Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

My Sweet Lord: Though He Was Eliminated in the First Episode of the the Gospel Dream, Singer Tony Sweet Still Hopes to Make an Impact-By Coming out of the Closet. God Help Him

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

My Sweet Lord: Though He Was Eliminated in the First Episode of the the Gospel Dream, Singer Tony Sweet Still Hopes to Make an Impact-By Coming out of the Closet. God Help Him

Article excerpt

"IT'S A GOOD THING I wasn't straight," says Tony Sweet, a blond, blue-eyed gospel singer from Grenola, Kan. "I couldn't date any girls in town--they were all my cousins." The 38-year-old Sweet now lives in West Hollywood, where he works as a personal trainer, but his passion for gospel music is as strong as it was when he lived in that incestuous heartland. He sings it at the nondenominational Christian church he attends every Sunday. He sings it at the gay bar Eleven on karaoke night, and most recently he sang it for judges of The Gospel Dream, an American Idol-style competition show on the Gospel Music Channel.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

You're forgiven if you've never heard of the network or the TV show. While there are the occasional crossovers, Christian music remains largely in a parallel universe to mainstream music. It plays on Christian radio stations, has its own separate royalty and licensing organization, and is sold at specialty retail outlets that cater strictly to the religious. And within that world the Gospel Music Channel is a big deal. The first dedicated 24-7 Christian music channel, it claims to be the "fastest-growing television network in America." (The network says that at last count, it could be found in over 40 million homes.) Its programming has run the gamut from a now-canceled rap hour called Hype and Glory to the Spanish-language-music show Espiritu Latino. The crown jewel of the network, however, is The Gospel Dream, in which singers from around the nation compete for a recording contract in Nashville. So how did a gay man like Sweet wind up on a show aimed at the epicenter of Christianity? Talent, of course--although it probably didn't hurt that he never mentioned he's gay.

Sweet met with some resistance from friends in Los Angeles after he was cast on the show in the spring. "I told them that I was going to Nashville to sing gospel music, and some of them said, 'But you're gay,' "says Sweet, who has been out in his personal life for nearly two decades. "But for me, participation in the show was a way of building a bridge between Christianity and the gay community."

While many gay people have fear and resentment toward Christians, Sweet, who describes his hometown as "very religious, very Republican," says that when he came out, everyone back home "accepted me for who I was. I just never ever had an issue about it."

Unfortunately for Sweet, he developed a sinus infection three days before going to Nashville and "didn't perform as well as I'd like to," he says. As a result, he was eliminated in the first episode. Still, he says, he found the experience of being on a fast-paced reality show a great one. "Overall, I was surprised by how the producers were better than I expected at taking care of you." And while he says he made "many friendships" on the show, he declined to mention his sexual orientation to any of his new friends. That was partly "because I was focused on the competition, but also because I didn't know what they'd say."

Still, when he was eliminated, the producers offered him the option of going home or sticking around, hanging out backstage, and watching the competition. Tony decided to stay. "I knew I could learn so much, maybe even more than I would have had I been competing."

As the contest wore on, he became particularly close to contestant Christina Perrin. …

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