Dallas without the Ewings

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

ALIST_DALLAS_GROUP_retouched_3

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

Drew’s clues

Our ‘Most Eligible’ gay gets real about reality TV

ON THE TOWN | Ginsburg, above left, attends DIFFA, showing Bravo audiences the gay side of Dallas.

Love it, hate it or maybe just love to hate it, reality television has put Dallas right in the middle of its crosshairs with shows like Big Rich Texas, the upcoming A-List: Dallas and Bravo’s newest beehive of bitchery, Most Eligible Dallas, filming around town in recent months.

Eligible promises a front row seat to the lives of six of our city’s most see-and-be-seen socialites (although popular opinion seems to question some of their pedigrees). We had a chance to visit with the lone gay member of this glitterati: Drew Ginsburg. As is boasted in his Bravo bio, the 29-year-old is “a proud gay man, [who] prefers cars to couture” and works for his family’s business of high-end automotive dealerships.

Ginsburg shared some local haunts that did not make it on camera, and how he felt Dallas’ reputation, and his own, were faring in the warmth of the Hollywood spotlight.

— Jef Tingley

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Dallas Voice: How did you get involved in the show to begin with? Ginsburg: I was actually approached on Facebook by producers.

What was your reaction to the first time you saw yourself on TV?  Was it the same as when you hear your own recorded voice and think, “I don’t sound like that?”  I was actually quite shocked. I thought I was going to come off funny. I didn’t know I was going to come out looking as good as I am. I really had no expectation of how I looked on camera.

The night the first show aired, we saw many Facebook posts about one of your first on-camera lines where you said you can “have everything you want at the push of a buddon.” You seemed to catch a lot of flack for that pronunciation, especially given the context. Anything you want to add in your defense? Well here’s a fact about the way that I said the word button: I’m dyslexic, I have ADD, and I was actually born with a speech impediment so some words just don’t come out right. And if you don’t like it, guess what? I’m lucky that I can even say “buddon.” If [people] are going to attack me on the way I say button, I think it’s kind of funny. Those are things I wear with honor and pride because they make me who I am. I was born this way, and if they don’t like it they can go complain somewhere else.

In the second episode, you went to a matchmaker — a very old-school one who relies strictly on index cards, no computers. How did you even find her?  My friend found her by Googling gay matchmaker Dallas. I was shocked to go to her house in Bluffview and meet her. For some reason, when I heard matchmaker, I was thinking like matzo balls and dates — my family’s Jewish. I was expecting Yiddish and Yenta… but I didn’t get Yenta.

Even though your date with J.P., a diminutive-statured redhead from Chihuahua, Mexico, whom you called an “endangered species” didn’t work out, would you recommend matchmaking for a friend? I’d recommend matchmaking to anyone. I mean, there’s nothing wrong in my mind in taking a shot in the dark sometimes…especially when it comes to love.

Who on the show would benefit the most from matchmaking? I think Courtney. I feel like sometimes you need to get your feathers ruffled and break out of your old routines.

How do you think Dallas comes across on the show? I think Dallas looks incredible. They got a picture of the new bridge. That was kind of cool.

Speaking of Dallas, we’ve seen you on the Katy Trail with cast mate Glenn Pakulak (and his dreamy washboard abs) and at other notable locations like Sfuzzi and Naan. Do you have any favorite local spots that didn’t end up on camera so far? The Grapevine has not ended up on camera. It’s one of my favorite hangouts. Same with Company Café and Bolsa.

Since you’re Most Eligible’s lone homo, where would you take your fellow cast mates to paint the town pink? [We’d] probably start at the Grapevine as a primer even though it’s not a gay bar. Then around 11 p.m., I would take them to the Round-Up. It’s fun and legendary… I got to meet Lady Gaga at my building after her performance at the Round-Up. She called me a “Little Monster,” but I explained to her that I was six foot four and not that little!

While we are on the subject of being “the only gay in the village,” were you out before the show aired? Did you just quote Little Britain to me? Yes, I was out before the show aired. But I have [heard from] a bunch of, like, high school friends … they were all shocked to find out. I was the one in high school who was caught drinking with all the cheerleaders. I was also on the football team, so everyone thought I was a playa. But I was just hanging out with them.

Weight loss seems to be a big catalyst in your life. How long has it been? And how did you go from gastric bypass to injecting yourself with HCG (a hormone produced during pregnancy that helps with weight loss)? I’m glad you brought that up. In 2002, after watching my grandma pass away I decided that I needed to do something. I was 420 lbs., and I realized dieting was not the path to do something drastic to jumpstart the process. I talked to several doctors who said my only option was gastric bypass.

I started that process and my alcoholism took into effect after my gastric bypass about two years later. I had to deal with that road bump, which I am glad I did because it helped me get to grips with my sexuality. Getting sober made me realize I had to be more honest with myself and come out of the closet.

When I came to Dallas, I did not have the same support system [as in California]. I went from 250 lbs. to 280 lbs. in 2010, and that’s when I started HCG and working with a trainer and on my nutrition. My weight still fluctuates. During filming, I jumped from 212 lbs. to 235 lbs. because of the stresses of filming, work and not getting to go to the gym. But I have not used HCG since April of this year.

One of your claims to fame is that you are a car fanatic. What are you driving right now? I’m in the 2012 Audi A6. It’s a brand new car. I’ve had every single model variation [of Audi] since I started driving. I’ve always loved this car: in my teens, in my 20s and now into my 30s.

Cast mate Tara Harper is very involved with Paws in the City, a North Texas animal charity. Do you have a favorite local charity you support? I support Legacy Counseling and Hospice and DIFFA. My family has been supporting DIFFA since I was 16 years old.

You mention that because of HCG, your pee will actually test positive during a pregnancy test. Have you ever been brave enough to waltz into the drugstore for your own box of EPT? Yes I did…and it did work!

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

—  Michael Stephens

Bitter, sweets

NUP_144817_1361It has been a surprisingly long time since a “classic” Top Chef series has aired: Almost a full year since something other than All-Stars, Masters or Just Desserts. And I have to say: I miss the original, where up-and-coming chefs with lots of talent actually compete to see who’s the best. (Later in the fall, it will return — set in Texas.) But, like a heroin addict settling for Methodone — not as good, but a compromise replacement — the new season of Top Chef: Just Desserts will have to tide me through. It’s not the real thing, but it’s close enough.

Well, more or less. Top Chef and Project Runway have always stood out because their contestants have real skills — you sense the producers sincerely want the best, not just those who make the best reality television. (What’s A-list about the A-Listers?) Increasingly, reality competition shows rely on crazy incompetents and arrogant bastards (or bitches) to keep the conflicts alive.

This season of Desserts seems to backpedal on that promise , with Craig, pictured lef, the flamboyant newcomer tp pastry, throwing a wrench into the plans of more seasoned chefs, including Dallas’ Lina Biancamano (she who creates the confections at Stephan Pyles, also pictured). The deal with the self-centered Melissa, who you know will stay around too long just to offer viewers a villain.

The season premiere, which adds superchef Hubert Keller as a judge, doesn’t have the spark of last season (yet), and it’s not clear yet who will add the most enjoyable camp factor. But I take my fixes as they come. It’ll last me til Top Chef: Texas; I just know it will; it’s gotta.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Premieres Aug. 24; airs weekly on
Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Master of HIS domain

Ben Starr, the recently out Dallas cheftestant on Fox’s ‘MasterChef,’ camps it up on Gordon Ramsay’s cooking competition series

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

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MASTERCHEF
Airs Tuesdays on Fox (Ch. 4) at 8 p.m.

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When Lewisville-based travel writer Ben Starr auditioned for Fox’s MasterChef, he doubted they’d be interested in his style of home cooking. But not only did he make the cut, he’s been one of the more memorable cheftestants — just this week, he had the judge’s favorite dish.

The series is only halfway through, but for Starr, it’s already made a huge difference in his life: It forced him to come out to his parents just last month. We talked to him about the experience and his favorite meals.

…………………….

You’ve been struggling since you wowed the judges at your audition. The audition kinda set me up to expect that I would do well in the competition, but we spun pretty quickly into an emphasis on gourmet cuisine, which is not my thing at all. My street tacos were a little bit spiffy, and I am extremely well traveled, but I tend to eat peasant food even when I travel. I was seeing all these people around me making restaurant quality cuisine and trying to compete on their level. Nice to make a good ol’ catfish in a skillet.

What was the hardest challenge for you? The biggest challenge has definitely been psychological. I’m competitive by nature and I want to feel like I’m competition, but I was surrounded by chefs that were a little more connected to the Food Network that I am. They’d use words like umami [a Japanese word for a savory flavor] and I had to go look it up. There was a common lexicon among the contestants about what these famous chefs I’ve never heard of are doing in their restaurants. I felt like an idiot stumbling around in the dark. That started to leak into my cooking and I began to question, “Is this sophisticated enough? Is this even sophisticated?” The episode this week was a turning point. I felt like for the first time I’m back in my own element.

You certainly have made an impression with your outfits. I don’t wear those hats at home, though I do wear an apron, just for practicality. But [the show] has started this storytelling legacy — people expect me to wear them when they come over. My mom made me the pumpkin hat and apron. Actually, she made me five or six pairs to wear. That’s why you always see a different one on me each episode. I was going through them.

Was wearing them part of a conscious effort to stand during the auditions? I am fairly myself, though I had to set myself apart that wasn’t just about food. I needed to be someone [the judges] remember when they go home at night. That’s why I talked about my rural upbringing, because I thought it would generate a memory.

Had you watched the show before? Did you know what to expect? I don’t watch much TV, but this is not my first time being on TV, which is ironic because I abhor reality television —it brings out the worst in our culture. But I did Rachael Ray’s So You Think You Can Cook in 2007. The audience there was much more caring and nurturing than the machine on MasterChef, but I was a little bit prepared for the frank judgment.

I did not watch the first season of MasterChef, but my friend Karen Rutherford said, “I’ll never speak to you again if you don’t audition [for season 2].” So I watched them all on Hulu. I just sweated my way through them. I knew how intense and stressful it is to cook on TV, and saw how brutal Joe Bastianich and Gordon Ramsay were with the contestants. I thought: Screw this. Then a few weeks passed and the terror faded [and I went through the lengthy audition process]. It was a lot of work — the most difficult full-time job I’ve ever had that doesn’t pay.

What’s your favorite kind of cuisine? While my DNA wants to say Mexican food — I had it in the womb six times a week — I am most intrigued by Thai food. It is so complex, yet so much of it is cooked on the street in a tiny little cart. From the richest to the poorest, everybody eats on the street.

How about a favorite meal? One of the most memorable meals I’ve ever had was in Egypt on New Year’s Eve in 2001. I spent it on Mount Sinai and hiked eight miles back down to the car for the drive back to our resort. [The driver] fell asleep at the wheel and we plummeted into a canyon. Eventually a camel train of Bedouins came by the bottom of this canyon. They took us onto the camels and rode four or five miles to their camp. All the women came out, killed a goat and started cooking while the men tried to pull our car out of the canyon.

It was a humble meal — just a goat stew and some flat bread — but the flavors were really intense and felt they came right out of the desert. I could not even communicate with these people who live in abject poverty, but still they were willing to kill one of their last goats and throw a big feast for us because it’s in their nature to be hospitable. I realized it was important to me to use food to nurture people in my life — I could never be a chef and be in the back. I need to be with the people. My partner is one of the main reasons I cook — we’ve been together eight years and I want to marry him one day.

Did you plan to be “the gay guy” on the show? When I was on [Rachael Ray] it was not addressed and I didn’t talk about it openly. At that point my family didn’t know I was gay — in fact, I didn’t come out to my parents until about five weeks ago. They were totally shell-shocked — they didn’t have a clue.

Maybe mom should have guessed since she made you all those hats. Ha! Maybe.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 8, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Judge to rule this week in Nikki Araguz case

Nikki Araguz

Transgender widow vows appeal if she loses case

JUAN A. LOZANO  |  Associated Press

WHARTON, Texas — The transgender widow of a Texas firefighter will likely learn next week whether his family’s request to nullify their marriage and strip her of any death benefits will be granted, a judge said Friday.

State District Judge Randy Clapp made the announcement after hearing arguments in a lawsuit filed by the family of firefighter Thomas Araguz III, who was killed while battling a blaze last year. The suit argues that his widow shouldn’t get any benefits because she was born a man and Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage.

The widow, Nikki Araguz, said she had done everything medically and legally possible to show that she is female and was legally married under Texas law. She believes that she’s entitled to widow’s benefits.

“I believe the judge is going to rule in my favor,” Araguz said after the court hearing.

The lawsuit seeks control over death benefits and assets totaling more than $600,000, which the firefighter’s family wants to go to his two sons from a previous marriage. Voiding the marriage would prevent Nikki Araguz from receiving any insurance or death benefits or property the couple had together.

Thomas Araguz died while fighting a fire at an egg farm near Wharton, about 60 miles southwest of Houston, in July 2010. He was 30.

His mother, Simona Longoria, filed a lawsuit asking that her son’s marriage be voided. She and her family have said he learned of his wife’s gender history just prior to his death, and after he found out, he moved out of their home and planned to end the marriage.

But Nikki Araguz, 35, has insisted that her husband was aware she was born a man and that he fully supported her through the surgical process to become a woman. She underwent surgery two months after they were married in 2008.

Longoria’s attorney, Chad Ellis, argued that Texas law — specifically a 1999 appeals court ruling that stated chromosomes, not genitals, determine gender — supports his client’s efforts to void the marriage.

The ruling upheld a lower court’s decision that threw out a wrongful death lawsuit filed by a San Antonio woman, Christie Lee Cavazos Littleton, after her husband’s death. The court said that although Littleton had undergone a sex-change operation, she was actually a man, based on her original birth certificate, and therefore her marriage and wrongful death claim were invalid.

Ellis presented medical and school records that he said showed Nikki Araguz was born without female reproductive organs and that she presented herself as a male while growing up and going to school. He also said her birth certificate at the time of her marriage indicated she was a man.

“By law, two males cannot be married in this state,” Ellis told the judge.

Nikki Araguz, who was born in California, did not change her birth certificate to reflect she had become a female until after her husband’s death, said Edward Burwell, one of the attorneys for Thomas Araguz’s ex-wife, Heather Delgado, the mother of his two children.

But one of Nikki Araguz’s attorneys, Darrell Steidley, said that when his client got her marriage license, she presented the necessary legal documents to show she was a female. He also noted changes made in 2009 to the Texas Family Code that allowed people to present numerous alternatives to a birth certificate as the proof of identity needed to get a marriage license. That was an example, he argued, of the state trying to move away from the 1999 appeals court ruling.

The changes in 2009 allowed transgendered people to use proof of their sex change to get a marriage license. The Texas Legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit county and district clerks from using a court order recognizing a sex change as documentation to get married.

After the hearing, the firefighter’s family and attorneys for his ex-wife criticized plans by Nikki Araguz to star in a reality television dating show and implied she was only interested in money and fame that the case would bring her.

“That is absurd,” Nikki Araguz said in response. “I’m after my civil equality and the rights that I deserve as the wife of a fallen firefighter.”

If the judge rules against the firefighter’s family in their motion for a summary judgment, the case would then proceed to trial. Araguz said if the judge rules against her, she would appeal, all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

—  John Wright

Lady Raja

Raja
SHANTAY, SHE STAYED | Raja Gemini was announced this week as winner of Season 3 of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’

‘Drag Race’ winner Raja had to keep a poker face for 8 months, but now she welcomes the papa, paparazzi

RuPaul’s Drag Race crossed the finish line this week, and the best woman won. Sutan Amrull, better known as Raja Gemini, kept her eye on the prize since the first episode and ended up being crowned the next drag superstar.

This 6-foot-3 Los Angelo, who is part Dutch and part Indonesian, is no stranger to reality television, having appeared on America’s Next Top Model as the show’s principal make-up artist and serving as Adam Lambert’s face painter for his tour. In short, Raja knows glam and glitter on the road.

After winning a close race, Raj was crowned the winner and rose early the day after to chat about his experience on the show.
— Jerry Nunn

Dallas Voice: How do you feel now that the experience is over? Raja Gemini: I don’t think it has really hit me. I have been keeping the secret since August, even from my parents. I didn’t even talk to my mom about it. She seems to have known, though. She said, “A mother always knows…”

Do you think the judges were fair? I think for the most part the judges were fair. I think Delta Work should have stayed longer. I don’t think they really understood her humor.

Did you have a favorite celebrity judge? There were a few of them. I couldn’t believe that my season had two of my greatest idols: Vanessa Williams and Jody Watley. Jody Watley was a style icon for me since I was a boy in junior high. I wanted to wear giant earrings when I saw her. For her to be there as one of the judges, and Vanessa Williams as well, was a really huge deal for me.

How old were you when you first did drag? Experimenting with it, probably about 15. I have been doing drag all of my life. I was that kid that played dress up all the time, wearing different sheets and dishtowels. I made costumes. I was really getting into it by 16 years old.

People are saying you were friends with RuPaul before the show. People have made a lot more [out of it] than it really is. I have been a makeup artist for a very long time and have crossed paths with a lot of people. Ru at one point lived in L.A. and was a big fan of the L.A. drag scene. She went to all of the shows and I would see her quite often. We weren’t friends where we would call each other up and talk about boy, financial or family problems — we were just aware of each other’s presence. That’s inevitable when you work within an industry. I wouldn’t even say that Ru and I were acquaintances.

Where did you learn makeup? I was actually an art student and went to University of Orange County in California. I tried to be a student and hated it. I decided to be a makeup artist and then a female impersonator!
What are your plans for the prize money?  Actually, I am going to spend it wisely. I am going to pay off all of my bills No. 1, and clean my plate. I will be able to focus on working now. I will be elaborating and creating a brand, if you will.

Some of the money must go back into your act and the latest outfit. You know, it really does. It is very true when they say, “You have to spend money to make money.” Drag is expensive. But it doesn’t have to be. I am a pretty frugal drag queen and I love a bargain. I am definitely a thrift shopper. I love going to flea markets. It doesn’t always have to be that expensive.

Do you regret fighting with Shangela on the show? No, I love it. I love watching Drag Race and love, love, love watching Untucked as well. That’s my favorite thing! I watch it with all of my friends. We totally laugh and cackled at everything Shangela says. She is brilliant and super smart. She is a really great person. She has a bright future ahead of her.

So you don’t have beef with anyone on the show then? Not at all, not that I can think of…

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

—  Kevin Thomas