Watch: MJ Rodriguez Has 'Something to Say' as Singer Michaela Jaé

Saturday August 21, 2021
Originally published on August 17, 2021

MJ Rodriguez is having quite a summer. She recently received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, becoming the first out trans woman to do so in the category, for her work on "Pose" as Blanca Evangelista, with some experts predicting a win.

She also has an alias — singer Michaela Jaé, who recently released her first single  "Something to Say," which is being described by the French website TÊTU as "a terribly catchy song with funk accents."

In an interview with People Magazine about the song, she said "the song represented everyone and what we were going through collectively as human beings on the Earth, in the time of Covid-19 and elections and the Black Lives Matter movement. This was all happening while we were getting the song together, so we wanted it to really speak to everyone. We wanted also to let people know, within the song, that no matter the color of your skin, no matter the orientation, no matter the sexuality, no matter how you navigate through the world, we can really bring people together if we use our voices as one. Why not do it through joy? Why not do it through happiness? Why not do it through empowerment and liberation? That was the main goal of the song. I want to make you smile all the time, so if I did that, I'm happy."

Asked if her dual personalities — MJ and Michaela Jaé — "was like a Beyoncé-Sasha Fierce persona kind of thing," MJ said, "Everyone has been saying that! Mj Rodriguez, in the very beginning when I was starting out in my acting career, I was like, "This is the person that is the prestigious, classy, well put together actress." Versus Michaela Jaé, she is the diva, she is the shark, the songstress. That's the true me; that's the person that's inside of Mj, is Michaela Jaé, so I wanted people to really get a glimpse of who I am aside from the actress that they see on the television screen."

MJ admits to having been hooked on Michael Jackson when she was 5. Other influences came from artists like Chaka Khan, Luther Vandross, Phyllis Hyman and Gladys Knight whom her mother and uncle listened to. "I started creating this whole image and persona for myself at the age of literally 5 through 16. Even though I was young and I didn't have any space to really delve into the music industry, I just kept building on myself and kept making sure I honed my craft because I love singing and music. Those were my inspirations, and I keep them close to my heart with a lot more new ones that are around now, like Doja Cat and Chloe x Halle and SZA. I love all of them," she told People.

The acting role of Blanca Evangelista made MJ a star, but she trained as a vocalist in R&B and classical. She attended the prestigious Berklee School of Music before getting her first break as Angel in an off-Broadway production of "Rent," which won her the 2011 Clive Barnes Award. Small television roles followed,  including "Nurse Jackie," "The Carrie Diaries," and "Luke Cage," her performance in the latter show as "Sister Boy" also marked the first appearance of both a transgender actress and character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She appeared in numerous other theater productions both in New York and regionally, and starred in the 2017 film "Saturday Night," which earned her a nomination for Best Actress at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.

She was cast in "Pose" in 2017. Her recent nomination makes her the first transgender woman to receive an Emmy Award nomination in a major acting category.

MJ also spoke of trans representation in the music industry. "There's not a lot of trans women who are in the music industry. I don't, unfortunately, have that right now, but I do see a lot of my sisters who are in my age bracket who are part of the next generation, which I'm living for, like Kim Petras. The girls are showing up. That's my inspiration. If I had any kind of mentorship, it would be my sisters out here really pushing and making it happen for all of us. Hopefully one day we will be the mentors to the ones that are coming after us. How Michael Jackson and Beyoncé and Chaka Khans were my mentors to look up, hopefully down the line, these young ones look to me and say, "I want to be her."