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Jim Verraros: Rollercoaster Life

by Lawrence Ferber

Jim Verraros didn't win the title of American Idol when he appeared on the show's first season in 2002. But he proudly holds the honor of being its first out gay finalist—and believe you him, there are plenty more to come.

'I look at the show now thinking 'my God, who isn't gay on this episode?'' he admits. 'Do the contestants know [ they're gay ] and are they open about it [ behind the scenes ] ? That's how I was. Everyone knew on the show, I didn't hide it, and it was so easy for me to just be. If the contestants feel pressured to keep their sexuality under wraps for the fear of losing a fan base, I'm a living example that staying true to yourself pays off. I hope if there is someone gay on there they will come out. It does so much good, I think.'

Indeed. Verraros' indie CD, Unsaid & Understood, won a 2004 Out Music Award. And now the multitalented cutie is hitting high speed with his Koch Records debut, Rollercoaster, and a co-starring role in Q. Allan Brocka's brisk and sexy comedy, Eating Out.

In the film, Verraros plays the romantically frustrated Kyle, a young gay boy with a crush on Marc ( Ryan Carnes of Desperate Housewives ) , a hottie who doesn't even know he's alive. To Kyle's excitement and chagrin, Marc has the hots for Kyle's roommate, Caleb ( Scott Lunsford ) , a straight guy playing gay to attract Marc's fag hag, Gwen ( Emily Stiles ) .

While appearing on American Idol, Verraros—who would famously sign interpret for his deaf parents—caught Brocka's attention ( the writer/director is a big AI fan and even wrote weekly reviews of the show for The Advocate's Web site last year ) and was approached with the script. 'It was right after the show so I was very leery of taking on anything offered out of the blue like that,' Verraros recalls. 'I read the script and laughed my ass off. I was like, you know what, I have to be a part of this.'

Verraros' new album, Rollercoaster, is a sizzling dish of smoldering rock and funky pop a la George Michael. It was produced and co-written by Gabe Lopez, with fellow American Idol finalist Angela Peel supplying backup and lyrics on several numbers. To dish and discuss Eating Out, riding the Rollercoaster, and other ( potentially ) gay American Idol personalities, I rang up the Chicago-born/based Verraros.

LF: First, let's talk about your coming out, which was a bit of a scandal—while you were a contestant on the show, it was discovered that you maintained a rather damning online journal.

JV: I don't think it was a scandal. It was turned into a scandal. I was going to Columbia in Chicago at the time and keeping a LiveJournal. It was very typical 'hey cute boys.' Whatever. I would write in it as the show went on and once [ the producers ] found out they told me to take it down. I was like OK, no biggee. I didn't realize the show would be as big as it was, and people found it, copied every entry I posted and made several Web sites for it. It blew up. I was like 'holy shit, this is crazy, why do these people care?' OUT Magazine made me one of 2002's Most Intriguing People. The Advocate had been leaving countless numbers of messages on FOX's voicemail and FOX never told me anything about that. I think FOX was trying to keep it under wraps, which was fine and understandable. But as soon as The Advocate found my home phone number in Chicago I told them I would come out with them, that I was just waiting for the right time. So I did. I came out in January of 2003 and I don't regret it at all. It was the best thing I could have done for myself.

LF: Do you have a LJ or blog now?

JV: No, I sure don't. Uh-uh. I think its better this way. I don't need to be judged any more than I am now.

LF: How similar to Kyle, your Eating Out character, are you?

JV: Honestly? Too similar. He's the dork in the film and then Marc, who's played by Ryan Carns, is the hottie I would totally want in real life! Marc doesn't pay any attention to me and calls me Kevin instead of Kyle. I've definitely gone through that. I just found it so easy to relate to and become Kyle.

LF: Did Allan try and push your boundaries, like 'let's have more nudity'?

JV: No, no. He made me feel really, really comfortable through the whole process. During the credits there's an [ intimate ] scene with me and Ryan. I was so scared shitless. I was taking off my shirt and there are like nine people around [ on set ] ! And there's Ryan who makes me look like an ass. I had to bite the bullet and do it.

LF: Moving on to Rollercoaster, did this album come together quickly or over time?

JV: We probably worked on it for a year and a half. We had about 40 songs and trimmed it down to 11. It was a pretty long process. Coming off of American Idol I knew I had a lot to prove to a lot of people. And within the [ other ] top 10 [ finalists ] on the show! We're kind of competing to see who can sell more records or who looks the best. Even though that's not said, there's that competition feeling.

LF: Rollercoaster is very much a rock and funky pop album—is this a style and genre you're particularly enamored to?

JV: I always thought it was pretty diverse. I think it's a lot edgier and sexier than any of the other Idol [ contestants ] have put out. At the same time it's so top 40, there are a lot of single-worthy elements on it. As a musician I'm influenced by so many people that there's no way in hell I could stick to one genre of music. I love so many different artists, from Green Day to Tina Turner to Janet to Justin Timberlake and George Michael. As far as why this genre, it's something I feel people are gonna connect with and I can connect with. If I heard somebody else put out my record I would probably buy it! It's a fun record.

LF: You wrote or co-wrote most of the songs. What's the most personal song on the album?

JV: 'Outside.' I wrote that about being gay bashed for a long time. I didn't have it easy at all. Being overweight and quite a bit more effeminate than the guys in my age group, I was a gymnast for seven years and on the cheerleading squad as a mascot. I did things I loved even though they were deemed gay or whatever, but all of a sudden [ the abuse ] got so bad I stopped being a gymnast and gained more weight. And I wasn't even out! I didn't understand how I could be pinpointed for something I wasn't even ready to tell the world yet.

LF: I hope you haven't been bashed since then.

JV: Oh, I have. A couple of weeks ago I went ice-skating with my best friend, Becky. We were walking to her car and this group of 13-year-olds started calling me 'faggot' for no reason! Because I wore tight jeans or something. I came out on the cover of our local paper, and it was referred to at the paper as the 'faggot issue.' I'm not stupid or oblivious to it, but I'm not afraid of it. I'm prepared for it.

LF: What about 'Welcome to Hollywood?' What are your feelings about tinseltown, having resided there while making American Idol and Eating Out?

JV: I think the lyrics speak for themselves. I think it's very seedy, it's very let me introduce myself to you because I need to get ahead in life, what red carpet event are you going to tonight? But I try to stay away from that and surround myself with good people. Then there are times when I loved it. The weather is beautiful and gorgeous, there's a comfort in LA [ because ] you can be whoever you want to be. Gay is soooo not a big deal there. There's comfort knowing I can't be gay bashed as much there. Such a different world.

LF: What's the strangest or creepiest thing that happened to you in Hollywood?

JV: I was standing at a urinal and someone looked at me while I was peeing, [ recognized me ] , and was like 'oh my god, holy shit, what's going on?' I was like 'are you kidding me? We can talk after. Let me wash my hands. And you should wash yours, too.'

LF: Do you stay in contact with any of your AI finalists?

JV: As far as the Top 10 goes, no. We're all kind of all over the country right now. Kelly Clarkson's so busy. Sometimes you have to do your own thing and keep separate. I miss them a lot; we've all gone through big changes in our lives together. No matter what I will love them.

LF: Do you ever look at Clay Aiken and wince?

JV: Here's my thing. I don't like talking about him. To me, it's very funny to see how the gay community is very curious about him. If he's not paying attention to the gay community why should we [ pay attention to him ] ? We don't need people like him. He's clearly uncomfortable with his sexuality and in the gay community we need people who are not afraid to be themselves. So I look at Clay and he's a lost cause to me. I think he's boring, I don't like him, his music is vanilla and white bread, and I'm not impressed. In an interview recently I said my album is very anti-Clay Aiken and his little 'Claymates' just rided after me like I was some sick person. Like 'You wish you were in his shoes!' I'm like, actually no I don't. I'm really happy being out and at least I know who I am. And I don't really want Barry Manilow fans. Sorry. I'm here to prove a point and be sexy and edgy and stand out from all the Idols.

LF: What about Miss Cowell? Gay?

JV: Hmmm. He's just ambiguous to me.

LF: He's been more explicitly hetero recently, making lewd remarks about female contestants.

JV: Yeah, he's so weird. I think he plays it up though, trying to expand his fanbase or something. I don't know.

LF: He rolls up his little lycra sleeves onscreen ... come on!

JV: I know. But honestly, he's very gay friendly. I know he is. He would never not put a contestant in the top 10 because they were gay. But ... he has a weird vibe. Very metrosexual. I remember coming out to him and he was like 'Jim, we knew when you opened your mouth.' He was fine and very lighthearted about it. He's a good guy, he's funny. Yeah, he made me look like an ass on the show, but I wasn't the best. I could have done better. He says things to get a rise out of people.

LF: Did being on the show have an effect on your sex or love life?

JV: Nope. Everyone thinks I'm a bitch, actually.

LF: Why?

JV: I'm very quiet when I go out. I have a drink, look down and chew gum and a lot of people think I come off as a bitch. It's not true. It's just self-consciousness. I used to be overweight until I was 19. After I lost 80 pounds the response was ridiculous. I put myself through that hell and now you pay attention? I wasn't prepared for it and it left an unsettling feeling with me. The more I learned about the gay community the more body conscious and stressed I got. I wanted to be that beautiful guy and approach a beautiful guy. And even now I can't. I think a lot of it has to do with being overweight and being judged.

LF: When you lost the weight did you revel in the attention or think screw you, you didn't help me bake the bread so you can't have a slice.

JV: It was a little bit of both. It depended on how the person approached me. There's that up and down look that makes you feel gross and then that genuine 'how are you?' approach. So it depends on the person. I try not to be jaded and keep an open mind about everyone.

LF: Would you say you have a mentor or idol?

JV: George Michael would be it. I met him last year.

LF: Was he the one at the urinal?

JV: No! ( laughs ) He was doing an autograph signing at Virgin on Sunset Boulevard. I needed to meet him because you have that thing where you dream about meeting a person you admire so much you want to make sure they live up to all your expectations. And he did. I watched him for so long, how he was with all his fans. He was so incredibly sweet and warm. I didn't want anything from him. I didn't wait in line to get a picture or autograph. I just wanted to give him a copy of my demo to say 'hey, you helped create this. You're amazing and I respect what you do and everything that's happened in your life, I just want to say thank you.' So I gave him something as opposed to asking for something. He would definitely be someone I would love to collaborate with in the future.

LF: What do your parents think of your appearance in Eating Out?

JV: My dad has not watched it, he will not see it. His choice. And I can understand that. He's been really amazing as far as dealing with my sexuality. Sometimes they're just not ready. It's hard for parents to see their child engaging in that type of thing and that's fine. My mother saw it twice. She and I have watched it at home together and she loved it. I have to interpret for her for most of it, but she loved it and is proud of it and happy for me. And Ryan's on Desperate Housewives now and she's like 'oh, you kissed a celebrity, how exciting!' She's very gay friendly, very with it. She's grown up with gay friends and living in a deaf world she's come a long way. As far as my career is concerned they're very see-it-to-believe-it type of people. So even though I say I have a record coming out they're like 'OK, that's cool. Will you sell more records than Kelly Clarkson?'

LF: Do you want to act more?

JV: It depends on the project. If it sends a good message or I can relate to or if it's funny or can make me grow within the craft then definitely. I don't want to be playing boys-next-door roles for the rest of my life. I want to play a crack whore! That druggy! Gritty roles.

LF: Who are you gonna vote for on AI this season?

JV: I like Mario and I love Mikalah. I think she's adorable and spunky and so pretty. She reminds me of Nelly Furtado a bit.

LF: Would you do a duet with Clay?

JV: Never.

LF: But you could help him come out.

JV: No. I wouldn't. Uch. I couldn't. I'd rather duet with Kelly or George Michael. Oh no. Gross.

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