Prince Poppycock Holds Court

By: Jase Peeples

Photos: Austin Young and Rocky Schenck

Dressed in a powdered wig, high heels, and a costume that would make Lady Gaga’s crazy couture look mundane, John Andrew Quale was met with giggles and open-mouthed stares when he first appeared on the stage of America’s Got Talent as Prince Poppycock in 2010. However, within moments of singing his first televised note Poppycock became an instant phenomenon.

Week after week creative performances from the self-described “roguish operatic dandy” were met with roaring applause and the talented singer found himself among the top finalists by the end of the competition.

Today, the Prince still has people popping for Poppycock, performing his unique cabaret of class and camp around the world while he uses his newfound visibility to help LGBT youth charities.

Poppycock recently sat down for a spot of tea with to discuss LGBT suicide, hope, and discovering the dandy in each of us. What inspired you to create this character?
Prince Poppycock: In 2006 a friend asked me to perform at her club in Los Angeles called Wig Out with the one stipulation—I had to wear a wig during my act. At the time I was studying opera—as I had since I was young—and I decided to perform “Largo al Factotum” from The Barber of Seville, which is typically performed as a very serious piece. However, the song is actually about how fabulous it is to be the best hairdresser in town, so I decided to play up the lyrics and that dictated everything that followed, from the costume I rented to the wig I got on Hollywood Boulevard. The performance went over very well and that night I ended up getting two offers to perform the same act. From there the offers kept coming in and before I knew it I’d found myself with an act. It was all very unexpected.

Why did you choose the name Prince Poppycock?
I was obsessed with dandies like Oscar Wilde and the texts of Albert Camus—in particular, his philosophy of absurdity. Camus says the main problem to philosophy is the question of suicide, and the only real question is whether you’re going to kill yourself or choose to keep on living. This was something that stuck with me, and his concept of reveling in absurdity and making life an exciting party rather than getting bogged down in the drudgery and grind of the world made perfect sense to me. I’ve come to believe that life is absurd, it’s a mass hallucination, and poppycock became analogous to absurdity for me. So the first time I said the name Prince Poppycock I knew that was the name of this character, this dandy, this manifestation of absurdity.

Suicide in our community is a problem, particularly for young people who feel like there isn’t another option. Do you feel like discovering dandyism is something that helped you escape that path?
Yes. I think I went through a lot of changes. I was a punk, then a mod, then a goth—and it was all just a pose really. I finally realized that I could dress up as anything and if it doesn’t have any meaning to me then it’s just a pose. Finding that heritage of amazing people like Oscar Wilde and Albert Camus, people who stood against conformity and showed that there was another way to live life, helped me immensely. Dandyism is about making yourself into a work of art. I think art is the best alternative to suicide because it allows us to show the beauty that’s in every one of us. And what better way to do that than to make yourself into a work of art?

Why do you think more LGBT youth are turning to suicide than ever before?
I came out in the early ‘90s and it seemed like homosexuality was everywhere, but these big political debates questioning things like our right to marry and even our right to exist weren’t in the spotlight like they are today. Unfortunately, young people now live in a world where they hear these talking heads constantly babbling on and on about whether or not they even have the right to be human. I have a lot of anger about that because I think people need to realize that homosexuality isn’t good or bad, it simply is. It exists in almost every species on the planet and it isn’t going anywhere—unless we kill all the straight people to stop making gay people.

Outreach to LGBT youth is a cause very close to your heart. In fact, you work with a couple of charities that target queer youth.
Yes. I’ve been working with Rise Up and Shout since 2006. It’s a wonderful charity that advocates for young emerging LGBT artists. The group connects LGBT youth with mentors, encourages them and supports them as they discover their genius. I also work with the Trevor Project, which is an amazing cause that continues to give hope and guidance to young people who might be questioning self-harm.

What advice would you give LGBT youth who may be flirting with that dark decision?
I would say that life is an illusion and it can be whatever you would like it to be. You just have to believe hard enough, and if you have a lot of grouches around you saying you can’t do something, don’t listen to them. Show everyone the beauty you have inside of yourself, and if you’re suffering from a lot of pain you can use that to be the change you want to see in the world by adding a little bit of glamour and love.

For more on Prince Poppycock, visit the randy dandy's royal website.