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December 23, 2002

Not just Idol talk

From: The Advocate - 23 Dec 2002

In these exclusive online outtakes from his coming-out interview (published in the current issue of The Advocate), 19-year-old American Idol finalist Jim Verraros reveals the secret history of his deleted online journal, the enthusiasm of his young gay and straight fans, the reasons he’s happy he grew up with deaf parents, and his advice to GLBT youth for standing up for themselves.
By Bruce C. Steele

An exclusive posted December 23, 2002

Introduction excerpted from The Advocate, January 21, 2003:
Say what you want about American Idol’s Jim Verraros—he’s living a gay teenager’s dream. He was one of 10 finalists competing for a record contract on last summer’s most talked-about reality TV contest. He’s just finished the “American Idols Live” concert tour, singing to thousands of screaming girls—and some starry-eyed boys—in packed arenas across the country.

Whatever trip you want to lay on Verraros for the Idol cheese factor, he can take it. Go ahead: Point out that he came in ninth out of 10 in the Idol pecking order. Say he got to the finals out of viewer sympathy after the show focused on his growing up with deaf parents and then showed him mercilessly dissed as undeserving by sharp-tongued Idol judge Simon Cowell. Verraros doesn’t care. “If people voted for me because they sympathized with me, great!” he says defiantly. “More votes for me.”

Idol fans discovered Verraros is gay through his online journal, and now he’s anxious to talk about being an out teen. Sitting tall in an Encino, Calif., Starbucks the afternoon after the final “American Idols Live” concert, Verraros has a message for other gay and questioning youth: “There are people like you out there everywhere,” he says. “Trust me, they’re there.”

PLEASE NOTE: The following are outtakes from The Advocate’s interview with Jim Verraros. For the main interview, check out the special “Best of the Year” issue of The Advocate, the January 21, 2003, issue, now on sale.

Tell me about growing up.
I grew up with deaf parents. I didn’t exactly have the ideal childhood that a lot of kids do.

Are you an only child?
No, I have a sister who’s 17.

I didn’t really have a childhood because my parents depended so much on me for communication that I was busy going from my mother’s gynecologist to our lawyer to our accountant to real estate closings—anything financial or that had to do with our house or our money—doctor’s appointments. I was on the phone at 3 years old, probably, just interpreting for my mom: She was standing next to me, then I would voice what she said back to the person on the phone line. So I didn’t have time to grow up and throw the proverbial football in the yard with my dad.

That’s a lot of responsibility. And you’re the oldest, so it all fell to you.
Yeah, but I’m happy, because that made me who I am. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been closer to adults—always. I’ve always just felt more comfortable. I’ve never really hung out with kids my age; I’d rather sit in the middle of adult conversations. There are so many things about living with deaf parents that made me who I am. For example, the closed captioning on the bottom of the TV screen: I grew up as an amazing speller because of that, because I would never really look at the picture. I’d just look at the words all the time. And sometimes they’d have misspellings—it wasn’t perfect all the time—but you got a good sense of the word. And I placed seventh [in spelling] in the state of Illinois when I was in the seventh grade.

A friend of mine who grew up with deaf parents told me about running for student office in the seventh grade and trying to figure out how to make himself stand out from the other kids, so he gave a speech about growing up with deaf parents and how that made him more mature and responsible. But he said the backlash was that the other kids thought he was playing for the sympathy vote.
Hello, American Idol! That’s the story of my life. It’s hard for hearing people who aren’t interested in deafness to be accepting. They ask the most idiotic questions, like, “Can your parents drive?” They aren’t blind. Or, “Are they in wheelchairs?” It just made me so frustrated. But I can’t imagine myself living with two hearing parents, because my parents molded me and set the way I lived my life. My mom and I have always been close—[she has been] my best friend throughout my entire life. She was the one who would come to my plays in school, my choir concerts. She was always the one; she was always there. My dad’s a workaholic.

What does your dad do?
He’s a cutter-grinder. He makes really intricate tools for jet airplanes and stuff like that—things that if you’re a hundredth of an inch off, you have to scrap the whole thing. So it’s very high-pressure. He’s amazing with his hands—a genius. But we didn’t have time together. We never played any sports. I was a gymnast for seven years, and I tried to get him involved in that with me, I tried to get him to come to my meets, but he just wasn’t into it. I don’t think that I was the son that he wanted me to be. Like, he’d want me to be some kind of football jock or something different that I wasn’t.

How did he indicate that to you? How did you get that impression?
Just mostly that he didn’t show interest in the things that I wanted to do. Like, I was the mascot on the cheerleading team in the seventh grade, and he was just kind of like, “That’s cool. Good for you. But—why?” And I was huge in the theater in high school—that was my life—and he’d come to the shows, but he would be like, “Oh, good job,” but I saw that his heart wasn’t in it. But then I think if I were a quarterback on the football team, he’d be crazy, and he’d bring all his buddies out and cheer me on.

He’s a guy’s guy?
Yeah, oh for sure, yeah. But he’s been a great dad, so I love him to death.

So when did you first talk to your dad about this?
Me being gay? I think that he’s always known. I think parents kind of know; they just have that feeling. But I think my dad started heavily questioning me—you know, “Do you have a girlfriend yet? Are you seeing any girls?” And I’d be like, “No. No.” I didn’t deny that I was gay, I just answered his questions no.… I’d buy like Out magazine and Instinct magazine and just read it and leave it on my bed. I’m very gay pride, like I have rainbows all over my room. But I think some deaf people don’t know the connotation with rainbows meaning gay pride, so my dad’s just like, “He likes colors. That’s cool.” I think it was partially not being educated and partially trying not to want to believe it. But when American Idol came along, it started—the questions became more frequent: “Are you and Ryan Starr dating?” “No, Dad, she’s a good friend of mine.” “What about you and Natalie [one of the final 30 contestants with whom Jim is a close friend]? Oh, you guys are so cute.”

“Thanks, Dad, but no.” I was just very adamant.

I knew that he would find out eventually. It was just a matter of time. But I was always so scared of him knowing or finding out because (a) he was born in Greece. He’s very old-fashioned, narrow-minded, headstrong, stubborn—his family’s very Greek.

Have you seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding?
Yep, exactly. That’s like my life. Every Greek Easter.

I was in college at the time, so I didn’t want him to cut me off financially. I didn’t want him to throw me out. I didn’t want him to think it was his fault. I wanted him to be educated. I wanted to sit down and say, “This is not your fault,” and try to explain it to him in a way that he would understand. Like, “Why do you like women?” And he’d be like, “You just do.” “I like men. That’s just the way it is. And I’m happy, so you should be happy too.”

Tell me about talking to your mom. Did you come out to her before American Idol?
Yeah, I came out to her last Thanksgiving, a year ago. I was 18. I’m 19 now; I’ll be 20 in February. My mom was very taken aback. She kept asking why. She compared it to a light switch, because she thought that I was straight, and she was thinking, you know, Can you just turn it back on? Or turn it off?… My mom has had to deal with a lot, so I just had to explain it in a way that was easier for her to understand. It’s just easier for her to [want to think] it’s something simple, like a light switch. But I’d go up to her and go like, “Mom, it’s not on and off. You can’t shut it off. It’s just the way it is.” And she just said, “Why? Why? Why?” She never cried. She never cried. And then time went by…

Where did you think you and your mom were at the end of that first conversation at Thanksgiving?
I knew it was going to be hard. It was going to be very hard.

Did she say, “You can’t tell your father?”
Yeah. And my sister, who was 16 at the time, she was in the room too. She just bawled. She said, “I will never forget this.” She said, “What are my friends going to think of me?”

She was worried about what her friends would think of her because you’re gay?
Yeah, and she bawled. And I thought that her out of anyone would be supportive. She’s lived with me; we’ve been together for 17 years—you’d think she had a clue. I’d give her fashion tips every freakin’ day. You’d think she’d get the picture or something. But either she didn’t want to see it or— Because all of her friends would be like, “Lisa, he’s gay! Look at him!” And she would be like, “Uh-uh. Uh-uh.”

And then afterwards it was just a matter of time until my mom was like, click! I would actually sit down with her—it was so hard with her actually—I would be like, “Mom”—I’d go to, and like—“look, read this.” And she finally started to get the picture and started talking to other people and they gave her some great advice. And she started to understand more by talking to other people and had the support of other people and her deaf gay friends.

Did she have deaf gay friends before you came out to her?
Oh, of course. But she thought that you had to be emotionally abused, sexually abused in order to be gay, as ridiculous as that sounds. That’s just the way that she thought, because she didn’t know any better. So I’d educate her every day. Every day. I’d repeat it until I was so frustrated with it that I’d just leave. ’Cause I could take it. So eventually she like turned around. I remember one day she was at Marshall Field’s—you know the store, right?—and she was like, “I met the cutest boy today at the makeup counter.” And she was like, “I think he’d be perfect for you.” I was like, “Mom, does he wear makeup?” And she’s like, “Yeah.” I’m like, “Not my type.” So I knew at that time that she was making huge strides and definitely coming to terms with it.

When was that?
That was probably, I want to say, May? Of this year. So in a year’s time she has been actually incredible. Like, I called her to tell her and my dad that I was coming out publicly, and my mom said, “I love you. I think it’s just amazing. I support you 100%. I don’t care what people think. You are my special son.” Verbatim, that’s what she said. And I said, “Mom, you are incredible. Incredible. I couldn’t ask for anything better right now.” It’s so hard, because I kept it in for so long, because I never thought it would be so easy for them to just be OK.

Do you feel like you’ve always known what “gay” was?
Yeah. Because I’ve grown up so fast, I acquired a sense of everything so young, so quick. I just knew from maybe even younger than 12, but 12 was like a for sure thing, I was like, “Yep. Yep.” But it wasn’t the right time [to come out]. I mean, I just lived my life.

Were you able to date anyone while you were in high school?
No, not really. I was just really… I was very, very focused on having people like me. And I went to a relatively jock-dominated school. I was afraid of getting my butt kicked [if I came out].

This was in Chicago?
It’s, like, a pretty quick 45 minutes from downtown. Crystal Lake. It’s definitely white suburbia: white picket fence, houses built no more than like five feet away from each other, June Cleaver comes out in her stilettos, getting martinis for her husband—it’s like that type of thing. And I just couldn’t [come out], because I hadn’t experienced being gay, like I didn’t know. I’m not saying that I know all there is to know, because I have the rest of my life, but you know I’m definitely in a completely different position, in a completely different awareness of myself than I was in high school.

But high school is when you really committed yourself to theater.
I was Tom Sawyer in eighth grade, in middle school. And then freshman year I started landing [lead] roles. Kind of like you’d say, like, my little career of theater took off.

What were your favorite roles?
I played Elliott Sims in The Foreigner; that was one of my favorites. The Wiz in The Wiz my junior year. I was in Little Women and I was Laurie, Laurence. I did—oh, God—Bye Bye Birdie, I was Randall’s nephew, this little 10-year-old Boy Scout, this really annoying kid. They’re just fun. Honestly, it was my way out. It was my way out to be who I wanted to be. And that’s why I love acting so much. You forget about yourself for a while and just enjoy yourself in some random character.

So you didn’t come out in high school. How did you decide to go to Monmouth College?
I got a theater scholarship. And I liked that small atmosphere. It’s really homey and a really, really nice school. There were only two other people from my high school that went to my college. It was literally a butter-churning school, mullets all over the place—men, women, and children. It was a college of just over 1,000. I loved it.

And you were comfortable enough to come out to some people.
[It was] so easy, because once you start in a new environment, it’s almost like it doesn’t matter. They don’t know who you were, they don’t care, as long as you are who you want to be and you’re happy, that’s all that they care about. But I was actually really nervous [about coming out to my roommate] because I had a roommate who was actually really cute and really straight, and he was on the football team. I think he always kind of knew. But he was so great to me, such a cool guy.

You lived in a dorm?
Yeah, and it was very jock-dominated, very like varsity football, varsity soccer, frat boys, and of course that brought in hot guys, and I was like, “Crap! What do I do?” So I’d always take showers at 3 in the morning, because I’d be like, “Oh, God, I can’t! I can’t do it!” So the year came to an end, and I decided to transfer, because they didn’t offer what I wanted—I wanted to do musical theater, and they just had theater—and I got a little tipsy one night, it was the night before I left, I had packed my stuff up. I was in a [bathroom] stall with my friends, who were getting me drunk, and they knew that I was gay, and they were like, “You need to tell Todd. You need to tell him. He’s not going to care. He’s awesome. He’s awesome.” I was like, “No, I can’t.” Like, “I’m a big homo. He’s going to hate me.” Then out he comes from another stall. I’m like, “You didn’t hear that, did you, Todd?” He’s like, “No-o-o, no. I’ll talk to you later, dude.” Yeah, he heard it. He was like, “Why didn’t you tell me? You’re so stupid. I’d have had your back the entire time. If anyone had laid a hand on you I would have the entire football team on them like white on rice.” And I was like, “Oh, you’re the best.” So it was really cool, and then Todd left and I was there and waiting for my parents to pick me up, and the guys from the football team were like, “Come out and have dinner with us,” you know? They’re like, “You’re an awesome guy. You really are a great guy.” And I was like, “Thank you.” I think because it’s such a small school, they were so amazingly supportive. And I knew, I was like, “Oh, my God.” I was like, “This is amazing.”

Are you sorry you didn’t come out sooner?
Yeah! Why didn’t I just wave my flag earlier. Then I transferred to Columbia [College, in Chicago]. My dorm was, like, probably 60% gay, and all the girls were frustrated because all the hotties were gay. They were like, “You can’t be gay, are you?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” They’re like, “Damn it!”

And that was when I decided that I needed to lose my weight. It’s weird how I kind of realized that, because I went to Boystown [with a female friend] after I transferred there. And there were a lot of cute young gay people—especially lesbians; I love lesbians—and she was like, “We need to go there and meet some hotties,” and I was like, “Oh, yeah, for sure.” I’d get on my cutest outfit—of course it would be baggy, because I didn’t want to show off anything, because I was [overweight]—and we would sit in a café and look at guys and, like, smile, and the boys would be like, Why are you looking at me? Oh, that’s right, I’m fat. It’s kind of sad—fat is very foreign, I think, especially to [many] gay guys—they want that chiseled look, that beautiful model or that great jawline. Chicago’s very superficial.

Most Boystowns are.
I kind of fell into a little bit of depression. It wasn’t bad depression, it was more of like, I need to change. And it wasn’t all for just [getting] guys.

No wonder you were so happy shopping on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood last week!
You have no idea. You have no idea. And guys were like, Wow. But the glasses were still there, and I was still kind of geeky.

You wore your glasses for most of American Idol, but not for the concert tour, I see. So the Idol show is about singing, not acting. Did you come to music through theater?
Yeah, I think my voice is more suited for musical theater, but I figured I’d give pop music a try, just sort of have fun with it.

But theater was your first love.
Yeah, for sure. I love acting, but acting and singing together is awesome. I love that. So I heard about the audition [for American Idol] and I heard that is for a solo record contract. I was, “Oh, that’s great.” And I was just in the middle of losing my weight, so [I thought] Oh, this is perfect. So I continued to work out until my audition. And they liked me a lot. I sang for the producers.

What did you sing?
I sang, “When I Fall in Love,” by Nat “King” Cole, and I sang “Lean on Me,” because they wanted to see a more pop song. So I did that and they liked me a lot, and I was like, “Great! It’s cool.” And of course I didn’t know who [sharp-tongued Idol judge] Simon [Cowell] was, so he wasn’t really a threat. I was kind of nervous seeing Paula [Abdul], ’cause, my God, it’s Paula Abdul, you know? So I waited forever for the next callback in that room with this bunch of talented, beautiful people, two or three days later. Then they found out my parents were deaf, and so they asked me to sign [the song “When I Fall in Love”], and I was like, “OK, sure, no problem.” So I did that, won their hearts over, got the sympathy vote. Simon said I was fabulous, and the show took me to Hollywood, and that was with the 120 [quarterfinalists]. And the 120 got split down to 65…

And you made the cut every time.
Yeah. I would seriously have a really bad audition, and I was like, “Oh, I’m gonna get cut.” And they’d be like, “No. No, you did great.” And I was like, “Are you stupid? Like, honestly, what are you doing?” I guess there’s something that they saw in me that I didn’t. I mean, I was scared, because it no longer became like an enjoyable experience, it became like: You need to memorize this song, and you need to sing it, and not make yourself look like a fool in front of a national, like, in front of America. So the 120 went to 65, 45, and then 30. And I made the top 30.

You had mentioned earlier about the sympathy vote. I’m sure that wasn’t in your plan when you first auditioned, but how do you feel when people say, “Oh, that’s what happened”?
If people voted for me because they had deaf parents and they could see, like, my struggle, and they could see where I got to, that’s great! If people saw, “Wow, this kid’s kind of flaming, you know? Hey, go gay guys!” you know? That’s great too. I’m sure that were also people who were like, “Wow, he’s really got a solid voice, and he’s got a great personality and a great character. He’s really, like, easy there—he’s a regular, down-to-earth guy.” Great! Anything that attracted me to people somehow was great. Like I wish it could have been like, “He is phenomenal,” but you know—

You understand, then, that in the business you’re getting into, it takes a lot more than talent to make yourself stand out.
Yeah, it’s like 50% talent. You’ve got to have that go-getter like personality. Like, you’ve got to go up to people, introduce yourself, shake their hand, and state your name over and over so that they recognize your name. You can’t just be like [quietly] “Hey” if they come up to you. You can’t do that. You’ve got to go up and get them. Like, don’t wait for them to come to you. That’s huge—that’s what I’ve learned.

Do you think coming out can work to your advantage in that way to make you stand out?
Definitely. I mean, I think that—I mean, like, one of my goals is to be a positive role model for gay teens. I think that it’s about time that someone my age, doing what I’m doing, can say, “It’s OK.” It’s more than OK. Like, I think we should be approaching [it like,] “It’s 2003, guys, get it together here.” I’m tired of the gay bashing. I’m really sick of it. I’m tired of the ignorance. I’m tired of the lack of education, the lack of knowledge. It bothers me, like it’s huge with me—I just want to be able to sit here and educate people. And I just want teens to be like, “Don’t be afraid. Do not be afraid. You know, you may not have to come out, but at least know that if you’re questioning, or if you know that you’re gay, it’s OK. Like, you’re not different.”

What does the phrase “role model” mean to you? You’ve used that term a few times.
I think a role model is someone who has a good sense of themselves, isn’t a hypocrite, who also, like, follows what they believe, who [pauses] is positive, who’s got an open mind about things, who wants to learn from people in addition to having people learn from them. There’s been a lot of negativity, and a lot of misconstrued notions about gay men, about how we’re promiscuous, about how we’re big club kids, about how we do all these drugs—I mean, that’s ridiculous. Most gay men don’t do drugs. I strongly believe that it’s about time that we have someone who’s a good person and who is positive and someone who has lived or gone through some kind of experience people can benefit from and make them know it’s OK. Like, “I was on American Idol, and I made the top 10 in the country, and I’m gay, and it’s OK.” Like, I may not have been openly publicly gay, but I never hid it and I never would have denied it. Ever. I stayed true to myself.

And I guess one of your messages would be for people to stand up for themselves.
Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, you know, I’m not going get all like, throw down your colors, but definitely don’t be afraid. Do not be afraid, because you need to make sure— You’re a person like everyone else. There’s no need to hide. There’s no need to back down because you’re gay, because you’re bisexual, or because you’re a lesbian, or because you don’t even know, because you’re questioning.

Growing up with deaf parents, did you feel like an outsider from the start, that your family was different from all the other families?
No, I never felt the need to have hearing parents…in fact, I loved it, I really did. It wasn’t like I got harassed because, “Oh, your parents are deaf,” you know? “You must be a dumb-ass.” Stuff like that. I never felt that I was different or that I was missing out on something else. I think I was raised really well. My parents are great people, and I never really felt like I was an outsider. In fact, I loved the fact that I had deaf parents because more than most people are like, “Can you teach me sign language? I want to talk to your parents.” And that made me feel really good, because they took an interest in the deaf culture.

Again, it’s something about you that makes you stand out from everybody else.
Yeah, yeah. And that’s why I kind of incorporated that into American Idol, and I developed this huge deaf fan base. Like, no one’s ever done that—like, no one’s ever sung and signed at the same time. No one’s had deaf parents and had a child who can sing pretty good.

Tell me about that. Tell me about being the singer in a family where your parents are deaf.
Um, whenever I’ve had a show where I’d sing, my mom and dad would always look at the expressions on other’s people’s faces every time I’d sing, and they’d just go from that. Or people would come up to them and be like, “Your son is amazing. You need to tell him he’s got a beautiful voice.” And my mom would just come to tears, because she had other people telling her that, she believed that. And I think that being in that situation is kind of like, great, because even though she’ll never know exactly how I sound, she knows that in some ways I’m really good. She knows that other people like me, and so, you know, in concerts, when she came to the Chicago concert, you know, she’d literally look at other people and she’d like smile, and be like, “Wow. That’s my son, and they think he’s good!” And that would be enough for them to believe that I was good. I grew up listening to the radio a lot. And I would sing, trying to emulate Janet, Madonna, Elton John, Michael Jackson, ’N Sync—everything. I would take a little bit of everything, and every time I’d sit in a car with my mom, she’d always put her hands right below my chin, just to feel the vibrations of what my voice would sound like.

Did you ever feel defensive about your parents? Like you were protecting them?
Um, there were times when people would make ridiculous comments or ask the most ignorant questions or they would just question my parents’ hearing abilities—look at them like they were incompetent, and that made me angry. Because of not having a childhood and growing up so fast, like I’ve matured leaps and bounds more than kids my own age. I’m able and I feel comfortable handling a situation where I can sit down here and talk to you, for example, and know that this is going to be printed. A lot of kids wouldn’t be able to do that at my age. They’d freak.

How’s your sister now about your being openly gay?

She’s a senior in high school now?
Yes, she is. She’s doing very well. And actually what helped her cope with me being gay is that shortly after I came out, two of her close friends did—one girl, one guy.

Did they know that you’d come out to her when they came out to her?
Yes. And I think that they wanted to come to me to ask me advice, you know, on how do you do it? How are you coping? How are are you dealing with it? Are you OK? What can I do? And I was more than happy to be like, “Hey, you know, if you need anything, I’m here for you. And you want me to talk to you, or you just want to go shopping and go be gay, we’ll go be gay. Just go and be yourself, and if you want to talk about girls or you want to talk about boys, then come here.

Tell me what you want to do next. American Idol was over last night. How was the last show?
It was wonderful. It was really good. It was a great way to end the show.

I wanted to ask you, because I saw the Vegas special, which was taped before the tour, and then I went to the tour concert last week, and I thought all of you guys were better. You all were comfortable, you had it down. Did you feel that way?
Yes, yes. There were no judges there. No Simon to ream me. By the L.A. shows, we’d performed for a good 20, 23 shows, 24 shows, so we were definitely, like, comfortable, carefree—we were confined to a camera. That was huge for all of us—the fact that we could run up and down the stage, you could say something in the middle of our songs, you could say, “How are you guys doin’ tonight?” You could say, “Thank you” and “How’re you guys feeling?”—just everything. We could be ourselves. It didn’t matter—you could just be yourself. It was our time to shine and make people appreciate you live. And I’ve gotten a lot of good, good things coming out of my performances, from the shows, live, people said I’ve improved leaps and bounds vocally, and I love that. I would rather have someone walk into that tour and not be a fan and leave being like, “Wow. Jim is really good.” Like, that’s what I would rather have.…

Was there a point during the tour when you thought to yourself, Hey, I’m getting better?
Yeah, yeah. In Seattle I sang my butt off and people were like, “Jim, that was the best you’ve ever done in the entire tour.” Of course, when it comes from other people it’s awesome, especially other Idols, you know? The thing is, this isn’t really what I want to do. I don’t want a record deal, I don’t want to be in a boy band, I don’t want any of that. Although I do think it would be cool if we had a gay boy band. It’d be awesome.

Who are your role models?
I love Rosie O’Donnell. I think she’s so great, I think she’s hilarious, I think she’s very true to herself, I think she’s encouraging, I think she’s inspiring, and she’s just an overall great person. I really like Elton John a lot. I love—there’s just so many people I idolize, both musically and otherwise.

Who do you idolize musically?
John Mayer. I like him a lot. If I had vocal talent, I’d love to sing his music.… I don’t like to hear my own voice.

You don’t like your own voice?
My singing voice. I think its just very bland, just very OK.… When it’s recorded I don’t think it’s as bad as I imagine it to be. On the compilation album I like my voice a lot. I think it sounds really good there. Then again, there’s only so much you can do with “Easy” by the Commodores.

Tell me about your live journal, the online journal where your fans first found out that you’re gay.
Before American Idol even started—before I even knew about it—I was at Columbia at the time and I started a “live journal” at You can pick a font, some colors, and depending on what mood you’re in at that time, and you just write what you’re feeling, what happened that day, like, the music that you’re listening to at that time. And I was totally open, because at that point I was a no-body, it was good because random people can just read it. It’s open to the public. And eventually, I guess I kept writing in this journal, and American Idol came along.… Fox made me take it down because [they said] I was promoting myself, because I was like, “Hey, Live Journal community people!”—because you actually develop bonds with people—and I was writing about my American Idol auditions, and [the online people] were like, “Good luck, best of luck to you, I hope you make it,” and “We’re voting for you, we’re watchin’ for you.” And I’d go like, “Vote for me, vote for me! I’m going to be on the show! Jim Verraros, dark [-rimmed] glasses!” And they be all like, “Yeah, yeah, for sure, for sure.” It wasn’t like [Fox said,] “Jim, you’re out [so you have to take your journal]!” It wasn’t about that. It was more like, “You are promoting yourself, and you can’t do that.” They made everyone [competing on the show] take their personal Web sites down.

That’s what nobody knows, that all the Idols had to take down their Web sites.
Right, so [people] thought, Oh, he took it down because he’s afraid of being [openly] gay. No. Not true. It was because I was promoting myself. Then right before they made me shut it down, someone copied and pasted my entire live journal into a completely different Web site that I had no control over, so people would read it, read it, read it, read it, and that’s where I developed most of my gay fans from. They’re like, “You are awesome,” or, “You’re a hottie,” and I’m like, “Oh, thanks.” It was really, really cool to gain support.

You’ve talked about hearing from gay teens, but who are the fans you hear from the most? Are they mostly teenagers?
Yeah. Oh, definitely. I remember a time I got an E-mail from a mother who had a young daughter, and she just bought our compilation album, and she plays my song all the time. She’ll go from Kelly to me to Justin to me to Tamyra to me to me to me—like she would literally listen to the song 12 times before she goes to bed. It’s amazing.

Looking out at the concert audience on the tour, I know you see lots of girls. Do you see any boys?
Oh, of course, of course. Yeah.… They’re awesome, I love it, I really do. I couldn’t really be happier at this point. Just doing this interview is making me happy, because I feel like this big weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

You’ve said that you considered the fact that you could lose some fans by coming out. How do you feel about that?
If I lose fans, that’s going to be really sad, because that tells me something, you know, and I think it’s kind of a sad, sad thing to lose interest in someone because of their sexuality, because they choose to be loved and love someone.

Some people on the American Idol message boards have been pretty nasty about you.
It hurt at first, but then I stopped reading it. Because I’m onstage in front of thousands of people living my dream, and what are you doing? In the beginning, since I first read the message boards, I got a lot of great comments. I did get a lot of negative comments, but it wasn’t about my talent, it was more about the fact that I was queer. You know, “He’s obviously gay, obviously femmy.” And that’s what hurt more—the fact that they disregard the fact that I even sang, but the fact that I was gay [meant] that I shouldn’t be there. I’ve never been put into a situation before where people didn’t like you who didn’t even know you. It was very hard at the beginning. Because I knew that if they even met me, if they even talked to me, they wouldn’t be saying that.

So if you could sit those people down and talk to them, what would you say?
I’d probably kill them with kindness. You know, I’d put out my hand and say, “It’s nice to meet you. I’m Jim Verraros.” You know, if they chose to, I’d take it from there. I’d be like, “How are you doing?” I’d be so nice to them that it kills them.

So, to sum up, what would be your advice for gay teens?
If you want to do something, if you’ve got a dream—it sounds so corny and so Hallmark, but: Live it! Just go out and chase it. © 2003 by Liberation Publications Inc. All rights reserved.