Tori Kelly Spills All About Her ‘QuaranTea With Tori’ Live Stream
Two weeks ago, Tori Kelly’s Inspired By True Events Tour joined the ever-growing list of concert tour cancellations amid the ongoing threat of COVID-19. But it didn’t take her long to announce her next tour, which, she shares with a laugh, allows her to stay in sweatpants.
Kelly and her team, including manager Scooter Braun, figured the best way to make up for her axed tour dates would be to bring the show to her fans in the most true-to-form way possible. The daily Instagram Live show, titled “QuaranTea With Tori,” features surprise guests (Alessia Cara, JoJo, Jessie J) and raw acoustic performances, much like the covers that propelled the vocal powerhouse her into fans’ YouTube recommended pages a decade ago. Kelly admits the stream, which earned its name from her longtime meet-and-greet contest “Tea With Tori,” has already continued her tour traditions even without the glamour of a live show.
“I think because I was already in the mindset [of] going on tour for two months, I was mentally prepared for that,” Kelly tells PopCrush. “So when I got home to do the live stream, it just felt so natural because I was already in that mode of performing for people. In some ways it does feel like I’m on tour still, even though it’s from my home.”
While it’s keeping fans entertained, Kelly admits the show has helped her stay grounded during the global pandemic and current social-distancing regulations. For her, the show is more than just a reason to play some deep cuts or covers; it’s a return to her roots. “It makes me wonder why I didn’t do something like this sooner but I guess, because of the circumstances, it forced me to get creative. Everything happens for a reason. But it feels so natural, like it just feels like this is what I should be doing.”
PopCrush caught up with the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter after her March 27 live show to discuss “QuaranTea With Tori,” her latest record, Inspired By True Events, and what it means for women artists to support each other.
Where did the idea for a daily live show stem from?
When everything started getting cancelled all across the board. I was on tour and had to cancel for obvious reasons. When that started happening, me and my whole team just started [having] little ideas pop into our heads around [doing] a live stream. The idea to do it everyday didn’t come up until Scooter [Braun] and I were talking and he was like, ‘This is a great time to go back to your roots.’ He was encouraging me because I forget sometimes just where I came from. He just reminded me, ‘This is what you do. You started out posting YouTube videos, so just go back to your roots and connect with the fans.’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely, that’s what I need to do.’ So the idea was just super organic and then I started reaching out to different artists to see if they wanted to hop on. That’s been really fun, too, because everyone’s available right now.
How does it feel to be reconnecting with your roots in this sense?
It’s amazing. It makes me wonder why I didn’t do something like this sooner but I guess, because of the circumstances, it forced me to get creative. Everything happens for a reason. But it feels so natural, like it just feels like this is what I should be doing. And it’s helped keep me sane a little bit, too, because I wake up and I know I have something planned for the day. At 1 p.m. every day, I have to put some makeup on, throw some stuff in my hair and I still stay in sweatpants, which is a treat. But it’s nice to just have something to get ready for.
So far, fans have requested Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Ariana Grande covers, and a few deep cuts and bonus tracks from your albums. I know you played “Talk” [album cut from Unbreakable Smile]. Are the requests surprising you at all?
Some of them are a little bit surprising. I really like it when people throw a curve ball at me, it keeps me on my toes. And I cheat a little bit. I usually have my computer in front of me so I can look up the lyrics and some chords and stuff.
What have been some of your favorite requests?
I’ve actually been keeping track of the songs. Someone requested “Jealous” by Labrinth, which was cool because I love that song. “Ain’t It Fun” by Paramore was a fun one. If I don’t know it on guitar, I’ll just sing it a cappella. Also, I did “Hero” by Mariah Carey. And when I had Alessia Cara on, we did some impressions back and forth.
You had a bit of an Ariana cover day. Do you think, as this continues, certain shows will start seeing themes?
That’s interesting because I think once Alessia did an Ariana Grande impression, people were like, ‘Sing more Ariana!’ People definitely have some themes in mind when I’m looking at different requests. It’s just so much fun for me, in a selfish way.
You’ve had plenty of special guests so far. How does it feel to have other musicians participate and be supportive?
I loved what [Jessie J] said [in one of the streams] because it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot, but she just articulated it so well. She was just talking about being supportive of each other. She was mainly speaking artist to artist, but specifically [about] female artists. We were talking about how we’re all quarantined right now and so we’re all connected through the internet because no one else has anything to do. And it’s so easy to ask someone like Jessie J, ‘Hey, hop on my live stream.’ And her point was that it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Look how easy it was today. We should be able to connect and reach out and support each other as artists.
The live stream makes things a bit easier for fans during this time and it certainly connects artists, but as you mentioned, it’s given you a bit of structure. How does it feel to continue your tour remotely?
It’s so cool that people are even wanting to watch, wanting to get on there. I’m just grateful. And another thing that just came to mind that Jessie said that I think was very powerful, is that during the quarantine the hope is that people realize that we as ‘celebrities,’ or whatever you want to call us, we’re really just like everyone else. I think she made a really good point that we’re not the heroes.
We’re not the ones on the front lines. You get to really see the true heroes: the doctors and the nurses and the people restocking food at grocery stores... Those are the true heroes and it was so, so cool to hear her say that. We're just like everyone else. We're all struggling through this and trying to support each other and work together.
A lot of requests for the live stream fall back on your new album, Inspired By True Events — “Sorry Would Go A Long Way,” “Coffee,” etc. Months after its release, how does it feel to know fans are still connecting with this record as much as they are?
Any time I put out an album, it’s amazing to see the different songs that people connect to. And I’m getting a really big sense of that through the live streams, too, based on what they’re requesting. I think it’s a really cool way to tell what fans are connecting to as far as my own music [goes].
What’s the best part about bringing this live show to fans, despite the cancellations?
My one concern, and it’s not that crazy of a concern, it's actually kind of a cool problem to have: that I'll just run out of songs because I'm trying to do songs that I haven't done in previous live streams just to keep it fresh. On tour, I would do the same show every single night so I'm trying not to get too hung up on that. I just want to give people a nice mixture of all of my songs because I have the new album, I have the gospel album, I have my very first album, and then all the old school EPs and covers that I've done.
There’s been plenty of requests for your gospel record, Hiding Place. Are you glad fans want to hear it?
[I love] when I see people requesting songs from the gospel record, because that is so close to my heart. My faith has always been super important to me. And when I put that album out, it was one of the things where I'm not thinking about the success of it or the numbers or anything like that. I just want to get the songs out there for people to hear. That just really warms my heart when I see people requesting them and just really connecting with those songs specifically, because I do get a lot of requests for those. I was just on a live stream with Steph Curry and he had a worship night with different artists in Christian music. I went on there and did one of my songs. That was a special honor.
What else are you doing to keep up during this? You mentioned something in an Instagram caption about finding inspiration during the strangest times. Has this helped your creative output?
I feel so blessed that I have a studio now. It's a fairly new studio. It’s this separate room that I'm actually in right now. It's my little sanctuary and, especially now more than ever, I'm so thankful that I have it because I have to be home. I'm just finding myself being more creative than usual. Hopefully, some good songs [will] come out of this quarantine.
Do you think you’ll try any new songs on the live stream?
I might. I thought about it. I get nervous, but I might. We’ll see, we’ll see...
What do you hope fans will take away from all this?
I’ve gotten messages from moms who suddenly have to homeschool their kids. I’ve gotten messages that it’s an awesome hour for them because it’s something they can have to fill their day. I mean, that is really all I can ask for. If I can offer any sort of hope or just a fun hour for people to be entertained and have fun and sing along to what I'm singing, I think that's really what my job is. I hope people are enjoying it.
“QuaranTea With Tori” streams live every day at 1 p.m. PST on Tori Kelly’s Instagram.