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Cheyenne Jackson opens up

Out actor/singer on family life, ‘Horror Story,’ ‘Drag Race’ and more

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Cheyenne Jackson, gay news, washington blade

Cheyenne Jackson says being on ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ have been career highlights. (Photo courtesy Management 360)

Cheyenne Jackson
 
Sunday, Oct. 15
 
8 p.m.
 
The Barns at Wolf Trap
 
1635 Trap Rd.
 
Vienna, Va.
 
$45-55

Cheyenne Jackson likes to portray himself as a normal guy. He’s sitting in his car outside his dry cleaner in Los Angeles on Monday when we talk.

It’s just mid-morning but one of his 1-year-old twins had him up at 3:30 a.m. “He’s teething and needed a little TLC,” Jackson says.

After feeding the babies, a jaunt to Barry’s Bootcamp and a trip to the cleaners, the 42-year-old Broadway vet and actor/singer has time to chat in advance of his weekend show at the Barns at Wolf Trap. His comments have been slightly edited for length.

WASHINGTON BLADE: How is family life? How are (husband) Jason (Landau) and the twins?

CHEYENNE JACKSON: They’re amazing. Family life is awesome. It’s busy, it’s loud, the days are long but the weeks and months are short. Just two days ago they turned 1. I can’t even believe it’s been a year already but it’s great.

BLADE: Do they usually sleep through the night?

JACKSON: We’ve been really adamant and committed to a sleep schedule and we knew going into this we were going to be the ones doing the care. We don’t have help at night or on weekends. I don’t want a nanny sleeping in my house at night. I think it’s just weird. So we knew we needed a schedule. … I would say about 98 percent of the time they sleep about 11 hours. It’s awesome.

BLADE: Tell us a little about your Wolf Trap engagement.

JACKSON: I’m very excited because I haven’t done a show in quite a while. It’s been a crazy year. Being a dad and just things in my life. Some personal things. I lost my father a few months back. So doing shows and doing concerts hasn’t really been in the forefront of my mind but when this gig came to me, I thought this would be a good opportunity to get back into it and find some of my favorite songs from different shows I’ve done. I’m gonna do a couple new tunes, things I’ve always wanted to do, so it’s really a mix. I’ll take some songs, a couple songs from each of the albums I’ve done, mix it in with some covers and things I’ve been working on, then a couple of originals. It’s going to be a totally special new night.

BLADE: So this isn’t really a show you do here and there, it’s more its own thing?

JACKSON: It’s its own thing for sure. Some of the songs I’ve done here and there in one way or another but … it’s gonna be very intimate, very personal and fun.

BLADE: What kind of instrumental backing will you have?

JACKSON: Just me and my musical director, just me and piano. He’s such a savant. He plays piano like five people are playing the piano. But yeah, it’s just us.

BLADE: What’s the set feel like on “American Horror Story”? Does the creepiness of the show affect the set or is it just like other sets?

JACKSON: It’s definitely its own thing. I’ve never been on a set like “American Horror Story.” I think it’s because of the nature of the show and what the show’s about, it lends itself to be a special kind of unique experience. First and foremost, it’s shrouded in secrecy and everybody really respects that. Not everybody knows exactly what’s happening from episode to episode and some people are just on a need-to-know basis. So it’s exciting and fun as an actor to not know who knows what and just stay in the moment trying to bring everything to life. … Because it’s such heavy subject matter and such dark fantasy, we find ways to keep it light when it needs to be. We don’t just sit in the heaviness of it unless you have a super, super crazy, emotional thing you need to go sit in the corner to prep for, we try to keep it light.

BLADE: How long did it take to film that sex scene with Lady Gaga and how was it for you?

JACKSON: (laughs) Well scenes take way longer than you’d think. That whole sequence, I would say, I don’t know — maybe six hours? It’s a lot. Every different angle and every possible setup. And you know, it’s awkward and it’s funny and it’s silly. I always try to look at things like that instead of trying to take it super seriously like, “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m sitting here naked with Lady Gaga.” I just kind of flip it on its ear. … She’s so great and a friend and she made it very comfortable. But sometimes you do kind of snap and think, “What’s happening here,” and you look around and there are, you know, 30 people standing around with microphones and booms and filters and lights and it’s nuts. It’s a crazy thing but it’s what we do.

BLADE: “Hotel” had a lot more sex than other season. Do you think it ever got gratuitous?

JACKSON: No. I feel like every season is its own animal and there’s a reason for everything. I never really question what (creator/producer) Ryan (Murphy) wants or envisions. I trust him implicitly. He’s hired me four times so it’s one of those things where … sometimes you wonder if you can do what he’s asking but then you think, “Well, if he thinks I can do it, that means I can probably do it.” Is the show really violent sometimes? Yeah. Is it really super, hyper sexual? Yeah. Is it dark and creepy and confrontational? Yeah, but that’s why it’s called “American Horror Story” and, you know, that’s why my mom has to watch it through her fingers.

BLADE: You also had a pretty intense sex scene with Audra McDonald in “Hello Again.” Who was better screen sex — Audra or Gaga?

JACKSON: (chuckles) Oh, I would never compare. But it’s the same kind of thing. Audra and I have been friends for a long time and we just really had to laugh through that because it was also very graphic and it was kind of the first time either of us had done anything like that to that extent. But the first thing is to get really comfortable with each other first so then you buy it as an audience member. You can’t get too in your head about it, you just have to go for it and trust each other. She was actually pregnant at the time and we had just gotten pregnant so we look at it now and laugh about what we were both going through at the time.

BLADE: Is being on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” as much fun as it looks? It seemed like you were having fun when you were a guest judge last season.

JACKSON: I have zero shame in saying it’s my very favorite show. I’ve seen every episode of every season. It’s so much more than a reality show. I think it’s a very important show right now in this world and I love that it shows young gay men and what they go through. … I think it’s amazing. I love Ru Paul and he’s been so wonderful to me over the years and he’s a friend so yeah, I always tell them anytime they need me, I’m there. I tried to make it work the last couple seasons but just filming-wise, it’s difficult to work out with “Horror Story” or whatever I’m doing but yeah, it’s so much fun.

BLADE: What seems the most different actually being there versus how it seems on TV?

JACKSON: Lots of things. For one thing, I think people don’t always realize all the judges see is what’s on the main stage. They don’t see all the work room stuff the audience sees, all the bickering and fighting and backstory. The judges, all they have to go by is what they see on the main stage and with the challenges. So if it seems like Michelle Visage and Carson and everybody, if they seem especially harsh and honest, it’s because that’s their only time to see it and make it fair. So that’s what I found interesting.

BLADE: Are the acoustics at Carnegie Hall as legendary as everybody says they are or is it pretty much like other good halls?

JACKSON: I don’t really remember if I noticed such a vast difference because I think I was just having such an out-of-body experience and trying to wrap my brain around the fact that I was performing at Carnegie hall. I just remember that it feels really warm, really good, you don’t have to push. You feel supported. It’s a combination of the acoustics and also the sound system. Everything is perfectly integrated. It’s really special. It definitely spoils you because then you’ll sing in some other shitty little performance arts center in the middle of somewhere and you’re like, “Ugh.” It definitely makes a huge difference.

BLADE: Does “A Case of You” have any subtext for you being a former drinker or is it just a good Joni Mitchell song? Is it on the set list for this weekend?

JACKSON: I will be singing that song and it’s funny, I don’t think of it in terms of wine or alcohol at all. It’s about relationships and connection. I have my own personal things I pull from it, but booze isn’t one of them for sure.

BLADE: “American Horror Story: Cult” is all about phobias. Do you have any?

JACKSON: Not really. I don’t like flying but I wouldn’t say it’s a phobia.

BLADE: You’ve talked before about what a pivotal wake-up call 9-11 was for you. Do you think it’s more than coincidence that you did the “United 93” movie years later?

JACKSON: I have thought of that before and I definitely think it was meant to be my first feature film. It was definitely kismet because the subject matter had been the impetus for me to really move to New York and … start to make things happen at age 27.

BLADE: I don’t mean to sound obsequious but you must get hit on constantly, even if people don’t know who you are. That has to get old, right?

JACKSON: Uhhh, I don’t know that it happens all the time. I’m not trying to be fake modest. … I mean, I definitely know when someone is hitting on me and it feels great. Who doesn’t like to be thought of as attractive or appealing? … More now, I’m out with the kiddos and people want to see them, but does it get old? No. I hope it happens for a long time.

BLADE: Are you allowed to say if you’ll be on more “Horror Story” or do you know yet? Or are you focusing on (2018 series) “American Woman” now? 

JACKSON: I’m just kind of focusing on what is right now. I’ve had three great seasons on the show. “American Woman” will be in January I think.

BLADE: What can you tell us about it? Are you filming it now? 

JACKSON: No, it’s all done. I was doing it while I was doing “Horror Story” so that was tricky going back and forth, but it was great. It’s set in 1975 and it’s basically a show about feminists with Alicia Silverstone, Mena Suvari and Jennifer Bartels. … I just saw the first four episodes and I’m happy to say it’s very good and very sweet. … I play Mena Suvari’s boyfriend and I got some great cool stuff to work with. I got some secrets in my life and, you know, it’s a fun departure for me. It was fun to look like my dad in the ‘70s.

BLADE: What was it like filming “Cult” since it’s been based so closely on recent events?

JACKSON: I think it was fascinating how Ryan harnessed that into the show. I think it’s really savvy and cool.

BLADE: Which season has been your favorite to film? “Hotel,” “Roanoke” or “Cult”?

JACKSON: “Cult’s” my favorite. I really loved my character last year but I only had a couple really great scenes to do and “Hotel” has such a soft place in my heart because it was my first one and, you know, I loved who I worked with. But this season is my favorite as far as the work I’ve been able to do.

Cheyenne Jackson, gay news, washington blade

Cheyenne Jackson says it felt right that ‘United 93’ was his first feature film role. (Photo courtesy Management 360)

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Baltimore DJ on using music as a bridge to combat discrimination

Deezy brings high-energy show to the Admiral on Jan. 28

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DJ Deezy has hosted multiple events in D.C. and Baltimore. (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)

A Baltimore DJ will conclude a month of performances in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. clubs this Friday, Jan. 28, according to the artist’s management. DJ Deezy is set to perform at the Admiral in D.C. at 9 p.m. 

Since the year began, Deezy has hosted electric events at clubs such as Hawthorne DC, DuPont and the Baltimore Eagle Bar & Nightclub. 

The Washington Blade sat down with the DJ to discuss the course of her career. 

The beginning of DJ Deezy’s infatuation with music dates back to her childhood spent between her mother’s house in Baltimore City and her father’s house in the suburbs. 

In Baltimore, Deezy was exposed to the local rap and raw hip-hop scene that inspired her to embark on a rap career in high school. 

Concurrently, she was entrenched in Motown and classic rock by virtue of her singer, songwriter, and guitarist father Ron Daughton’s involvement in a classic rock band. He is a member of “The Dalton Gang” and was inducted into the Maryland Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2015.

“Before I embarked on my DJ journey, my father let me record ‘a little 16’ on his tape recorder,” said Deezy. “Eventually, he bought me a wireless microphone that I carried around with me to performances.”

Between her experience as a rapper and watching her father maneuver the classic rock music scene, Deezy acquired varying tastes in music that have influenced how she curates her sets today. 

She “specializes in open format vibes with spins from multiple genres including hip-hop, rap, circuit, and top 40s hits,” according to a summer 2021 press release from her management.

Deezy is also a proud member of the LGBTQ community — she identifies as a lesbian — and this also informs her approach to her work.

“I’m easily able to transition and rock the crowd because I can relate to many different backgrounds,” said Deezy. “I can DJ in places that are predominantly white, Black, or gay [and still do my job effortlessly].”

Centering community

Deezy values representation. Not only because she exists in a field dominated by men, but also because DJs who inhabit other identities aside from being men are less common in the industry. 

The scarcity of Black and lesbian DJs has prompted her to use her career as evidence that people who are different can attract audiences and succeed.

“I want to put us out there especially for Baltimore,” said Deezy. “I know that there’s Black lesbians out there doing the same thing as me, but why aren’t we getting [recognized]?”

In 2018, Deezy rented out a “Lez” lot at the Baltimore Pride block party where she set up a tent and played a set for the crowds tailgating around her. While entertaining them, she distributed her business cards — an act she believes yielded her the contact who eventually got her booked for a residency at the Baltimore Eagle.

While this was a step forward in her career, Deezy acknowledges that it wasn’t without challenges. She likened entering the Baltimore Eagle — traditionally a leather bar frequented predominantly by men —to navigating foreign territory. 

“When I first got there, I got funny looks,” she said. “There’s a lot of these guys who are like, ‘Why are you bringing a lesbian DJ to a gay bar?’”

But Deezy powered through her performance, lifted the crowd from its seats and “rocked the house [so that] no one will ever ask any questions again.” 

She admits that she’s an acquired taste but believes in her ability to play music infectious enough to draw anyone to the dance floor.  

“Feel how you want to feel about a Black lesbian DJ being in the gay bar,” said Deezy. “But music is a bridge that [will] connect us all, and you’ll forget about your original discrimination when you [experience] me.”

While Deezy has mostly performed in the DMV, she has also made appearances in Arizona where she hosted a family event and also in clubs in Atlanta and New York City. 

Her work has also attracted international attention and she was the cover star of  French publication Gmaro Magazine’s October 2021 issue

Looking to the future, Deezy’s goal is to be a tour DJ and play her sets around the world.

“I had a dream that Tamar Braxton approached me backstage at one of her concerts and asked me to be her tour DJ,” she said. “So, I’m manifesting this for myself.” 

In the meantime, Deezy will continue to liven up audiences in bars and clubs around the country while playing sets for musicians like Crystal Waters and RuPaul’s Drag Race celebrity drag queens like Alyssa Edwards, Plastique Tiara, La La Ri, Joey Jay and Eureka O’Hara — all of whom she has entertained alongside in the past. 

Outside the club, Deezy’s music can be heard in Shoe City where she created an eight-hour music mix split evenly between deep house and hip-hop and R&B. 

DJ Deezy (Photo by Carlos Polk from We Dream Photography and Studios)
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Rodriquez scores historic win at otherwise irrelevant Golden Globes

Award represents a major milestone for trans visibility

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Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, on right, and Billy Porter in 'Pose.' (Photo courtesy of FX)

HOLLYWOOD – Despite its continuing status as something of a pariah organization in Hollywood, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association has managed to cling to relevance in the wake of last night’s behind-closed-doors presentation of its 79th Annual Golden Globe Awards by sole virtue of having bestowed the prize for “Best Leading Actress in a Television Series – Drama” on Michaela Jaé Rodriguez for her work in the final season of “Pose” – making her the first transgender performer to win a Golden Globe.

The ceremony took place as a private, no-press-or-audience event in which winners were revealed via a series of tweets from the Golden Globes Twitter account. No celebrities were present (not even the nominees or winners), although actress Jamie Lee Curtis participated by appearing in a video in which she pronounced her continuing loyalty to the HFPA – without mention of the  longstanding issues around diversity and ethical practices, revealed early in 2021 by a bombshell Los Angeles Times report, that have led to an nearly industry-wide boycott of the organization and its awards as well as the cancellation of the annual Golden Globes broadcast by NBC for the foreseeable future.

While the Golden Globes may have lost their luster for the time being, the award for Rodriquez represents a major milestone for trans visibility and inclusion in the traditionally transphobic entertainment industry, and for her part, the actress responded to news of her win with characteristic grace and good will.

Posting on her Instagram account, the 31-year old actress said: 

“OMG OMGGG!!!! @goldenglobes Wow! You talking about sickening birthday present! Thank you!

“This is the door that is going to Open the door for many more young talented individuals. They will see that it is more than possible. They will see that a young Black Latina girl from Newark New Jersey who had a dream, to change the minds others would WITH LOVE. LOVE WINS.

“To my young LGBTQAI babies WE ARE HERE the door is now open now reach the stars!!!!!”

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As You Are Bar and the importance of queer gathering spaces

New bar/restaurant poised to open in 2022

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As You Are Bar had a pop-up venue at Capital Pride's "Colorful Fest" block party in October. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

More than just a watering hole: As You Are Bar is set to be the city’s newest queer gathering place where patrons can spill tea over late-morning cappuccinos as easily as they can over late-night vodka-sodas.

Co-owners and founders Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike built on their extensive experience in the hospitality industry – including stints at several gay bars – to sign a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row, replacing what was previously District Soul Food and Banana Café. In a prime corner spot, they are seeking to bring together the disparate colors of the LGBTQ rainbow – but first must navigate the approval process (more on that later).

The duo decided on this Southeast neighborhood locale to increase accessibility for “the marginalized parts of our community,” they say, “bringing out the intersectionality inherent in the queer space.”

Northwest D.C., they explain, not only already has many gay bar options, but is also more difficult to get to for those who don’t live within walking distance. The Barracks Row location is right by a Metro stop, “reducing pay walls.” Plus, there, “we are able to find a neighborhood to bring in a queer presence that doesn’t exist today.”

McDaniel points out that the area has a deep queer bar history. Western bar Remington’s was once located in the area, and it’s a mere block from the former Phase 1, the longest-running lesbian bar, which was open from 1971-2015.

McDaniel and Pike hope that As You Are Bar will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture. We want people of all ages, gender, sexual identity, as well as drinkers and non-drinkers, to have space.”

McDaniel (she/her) began her career at Apex in 2005 and was most recently the opening manager of ALOHO. Pike (she/they) was behind the bar and worked as security at ALOHO, where the two met.

Since leaving ALOHO earlier this year, they have pursued the As You Are Bar project, first by hosting virtual events during the pandemic, and now in this brick-and-mortar space. They expressed concern that receiving the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA) liquor license approval and the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, approval will be a long and expensive process.

They have already received notice that some neighbors intend to protest As You Are Bar’s application for the “tavern” liquor license that ABRA grants to serve alcohol and allow for live entertainment (e.g. drag shows). They applied for the license on Nov. 12, and have no anticipated opening date, estimating at least six months. If ABRA and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board give final approval, the local ANC 6B and nearby residents can no longer protest the license until the license comes up for renewal.

Until approval is given, they continue physical buildout (including soundproofing) and planning their offerings. If the license is approved, ABRA and the ABC Board can take action against As You Are Bar, like any bar, at any time if they violate the terms of the license or create a neighborhood disturbance that violates city laws such as the local noise ordinance.  In the kitchen, the duo snagged Chef Nina Love to develop the menu. Love will oversee café-style fare; look out for breakfast sandwiches making an appearance all the way until close. They will also have baked goods during the day.

McDaniel and Pike themselves will craft the bar menu. Importantly, they note, the coffee bar will also serve until close. There will be a full bar as well as a list of zero-proof cocktails. As with their sourcing, they hope to work with queer-, minority-, and women-owned businesses for everything not made in-house.

Flexible conceptually, they seek to grow with their customer base, allowing patrons to create the culture that they seek.

Their goal is to move the queer space away from a focus on alcohol consumption. From book clubs, to letter-writing, to shared workspaces, to dance parties, they seek an all-day, morning-to-night rhythm of youth, families, and adults to find a niche. “We want to shift the narrative of a furtive, secretive, dark gay space and hold it up to the light,” they say. “It’s a little like The Planet from the original L Word show,” they joke.

Pike notes that they plan on working closely with SMYAL, for example, to promote programming for youth. Weekend potential activities include lunch-and-learn sessions on Saturdays and festive Sunday brunches.

The café space, to be located on the first floor, will have coffeehouse-style sofas as well as workstations. A slim patio on 8th Street will hold about six tables.

Even as other queer bars have closed, they reinforce that the need is still present. “Yes, we can visit a café or bar, but we always need to have a place where we are 100 percent certain that we are safe, and that our security is paramount. Even as queer acceptance continues to grow, a dedicated queer space will always be necessary,” they say.

To get there, they continue to rally support of friends, neighbors, and leaders in ANC6B district; the ANC6B officials butted heads with District Soul Food, the previous restaurant in the space, over late-night noise and other complaints. McDaniel and Pike hope that once nearby residents and businesses understand the important contribution that As You Are Bar can make to the neighborhood, they will extend their support and allow the bar to open.

AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel signed a lease for their new concept in Barracks Row. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)
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