It seems perfectly reasonable to meet Dezi 5 at 4 o'clock on a Tuesday morning. There's very little about the man that is conventional. He sits at a booth inside the Deep Ellum Buzzbrews, engaged in lively conversation with a couple of strangers, the only other reminders of human life at this otherwise desolate hour. Dezi can't help but charm and entertain.
Last month, he played an impressive set at Trees during the Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase. He was a bit of a wild card, an R&B singer -- dressed in an oh-so-tight black leather jumpsuit and sunglasses -- on a bill of rock and country bands. But it didn't take long for him to win over the room with his tireless showmanship. Crown & Harp talent buyer Moody Fuqua recently called Dezi "Dallas' Prince," and it's a sensible comparison: He's a powerhouse performer and one of the most invigorating vocalists in the city today.
It's an identity that Dezman Lehman has carefully crafted, down to the name he's chosen to perform under: "I use the number five in my name because it represents power. It's my lucky number, and it also represents the Five-Percent Nation," he explains. A scandalously skin-tight top peeks through his blazer; he wouldn't be Dezi without a hint of sass. But his beginnings were humble, a fact he's not ashamed to admit. "I'm from South Dallas, born and bred," he declares. "My grandmother owned the restaurant Verne's for 30 years, and she let me practice with my friends in the attic."
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His talent is hard to ignore, so it's no surprise that he stood out early on. "One day the July Alley manager, who was next door, heard me singing and invited me to play there," Dezi recalls. This led to various gigs singing jazz at Brooklyn's and Pearl St. Bar. "With Liz Mikel, who's actually right behind us," Dezi says, "but I'm not gonna say hi because she's cutting into that steak." (Later on, when he walks over to Mikel, who recently had a significant role in the 2014 James Brown biopic Get On Up, she shrieks with joy and stands to greet him.)
In spite of his 17 years playing and studying clarinet -- time in which he also attended Florida A&M University for music -- Dezi eventually started a rock band, the Gypsy Hideout. "Every gay just wants to be a star," he jokes. That led to an invitation to join Emerald City, a Top 40 cover band that's been hugely popular since 1983. Besides playing for the Dallas Cowboys every year since he joined Emerald City in 2012, it's with them that Dezi's had the opportunity to open for the likes of Gavin DeGraw and Keith Urban. The band has accustomed Dezi to large crowds: "Every time I perform, I put myself in a bubble and imagine I'm at American Airlines Center," he says.
It's fair to say that no one else in Dallas is doing what Dezi does. He's cut from the cloth of classic pop stars. In contrast to the prevalent homages to '60s rock, Dezi 5 is a true triple threat, offering a mix of show-stopping vocals, outlandish theatricality and exuberant dance moves. The poses he strikes onstage would make believable classic rock posters -- he scorches with the fire of Tina Turner, entertaining the audience with every angle and limb. He's got a sing-for-my-supper, hustling demeanor; it's the humility of an artist who considers the spotlight both an honor and a responsibility.
Backed by a talented three-piece band, Dezi's voice particularly shines on slow R&B numbers, evoking a weathered soul and a rough life lived. But there's a deep-rooted cheeriness to his shows as well; his sets consist mostly of funk and original pop songs, such as the aggressively catchy "Dallas, Bitch." He's currently working on the release of his first EP with producer Brad Dale, whom he met after guest-singing for Ishi during 2013's Index Fest. Most of the album's original material was written by Forrest Brooks, including Dezi's first single "Lose Control" (now on iTunes), which is unapologetically upbeat and club friendly.
Even off the stage, Dezi has an uncanny ability to attract attention. It's like he was incubated in a pop machine and has marinated in a glitter solution since. Confidently outlandish, he gets a devilish kick out of turning heads. (The sparkly, feathered outfit he wore to the DOMA ceremony earned him "Best Dressed" that night.) He could pass for a couturier or Club Kid; whatever realm he's from, it's certainly more fun than ours.
Not everybody responds favorably to his aesthetic, however. Take, for instance, a show he played last year at a venue in Uptown: "The owner told me he liked the show, but he said it was too gay," Dezi recalls. "He said, 'Not everybody wants to see a blue-haired drag queen.'" Dezi 5 is openly gay and openly glam, but far from a drag queen. He explains that dismissive stereotyping only further inspires him. As a Libertarian, he's led the Party's float during Dallas' and Fort Worth's Gay Pride Parade for the last three years. He lights up recalling his favorite moment from the parade: As he sang "Proud Mary," the anti-gay protesters reluctantly began to dance, in spite of themselves and their beliefs.
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But even though Dezi is one of few openly gay singers in town, he says he has a hard time booking shows at gay clubs. As he sees it, many gay venues prefer lip-synching drag queen productions. "And I'm not in with the ones who don't," he admits. On the other hand, he does well with the more conservative Frisco and Plano crowds. He's also become involved in the Dallas art scene as of late, and marvels at the way it's been flourishing.
"They're getting all the venues," he warns. "You'd be a fool to be in the music scene and not collaborate with the artists." With that purpose, he's been playing fairly underground art shows and putting bills together with experimental musicians like Lily Taylor and Def Rain. "At the end of the day, I just want to make people dance," he says. "Don't be afraid of the avant-garde."
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