Voices

Q&A: Singer–songwriter Wé McDonald

A young woman in a white blouse and blue pants holds an embroidered tote bag in front of a brick wall.

Singer and songwriter Wé McDonald exudes wisdom and perspective far beyond her 22 years. It’s not the only thing people are surprised by when interacting with the artist. Both during her appearance on the 2016 season of NBC’s The Voice and regularly on social media, she’s gotten used to people marveling at the difference between her speaking voice and her singing voice.

Discovering Wé’s surprising contrasts may be what drives her appeal for so many fans, because she’s not shy about the struggles she’s faced to find her place in the world: Bullied as a girl for her high voice and thick glasses, she’s since turned those experiences into powerful songs and a singing voice so resonant she astounded judges on The Voice. Wé’s now committed to using her platform for good in any way she can, which is part of what drew her to working with World Vision. This Christmas, Wé’s featuring a handcrafted tote in the World Vision Gift Catalog — donations for the tote help empower kids and families to lift themselves out of poverty — and she sat down with us recently to talk about why it’s a great gift and how she’ll be celebrating Christmas this year.

Wé, how does your faith influence how you approach the Christmas season?

My faith in God keeps me humble; it keeps me strong. During the holiday season, I keep noticing that this is so much more than just me. All of it is about so much more than me.

I have my faith in God, and I have my faith in my family. Giving back is a blessing, not just to others. It’s a blessing to me because I get to see that you really do reap what you sow and if you give out good energy, you get good energy back. But that’s not to say that you do good only to get good back. You do good because it’s the right thing to do. And that’s what I always remind myself. So, I thank God for that every day.

How do you stay grounded on what matters most during the holiday season, with how busy and hectic it can be?

Staying grounded during Christmastime is actually easier than people think. When you look at all the things that you do have, it’s very easy to feel humble because a lot of the time people can think, “Oh, I don’t have this or I don’t have that,” and, “God, I really want this.”

But especially after the pandemic, you look around and go, “I’m so lucky for all the beautiful things that I do have.” If you weren’t grounded before, you definitely will be now, because look at all the beautiful things that you do have that a lot of people don’t have around the world. And that’s why I’m really blessed to work with an organization like World Vision to help out people around the world who don’t have what I have.

What do you love most about the Christmas season?

What I love most about Christmas is the sense of everybody being able to give back and the sense of family, whether you have blood relations or are really connected with the people you love. It really is beautiful to see everybody come together and be happy.

What are you looking forward to this year that perhaps you missed last year?

This Christmas, I’m really looking forward to spending time with my friends. I normally have a Christmas Eve party every year and we get to hang out, drink hot chocolate, watch The Polar Express, but, for obvious reasons, last Christmas we couldn’t do that. I have a lot of family members who are pre-disposed for a lot of things so, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do that. But this year, now that there’s vaccines and the world is opening up again, I’ll be able to have my little Christmas party.

Besides your Christmas Eve party, what’s your favorite family holiday tradition?

My favorite family tradition during Christmastime is that we all get new pajamas for Christmas Eve. We all have to wear them for Christmas Eve, or we’re not going to have a good Christmas. It’s mandatory; we have to do it. Right, Mom?

How has the World Vision Gift Catalog become part of your Christmas traditions?

World Vision has now become a part of my Christmas tradition because my sister last Christmas was like, “You know what, I want to do something different this Christmas. Let me see the Gift Catalog, Wé.” So she gave two chickens and a goat. And I was like, “You just changed an entire village!”

She was like, “Really?” I said, “Yeah, because in countries in Africa and others around the world, when one family has something, they tend to spread it out. So if one person has something, everybody has something. And two chickens and a goat, that goes a long way.”

So I think for every Christmas, we’re going to be able to give parts of it ourselves like that or gift them to people because that is something that you can do with the Gift Catalog. You can give that gift to somebody else. And you get to see progress reports on people like that and that’s really, really cool.

What made you interested in first working with World Vision?

I first became interested in working with World Vision actually from a performance that I had. I was doing some very important work with Josh Groban, which is really cool. And I got approached by a couple of people and they were like, “Hey, our organization helps people get clean water around the world.” And I was like, “Yeah? That sounds great.”

I had always wanted to be a part of a nonprofit that actually makes a huge difference and I wanted to have tangible evidence that there was going to be a difference. And I hadn’t seen that from a lot of organizations besides World Vision. So I wanted to be a part of it.

I went with Patricia Heaton to Rwanda, and that was the most amazing experience I could have asked for. As someone from America, you think that you would feel really out of place and, for a little bit, I did. But being a woman of color or being Black, you get to go to a place where you’ve never been before but it feels kind of familiar. And it felt really welcoming. The people were beautiful.

And I say this time and time again: The best part of going to Rwanda was the kids. The children are absolutely beautiful. They’re so happy. We get mad about not having internet or not having little things, like I wanted sparkling water and this is regular still water. You know, really superficial things — and they’re happy to just see people. There’s nothing that compares to seeing a child have clean water for the first time ever. I mean, how can you not have your life change when you get to see somebody experience that for the first time?

We take things for granted, like clean water. And now, we get to give that as a gift.

Speaking of gifts, why does your handcrafted gift make a great gift? What are you hoping people think about when they use this tote?

What I love most about my tote is that it’s big. I am a girl who has a lot of stuff with her at all times, and I know women don’t have pockets most of the time. When we do have pockets, they’re very shallow and it’s not fun. My tote makes a great gift because it’s very functional. You can fit a lot of things it.

So I’m happy that the bag is not only functional but also it comes from women artisans who are disabled in Viet Nam, and you get to see that their work pays off. They get fair wages and that’s very important because to be an independent woman in countries like that is almost unheard of. And it matters so much because not only are they women, but they’re disabled, and giving them something that they can hold as their own and become business savvy and be able to work well with other women, that’s an experience that you cannot take for granted. So, honestly, the fact that it’s big, it works in both ways.

When you look at the tote, the best thing that I can say is to think of a mother, a child, a sister, an aunt who made this bag and they made it for you. So you hold it a little bit closer — because the truth is that it is made for you. They make it so they can show, “I’m going to work diligently on this work specifically,” and every woman does it for every bag. And how can you not feel joy in something that you’re like, “Somebody out there made this specifically for me to enjoy”? You get to understand that there’s a story behind the bag.

So when you fill it up and you take it places, not only do you have an amazing, beautiful, cute, big bag, you have a story to tell. That’s really cool because how many times do you have an item that’s awesome with a story?

When people are using my tote, I hope that they think about all of the things that they have and all the possibilities that they gave someone, because there are so many different responsibilities that we don’t have to worry about here and you’re giving somebody a chance for change. And when you think about that, you just feel so much better.

What does it mean to you to choose joy this Christmas season?

I have to choose joy this Christmas season. There’s nothing else to choose. Honestly, again, how can I not be grateful for what I have in my life? I know a lot of people who have lost so much but they’re still grateful about the things that they do have.

So I’m super joyous about the little things, like being able to have a really good homecooked meal or being able to see my friends or being able to have the new pajamas.

That’s a huge one, just seeing people and their lives connect again with each other, because although virtual is great, we get to finally have human connection again. So that’s a huge part of my joy.

What have you been doing during the pandemic?

During the pandemic, I have been working on music, I have been doing auditions, and I have been working so hard to make sure that I am still very much relevant in social media. I got a TikTok and I love it. I love it so much. I’ve been spending time with my family, and I have a new appreciation for the people around me.

I’ve been making sure that I still have my stamp on the world and definitely branching out and taking some chances. I’ve been working on a lot of things by myself without a team. That’s very different for me. And I feel a lot closer to who I am as a young lady and a lot closer to who I am as an artist.

I am also doing a lot of songwriting and a lot of different auditions so hopefully you’ll see me on the big screen one way or another this season.

I have new music coming out closer to the holidays. I have new songs and hopefully I’ll have an EP coming out very, very soon but that’s all I can say about it. It’ll be upbeat and fun, which is different because most of the time people are used to hearing my more soulful and slower ballad side, but you’ll have upbeat, funky, fun stuff.

So I’m actually very grateful for the time during the pandemic because, it actually has helped us realize what’s really important in our lives.

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for length. Elisabeth Rickard of World Vision’s U.S. office contributed to this story. 

Get Wé’s “Bonded Together” tote with a gift of $75 or more to the World Vision Fund. And on Giving Tuesday, November 30, your gift to the World Vision Fund will be matched, up to $1 million.

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