Freida Solomon wasn't planning on meeting her idol, let alone breaking into song, when she and a friend happened to see Céline Dion on the streets of New York City last Tuesday during their lunch break. But after recognizing the once-in-a lifetime circumstance she'd found herself in — and with Mercury in retrograde, no less — The 22-year-old Morristown, NJ native decided to approach the singer's car and deliver a few lines from her classic 2002 track I Surrender.
Dion stopped the car and looked blank for a few seconds before extending her arms and thanking Solomon. Although that version of events is the full story, as is often the case in the viral ecosystem, a video that cut off after Solomon's voice cracked out of nervousness was the one that started making the rounds last week.
A friend sent me the clip on Wednesday morning over text and I hastily reposted it online with the caption: "And with a single glance, Céline eviscerated this woman." I didn't know the backstory of the video, and in that moment I didn't care. Dion's face was simply too funny not to share with the world. From my vantage point then, the video was funny not because of the cracked vocal but because of Dion's reaction — or lack thereof.
The edited video quickly made the rounds. Us Weekly reposted it, as did InStyle and Glamour. And before long, I bore witness to Solomon becoming the butt of the joke for many — with some trolls even telling her to kill herself. What began as an "LOL" moment over a botched high note became a quick lesson in how quickly the internet turns people into punching bags.
I got in touch with Solomon to hear her version of circumstances. Below is a story about context, the media, mental health and one woman's refusal to let hate win.
I want to start with an apology. This has been a teachable moment for me in terms of the importance of context and I want to take accountability for any role I may have inadvertently played in some of the hate-fueled attacks that came your way?
I hear you and know that if you would have seen the whole video you would have looked at it differently. I believe in the goodness of people and I know it wasn't with any kind of spite at all.
And I just watched a new video of yours in which you sing a cover of I Surrender and you sound beautiful.
Thank you. It was a bold move, I think a lot of people would say. But at the same time I just wanted to sing it and show people that it has a different meaning to me now and it's still such a beautiful song, but now it has a story behind it.
Feels very much like a reclaiming of a narrative that was stolen from you.
So can you recount for me all of what happened in the lead-up to this six-second or 13-second video — depending on which you've seen?
I was at work in midtown around lunchtime and I was going downstairs to get lunch with a friend. All of the sudden we see a group of people standing by the Four Seasons and then we see paparazzi and we're wondering "Who is this?" And then someone looks at us and says "It's Céline Dion." And immediately my heart dropped because for me it's my whole childhood right there, listening to that music and connecting. I knew we had to stay. So I'm thinking "maybe she'll come out; maybe she won't" and in my head I'm thinking "I have to see her," even if it's just seeing her.
And so Céline starts walking away from the swarm of fans and over to you, which you soon learn is exactly where her car is, right?
Yup. So finally Céline walks right by and I turn to my friend and ask, "Should I sing?" and she said "Yeah!". But then all of a sudden Céline jumps into the car and closes the door and I immediately thought, not only did I lose my chance to sing for her, but I lost my chance to say hi and tell her how much she means to me. But then I turn around and realize that I am literally face-to-face with her car. I see her silhouette through the window, so I start blowing her kisses and then I motioned once or twice for her to put the window down, not thinking anything of it. And then right away she rolled down the window and that's when I looked at her and right away I started with, "I just need to say right away that you have been such a humongous part of my childhood; I listened to you and Andrea Bocelli sing "The Prayer" and you have had made such an impact on my musical career and music to me." And then I told her that I've always wanted to do this and then all of the sudden I just start belting "I Surrender," shivering and shaking as I did it. And the entire time I forgot that there were other people around because I was so entranced with this moment and I was connecting with her. And she was listening and she didn't have to. There are so many different ways it could have got shown, of what they edited, but for me it was such a pure moment that will stay that pure no matter what.
So for people that have only seen the :6 version, can you contextualize what happened immediately thereafter?
She fist-bumped me and thanked me for singing to her, told me "that was beautiful" and then blew kisses and left.
And quickly comments like mine, which were made in jest, were begetting more vicious comments that veered toward downright hateful — and even violet. What was that like for you?
There were comments, horrible comments, telling me to go and kill myself. Really horrible, really painful comments. I kept telling myself that I could let them get to me — because it's easy to let yourself be taken advantage of and all of the sudden lose sight of who you are and what you have to give. I even for a second began to question if I can sing. And I grew up with a lot of things I didn't know but the confidence in my singing ability and being able to connect with people via music I never question. And I was watching people write, "She can't sing" and I was thinking, "This is a moment — and you're gonna judge me for a moment?" And my entire life just flashed before my eyes. Like all of the music throughout my life, was it just me that thought that? And then I took that and spinned it right away. I was like, "Look at my family and friends who have been telling me I can sing for years." And I kinda just snapped out of it and decided that I wasn't going to let hate win today.
So you have people seeing an out of context video of you singing, you have vitriolic comments criticizing you and you have people like me posting the video without crediting you. You mention deciding not to let hate win, so what actions did you take?
It was actually a specific moment. At first I hadn't seen the full version and finally the next day I saw that version and posted it and the response was amazing. People were having my back and saying, "See, here's the beautiful moment." And then people that didn't even know me started writing underneath the edited version, "Hey, this isn't the real thing. Look at Frieda's page." People that didn't know me had my back and it was in that moment that I realized that this was a special moment and could be blown up as a lesson. There's so many lessons here, really. One, you have to look at the full picture of something before you judge. Two, there is always going to be hate in the world but kindness always wins. And three, believe in yourself throughout everything.
And maybe this is an example of a larger problem in our culture, one that I might participate in unwittingly, taking something lighthearted and spinning it into a dark place through the pile-on effect. You obviously are a very strong person with a strong sense of spirituality, so what kind of lesson do you take away from this about the ways in which people manipulate facts. Because I see a parallel here with a lot of our current political discourse.
I love humor. I love memes. And I think that there are so many painful moments in life that we just need a laugh. And I think laughing is the best medicine. So I understand that this meme that went viral is funny because at one moment her face looks like she wasn't interested in me singing for a split second and it was funny at the time and there are some where it's not so hurtful or painful but there's a fine line and if someone doesn't know that fine line or doesn't agree with it or goes past it, it's just cruel. But at the end of the day, if it's at the expense of someone else's pain or hurting someone else and creating a community of mean people, then no, there is a fine line and I draw that line.
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So there's actually a coda to this story that many don't know: your unexpected run-in with Céline just two days later.
I was coming to work later that day and I went inside my building to go upstairs and someone was like, "You know, Céline is there again." And I thought, "You know what? I gotta do it again." But this time I'm just gonna thank you and leave. And then she finally came out — she looked stunning — and then she gets into her and instead of closing the door, she opens the door, stands on the side-step, and looking regal like a queen she starts waving. And then all of the sudden her head turns to me, she sees me and recognizes me; her eyes light up. I told her, "Thank you so much for letting me sing to you," and she said, "Of course, of course, my pleasure."
If given the opportunity to have an extended conversation with Céline, what would you want her to know?
I would want to say how thankful I am for that moment. She did not owe me that. She did not owe anyone that. She could have been exhausted and needed her space and just driven off, but she took the time to not only listen to me, but to connect to me, to validate me, to appreciate it, and I am just a fan to her. She made me feel seen and she made me feel important. And so I would want to thank her for changing my life I think. And I would also tell other people that no matter how beautiful, how successful, how famous, how wealthy a person is, they still have so many emotions and that rollercoaster of happy and sad and they're still sensitive people. Even if you have all of the support in the world having hate and painful comments can do a lot of damage to someone so I just want to say to people that no matter how successful a person is, they still have so much real emotion.
Screenshot via Instagram