It may seem just like yesterday when Jim Verraros was among the finalists who performed on the very first season of the reality-competition show with the likes of Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson (who won).
However, it was actually 2002and Verraros (who came out as gay that year) has certainly come a long way. Not only is he away from the Hollywood scene (after releasing albums and being in movies such as Eating Out), but Verraroswho grew up in the suburbs of Chicagois now a part of the Chicagoland corporate world, and he couldn't be happier.
A recent conversation with Verraros covered everything from the then-unresolved 2020 presidential election to the Nov. 1 passing of fellow first-season Idol contestant Nikki McKibbin.
Windy City Times: As we speak, the presidential election has still not been decided. Are you a political junkie?
Jim Verraros: I think the last two presidential elections have put me in that zone. It's been challenging for me, personally. Of course, I remember 2016, when Hillary [Clinton] lost; I was miserable and defeated, and I just crashedlike many other people. The last four years have been just atrocious. I cannot imagine how millions of people voted for [Trump], but they didwhich makes me realize that we have some work to do, as a country.
I don't have the answers, but I just know we have some healing to do. It's heart-wrenching that so many people feel they're not heard. As a white person, I feel it's our responsibility to speak up for the people of color in this country and this world, and I think a lot of people are comfortable in their bubbles while living their unchallenged lives. I know being responsible sounds cheesy, but I think that's what awakened me.
WCT: I've said that people vote their priorities, so people will side with Trump even if they feel that he's said horrible things because they're concerned with their own well-being and economy.
JV: That's a painful thing to hear.
WCT: It's a painful thing to say.
JV: I just hope we can move forward. Joe Biden is on the precipice of being elected, and he's going to have a shit-ton of work to do. Joe Biden wasn't my first choice, but he's the best choice for right nowand I want this country to be run by a good man, and I believe that he is.
WCT: I've been asking a variety of people one thing: If you could ask the current president one questionand be guaranteed to get the truthwhat would that question be?
JV: "What are you so afraid of?" He's the most insecure, incompetent, egomaniacal person. Why is he afraid of being weak and vulnerable? Let's be honest: He used to be a Hollywood Democrat, so I don't understand. I don't [get] how evangelicals can embrace him when he's on his third marriage. In my heart of hearts, I don't think [Trump] gives a fuck about gay marriage; he has gay friends and, like I said, he was Hollywood all the way. I think he has played the part of a Republican and I think he milked it for all it's worth. Keep in mind that he didn't expect to win. I'll never forget the look on his face when he came out to greet his supporters; he was, like, "Holy fuck!"
I've never seen a time when people have been so mistrusting of factual information. He spent four years saying the media is fake. When you do that for a long-enough time, you gain control and power.
WCT: So have you totally left the Hollywood scene?
JV: Yeah! I arranged a Zoom call with eight of the 10 of us from Idol a couple of months ago; it was great to see everybody and I pretty much still talk with all of them. Obviously, we just lost Nikki McKibbin.
WCT: What do you remember about Nikki?
JV: I talked with her husband as soon as I found out [about her passing]. Nikki was like a mama bear to me. We were underdogs, and she was a mother figure to us. Even though she was just a few years older than me, I was 19 and she was in her mid-20s. She showed me that there was so much more to life than the bubble we were in and thank God for her. At that time, she was a no-bullshit girl who lived a tough life and did the best with what she had. She was just true to herself, and just so strong and authentic. She will be very, very missed.
WCT: You were always open about your sexuality, but the show did want to hide it back then, right?
JV: It did. This was 2002, so times were different back then. I had an online journal and I met a guy; the people with Idol found it and asked me to take it down. But someone had copied and pasted every single page of my journal and put it on a separate website, so it was out there. I never said I wasn't gay on the show.
WCT: You've spoken with Windy City Times on several occasions, including when I spoke with you in 2004. I remember being so concerned about you: You talked about the focus on body image and you mentioning that you wanted to be the center of attention whenever you walked into a room. How do you feel about yourself now?
JV: I don't feel that way now. I spent a chunk of my life being overweight so I felt I needed to be something different. Now I'm 37 and I've been divorced and now I'm engaged again.
Let's be honest: Sex always sells and being an attractive human being is always appealing. But I also think it's important to feel good about yourself and not giving a fuck about anything. But I've grown a lot since then. In 2004, I was 21; that was a very different time when I was just in L.A. and I was so insecure. Coming home was grounding to me.
WCT: Would you ever return to the Hollywood scene?
JV: Yeah, I wouldbut it would have to be on my terms. I will always love that world, but I'd have to be authentic. I just want to be me this time around.
WCT: And what would 37-year-old Jim Verraros tell 19-year-old Jim Verraros about life?
JV: Success does not mean fame. Everyone's definition of "success" is different, and you will find yours.