The Full Package: Jim Verraros
Not the easy way out
For even the most obsessed queer "American Idol" fans among us, reciting the names of the Seven Dwarves would be easier than recalling all the finalists from the mega-hit show's original season. Of course there's winner Kelly Clarkson, who's gone on to sell millions of records, win Grammys and star in wacky Vitamin Water commercials. After her, things start getting fuzzy. (Wasn't there a semi-hot runner-up whose massive 'fro was outdone only by his ego, and a fiery-haired karaoke queen and a pretty rocker chick who bared her midriff any chance she got?)
But then there's Jim Verraros, whose blip on the gay radar has not just grown stronger since the show's seminal first run -- it's gone brilliantly radioactive.
We love him (and, one hopes, forgive him) for famously tugging at our heartstrings during an "Idol" performance by signing the lyrics of "When I Fall In Love" onstage to his deaf parents.
We remember his transformation from sweet-faced Doogie Howser lookalike to a lean, ripped and uninhibited dance club fave in a masterwork of reinvention that would make Madonna proud.
We know him as the lovelorn Kyle from the "Eating Out" flicks, in which he was arguably the sweetest ingredient in a mix of stud muffins.
We note that, before vaguely gay Clay Aiken and fiercely flamboyant Danny Noriega appeared before us, there was Jim Verraros, who was unapologetically out even before he climbed onto the "Idol" stage.
What you might not realize is that Jim's victories -- his buff-boy appeal, his close relationship with his family, his unabashed outness and his commitment to integrity -- have all been hard-won. He challenges the gay community's harsh standards of "what's hot," he defends his choices and he continues to live his life on his own terms, being an example of what gays in the spotlight should be.
From Doogie lookalike to drop-dead gorgeous
"People sometimes write to me or come up to me and say, "You're so attractive." I'm flattered and grateful, but the truth is, there's always going to be someone better-looking out there. I'd rather be appreciated for who I am rather than what I look like."
Just months before his "Idol" audition and the accompanying hoopla, Verraros lost 75 pounds and morphed from a doughy 235-pound college student with a 36-inch waist to a lean and camera-friendly performer who wowed us with his boyish charm. His physical evolution didn't stop there. He experimented with his looks after his "Idol" stretch, growing his hair down to his shoulders and going glam with the help of eyeliner.
Currently he's gym-toned and back to being fresh-faced -- and seemingly comfortable in his own skin. But though he's capable of giving any of the Abercrombie boys who used to intimidate him a run for their money, he resents the gay ideal of beauty.
"It's unfortunate that the media, especially the gay media, continues to shove these images down our throat about what's supposed to be hot," says Verraros. "It's a total mind-fuck. You could work out and drop all the weight you can and people continue to think you're not good enough. It's like, Well, what the fuck do you want?"
What's Jim's advice to all the gay boys out there who feel they don't fit the mold? "In the end, you have to believe you're beautiful no matter what. And if you're honest and being yourself, you're going to find someone who loves everything about you, flaws and all."
We are family
On his parents' reaction to his coming out: "They're absolutely accepting now. But things have come a long way. It's a process."
Observing the obvious affection between Verraros and his mother and father when he signed to them the lyrics of a song he was performing on the "Idol" stage, you might have believed that the connection he shared with his parents was effortless. But Jim makes no bones about the trials his family has gone through over his public coming-out.
"I imagine what they must have felt," he says. "It must have been like they were in a room and it's pitch-black and then they have a baseball bat taken to their heads. It's like, Where did that come from?"
As a boy, Verraros grew up in a strict Greek Orthodox household, a "machismo-driven environment," as he calls it. When he came out to his mom at 18 and his dad at 19 (in a Seattle hotel room during the last leg of the "Idol" tour), denial inevitably came into play: "They thought it was an "experimentation thing."
Although his parents have come around to fully accepting his sexuality, they do sometimes wonder whether being "out" in the world has jeopardized his chances for success.
"They wonder why I'm not like Kelly Clarkson," Verraros says. "They're like, 'You guys were on the same show. You were just as exposed. Why aren't you selling millions of records? Maybe you shouldn't have come out publicly.' I have to keep reminding them what I have accomplished."
Mom "Eats Out"
Still, family challenges aside, the bond is undeniably tight. "They both read the lyrics I write, and [when I play a song for them] I crank up the base so they can feel the music," Verraros says. "That way, my dad can choose his favorite songs."
And have they watched the sweet but racy "Eating Out"? "My mom has," says Verraros. She thought it was hilarious. She thought it was genius. She studied my facial expressions onscreen and was laughing so hard."
Not taking the easy way out
"At the end of the day I can be myself; I can go to a gay bar or go to a gay function and never have to look over my shoulder. I think being able to do that is so important."
He was the first only Top 10 "Idol" finalist to dare let his gay flag fly. In fact, he was out even before the auditions, through an online journal in which he wrote about his sexuality, including entries about guys he was dating. Fox had him take down the site. The reason given: The network didn't want the "Idol" contestants to "self-promote."
"Looking back," Verraros says, "[the network's policy] could be interpreted a bunch of different ways. One possibility is that they didn't want me to go public with my sexuality."
But if Fox's true purpose was to keep white-bread America in the dark about Verraros, it was too late: "By the time I took the journal down, visitors had copied my entries and put them on other websites. So my entries were all over the place by then."
Still, America has such a short attention span. Couldn't he have downplayed his sexuality post-"Idol" to better his chances for commercial success?
"Sure, I could have. I thought about it. People warned me and said, 'If you want to be successful in the music business, don't come out. Period.'
"But here's the thing -- our community should be about progression and being responsible. I was tired of people complaining about how no one ever steps up to the plate. I want to be that person. I want to be the standard and hopefully let gay youth in the world know that you can do "Idol" or drive a race car or do whatever the fuck you want.
"I'm as out as you can possibly get. At this point, it's either take me or leave me. Why would I want to be as successful as Kelly if I couldn't be 100 percent me?"
by Robert Ordona
by Robert Ordona
Listen now to the two new singles "Touch (Don't U Want 2)" and "Electric Love" from Jim Verraros long awaited upcoming new CD Do Not Disturb.