America's country music scene isn't exactly known for its gay artists, but a colorful pack of wanna-be stars pulled out their best rustic twangs and wailing guitars on Thursday to try to change all that. Scores of country music hopefuls auditioned in New York for what is being billed as a television show to pick an openly gay country music star from about 50 contestants. The musicians--most of whom wore jeans and spit-polished boots--wailed through Willie Nelson songs, crooned like Lyle Lovett, and belted out ballads like Garth Brooks. Livening up the day was the Dixie Chicks With Dicks--a troupe of singing drag queens in frilly petticoats and wigs big enough to make Dolly Parton envious.
Despite the gags and quips, most were serious musicians looking for a break, said Darren McDonnell of Baltimore. "I hope it's not some kind of a joke. It could open up a lot of doors," he said, waiting in line. "At the same time, it's a risk for everyone here," he added, calling the country music industry "homophobic." Mark Taylor, who works in the design industry in Philadelphia but auditioned in cowboy regalia, said appearing on the show could be a bigger risk when it comes to facing his conservative family. "If I make it onto the show, this will be the most silent Christmas we've ever had," he joked.
Producer Larry Dvoskin, who has not found a network to run the show, tentatively called America Pride, declared himself pleased at the quality of talent. Final choices will be made in the coming months, he said. With the success of gay-themed television shows, this one could be well-timed, said Scott Seomin, entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. "The music industry, with rare exception, has been a bastion for homophobia, and the closet is still a place that artists who are gay are told to remain by record-label executives, managers, and publicity agents," he said.
Singer Matt Alber, who traveled across the country from San Francisco to audition, said, "Country music record companies are scared America won't like a gay artist. I think it's ridiculous. Don't they just want to hear really great songs? I hope this show will show America there's nothing to be afraid of."