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

A Teen Idol's Dreams: Jim Verraros, the 19-Year-Old American Idol Finalist, Talks for the First Time about Overcoming Antigay Abuse in School and Finding the Strength to Come out and Take on Hollywood. (Television)

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

A Teen Idol's Dreams: Jim Verraros, the 19-Year-Old American Idol Finalist, Talks for the First Time about Overcoming Antigay Abuse in School and Finding the Strength to Come out and Take on Hollywood. (Television)

Article excerpt

Say what you want about American Idol's Jim Verraros--he's living a gay teenager's dream. He was one of 10 finalists competing for a record contract on last summer's most talked-about reality TV contest. He's just finished the "American Idols Live" concert tour, singing to thousands of screaming girls--and some starry-eyed boys--in packed arenas across the country. Gay kids write to thank him; straight teenage girls just want to touch his hand.

Whatever trip you want to lay on Verraros for the Idol cheese factor, he can take it. After enduring endless harassment for being a "faggot" in junior high in his hometown of Crystal Lake, Ill., he's prepared to stand up to all comers. Go ahead: Point out that he came in ninth out of 10 in the Idol pecking order. Say he got to the finals out of viewer sympathy after the show focused on his growing up with deaf parents and then showed him mercilessly dissed as undeserving by sharp-tongued Idol judge Simon Cowell. Verraros doesn't care. "If people voted for me because they sympathized with me, great!" he says defiantly. "More votes for me."

Idol fans discovered Verraros is gay through his online journal before it quietly disappeared from the Web--a mystery he is now happy to explain. "I took it down because [Fox TV] told me to," he says. "It wasn't because I was gay. It was because they thought I was trying to gain more votes and have that little extra edge."

Indeed, Verraros is anxious to talk about being an out teen, because he has a message for other gay and questioning youth: "There are people like you out there everywhere," he says, sitting tall in an Encino, Calif., Starbucks the afternoon after the final "American Idols Live" concert. "Trust me, they're there."

Why do you want to come out now?

I've given it a lot of thought, and I've done a lot of talking to my parents. My dad just kind of found out. They just flew in from Chicago to see the Seattle show last night, and they hugged me and said, "I love you and I accept you."

I know you talked to your mom before American Idol. Were you able to have a talk with your dad?

We did eventually--ironically, just last night. Backstage after the show, he just hugged me and said, "I love you and I accept you. Remember that." I just wanted to bawl. I never thought that was possible. He's very old-fashioned, narrow-minded, headstrong, stubborn--his family's very Greek.

So how did it go last night?

We went to my hotel room, and I got some room service--because they were staying at some crappy hotel and I was staying at the W in Seattle. We just talked and caught up on things, and of course my sexuality had to be discussed, but that was OK. And he was just very, "You're 19 years old. Whatever makes you happy will make me happy. I'm just afraid that people are going to harass you. I'm afraid that you're going to die. I'm afraid that people aren't going to accept you"--which I can totally see, coming from a parent. "But as long as you're happy and healthy, I love you." And I was just like, What? Is this a dream? Shouldn't you be telling me I'm wrong? But it wasn't like that at all.

So the day after coming out to your dad, you're coming out to the world.

Being on tour with American Idol has given me a lot of time to think about who I want to be and how I want to portray myself. I'm not looking to be the poster boy for homosexuality, but I think that it's time for people to be true to themselves--especially teens. I think that you should be able to act, sing, dance, write, drive race cars--whatever--and be gay and have that be OK.

I just got an E-mail from a 15-year-old fan, and he goes to Catholic school. And he had magazine clippings of me in his locker, and someone found them. A teacher found out and ripped them out of his locker, and word spread that he was gay. He lost a lot of his friends. His parents don't look at him the same way. …

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