (she laughs).
T&P : What do you mean?
Mennel : I’m interested in a lot of things and my first love is music.
T&P : How were you as a child?
Mennel : I really liked talking to people and doing a lot of things. I was sensitive and I was very curious about different things. I wanted to know and understand everything.
T&P : One might say you had the fidgets?
Mennel : Absolutely! I needed to learn in order to feel alive. I was touched by everything that was related to emotions. I loved being with animals, nature and music.
T&P : When did music start to play a part in your life?
Mennel : Very early. I was given a little piano when I was six. I acquainted myself with the sounds and I liked the songs from the cartoons I watched. I would learn and sing them.
T&P : But your childhood was a little difficult, wasn’t it?
Mennel : Yes, it was pretty hard. I spent a lot of time on my own. I was different and didn’t feel like I belonged. People didn’t really pay attention to me. I realized that when you’re a child, people don’t encourage you to become who you want to be. As a Muslim, I was taught that singing, playing the piano etc was haram (not permissible in Islam), when I actually wanted to do all of that. I felt that it was my purpose.
T&P : To put it in a nutshell, music was more your destiny than your choice.
Mennel : Exactly. Music has always been a part of me, as if it were a vital organ. Music and I have always been one.
T&P : How did you know you were talented?
Mennel : In secondary school. I was about eleven when my sisters noticed that I « could sing » as they said. They would listen to the radio and I would stay around them. As soon as a song I liked was on the radio, I would start humming and then I would sing along. They would tell me « you can sing Mennel ». But I didn’t necessarily think that I was talented. It was only when I started having good grades in music that I began listening to myself and thinking that maybe I could sing.
Then, I thought about participating in music contests like « La Nouvelle Star » (the French version of « American Idol ») but I didn’t dare to do it.
T&P : Why?
Mennel : No one encouraged me. People tell you that you can sing but they also make you understand that you’re not that great for a TV show.
T&P : Do you think that it was fueled by jealousy?
Mennel : Not necessarily. Let’s just say that some people lack self-confidence. They don’t dare to do what you do so they try to stop you from doing it.
T&P : Did it work?
Mennel : Honestly, it did in high school. I put aside the idea of having a career in music. But I still had that burning passion for music. I sang more and more but I chose to study English instead.
T&P : Why English and not maths or another subject?
Mennel : Just because I had had goods grades in English at my « baccalauréat » (the « baccalauréat » is an exam you take at the end of high school in order to continue your studies. An equivalent would be the A Levels in the UK for example).
It seemed like it was an easy and safe path to take.
Also, English is the language which is the most spoken on earth and since I’m opened to the world and I love learning, it was the perfect way to help me achieve my dreams and allow me to get in touch with all the different cultures and religions.
T&P : But music came back!
Mennel : It did (she smiles)!
I was completing my master’s degree in English. I had been teaching for two years back then and I was contacted by « The Voice France ». They had seen my first videos on Youtube and liked them. And then, I had a revelation. The journalist who was managing the auditions asked me a very simple question which had a deep impact: « You can sing really well. Why don’t you make a career out of it? ». After hearing this, I left everything behind and went for it!
I didn’t have any money left and yet, I was happy. I had just decided to live my life and to not listen to the others anymore. And I can tell you that my parents didn’t understand what was happening and there was my first controversy (she laughs).
T&P : We all know you from « The Voice France » but for a lot of people, you were already a sensation on social media. Then, you disappeared. Can you tell us more about it?
Mennel : I can! It’s true I started a Youtube channel in 2014. I wasn’t taking any classes but I posted new videos. I was not really comfortable with it. Every time I posted one, I was really stressed out. And yet, people liked them. In a few months time, I got 30 000 subscribers. It was huge for me! I went to Sweden with a friend for a professional and personal project and I decided to delete my channel.
T&P : Why?
Mennel : At that time, I lacked self-confidence. I was excited and easy to influence. My friend advised me to stop music because according to her, it was against my religion. We shared the same faith. And I listened to her.
And then, I started to have regrets and soon realized I had made the wrong decision.
A year later, I started a channel all over again. And this was when the casting director from The Voice France asked me if I wanted to participate in the contest. I saw it as a sign. I was about to become the person I always wanted to be.
T&P : We all know about the controversy that took place when you participated in The Voice so we are not going to ask you about it again, but I have a question: given the past and current climate in France, did you think that you would be welcomed differently? Do you think you should have seen it coming?
Mennel : To be honest, when it came to my identity and my voice, I was so self-confident that I felt « comfortable ». My scarf is a part of me, I began wearing it when I was eighteen. In my opinion, a girl who sings is always seen in a positive light so I didn’t think that a girl singing and wearing a turban would be a problem. It was a detail. I naively thought that singing was more important. Furthermore, I had never had any problem related to that so I thought that going on TV wouldn’t change anything. And yet, it is what was used against me.
T&P : What was your reaction the day that followed?
Mennel : At first, I really didn’t understand what was happening. I thought that there probably were only a few people who had a problem with it. And later, I realized that it was worse than what I had thought. At first, I tried to justify myself. I was fighting against stereotypes and false perceptions. Then, I just let go. I was disappointed and disgusted to see that people could be so despicable.
T&P : To sum it up, you were rejected by both your relatives and a part of the French people?
Mennel : I was indeed! I thought I couldn’t be rejected by the country where I had grown up and where I had studied etc. And this is when I had the feeling that I didn’t belong again.
T&P : And yet, you are still standing and you have released your first album. What made you hold on?
Mennel : I knew my worth and I still do. I knew what they didn’t know, the real reactions from the coaches and I knew I had gone far in the competition. I had my turban and I had beaten a lot of candidates. I set a goal for myself : I wanted to change mentalities, to reassure people by associating myself with inspiring people. Difficulties are part of the process. There is no success without a few difficulties. That’s the secret.
T&P : You moved to the United States for a while. Was it because you needed it or wanted it?
Mennel : I really needed to disconnect myself from all of it, to change my routine and see something else. It was really hard morally and physically speaking. I discovered that I had to put things into perspective. There was no controversy about my scarf etc. So I told myself that what had happened couldn’t define the rest of my life.
T&P : You released some hits and then, your first album: My Way . Is it a therapeutic album?
Mennel : Absolutely! It took time to rebuild myself. I did it alone at first and then, I surrounded myself with new relatives who now support and encourage me. I found my way at last and the road was long, it was a lot of hardwork. I think I’m not finished but I’m taking it slowly. We’ll see what comes next. Whether I’m happy or a little less happy, this is the beginning of a self-assertion.
T&P : What did you want to convey through this album?
Mennel : It is autobiographical and it represents different stages in my life.
Beautiful is about the story of my life. Forgive me is for my sister. I love you but I’m leaving is about the liberation and the suffering I went through with The Voice. Actually, it has been what triggered my artistic revelation. I’m okay is about all the suffering I had in life.
T&P : With what happened, did you fear being part of this industry? Did you fear it would start all over again?
Mennel : Not at all. I’m immune now! (She laughs).
The sadness I felt after all of that touched every fibre of my being. Nothing could compare now. Everything that will happen won’t be that important from now on. I want to be myself and I will. I want to become someone inspiring and show that you can be free when you decide to.
T&P : Do you have a message for our readers?
Mennel : I do! I’ll tell you a little story. It was 2015. I was in Paris. I took the plane and I realized something. It was rainy outside. We had taken off and a few minutes later, we were surrounded by clouds. We couldn’t see a thing. It was dark and it was raining. And then, we gradually rose above the clouds and the sky cleared up. It was blue, the weather was beautiful!
What was reality then? Was the weather good or bad in Paris?
I had my answer: when you look at things from a distance, they are beautiful. And it’s different when you look closer.
T&P : Thank you Mennel!
Mennel : Thank you!
Toukan & Palmyre