I have been a huge fan of Idina Menzel since she was in Wicked almost 13 years ago. I quietly admired her work from afar -- purchasing albums, movies, and tickets; following her various appearances, performances, and interviews; and drawing inspiration from A BroaderWay, the foundation she created in support of young girls from underserved communities. I followed her social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter, but never attempted to reach out or connect with other Fanzels due to my fear of not fitting in and concern over what other people may think.
All of that changed earlier this year. I had been struggling with severe depression and anxiety and I was in need of a place where I could escape and allow myself to shed the exterior that was hiding a great deal of pain, loneliness, confusion, and self-loathing. Throughout the years, I have drawn great strength and inspiration from Idina's music, so on a whim, I decided to try interacting with some of her fans in hopes of finding others who might be able relate. I quickly discovered that in not allowing myself to actively engage with the fandom in the past, I had unknowingly deprived myself of a group that has since become a source of great joy and comfort in my life.
Here are five things I have learned from Idina's fans:
5. Everyone has a story. As a thirty-something, I am actually one of the older Fanzels. I have discovered that while many of my fellow fans are a great deal younger than I am, many of us have faced very difficult struggles and have stories that can absolutely break your heart one minute and provide you with hope and inspiration the next--all of which have left me in absolute awe of the strength and resilience humans can possess. While many of us have turned to Idina's music to heal our broken hearts and have used the lyrics and words she has shared with us throughout the years as a source of strength, healing, and inspiration--we are so much more than her fans. We are students, parents, survivors, artists, musicians, theatre lovers, wanderers, dreamers, and achievers--people with beautiful hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
4. There are fandoms where fans are actually very supportive of each other. And, no, it is not a cult. Earlier this year, I attended one of Idina's concerts with my best friend. I was really struggling that day, and really had to push myself to be okay with actually going to the concert. I had always hoped that I would one day be able to meet and sing with Idina, but never allowed myself to believe that it would ever happen. I have always believed that good things happen to people when they need them the most, and this certainly rang true for me that day when Idina chose me to sing a part of "Take Me or Leave Me" with her. I trained classically when I was younger, but I drastically overestimated my ability to sing and function with her standing right next to me! I completely bombed, but having the opportunity to meet Idina, sing very badly with her, and hug her was an absolute dream come true and truly meant the world to me. I shared about the experience with the fandom, and I was amazed at how supportive everyone was. It has been an absolute joy to watch other fans who have been able to meet her and have been acknowledged by her through occasional Q&As and random posts. While I am no longer surprised, I never cease to be amazed at how genuinely supportive and kind Idina's fans have been to one another.
3. I finally feel like I belong. All my life, I have searched for a true sense of belonging and acceptance--something I have rarely had the opportunity to experience. I was immediately accepted into the fandom, and it has been an incredibly liberating feeling to not have to hide my excitement and pride when Idina shares news, photos, and her random thoughts with her fans. I have been able to fangirl freely and not feel judged, and I find joy in knowing that I am surrounded by people who appreciate Idina and her work as much as I do.
2. Friendships formed online can be very real and some of the most genuine friends you will ever (sort of) meet. Through the fandom, I have met so many amazing people--a number of whom I consider friends. They are people with whom I can laugh, lean on when I am having a rough day, celebrate successes, fangirl, and feel like I am a part of something truly amazing. While it was Idina who brought my friends and I together, it has ultimately been our shared experiences, mutual respect, and our ability to understand and be there for each other that have kept us going.
1. If I am struggling, someone will be there. I have had really rough days since becoming an active member of the fandom. The days when I felt so worthless and wanted nothing more than to give up were the days when I discovered that, after spending most of my life feeling very alone and invisible, people saw my struggles and actually cared. Many of us in the fandom have faced many demons in our past and continue to do so on a daily basis. Some of us choose to share glimpses of those struggles, while others brave their battles in silence. Regardless of what we are going through, the support is there, and the words of understanding, acceptance, and love have made all the difference in the world.
I believe that the type of fans a star has says a lot about that star as well, and I feel Idina's fandom very much personifies many facets of who she is. I am very proud to be a member of a group of fans who exude an unbelievable amount of strength, integrity, vulnerability, wisdom, compassion, humor, wit, talent, kindness, loyalty, empowerment, inspiration, encouragement, and love for others. I have found it so incredibly easy to open my heart to this truly amazing and inspiring group of people, and I am so thankful and honored to have them in my life.