Last week I had the great pleasure of speaking with the adorable Jim Verraros about his American Idol roots, the Eating Out movie franchise, and life in the music business. He was as sweet as he is handsome, and was delightful to talk to.
Read the entire interview after the jump and hear about the inevitable post-Idol crash, being an openly gay artist, the changing importance of music industry labels, seeing yourself onscreen, and how getting back to basics lead to an inspiring discovery about his own voice.
Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds is available on DVD beginning today! Go pick up a copy.
Q: First things first... did you watch the Idol finale?
Jim Verraros: [laughs] Of course, I like to be on top of the show. I'll be honest, I really didn't care for this season much at all... I kept hoping that there'd be a personality that'd jump out eventually, but no one really had that star quality.
JV: When it got down to the final two I picked the better vocalist, which was clearly Jordin. She's so young, so it'll be very interesting to see what they'll mold her into and how well she does in record sales compared to the other winners.
Q: Some of the feedback we heard Jordin and others getting from the panel of judges seemed like it would be hard to get "action items" from... During season one, how did you handle getting cryptic or hazy advice from the judges.
JV: Well, I think you take what makes sense to you from every judge. Paula tends to be very positive. Randy is kind of inconsistent, sometimes he'll say good things that make sense, other times he's a canine and just barks at the contestants.
JV: Simon, although harsh at times, tends to be the most right on. As contestants, you do the best you can and choose good songs.
Q: The contestants' relationship with Paula, of course, is much warmer and supportive than with Randy/Simon -- especially when some of those bad song choices come into play.
JV: Well, I think it's different with her seeing as she's actually been there as an artist. So she knows the challenges and hardships you have to face and overcome.
Q: One thing that I've been impressed with is how you've consistently stood up for her when there are such wild accusations and rumors going around about her.
JV: Yeah, I adore her and got to see her again back in January [when the Nevada Ballet Theater honored her as 'Woman of the Year']. It was myself, Mandisa, Paris Bennett, Anthony Federov, Lisa Tucker and Melissa McGhee.
JV: Seeing Paula after not seeing her for four years was so nice... she's been so great. She's had my album since it came out and has been so supportive. She's an amazing woman and has always been there for me... so I in turn am just doing what I feel is right.
Q: What we see on TV is basically what you get in real life?
Q: This month you were on the Feast of Fools podcast and were talking about some of the changes that American Idol has seen since the first season.
JV: Yeah, I love Marco and Fausto [who host Feast of Fools], they've been awesome as well. It's been amazing to see the transformation of the sets, and the money that's been invested into the show since the first season. We were just such guinea pigs... taken every which way, and just had to go with it.
Q: I imagine a lot was happening on the fly... with the producers having learned some from the UK's Pop Idol, but really not knowing which direction it would go in the states.
JV: Exactly... with the failures of Popstars and the eventual decline of Star Search I don't know if they knew [viewers would] buy into it.
Q: You met Will Young during the Season 1 finale of American Idol. How did he help you, considering he was also an openly gay artist finding success through the reality show?
JV: He was amazing. I actually got to reunite with him back in L.A. while I was recording my follow-up last month. We talked a lot and surprisingly enough he remembered me from our first meeting back in 2002.
JV: Although the UK's market is much different than ours, he didn't regret his decision. And I think that was what I wanted to know. He was really reassuring and pretty much solidified my decision to come out publicly later that year.
Q: There'd already been pretty widespread speculation about your sexuality after your LiveJournal was spotted. But it was never an issue with producers or "the show," correct?
JV: Never. No one had told me to "water it down, " or keep my mouth shut about my sexuality. I was open with everyone, including the contestants and staff.
Q: You jumped from the show right into a 30-city-in-40-days tour... then Idol was over and gone. What was "the aftermath" like?
JV: That took a toll on me pretty hard. I moved to L.A. to pursue a career, and worked in a tanning salon right after the tour. It was a bit of depression, especially when I'd try to take meetings with people... they just looked at my like they didn't know what to do with me.
JV: I didn't want to do music right away [after the tour] because of the beating I had taken on the show... So I just worked and made friends and focused on gathering audition material and doing the cattle call thing...
JV: Then I got an e-mail from Allan Brocka who directed and wrote Eating Out, who thought I'd make a great Kyle. So I went in and auditioned, got the role, and submitted three songs to the soundtrack. I went from being down to shooting a film in just a month. And then luckily, they asked me back to do the sequel... after reading the script there was no way I'd say no to it.
Q: Eating Out 2: Sloppy Seconds has been climbing up the Amazon.com DVD Bestsellers list, too... I saw today where it had moved from # 305 to #185 overnight!
JV: The sequel did?
JV: Holy shit! That is crazy... wow!
JV: I remember when the first one came out, it was number one at the Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood. Beating out all of the hollywood blockbusters. So the director went in and took a picture of it on the shelves listed as #1.
JV: It has been a wild ride doing those films... because you're thinking to yourself, "Yeah, they're cute... but are people really going to like it?" And then the reviews come in and you're like, "Yikes. That's not good..." But the people don't care, they love it anyway.
Q: Do you think that reviewers were expecting something different than what the film was attempting to be?
JV: Oh totally. I think because we're doing gay film, they expect more. Something like Latter Days. But the thing is, that we always see the downsides to being gay. This one is so fun and treats gay and straights as equals. Sure, we didn't spend millions of dollars making it because it's tough to sell a gay film.
JV: Most people don't make their money back because of the small audiences, but those audiences are growing fairly quickly and there are definitely people out there that love to laugh and enjoy comedy. This is just one of those movies that you can invite a big group of people over with some cocktails and laugh your ass off.
JV: When I go to the festivals, it's the broadest demographic you've ever seen. The people sitting there and laughing... ranges from all types of gay men and women. So it's great that we can sell it to everyone.
Q: Was it a lot easier going in to film the sequel than the first film?
JV: Yeah... I adjusted pretty well to the whole filming of a movie the first time around too, but with Rebekah and Emily coming back it made it so much more fun. We had the chemistry, and it made my job so much easier. We shot both films in just ten short days [each] so you don't get a lot of time to fuck up your lines.
Q: Ten days?!?
JV: Yeah. Crazy, huh? I probably had one or two takes at most for every scene I was in. We just didn't have the time, which gets tricky. You never know what take they'll use, and when you see the final product you always cringe because you KNOW that if you had two or more takes, you could've done better. That's the shitty thing about editing -- [as an actor] you have no control over it.
Q: [laughing] "No, don't use that take... I made a funny face!"
JV: Totally! I hate that. When they get a bad side of your face, or your mouth twitches all funny and you fixate on it. Ugh, it's terrible.
Q: And then it's all you see whenever you watch. Like home movies, but 100 times worse knowing that the rest of the world is seeing it too.
JV: That's how I felt when I was on Idol. All these stupid things they caught me doing, I was just a total dork. But America liked it, so it work out okay [laughing]. I like to think I've come into myself now.
Q: At some point during or after Idol did you just sit down and say "I need a makeover!" or was it something that just progressed and happened?
JV: Well, I was really close with Ryan Starr while I was on Idol and she just kept telling me what a perfect nose I had and how my eyes were pretty. So she was like, "Grow out of it already. You're not 85 pounds heavier anymore." I was 235 when I was 19. I think I held onto a lot of those insecurities and I had JUST lost it before the show aired, so I was very insecure and trying to just come off "not fat" on camera.
Q: You've also been working on your next album, which you mentioned earlier.
JV: Yeah! Which I'm SO psyched for... I'm working with Gary Miller and John Porter who worked with Nick Lachey, Kylie Minogue and Enrique Iglesias.
Q: George Michael has been a huge musical influence of yours.
JV: I'd love to be an artist like that... where twenty years from now, they'll still play my music and it'll be just as relevant.
Q: I still get goosebumps sometimes when I listen to "Freedom 90" really loud.
JV: Oh totally. His ballads too. Just that tone - and his voice just exudes sex without even trying. I don't know, I just always wanted to have that vibe to my music.
Q: Can we expect more of that in your new tracks?
JV: Yeah, definitely. It's not this huge departure from the first record, it's just a more cohesive sound.
Q: On Rollercoaster you enjoyed a lot of creative freedom with your label. You're shopping the new album around to labels at the moment... do you think you'll be as lucky with a new label as far as the amount of control they'll want?
JV: I guess it depends on the type of label... It's an interesting time for artists right now. Labels SUCK. Especially the majors. But if I want to be a Top 40 artist, they're the only ones with enough money to push songs to radio. It's a bit of a catch-22. I think above everything, I want to sign with a label that believes in me, first and foremost. Then, I think if I were to be in that position, everything else would just fall into place.
JV: Indies are just thriving right now... and there are all these issue with the majors, I may just do it myself. But I feel that there were a lot of songs that suffered on Rollercoaster because it just wasn't pushed hard enough. And I don't want that to happen this time around.
Q: With the technologies in place today, self-publishing has become a more and more viable option for artists.
JV: With MySpace and YouTube... ANYONE can be an artist, which is very interesting. Being able to reach 32,000 people by posting ONE bulletin or blog entry is definitely nice to have.
Q: Does the fact that there is such a low barrier to entry now overcrowd the market, or is there room for all?
JV: I think it depends on the artist. I think there's room for anyone that's got the talent and drive. The fans will come to you if your music is solid, and you've got some sort of a message, you know? I think people can read artists really well and can see if you're a poptart, or if you've got something to say. America's definitely not stupid... and the people (rather than the outlets like radio and MTV) are controlling [which artists] deserve to be bigger than they are. They know what they want to hear, and if they don't like the radio station they go to one they do like.
Q: The music business is becoming more of a democracy without the industry gatekeepers.
Q: How has your process differed in putting together tracks for Rollercoaster vs. your new album?
JV: Well, I've got management who decides quite a bit on my behalf (They also want the hits. [laughing]) And I've never been more frustrated. BUT... They know what they're talking about and they want the best for me, as well. They see promise in me as an artist, so they're just trying to make sure I get the best deal possible. So I have to look at it like that... It's a business and everyone involved wants to make some money.
Q: You said elsewhere that one of the things that you've focused on is the basic SONG itself, that your preview tracks need to stand on their own with just piano or guitar. What kind of discoveries has that lead to?
JV: That I actually LIKE my voice. [laughing]
Q: Was that surprising?
JV: I was a little suprised, yeah... I've been so used to hearing it on all this production that when you strip it down to acoustic guitar or just piano, you're completely naked. You pick up on other things about your voice you didn't before, and it's... nice.
JV: I'd love to do a small, intimate, stripped down show. Just a piano player, acoustic guitar player, and a backup singer for a few songs.
Q: I'm sure that Marc & Fausto from Feast of Fools could help scare up a location in Chicago for such an event!
JV: Absolutely, I want to do a show for them in their studio for a podcast. I think they'd be into it.
Q: And I know we'd all love hearing it. Jim, thank-you so much for talking with us today!
JV: Thanks again, Chris!