A perfect ten(or)

SING OUT, LOUISE! | Keane Fletcher, front, is one of the openly gay members of the popera dectet The Ten Tenors.

Getting down with Down Under’s Keane Fletcher, one of the gay singers in the Ten Tenors

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

There are Ten Tenors, but one who we find totally swoon-worthy: Keane Fletcher, a gay 25-year-old Aussie who sings like an angel. And the Ten Tenors is a great place to be a gay man.

“I read an article where it said that 30 percent of the group is gay. Does that mean three out of the 10 tenors are gay, or just bits and pieces of us all — like my toes, someone else’s neck, an armpit or two? That would make sense. Some of the straight guys in the group are the campiest ones of the lot,” Fletcher jokes.

For as long as Fletcher can remember, being in front of an audience was all he wanted to do, even though singing itself came much later.

“I was always into performing. I did all the school plays, I was on the debating team — very Glee,” he says. ”Anything I could do to get some stage time. I didn’t start singing, though, until my drama teacher at high school made me audition for The King & I. I got the part and haven’t stopped singing since.”

Before joining the Ten Tenors in early 2010, Fletcher had a starring role in Altar Boyz and the musical Buddy, about Buddy Holly, back in Australia. That’s as close as he’s ever been to Texas — and, he admits, about all he knows about the Lone Star State. But after a year on the road with his nine brethren, he’s looking forward to his Texas debut — and sharing what the group has been famous for since forming Down Under in the mid ‘90s.

“It’s been a very challenging experience. The Tenors have really allowed me to go further with my vocals and have opened me up to different styles of singing that I wouldn’t normally have pursued. That, and touring the world. I’ve visited nearly every continent in the last year. We’ve yet to book a show in Antarctica, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!”

Perhaps even bigger than Antarctica is Oprah — metaphorically speaking. Fletcher says appearing on her show was surreal — the media queen is just as popular Down Under as she is in the states.

“She’s definitely a big deal in Australia!” he exclaims. “She almost seems mythological to some of my friends back home. I’m sure there’s an Oprah religion forming as we speak.”

But what can really be surreal is life on the road.

“The first year with the group I tried to explore every town we visited. Now that I’m older and wiser I’ve learned to pick and choose what I want to see. We got to visit the Teotihuacan pyramids in Mexico City a week ago; that was incredible,” he says. “I’ve had a couple of good nights out on the road, too. In Toronto last December, we ran into some of the cast of Priscilla the Musical and they kept getting us to talk so they could study our accents. Apparently we say ‘no’ really strangely, so it sounds more like ‘noi.’ Who knew?”

The Tenors’ accents may not come through when they sing, but that’s just fine by their legions of fans.

“People can expect to see 10 guys belting their guts out. The biggest misconception is that all we sing is classical repertoire. I would say our show is more like a rock concert with suits. Or a classical concert with electric guitars. It’s classo-rock. Or maybe just cl’ock,” Fletcher says.

Perhaps most of all, he wants the LGBT community to come makes some noise.

“We love our gay fans, except they tend to be a little quiet,” he says. “It’s not until they get to the [autograph] signing line that they go berserk. I want to see people dancing in the aisles. And screaming, there is definitely not enough screaming.”

Consider the challenge accepted.

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

—  John Wright

Music. Score!

THE BOI AND THE COWBOY | Generations collide when Cazwell, right, and Cowboy Jeff Olson of the Village People bring their very gay music to the Cotton Bowl on Thursday, Feb. 3.

Musicians including Cazwell and Jeff Olson of the Village People head to Texas for a big gay Super Bowl party — although neither is all that excited about the game

All’s well that Cazwell

Who knew it just takes a popsicle to rise to stardom? Just ask Katy Perry. Or Cazwell, whose colorful music video for “Ice Cream Truck” became the gay anthem of last summer. With hot dancers and sexualized frozen confections, it has an infectious beat and a sense of joy that combined to make it a huge hit for the artist.

Just don’t expect the Ice Cream Truck Boys to join Cazwell when he’s in town next week for XLV Party, a three-day event inside a 60,000-square-foot climate-controlled tent on the field of the Cotton Bowl. The festivities kick off with a super-gay night of entertainment on Thursday. And even with the likes of Lady Bunny, DJ Inferno and the iconic Village People sharing stage time, Cazwell plans to bring it.

Describing himself as what would result if Biggie Smalls ate Donna Summer, Cazwell has combined the energy of dance music with the soul of hip-hop for a fun, modern sound that is all about getting people to have fun and dance.

“I’m going to turn it out. It’s going to be a high-energy show,” he says. “I’m going to do a combination of my dance songs but I also just want to kick back and wrestle with some beats and some rhymes. I think people will get to know me a little better as an artist.”

XLV Party will mark Cazwell’s second appearance in Dallas in less than a year and he’s anxious to come back.

“I was in Dallas last summer. It was really, really good. I was very surprised by the turnout. I wasn’t expecting so many fans,” he says. “We did a meet-and-greet that lasted three hours.”

His fan base has grown exponentially since “Ice Cream Truck,” but he still remembers the days when even Lady Gaga couldn’t get a reaction from a New York crowd.

“We did a song together at a club called Family. She’d always been kind of eccentric, but really down-to-earth. We had this stage that was like the size of a door, but she took it seriously. She crammed two dancers up there and then I got up there and she said, ‘I’m going to throw you to the ground and ride you like I’m fucking you and the audience is going to go crazy,’” he recalls. The gimmick landed with a thud.

“Somewhere there’s footage of it, but I can’t find it. The funny thing about it is that we really didn’t get the reaction we thought we were going to get. Nobody knew who she was so they just kind of looked at us with their arms folded. Like great, here’s another club kid with a song. Six months later, everybody knew who Lady Gaga was.”

Cazwell has garnered a loyal following on the New York club scene and has broken out with hit songs like, “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King” and “All Over Your Face,” but “Ice Cream Truck” is really where things clicked with a larger audience. And it almost didn’t happen.

“I didn’t want to write a new song; I was feeling really lazy. But a friend was pressuring me,” he says. “I wrote it for this movie called Spork, which won a bunch of awards for the Tribeca Film Festival and is going nationwide in May. My friend said he wanted a beat that sounded like an ice cream truck. We did the whole thing in like 45 minutes. It was just really, really easy.”

He wasn’t going to do anything with it until his manager suggested he make a quick video “to the song to get my face out there. It made me think of summertime and the hot Latin guys in my neighborhood. We all know a bunch of guys, dancers from the club scene so we invited them all over. No one was paid. We’re all friends and they just wanted to be a part of it.”

The video become a sensation across Facebook and video sites like YouTube, and with it came legions of new fans. But that’s OK … for now.

“I think that right now I’m in a good time in my life because I think the people that come up to me are genuine fans. I think when you get more famous, people want to meet you just because you’re famous. That could get tedious. I’m sure people go up to Lady Gaga just because she’s Lady Gaga, not because they respect her music,” Cazwell says.

“I feel right now that people are being genuine with me. I hope they’re people I’ve had a positive effect on because when people tell me that, it really makes me feel really good.”

And as for his excitement over the Super Bowl? Well, not so much. Cazwell admits he’s not a football fan — or a fan of any sport for that matter.

“I’m not passionate about sports at all. I don’t get it. I see sports on the news and wonder how that’s a news story. It’s just a game!” he says.

That’s all right. We see him as more a concessions guy anyway … like, the ice cream truck.

— Steven Lindsey

Cowboy up

Despite the cheeky allure of the Village People, the concept band is nothing to laugh at. After 34 years, the quintessential disco band still gets audiences to do the “Y.M.C.A.” dance. A  Rolling Stone cover, a Walk of Fame star and million-selling albums are nothing to sniff at.

Jeff Olson jumped onboard after the peak of the Village People’s popularity in the late 1970s, but he’s still enjoying the ride three decades later.

“Our first and foremost obligation is to just entertain,” he says. “We are obligated to do it and I’d say we do it very well.”

As a VP veteran, Olson sounds less like a music star and more like an elder slacker. He has a relaxed, cool inflection as he talks up his favorite classic rock bands and will say “man” after most everything. He’s the kind of guy you could kill a few hours with, as long as a beer and maybe something to smoke are handy.

The People don’t talk much about the sexuality of its members, but it’s hard to ignore the impact the group had on the gay community in the ’70s.

After the band floundered in the ’80s when Olson joined to replace original VP Cowboy Randy Jones, the gay audience stuck around.

“I don’t think we’ve had any change with the gay fans. They have always been very loyal and we’re still very grateful about that,” he says. “We’ve done lots to increase our other fans but really, nobody gives a shoot. Who cares anymore about gay or straight thing? We’re on this earth for very short time.”

At 60, Olson feels great and is obviously in shape to do the dance moves, but if it were up to him, he’d stay home. Still, the fans drive him to keep entertaining.

“I hate being on the road,” he admits. “When you live out of a suitcase, so much sucks like trying to get through TSA these days. I love being home, but we really love what we do.”

Where each Village Person represented a distinctive male archetype of gay fantasy, Olson is coy about the popularity of his cowboy image — though as any weekend at the Round-Up Saloon would prove, cowboys are a sexy commodity in Dallas. Olson won’t say if his cowboy is more popular with the boys than the others, but he lets out what sounds like a proud chuckle.

“Honestly I do not know and I don’t care,” he says.” The audiences react differently to all of us. We’re introduced individually so the reaction changes all the time. It’s always all good.”

The irony of Olson coming with the Village People for the very gay night of the Super Bowl party is that sports and crowds aren’t his thing.

“Nah, I don’t follow football,” he says. “And you wanna know a secret? I’m paranoid about crowds. I don’t do well with them and I need space. I don’t like signing autographs because folks don’t do the things they should do as a human being. But one on one I’m good with.”

Despite getting a few things off his chest, Olson mostly wants to remind that the Village People don’t necessarily stand for anything … but they will make you dance.

— Rich Lopez

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 28, 2011.

—  John Wright