Jai Rodriguez – Reality bites

Jai RodriguezJai Rodriguez may not have won the Super Bowl — but he’s going to Disneyland. As we chat on the phone, the man who gained fame as Queer Eye’s cultural savant is on his way to the Happiest Place on Earth.

It’s the kind of spontaneous day that the native New Yorker enjoys, having moved to L.A. three years ago. “In New York, you feel the speed of the city, but L.A. is much slower and more relaxed. When you have more down time you can appreciate things more and have a richer, fuller life.”

Part of Rodriguez’ new life has been hosting Animal Planet’s pet groomer competition show Groomer Has It — with his dog Nemo.

But as a non-white gay man, the 30 year old singer-dancer-reality show host has found drawbacks to gay life in L.A. “While New York is very ethnic and more rough around the edges, the L.A. gay aesthetic is all pretty, white and Abercrombie and Fitch, which I don’t fit. I felt hot in New York, but I got to L.A. and thought, ‘I’m ugly here.’”

“The gay parties in L.A. are very segregated and all of my friends of color feel the same way. I’m half Italian and half Puerto Rican but in L.A. everyone says, ‘Are you Mexican?’ I never realized the negative connotation that people in L.A. have for Latinos.”

It’s not the first time that Rodriguez’ identity has been thrown for a loop. After a five-year stint on Broadway in Rent, he created the musical cabaret show Twisted Cabaret Mondays which ran for two years at New York’s Club XL. Television producers caught his act and called him in to audition for a new reality show.

“I said I’m 23, they said ‘you’re 27.’ I said I’ve had some college, they said, ‘you graduated.’ They re-wrote my whole bio. Then they put me in a room with a blond guy and a guy who looked like a gay Buddy Holly and they made fun of everything I said. I thought they were humiliating me, so I just gave it right back to them.”

“I told my agent to never send me out for a job like that again and I got the job. The guys were Carson and Ted and they were testing me for the Queer Eye repartee.”

The Queer Eye Fab Five

The Queer Eye Fab Five

But the transition from actor-singer to etiquette and cultural savant proved a steep learning curve for the fifth member of the Fab Five. “The other guys were in their element but I wasn’t,” he says. “We had two weeks to prep for each episode so I had to learn everything.”

Ninety-six episodes, an Emmy Award and a best-selling book later, Rodriguez has learned a whole lot about culture and etiquette, but he now has the problem of re-introducing himself to the public as the actor-singer-dancer he set out to be.

His debut album may change all that. The pop ballad and video Broken is already available on iTunes and at www.myspace.com/jairodriguezmusic — along with photos of Rodriguez — with and without his shirt.

He’s not concerned about being pigeonholed as a gay performer since his biggest fans are straight. “The people who’ve been most supportive are the Oprah and The View crowd. I get stopped a lot by straight fans with fanny packs. The gays are more likely to say, ‘I saw you last week at the Abbey.’”


... and his little dog too!

... and his little dog too!

For more of Adam Sandel’s “Happy Hour” celebrity interviews on Energy Talk Radio, go to:



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