By Emmanuel Garcia
Right now, Jai Rodriguez is the Culture Vulture on Bravo's hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, but soon he'll be rock'n your iPod with his new studio album.
Although it might seem clichéd for Hollywood celebrities to head to the recording studio, Jai was already well on his way in developing his music career when he joined the other Queer Eyes, unlike some other Hollywood celebrities.
Long before the show won an Emmy for reality programming, Rodriguez was dreaming of stardom on Long Island.
At an early age, he began doing community theater and church performances. He attended the exclusive Boces Cultural Arts Center, where he studied Musical Theater.
This led to his critically acclaimed performance as Angel in Rent on Broadway, as well as parts in The New Guy for Revolution Studios and All My Children on ABC.
While performing on stage and screen, Jai created his own cabaret show at XL in NYC and began recording his first studio album. Producers for Queer Eye for the Straight Guy took notice at this show, and they signed Rodriguez to bring his cultural know how to the Bravo network. The show quickly became Bravo's highest-rated show, spawned many international imitators, and turned Rodriguez and his Queer Eye colleagues into a cultural phenomenon.
Rodriguez is hoping for similar success with his first album. The first single, titled 'Love Is Good,' has given fans a preview of what to expect from the album. But, Jai promises that the album is full of surprises.
With an Emmy Award-winning hit show on Bravo, Jai Rodriguez—actor, singer, and dancer—is determined to finish what he started. He took a break to converse with me about the definition of culture and his role in ours.
Emmanuel Garcia: The name of this magazine is Identity. How do you identify?
Jai Rodriguez: I identify because I think one's identity is so important. One should never be afraid of their own personal identity; they should always be true to their personal style, personality, and views.
EG: Oct. 11, 2004 is National Coming Out day. Describe your most important coming-out experience.
JR: The fact that I can look at someone in the eye and know who I am and hopefully that can give people the courage to come out or be true to themselves in whatever situation they may be in. My best coming-out experience is every time I hope I can help anyone with my story or how I can live my life if they are contemplating doing the same.
EG: This magazine focuses on minority gays and lesbians. How was your coming-out experience impacted by your culture?
JR: I think the fact that I am on a show that is so popular ... has bridged some outside stereotypes and anger. Also, showing that I can be successful outside of Queer Eye with my theater and recording shows—a value to my community. Contributing to the greatness is what helps with my Latin culture.
EG: What advice do you have for minorities who are struggling with coming out?
JR: Keep true to yourself and always remember to love yourself. Also, remember to remember where you came from. Those roots are important.
EG: How did Queer Eye for The Straight Guy get started? Did you audition?
JR: I was called in for an audition for what I was told was a makeover-type show. Little did I know that it would turn into something bigger than that! So, I got called into a room with a long table, and there were several people at it and they started nailing me with questions and dialogue to see if I could keep up. Sitting at that table was Carson and Ted as well as several writers and producers for the show. It was a crazy experience, and I walked out of it that I didn't get it [he was later added]. Was I surprised!
EG: What role did you have in developing Queer Eye? Did you impact the format of the show?
JR: At first my role was so undefined. How do you define culture? Then, I started taking note to what I was doing and started to study my role to make it more of what it is today. I feel since I became more confident with who I was on the show my role became more defined and later I began to have more face time.
EG: How has filming the second season of Queer Eye been different than the first season?
JR: I think I know what I am doing more with the guys that come on the show. I also feel like I show myself in different lights and people are going to see more of who I am. However, there is so much more to me than the show, as I am a singer and performer, which is hard to translate on a show like Queer Eye.
EG: Do you get along with the other Queer Eyes? Are you friends?
JR: Yes! We are together so much in our jobs that outside of work is a lot like work because we do a lot of appearances ... to promote the show. The guys are all great friends.
EG: What does 'culture' mean to you?
JR: Culture means for me to express and be aware of something that is outside of what a person may be used to. Get out of your comfort zone and discover things outside your own personal world, and then you will know what culture is.
EG: How has Queer Eye for the Straight Guy changed your life?
JR: It has given me the appreciation for being where I am today. It has given me the opportunity to help people and also bridge people's prejudices from gay to straight, color to color, etc.
EG: Has being a celebrity been what you expected it to be?
JR: Am I a celebrity? I sometimes forget that status is where I am. I love my friends, and I spend time with friends and family. And when people treat me as a celebrity, I am blessed. [I'm] not sure what I really expected as it came so fast.
EG: You started out as a singer/ dancer, and you now have the opportunity to showcase that talent. What can we expect from your new album?
JR: I'm writing a lot and getting to know who I am as an artist. A lot of people would think that I would just release a dance record, but my interests are far beyond that. As I love dance, I also love R&B, rock, and fusion. I think when people hear it they will be pleasantly surprised.
EG: Who were your musical influences?
JR: Anastacia, Justin Timberlake, Gavin Degraw, [and] Stevie Wonder.
EG: Will you be touring?
JR: Hopefully in the near future.
EG: Growing up did you imagine you would have such an influence on American culture?
JR: No. I dreamt of Broadway, but my experiences have far exceeded my dreams.
EG: Are there any other projects that you are interested in or currently working on?
JR: Other than my record and theater, I hope to be getting into film.
EG: What is your favorite quote?
JR: 'Remember where you came from and use it in your life, every day.'
JR: Fame can come and go, but your roots will always be with you.
For more Jai Rodriguez visit www.arriveateleven.com