Imagine being scrutinized by millions of people week after pressure-filled week. Well, that happened to Jim Verraros, 21, who showcased a sweet singing voice in front of us and the holy reality-show trinity of Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell on the first season of American Idol.
Windy City Times spoke with Jim, who has filmed a movie (Eating Out) and is busy promoting his CD, Unsaid and Understood. The unusually candid entertainer (who grew up in Crystal Lake, Ill.) talked about American Idol judges, coming out, his battle with body image—and even the Chicago Pride Parade.
Windy City Times: Is it true that you haven't been back to the Chicagoland area in over a year?
Jim Verraros: Yeah. However, I saw my parents just this past Christmas; they came out here [to Los Angeles].
WCT: How difficult is it to not see them that often?
JV: It's not as horribly difficult as you might think. I went away to college for a year so I've been away from them before. Besides, I know that I have their full support and they know that I'm just a quick plane ride away.
WCT: Do you actually pick up a phone and call your parents? [Note: Both of Jim's parents are deaf.]
JV: Actually, I do. I dial the Illinois Relay Center, which is an operating service. I tell the operator what I want to say and that person types the information for my parents. Of course, there's this three-way and it gets tricky because there's this complete stranger who's hearing your personal stuff.
WCT: From my research, I gathered that you had to grow up rather quickly. Do you agree with that?
JV: Completely. Even as a child, I had adult responsibilities. Because my parents are deaf, I had to do things like hold phone conversations and discuss things with doctors and even real estate agents. I had to become well-versed not only with sign language but with people skills as well. Even as a child, I didn't have time for bullshit. However, even today I'd rather talk with a 35-year-old instead of someone my age; the younger people usually have not been through what I have experienced.
WCT: How did your parents react to you coming out?
JV: Well, I was in school at Monmouth College [in Monmouth, Ill.] and I felt that it was time to tell my mother and sister. I went to my mom and said 'I have to tell you something' and she said 'I know.' She then asked why and said things like 'We weren't alcoholics and we didn't abuse you. I don't understand.' So I said to her—and I had to be blunt—'Mom, why do you like dick?' She couldn't answer and I said 'Well, you just do. It's not a light switch I can turn on and off.'
Both of my parents have been amazing; they've both made 180-degree turns from [what they used to think]. My father has his Greek heritage—and Greeks are known for being strict—and the support I've gotten has just been [great]. I think I'm the only one on my father's side of the family who's come out. I thought that my father would be unforgiving but I know who loves me and that's all I need.
WCT: So you would feel perfectly comfortable taking a boyfriend home to meet your family?
WCT: Now you went to Monmouth College [for a year]. You did come out to your friends there, correct?
JV: The amazing thing is that coming out there was so easy. My roommate was a varsity football player and we had actually met before rooming and I wanted to feel him out. He was really sweet and great; he just turned out to be an amazing guy.
I lived in a very jock-dominated dorm. There were no dividers in the shower room and it was just very uncomfortable. I was also overweight at the time, which made things worse. My roommate, Todd, was just wonderful and when I came out to him, he said 'Dude ... I already knew. I don't care. If anyone gives you any shit, I'll get the entire football team to support you.' Guys who made fun of me in high school were actually rooting for me at this point. My sexuality wasn't ever [a problem], mostly because I wanted people to know me first before coming out to them.
WCT: Now let's get to your incredible weight loss. It happened after you transferred to Columbia College [in Chicago] from Monmouth, right?
JV: Yes. I went to Boystown with one of my classmates one day. I had on my cutest outfit—and no one looked at me. It was as if I was transparent. I wanted the attention from the beautiful guys, but I didn't get it and knew that something was wrong. I felt that I needed to change. I knew that, in order to be loved, I had to change ... .
WCT: But what about someone loving you for yourself? You didn't think that would happen? Isn't it possible that you merely imagined that no one was paying attention to you?
JV: No, I didn't feel that way—at least with the gay community. I think the gay media is so focused on body image, with the six-pack and the tan. I thought that gay men would not really look at those things, but they did. I felt that it was time for a change and that [losing weight] would help me meet people. It seemed that guys needed to like the outside before they appreciated the inside. That was simply my experience at that time—and it was sad. I didn't find the love I wanted so I slipped into this depression. I woke up one day and realized that I needed to change my lifestyle. I started doing cardio six times a week and became a vegetarian. I also drank gallons of water ... .
WCT: Now how much weight did you lose?
JV: I actually lost 35 pounds in the first month and about 80 pounds over 2-1/2 months.
WCT: Holy crap!
JV: Yeah ... some people thought that I had an issue—and, looking back, I probably did have an eating disorder. However, I just wanted to be the guy who would walk into a room and get everyone's attention.
WCT: Do you still want to be that guy?
JV: I still want to be that guy—very much so. Weight is still a big issue for me. However, I know that if some guy that you like isn't looking back at you, then he's not the right guy. It can take a person a while to realize that.
WCT: However, you're out in L.A.—where everybody looks at everybody else.
JV: I've learned that if you can get [people] to stare at you, you must be doing something right. Know what makes you original—and use that.
WCT: Now would you consider losing all that weight in so short a time really healthful?
JV: No. Of course not.
WCT: So what do you do now to keep the weight off?
JV: I'm not as crazy with food as I used to be. I no longer eat like a bunny, although I'm still a vegetarian. Also, I still run ... but just three times a week.
WCT: How did American Idol affect your body image?
JV: It got scary because I became obsessed with my looks. When I auditioned, I had lost most of my weight so it was good timing. But I took it [to another level]. At that time, I wasn't truly prepared to look in the mirror and accept how I looked.
WCT: But you have an improved view of yourself now ...
JV: Yes I do, for the most part. I always think there's room for improvement, but I definitely like myself. I don't love myself, but I do like me.
WCT: Now, you recently filmed a movie called Eating Out. What's that about?
JV: I got an e-mail from the director and we then met for coffee. I read the script and couldn't stop laughing. We filmed the movie in Tucson in 10 days and it turned out really well.
It's a cutesy romantic comedy. It's like a gay American Pie. My character's best friend plays gay to get this girl who he wants. It was an honor just to be cast in this film— and three of my songs are on the movie's soundtrack. [Note: After this initial interview, the film took first place at the Arizona Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.]
WCT: Congratulations. Now, speaking of music, you're recording a CD?
JV: Yeah, I'm trying to. I've recorded about 25 songs in the past 6 months. I didn't want to sing right after the show—because I didn't have that much confidence at that time—but I met this producer who heard me and encouraged me to record. He's led me in the direction of George Michael, musically speaking. A lot of the music I'm doing now is edgy and pretty sexually charged. It's not bubble-gum pop and it's not like Clay Aiken's music, thank God. It's not musical theater.
WCT: Why is your album's title Unsaid and Understood?
JV: The title has a lot to do with the changes I've gone through—and why it's understood (and not necessary to be said) that I've done some of the things I've done.
I've taken time to think about what I want to do and how I want to influence people. This is [somewhat] about me: the songs I want to do. I'm not singing covers anymore. I don't have Simon saying 'You suck' or Paula clapping her hands and saying 'Well, at least you look cute.'
There's nothing wrong with sexually provocative music, which is what I like singing. Sex has become so taboo and I don't think it should be. I also like leaving things ambiguous; I don't use words like 'guy,' 'he,' or 'she' in my music.
I think that because I'm not sexually active, it's fun to play out that stuff through my music. It's fun to be a little bad. It's fun to be a tease. It's fun to growl and moan. I think that this type of music is hot and makes people feel good.
WCT: Let's go back to American Idol for a second. Could you describe each judge in [a few] words?
JV: Randy Jackson is friendly and supportive. Paula Abdul is sweet, but needs guidance. Simon Cowell is a smart businessman [who's also a] prick—although he's more decent outside of the show than he is on camera. I just don't like people who make money off of making others miserable—although he's the reason people watch the show.
WCT: True. Do you have any advice for teens who are struggling to come out?
JV: I would say that there's no rush. Don't put a time limit on it. There's no competition and there's no need to push things if you're not ready, regardless of your age. You need to be in a certain place in your life to tell someone.
Also, if people choose to walk away after you tell them, it's not your fault. It's their fault because of their lack of knowledge, lack of education, and [the fact that] they don't want to understand. They'll come around in time. Just do what you want to do and others will follow.
WCT: One last question: Would you be open to being in our Gay Pride Parade?
JV: Are you kidding? I would be there in a heartbeat [if asked]! I was the grand marshal of last year's parade in Tulsa, Okla., and it was so much fun.
You can look at some cool pictures of Jim and download his songs at www.jimverraros.com . The view(s) of Jim on this page are courtesy of Coral von Zumwalt www.coralvonzumwalt.com .
I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org .