Prints charming

‘A-List’ photographer Mike Ruiz stands above reality TV royalty

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RENAISSANCE MAN | Mike Ruiz, above, designed a collection for J. Cheikh, including men’s swimwear, opposite. (Photos courtesy QC Cong Photography)

JEF TINGLEY  | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Remember on sitcoms when the family pet would die, and the parents would break the news to the kids by saying that Sparky went to live on a farm somewhere? Well, that works in the world of reality TV, too. It’s not that all those fan-favorites or most-hated villains from the various seasons die, they just go to a different kind of “farm” after their 15 minutes of fame fade.

One such example is Celebrity Fashion Experience III, a one-night fashion show held recently at Lofty Spaces.

The roster for the event read like a TiVo lineup of guilty pleasure season passes:  M.C. Dawn Neufeld (from VH1’s Football Wives), guests Brig Van Osten (winner of Bravo’s Shear Genius, Season 3); Reco Chapple (Bravo’s The Fashion Show, Season 1); a collection from Nicholas D’Aurizio (Project Runway, Season 8, though he was a no-show due to a wedding conflict); and even pre-show nibbles from pastry chef Porsha Kimble, once an apprentice to Buddy Valastro of TLC’s Cake Boss. Add a catfight from the Bad Girls Club, it could have been a live version of The Soup.

Fashion-5Luckily, guests were instead treated to special celebrity appearance by Mike Ruiz, the hunky model/director/photographer/man of many talents: He’s made small screen appearances on The A-List: New York, Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List, America’s Next Top Model and RuPaul’s Drag Race. While his on-camera street cred would have been reason enough for his appearance at this show, Ruiz was actually there touting his newest title: fashion designer.

“It’s [J. Cheikh’s] fashion line, and I was a guest creative director for Spring 2012,” he explains. “My involvement sort of grew out of meeting their team at charitable events and borrowing outfits for the red carpet. Eventually we just found a way to partner.”

The collection, based on the Dakar Rally (a famous off-road auto race), mixes and matches Northern African influenced textures and colors with structured European tailoring.

But the J. Cheikh collection isn’t Ruiz’s first time working with runway looks. He also recently created a T-shirt line (MR by Mike Ruiz) featuring beefcake images of him styled in the likes of Tom of Finland. (Funds from the shirt sales benefit one of his favorite charities: The Ali Forney Center, an organization that assists in housing for LGBT youth in New York City.)

Adding to his creative streak, Ruiz is in the midst of a book launch for his coffee table pictorial Pretty Masculine, a collection of images that deconstruct perceived ideas about masculinity.

“I wanted to combine feminine and masculine. I did things like drape beautiful floral arrangements on rugged men. It’s not what you would expect a book on masculinity to be, it’s not homoerotic,” says Ruiz. “A lot of books for the gay community are explicit; that’s not my mindset. I wanted to create a beautiful, aspirational ideal of what masculinity should be. I don’t consider myself hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine; I think I am a combination of both, and wanted [the book] to manifest that.” (Proceeds from Pretty Masculine benefit New York’s Gay Men’s Health Crisis.)

While many in Ruiz’s position of being at the cusp of a burgeoning mini-empire get drunk on their own power and quest for stardom, he’s stayed humble, approachable and even philanthropic, encouraging people not only to give back, but also to love themselves. That sincerity has set him apart from so many of his flash-in-the-pan reality TV brethren — he seems like the only anchored, non-bitchy regular on The A-List.

“I had a rough childhood, and as a result I have worked really hard and, you know, made my dream come true,” he says. “When I see people struggling, I feel it’s my responsibility to help them empower themselves. I sort of tie that into everything I do these days to pass on the messaging and help the next generation be empowered, because it took me a while to find my footing.”

Footing…. Hmmm, maybe footwear will be his next world to conquer.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 18, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Dallas without the Ewings

After months of sniping, ‘A-List: Dallas’ debuts and, surprisingly, entertains

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SPOT THE HOT SPOT | Real-life gay cowboy Levi Crocker, center, is the breakout star of ‘The A-List: Dallas,’ which finally debuts on Logo after a summer of controversy. (Photo Mike Ruiz/Logo)

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

Lies, deception, cowboys, swimming pool fights and plenty of rich bitches (male and female): Sounds like a certain TV show we all know and love, right? Well, these are also the same ingredients for Dallas’ newest moment in the reality television spotlight. Taking the successful formula for The A-List: New York and creating a Dallas franchise may have been a head-scratcher for anyone who doesn’t live here, but for those of us that do, we know we have our fair share of camera-ready gays eager to bring on the drama.

I used to think that reality TV should be critiqued under different criteria than scripted shows, but then I realized that if a show wants to take up an hour of my time and valuable space on my DVR, it all comes down to one simple question I pose, whether million-dollar-per-episode comedy or a low-budget reality franchise: Am I entertained?

For The A-List: Dallas, the surprising answer is “yes.” Admittedly, I can barely squint my way through an episode of the New York version, so I had minimal expectations for Dallas. But by the time the first episode’s credits rolled and scenes from the entire season played out, I found myself hooked.

That’s in large part because of the casting. They’ve found a group of friends and frenemies with enough ready-made conflict to easily fill an entire season. Sure, much of it is exaggerated for effect, but give gays enough alcohol and stick them in front of a camera crew and how could sparks not fly?

At the center of most of the drama is Levi Crocker, the handsome cowboy that every guy wants to rope in. In the past, he’s dated Taylor Garret, a gay Christian Republican and now denies dating James Doyle, a trust-fund baby who remembers things a little differently. There’s also Chase Hutchison, a real estate investor whose hair becomes its very own character; Phillip Willis, a high-end stylist with a love for gossip; and Ashley Kelly, a female photographer who just loves her gays.

The good thing about this cast is their wicked sense of humor — and it appears that they’re in on the joke. I mean, who couldn’t be camping up a little saying catty things like,

“This is a genetic gift. Does it mean I’m superior? Maybe.” Or, “I’m one of Dallas’ hottest stylists.” Or maybe they’re just shallow jerks like most every other cast member of every single reality show ever created anywhere. Only time will tell, but for now, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Most of all, The A-List: Dallas is a fun watch just to see how many people you recognize and how many favorite restaurants and nightspots you can spot. If you’ve been to the same sushi bar and know a few of the same people, that makes you A-List by association. And that’s pretty much all it takes.

Premieres Monday on Logo at 10 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 7, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

PHOTOS, VIDEO: Pride San Antonio

CLICK HERE TO VIEW MORE PHOTOS FROM PRIDE SAN ANTONIO

Even though there was a fence around the Pride San Antonio Block Party in Crockett Park on Saturday it could not contain the sheer size of the celebration. The entire Main Avenue strip, from the Essence Bar on the south to the Silver Dollar Saloon at the northern end, was bursting to the seams with revelers.

Crockett Park was packed to the gills. Every parking lot in the neighborhood was full and by 7:30 p.m. folks with lawn chairs were picking out the good spots along the parade route.

It seemed to this observer that this could have been the biggest Pride Block Party and Parade since the tradition was restarted five years ago. By moving the Block Party to the park, Pride organizers managed to get more people not only into the festival but into the entire neighborhood as well.

In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, Phillip Barcena, president of Pride San Antonio, estimated that 15,000 people would witness the Pride Parade, which began at West Dewey and ended at West Cypress.

At the corner of Dewey and North Main parade participants lined up at the starting point of the seven-block parade route. Many parade participants sought refuge from the heat and waited inside the Silver Dollar Saloon which was directly across the street from the parade lineup.

Among the marchers were two city councilmen: Diego Bernal (District 1) and Ray Lopez (District 6), more than in any previous parade. Perennial participants included State Sen. Leticia Van De Putte and State Rep. Joe Farias. There too was outgoing Director of Health Dr. Fernando Guerrera along with the new Director of Health Dr. Thomas Schlenker.

—  Sam Sanchez

A fuel-injected ‘Drag Race’

START YOUR ENGINES | Ru says being an ‘introverted extrovert’ is part of the secret weapon to a fabulous career.

RuPaul says sleep deprivation may be key to bitchy success as a Racer

RELATED STORY: Dallas’ Shangela is 1st returning contestant

LAWRENCE FERBER  | Contributing Writer
lawrencewferber@hotmail.com

On Monday, the third season of Logo’s hit RuPaul’s Drag Race exits the gate at full speed with a 90-minute premiere, and it’s running on some seriously premium fuel this year: Fiercer contestants, more elaborate challenges, higher profile guest judges (including Lily Tomlin, Margaret Cho and Chloe Sevigny) and the return of a Texas fave from last season.

Yet again ruling the proceedings, both in and out of drag, is superstar drag persona RuPaul. Ru, who has a new album due later this spring, sat down to dish about contestants old and new, the effects of sleep deprivation on drag queens (hint: emotional breakdowns) and what else is in the works for him.

Dallas Voice: What do you make of season three’s group of contestants and how do they differ from their predecessors? RuPaul: The honest to God truth, they’re so much more skilled, and also on an even-keeled level. These kids came with their A-game like I’ve never seen before. I don’t know if it’s our casting or what’s happening with the girls out there since the show debuted, but these kids are skilled. And the bonds they forged early on with each other is probably the most amazing element.

Yet again the first challenge is a photo shoot with Mike Ruiz. Do you forgive Mike Ruiz for his ridiculous hair on The A-List New York? It looked like a bowl of lubed squid ink pasta.  Ha! I’ve heard people talk about it. But I don’t know because I’ve never seen it. That’s funny!

Tell us some dishy behind-the-scenes factoid about season 3. Well, we’re working on so little sleep, the schedule is so fast because we’re basically shooting every day. It’s tough, grueling. So these kids come on the show and think, “I’m fierce and bad,” but can you do it day-in, day-out, for 15-hours per day? It may look like everyone’s relaxed, but nobody’s getting any sleep at all.

One typically isn’t very detail-oriented when sleep deprived. No, they’re not, and they’re drawing on a lifetime of experience because this show’s challenges are based on things I had to do on a daily basis in my own career. Anyone in the business has to be multi-tasking and wear a lot of hats. You can’t just be good at one thing. We do something, Queens in Space, where the kids shoot competing trailers for a sci-fi movie and it is hilarious. Most people think, “I can do this,” but you have to come with some acting skills, the ability to take direction. Our challenges put them through it, they really do.

Did the selection process change this season, or was there a shift in emphasis as far as the kinds of queens you looked for? Aside from the surprise 13th contestant, no one from Texas this year — last year there were three! It doesn’t change. The truth is we’re looking for showgirls. We want girls who work at doing drag for money, for a career. The things we ask them to do, a novice wouldn’t be able to. We’re looking for them to be marketing execs, managers, designers, strategists, performers, models, you name it. And the novice wouldn’t be able to do that. They’d buckle. And throw in the sleep deprivation and schedule, and you have to be in it to win it. This can’t be something you do on the side.

One contestant buckles under the pressure and breaks down in the first episode. Did that happen a lot, and how do you typically respond to it? They definitely break down because of sleep deprivation. Emotions are very fragile because they’re in a new environment, we’re putting them through the paces, and I have to give them pep talks from time to time: This is your opportunity, the world is watching. You can’t say, oh, I feel like I didn’t get my chance. Well kiddo, you are on now. You are on. There are no second chances — you have to bring it. Maybe you’ll get another chance somewhere else, but it’s time now.

How much do you miss saying Pan-dor-a Boxx? I miss [all the former contestants], actually, because even before they’re on the show, we’re living with audition tapes. We’re moving around who will work with whom. It’s a lot like casting a play: We have to have the sassy one, the ingénue, the sweet one, and sometimes the person in the role of the sweet one gets swapped out for someone else who works better in the ensemble, so we are actually living and loving and feeling these girls way before they even get to Hollywood, and then when they’re dismissed it’s heartbreaking to me. But I also know that they will come back. In some other form or show that we do, on the club circuit. I will see them again.

How has this show changed your life since its premiere? Well, I pretty much have to stay in L.A. For almost 30 years I’ve had a nightclub act I performed around the world constantly. Now the last gig I did was October 2009. With both shows it’s really kept me here in L.A. working, though I love L.A. I’m also an introvert masquerading as an extrovert, so I’ve had to spend a lot more time with people than I normally do!

What other projects are in the works? I’m writing a sequel to [my 2007 film] Starrbooty. The challenge is I want to do it G-rated but nastier, more subversive. In the immortal words of Elvira, there’s nothing wrong with G-rated movies as long as there’s lots of gratuitous sex and violence.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 21, 2011.

—  John Wright

‘A-List: New York’ returns in the fall

We already knew Logo was casting for The A-List: Dallas and Los Angeles, but word comes today that A-List: New York will return in the fall as well. Reichen will be back with Rodiney (still his boyfriend — I was at brunch with them in New York on New Year’s) as well as the back-stabbing Austin, and basically irrelevant regulars from last season Mike Ruiz, Ryan, TJ and Derek. Logo’s also promising some new faces.

Still no word, though on when the Dallas and L.A. editions will begin airing.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

‘A’ game

Logo tries to beat Bravo at its own reality game with ‘The A-List’ and ‘The Arrangement’

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

MEN BEHAVINGLY GAILY  |  Is Reichen Lemkuhl, above left, an ‘A-Lister?’ In those swim trunks, he is; below, a naked challenge kicks off ‘The Arrangement.’
MEN BEHAVINGLY GAILY | Is Reichen Lemkuhl, above left, an ‘A-Lister?’ In those swim trunks, he is; below, a naked challenge kicks off ‘The Arrangement.’

With the success — and appeal among the gay community — of the Real Housewives franchise, it seemed only logical that someone would eventually come up with a gay version … only it’s not on Bravo, but Logo.

So as we watched a screener of The A-List: New York, I asked the man sitting on the couch next to me — my frequent plus-one at events — whether either of us could be considered “A-listers.” “No, honey,” he said without hesitation. “Not even in Dallas. We’re not important enough.”

I’m not sure I agree, assuming the standard for “A-list” status is the klatch of bitchy queens who snipe at each other on this new reality series. They go see Reichen Lemkuhl in a dopey off-off-Broadway play and hang around for the reception after; I do stuff like that three times a week. They gossip over coffee and attend fashion shows and museum openings; I turn down more of those invitations than I accept.

I’m not claiming to be an A-lister, and might even admit I’m lower on the totem than Kathy Griffin; I just don’t see that they are any higher. Except that they are on TV.
That must be it.

But that is not to say the show doesn’t have its appeal. In fact to me, self-delusion is almost juicier than actual achievement. To be fair, some of these men have accomplished something: Mike Ruiz, a daddy who likes to take his shirt off (bless ‘im), is a famous photographer, and Lemkuhl won The Amazing Race. But hairdresser Ryan? Wannabe model Austin? I don’t think so.

Of course, the “real” housewives never struck me as real anyway (there, like here, the “friendships” feel manufactured). While The A-List is just as un-real, it’s also hotter, especially Reichen’s Brazilian boyfriend Rodiney. Looks like there could be some claws coming out with that sexual tension. Thing is, I wanna know what happens. Guess I’m hooked.

Grade: Three stars

Rodiney isn’t the only cute South American debuting on Logo this week; there’s also Argentinian Guillermo, one of the florists competing for title of top flower arranger on The Arrangement, from the Bailey-Barbato team that produces RuPaul’s Drag Race. Just how suspenseful, or interesting, is a competition show about floral design? Well, considering that Tyra Banks has made a TV career out of herding a pack of empty-headed waifs through the rigors of walking while chewing gum, at least these folks have marketable skills.

At least part of the appeal of reality series is the cleverness of the terminology (quickfire challenges, “You’re fired!,” etc.). The jargon here is hokey: “Are you a grower or a shower?” Gigi Levangie Grazer, the smug and uninteresting host, asks the contestants, before setting them on their “seedling challenge” to find out who will be “weeded out” and who gets to wait in the “greens room.” Uggh.

Butch florist Russ says he’s here to “promote masculinity” in floral arrangement, but having to decorate naked people with sushi and rose petals doesn’t really convey that to me. But ehh! These crafty game shows long ago ceased being about the prizes or the skills and all about the personalities. There are some here. Whether they will wilt on the vine before the final challenge is anyone’s guess. But this is the new reality of television — I guess we should be thankful it’s also where gays are just as prominent as their straight counterparts. Even if it is on Logo.

Grade: Two stars

The A-List: New York debuts Monday at 9 p.m. and The Arrangement at 10 p.m. on Logo.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 1, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas