AJ McLean: The gay interview

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AJ McLean, far left, embraces the gay fans of Backstreet Boys.

In this week’s edition, we reviewed the new album by the Backstreet Boys, In a World Like This, and, well, we didn’t like it. But we do like AJ McLean, one of the founding members of the group and a self-described fag hag: The straight singer made sure that, in the video of their title track single, they showed an older lesbian couple finally celebrating their right to marry.

Our Chris Azzopardi caught up with McLean to chat about how his queer friends (and “Same Love” rapper Macklemore) inspired that video, doing Marilyn Monroe in the nude for an upcoming book and the time the band performed with men they thought were women. 

Dallas Voice: The video for the album’s first single, “In a World Like This,” celebrates marriage equality. Why was it important to take that stance with that music video?  McLean: It stemmed from me personally. I have a lot of gay friends and two of my best friends have been together for almost 10 years. And living in California, it’s been so friggin’ frustrating to me that they could not get it right; they couldn’t pass the bill. Then, literally, right after we dropped the video, they actually passed the bill [allowing LGBT people to get married] in California, and I was just ecstatic. I just love the fact that people love each other, no matter if they’re the same sex or not. I think everybody’s equal, period.

I had just seen the Macklemore video for “Same Love” and that really inspired me. Knowing what the subject was about for “In a World Like This” — about love conquering all — we had talked with the director about basically having different moments in history that really were very impactful. We had done the first two, and then we were like, “What’s the last one gonna be?” I was like, “Why don’t we do something about same-sex marriage? We have a huge gay following and it’s a huge deal.” The guys were all on board and we made it happen. I was so happy about it.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Nobody does it Eder

Broadway diva Linda Eder talks of her longevity … and her drag queen imitators

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CHRISTMAS ANGEL | Singer Linda Eder will bring Christmas magic to her holiday concert at the Winspear and she’s hoping her gay fans will turn out. Being a Broadway diva with that voice — they likely will.

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

The earliest evidence of what Linda Eder would become is available, of course, on YouTube: A video of Eder, maybe 19 or 20, singing Melissa Manchester’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love” at the 1980 Miss Minnesota pageant. (She didn’t win the title.)

But Eder doesn’t blanch with embarrassment when confronted with this relic of her past. Now a responsible adult, she offers that Linda Eder career advice.

“There’s a whole list of things I’d tell her not to do,” she insists. “My advice would be to save more money. Don’t spend so much because you don’t really need so much.”

Eder turned 50 this year, and the wisdom earned from the passage of time is clear in her tone. She’s relaxed, professional and unfazed discussing the range of her career, whether working with her ex-husband on her last album Now or the drag queens that perform her work. But she does seem to get jazzed about one thing — longevity.

“What makes me proud of this album is just the fact I am here at 50 and making records,” she says. “I’ve been most fortunate to have this kind of career and I have a real sense of accomplishment with this album.”

Now, her 13th that dropped in February, reunited her with longtime collaborate Frank Wildhorn, the man behind Jekyll and Hyde — the musical that put Eder on the Broadway map. But Wildhorn is also Eder’s ex-husband (they divorced in 2004). Still, she describes the experience as drama-free.

“You know, it worked out fine and it really was easy. We stay in contact,” she says. “For this album, we brought back some of the same people from before.

Things were slightly different now that I’m my own entity if you will. There was a little more freedom but it wasn’t he ever made me do anything I didn’t want.”
After 20 years since her first release, Eder knows she’s not radio fodder, but she also knows her audience.

“I certainly hoped for this kind of career. Making records is fun,” she says.

“Fortunately people enjoy my voice.”

That, of course, includes her large contingent of gay fans. She understands the territory that comes with being a Broadway diva. Eder even relishes it.

“I’ve been pretty lucky to have gay fans. They are my more lively audience and that’s why I love playing for them. I appreciate it so much,” she gushes.
Drag queens aren’t lost on her, either.

“Do you know that there is this drag show called Better than Eder? That’s so great,” she says.

She’ll likely introduce some of her new works when she returns to Dallas Sunday for her holiday concert at the Winspear. Eder helps ring in the season with The Linda Eder Holiday Show. Her Christmas Stays the Same CD from 2000 featured both original and traditional carols with that Eder touch; getting the chance to perform them on stage is what drives her at this time of year.

“You know, I’m an entertainer and doing these shows with talented people and musicians is just a fun hang,” she says. “It’s hard to believe still that I get to do this for a business.”

She’ll argue the celebrity label, but knows she is one in a certain sense. Eder doesn’t propose a false modesty either when asked about her past work. Instead, she actively strives for a sense of normalcy.

“I don’t think of myself [as a star],” she says. “I was driven early on and carved a niche career for myself but I found that I wanted to pull back to a level of success that was normal. I’m simply a musician. I might call myself a minor celebrity.”

Her fans might disagree.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

The Tea Party turns again to dirty tricks

Waxahachie Republican comes under fire from potential opponents over vote for anti-bullying bill and his connection with fundraiser for anti-bullying foundation

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TEA PARTY TARGET | Waxahachie Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts, left, talks with Waco Republican state Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson during proceedings in the Texas Legislature in January, 2010. Members of the Tea Party are said to be targeting Pitts for defeat in 2012 after Pitts voted in favor of anti-bullying legislation this year, and reportedly hoped to use. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

David Webb
The Rare Reporter

Politics just don’t seem to get any nastier than they do in Texas, judging from a group of Texas Tea Party members’ apparent plans to exploit an appearance in Dallas by an internationally known anti-bullying champion.

The Tea Party members reportedly hope a planned appearance by British rugby star Ben Cohen this month at the Dallas gay rights parade can be used as a weapon against an incumbent Texas state representative in the Republican Primary.

The legislator, state Rep. Jim Pitts, a Waxahachie Republican, is scheduled to appear at a fundraiser for Cohen’s anti-bullying StandUp Foundation on Sept. 16, prior to the rugby player’s appearance as a VIP guest at the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sept. 19.

Cohen, 33, retired from professional rugby in May of this year to focus on the Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation he created to combat homophobia and bullying. As an athlete he represented the brands Brive and Sale Sharks. He is married to a woman and has twin children.

In November 2000, Cohen’s father Peter Cohen was killed while protecting an attack victim at a nightclub he managed in Northampton, England. He died a month later from head injuries. Three men were found guilty of the violence.

Cohen — a World Cup winner who is straight but has many gay fans — has said in interviews the stories he heard from gay people about being bullied and feeling suicidal as a result of the violence they experienced drew him to the issue years ago.

The Dallas fundraiser, organized by a gay resident, was scheduled to take place at Pitts’ Highland Park home. It was relocated after published reports created controversy, and news of the uproar reached Cohen’s representatives.

The situation nearly derailed Cohen’s planned four-day visit to Dallas, according to the organizers.

The sports star’s representatives reportedly wanted no association with Texas’ volatile political climate, made infamous in recent years by ultra-conservative, anti-gay Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Texas Tea Party members learned about Cohen’s planned appearances when Dallas Voice published a report about them online.

At one point, the agitators who had heard about the report but couldn’t find it online, erroneously claimed that the newspaper had pulled the story in an effort cover up Pitts’ involvement with the fundraiser.

The Tea Party members antics came to light when they twice asked Joey Dauben, the publisher of the conservative Ellis County Observer website, to reach out to a Dallas Voice writer he knew for information.

In the last communication, the Tea Party members wanted to know if the newspaper or any other organization would be taking pictures at the fundraiser that they would be able to obtain for use against Pitts in a campaign.

The Tea Party members’ supporters reportedly have no plans to demonstrate at the event or crash it.

Pitts reportedly is being targeted by Tea Party members because he advocated the passage of anti-bullying legislation in Texas and voted in favor of two measures backed by Equality Texas. The legislator reportedly offered the use of his home for the fundraiser because of his interest in the issue.

Although Pitts backed the anti-bullying measures, he has been criticized by LGBT advocates for voting to ban LGBT resource centers from college campuses. That has left some observers puzzled by the Tea Party members’ tactics.

Dauben said that his criticism on his blog is more motivated by Pitts’ apparent residency in Dallas when he represents Waxahachie, rather than his participation in the fundraiser.

Two Texas Tea Party members, Linda Bounds and T.J. Fabby, have announced plans to oppose Pitts, who has been in office since 1992, according to the Ellis County Observer. It appears the two candidates and their supporters are willing to do just about anything to get one of them elected.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Email him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hot, hirsute

British rugby star Ben Cohen has become a hero to gays for his message of inclusion to sports fans the world over

MARRIED… WITH CHILDREN Cohen exemplifies the straight ally: Comfortable with his gay fans, upfront in his defense of gay rights and always willing to pose for a little beefcake photography.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

Ben Cohen is a bit nervous about coming to Dallas Pride as its special parade guest, but not for the reason you may think. Growing up in the cool climes of the north of England, “the closest I have gotten to Dallas is the TV program,” he laughs. So the thought of being in the famous Texas heat frightens him a bit. “I’m gonna melt!” he exclaims from his home in Britain.

Heat is about the only thing that could frighten Cohen. As the second all-time best rugby union scorer, he’s a master of the organized mayhem of the sport of rugby. And he’s been famous for years as perhaps the planet’s most prominent straight athlete to put gay issues on his public agenda.

A lot of gay men first came to know Cohen when he released a series of beefcake calendars, showing his bulky, rugby-honed physique. Before long, he was the toast of the gay ether, screen-grabs of his hirsute chest and devilish grin being exchanged faster than juicy gossip. That’s about the same time Cohen found out what a huge gay following he had.

“We has this website and found out we had 37,000 people who were fans, but they were all men!” he says. “I’ve been with my wife since we were 16. We have very good gay friends and my cousin is lesbian, so I am very comfortable with my sexuality. I was getting a lot of emails saying how people in the gay community feel so isolated while trying to find themselves, this downward spiral where they have no one to turn to for help.”

He began talking publicly about his support for gay people, which only increased his fan base. It hit a saturation point earlier this year when Cohen announced his retirement from rugby so he could pursue his activism.

Cohen’s StandUp Foundation, which he heralds as “the world’s first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of … bullying,” is unique in being led by a straight man yet targeting the gay community, and for having as a secondary goal the eradication of homophobia in sports.

“I’m really trying to create a movement,” he says in a thick Northampton accent.

Cohen traces his passionate feelings on the subject to 2000, when his father was murdered while trying to break up a brawl in a nightclub. Cohen concentrated on his then-young rugby career, “to get my aggression out on the pitch.” It made him acutely aware of bullying and how those who “are perceived as different, whether gay or with red hair or overweight,” are victimized, he says.

While homophobia in sports is a focus for Cohen, he’s a vocal defender of rugby as an inclusive, gay-friendly sport.

“I know Gareth Thomas [the rugby star who came out in 2009], and he is a world-class player. His problem was accepting himself. He did the best thing all around when he came out and he’ll tell you that. He’s at the top of his game now. It shows rugby is an accepting sport — everyone I know was accepting and supportive of Gareth. I’ve never witnessed any homophobia in the sport, though I’m sure there is some.”

He’s also proud of the Bingham Cup, named after gay American rugby star Mark Bingham, who died in 9/11 as a hero of United Flight 93.

“I’ve done a massive amount of work in bringing the Bingham Cup to Manchester next year,” he says. “It’s an honor and a lovely way to show their love and respect [for a gay rugby player]. His legacy lives on.” Cohen also crows for how gay and gay-friendly rugby clubs have raised the quality of play overall, as well their role in increasing awareness of the sport in the U.S. He feels an obligation to give back.

“I’m in a privileged position in that I am a successful sportsman and have a big gay following. I know I can make a difference in people’s lives,” he says.

“At the end of the day, we’re not about gay rights,” he says, but about the rights of people not to be victimized for whatever reason.

And if he has to endure 95 degree temperatures to do that? Well, that’s just the cost of doing the right thing.

Cohen hosts a StandUp fundraiser Sept. 16 featuring cocktails, appetizers and live music by Gary Floyd; email event@dallasstandup.com for invitation. On Sept. 17, Cohen will attend a Dallas Diablos match and practice, starting at 11:30 a.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Pumping tin

Playing a sexy ax-man in ‘The Wiz’ has been rewarding for Sydney Harcourt

TAKE IT EASY | Sydney James Harcourt, above, deals with the Texas heat by wearing gym clothes everywhere — except, of course, onstage in ‘The Wiz,’ where he’s layered in a heavy costume, opposite, that has sweated off two waist sizes in four weeks. (Photos by Arnold Wayne Jones and David Leggett)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

When Sydney James Harcourt signed to play the Tin Man in Dallas Theater Center’s new production of The Wiz, he didn’t know he’d have such a tough act to follow… or that that act would be one of his best friends.
Wade McCollum, who played the MC in DTC’s Cabaret, is one of Harcourt’s closest friends. McCollum’s legions of gay fans swooned over his ripped, muscular frame — a legacy Harcourt became all-too-aware of very quickly.

“I can’t hear enough about Wade’s abs,” he says with a sigh. “Everyone has a story about how ripped he was — abs, abs, abs. Well, the part I’m doing right after this is Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show at the Old Globe in San Diego, where I’m wearing nothing but a gold Speedo.” And the specter of McCollum’s physique is enough to give him an inferiority complex.

Not that that’s likely to happen. True, he’s been in training with a low-fat regimen to get his body in peak shape for Rocky. But just playing the Tin Man eight shows at week at the DTC has worked wonders.
“I’ve probably dropped two waist sizes since I started,” he says. And there are still two more weeks to go.

He’s not complaining. Wearing the costume has been spectacular for helping him develop the character. He’s so constricted, he knows what it must be like to have rusted in the woods.

This isn’t the first time Harcourt has had to contend with a complicated costume — he spent 18 months on Broadway, playing Simba in The Lion King eight times a week. The headdress for that costume occasionally made him bleed. But getting decked out as the Tin Man has been a commitment of an entirely different level.

The process begins with Harcourt donning a neck-to-toe Under Armour bodysuit to wick perspiration away from his skin. Then he applies the shiny foil makeup to his face, taught to him by a professional makeup artist. (“It’s changed — I’ve figured out my own way to make it look more reflective,” he says.) That can take half an hour. Next comes sliding into the silver Lycra bodysuit, onto which are stitched most of the components of the Tin Man’s costumes. They are not detachable. And the sweating begins immediately.

“Originally, they were gonna be separate and we could wash the Lycra suit,” he says. “But they are all attached. That suit has not been washed since we started. It started to smell like a pickle. Now they just spray it with Febreze and let it dry in the sun. I used to be self-conscious, but I am no longer the smelliest costume. There are worse.” He refuses to name names.

Next, the arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt describes as “like putting on a snow suit: You have suspenders and a hood and the tap shoes and spats. The last thing is the shell, which is like armor. I cannot get into that without help. And I cannot get out of the costume at all without someone’s help — trust me, I’ve tried.”

All of which means that once Harcourt is strapped in he cannot — ummm … relieve himself. At all.

“The bathroom breaks are carefully timed,” he says. Once you’re in, you’re in for the show. It’s only 90 minutes, but altogether I’m probably in it three hours.” On days when he performs two shows with a three-hour break in between, he gets out of the costume entirely — including the makeup.

“Yeah, it looks weird walking around without the costume,” he says. “It kinda looks like blackface.”

The first time Harcourt actually performed at rehearsal in the costume nearly killed him. After the R&B jive of “Slide Some Oil to Me,” he bent over, panting and exhausted. He them transitioned immediately into the ballad “To Be Able to Feel.” That caught him off-guard when he showed up to rehearsal — the song had been moved by director Kevin Moriarty to much earlier in the show than it was originally.

But the one-two punch of Harcourt’s solos has made the Tin Man — and  arm pieces are then strapped down in a ritual Harcourt — the darling of audiences and critics. And he didn’t see it coming.

“I play him as completely sexual, and some of my jokes didn’t seem to be working,” like when he calls Lion a “pussy… cat.” But when he started in front of an audience, the reaction was intense.

“I think people are responding just to how much I love doing it,” Harcourt says.

For good reason: In his 13-year professional career, this is the first time Harcourt has created a role, rather than understudying someone else’s creation. And he likes it — as well as the reception he’s received on his first stint in Texas.

It’s enough to warm the heart of this Tin Man.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Beyoncé: ‘4’ the gays

Below is Q Syndicate writer and Dallas Voice contributor Chris Azzopardi’s piece on his exclusive talk with the Queen Bey: About gay fans, loving Lady Gaga and remaking A Star Is Born.

If there’s any girl who runs the world, it’s Beyoncé. The reigning diva — she’s called Queen Bey for a reason, people — is one of the biggest and best voices behind a long run of hits dating back to the late ‘90s, when she was part of supreme girl-group Destiny’s Child.

Now, years later, Beyoncé still demonstrates just how irreplaceable she is as a solo artist, having released four albums (the latest called, appropriately, 4 — reviewed here) with some of the most memorable and gay-celebrated singles in pop music history. Not every artist can say they’ve had a gay boy lead a football team to glory by performing “Single Ladies,” as seen on Glee. And not every artist can say they have 16 Grammy Awards, making her one of the most honored artists in Grammy history.

But that’s Queen Bey, who has also assembled a gaggle of gay fans who are crazy in love with her.

Here’s our exclusive chat with the singer/actress/glamour-girl, her first gay press interview since 2006.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Blonde ambition

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Dolly Parton keeps on truckin’ with a new album, a tour — and late-night trips to the Kroger in full Dolly drag

Dolly Parton, the “Queen of Country Music,” reigns on our (gay) parade with her new album Better Day and her concert tour, at the Verizon Theatre Tuesday. Better Day marks her 41st solo album of original material, and she ties Reba McEntire with four No. 1 country singles in four consecutive decades. Parton is far more than a country music star. Even calling her “iconic” seems too small for the larger-than-life persona.
From her humble roots in Tennessee, our “Backwoods Barbie” continues to be a doll to her gay fans. With some rare moments to spare, she talks behind the scenes of her tour and what’s beneath the makeup and glitter.

— Jerry Nunn

Dallas Voice: The first track on Better Day, “In the Mean Time,” is so feisty. What was your motivation for it? Parton: That is one my favorite songs because it sums up what is going on in the world, my attitude about it. Everybody is so down in the dumps and waiting for the end of time instead of doing something about it, enjoying the time they got. This whole album I wanted to write stuff to uplift people and give a positive spin on this negativity.

You’ve performed the first single, “Together You and I” on television, but is there a video in the works? Yes. Trey Fanjoy, who was director of the year at CMT this year, did a wonderful video that shows people from all over the world, love in all forms and fashions — more of a universal love. It is a beautiful video.

What can fans expect from your concerts now? We got all sorts of good things going with the Better Day World Tour. We have a lot of positive stuff in that by doing different things for the fans.

You have a huge gay following and they will always love you. Hey, a big shout out to them! We have fun with my gay crowds. We are going to be in L.A. for two days at the Hollywood Bowl, then in San Francisco. All ready so many of my gay fans have said they are going to be there in the front row. I love it. I have always loved my gay fans. They accept me and I accept them. We get along just fine. I am very proud and honored when they dress up like me or whatever they want to do!

What is your favorite thing about touring? People, the audience, I love that. I love to travel because I am a gypsy, but I enjoy performing for the fans that love to see it. I have been around so many years, worked so many audiences and had so many types of shows. Since the beginning, it is kind of fun to watch how things have changed. I have fans from little bitty kids now watching Hannah Montana with Aunt Dolly to my older fans and the new ones that have discovered my music. It is a really fun trip for me as you can imagine.

How fabulous is your tour bus? The set up is great. I have traveled on a tour bus since 1967. This current one is an updated, modern version, where there is room. Especially when it has stopped you can let the sides out and have a real home. I don’t stay in hotels so I just live on my bus. I’ve got everything from my kitchen to my televisions, DVDs and books. It’s a way to carry my wigs and my costumes. I am set up good for that.

Are you able to take off the wig and shop at Kroger without people recognizing you? Well, if I went to Kroger I wouldn’t take off my wig. I don’t go grocery shopping too much but when I do it’s usually in the wee hours after midnight. If I really want to cook certain things for a special occasion that I really need and I don’t trust anyone to find it I will go to the store. But I usually dress like myself and go in. I can’t be disguised because if I open my mouth you know it’s me! I sound as different as I look. There is no point in going and embarrassing myself by looking like hell.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 15, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Where do gays fit into SXSW

Dallas resident Daniel Villarreal has been covering this year’s South By Southwest festival. He spoke with “#sxswhomo hashtag co-creator Aaron Bailey” for this piece about the presence of LGBTs at the multimedia festival.

—  Rich Lopez

Gay Polish soccer fans want separate seating

Associated Press

WARSAW, Poland — A group of gay Polish soccer fans has called on the organizers of the 2012 European Championships to set aside separate seating for gays and lesbians to protect them from harrassment and violence.

But other gay rights activists criticized the proposal Wednesday, saying it would single gay fans out and put them at greater risk.

Teczowa Trybuna 2012, or Rainbow Stand 2012, calls itself the first gay fan club for Poland’s national team. It says on its website that its members fear aggression from other fans and want to feel safe during the championship in Poland and neighboring Ukraine.

“During trips to matches of our beloved clubs … we unfortunately are often faced with unpleasantness, harassment and violence from the ‘real’ fans,” it said. “We dream of being able to relax in the stands — we can’t imagine not being at the Euro 2012 matches, which will be held in our country!”

Polish soccer matches are often the scene of violent attacks and fights involving hooligans.

Homophobia also remains deeply embedded in Poland because of the legacy of communism — which treated homosexuality as a taboo — and the teachings of the church in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.

One match venue, the city of Gdansk, rejected the group’s call for separate seating, saying it would stigmatize gays. And some gay rights groups are distancing themselves from the appeal.

Gregory Czarnecki of the Campaign Against Homophobia, a leading gay rights group in Warsaw, said he believes that very few gays and lesbians would willingly choose separate seating.

“I understand their initiative, and what they are trying to do,” Czarnecki told The Associated Press.

“But the message might be counterproductive in Poland,” he said. “I don’t think many people would be brave enough to not only come out, but also to sit in this section.”

—  John Wright

Teen gay dream

GLEEK HERO   |  In just four episodes, Criss has become a popular gay on ‘Glee.’ (Photo by Robert Hart)

Darren Criss, the breakout heartthrob from ‘Glee,’ isn’t gay or a teen, but welcomes more romance for Blaine

MARK LOWRY  |  Special Contributor
mark@theaterjones.com

Aside from the hot pink sunglasses, and the assistant who occasionally makes sure that his natural curls fall just so on his forehead, Darren Criss doesn’t come across as the young actor whose star is on a rocket’s upward path.

A new, popular actor on the hit Fox show Glee, Criss possesses an articulate intelligence and level-headedness that belies his age (he turns 24 in under a month). On the show, Criss plays Dalton Academy gay student Blaine, the teenage dream with the glassy brown eyes and plush eyebrows that make Kurt (Chris Colfer) — not to mention the rest of gay America — swoon.

Criss was in North Texas last weekend at the Fort Worth auditions for The Glee Project, a reality show that will debut on Oxygen in June where 12 contestants will vie for a role on Glee. The winner is guaranteed multiple episodes next season. Whether this new character (which hasn’t been written yet, so it’s open to gender and type) becomes a recurring character depends on his or her popularity with audiences.

The winner would be lucky to repeat the feat accomplished by Criss, who in a scant four episodes has already proven so popular that he’s been confirmed as a series regular for the rest of Seasons 2 and 3. The real question that the gay fans of the show — and we hear there are a few — are asking: Will the Kurt/Blaine friendship develop into something more?

“I’m just as curious as everybody else,” Criss says. “Obviously the potential is there. As much as all of us want to see that happen immediately, I think the most important thing to convey between the two of them is that of a support system. It’s really important to show young people especially that there’s a person to confide in, and that friendship is possible. If that does evolve into a romantic relationship, then awesome. But let’s hope that it’s warranted, and real. And there’s no greater way to portray a love story than to prolong it as long as possible.”

Criss knows a thing or two about fictional love stories. The San Francisco native has been doing theater for much of his short life. In high school and as a student at the University of Michigan, he appeared in musicals like the “lost Sondheim” show Do I Hear a Waltz and the Rodgers and Hart classic Babes in Arms.

“I’m a big Rodgers and Hart fan. For my audition for Blaine, I sang ‘Where or When’ [from Babes],” he says. “I was a big musical theater rat. I was just a fanboy who got lucky.”

During college, Criss became a member of the UM alumni theater company Team Starkid, playing Harry Potter in the spoof A Very Potter Musical and writing songs for the original musical Me and My Dick (the recording is available on iTunes). He also released a solo EP called Human, showing off his smooth tenor. (There’s a Facebook group called “I liked Darren Criss before he was on Glee.”)

He landed a few TV roles (Cold Case, the short-lived series Eastwick), but it was with Glee that he became an instant hit singing lead in an all-male a capella version of Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream.” The opportunity is something that the actor, who is straight, doesn’t take lightly.

“It’s incredibly important to me,” he says. “As an actor, you’re always worried that you’re going to be stuck doing ancillary things, like the boyfriend or the cop or the football coach or something. You just hope for something that you feel has some kind of significance. This would be one of those things that has a great amount of value to me personally and, I think, to a greater community.”

As for his rising fame, he’s cautious to use the word “celebrity”(although the screaming fans in Fort Worth on Saturday would argue otherwise). But he’s preparing himself for it.

“Everybody wants to know who you are, which is a very unfair position to be in because all of us are trying to figure that out on a consistent basis,” he says. “So it really forces you to evaluate and analyze yourself. It’s really forced me into really trying to solidify myself because if people are paying attention, it’s important to step up to the plate and make sure that [I’m] representing something positive.”

Millions of Gleeks can’t be wrong.

New episodes of Glee resume with a special Super Bowl Sunday episode.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright