Move over, Cher, because Travis Garland is giving us new reason to “Believe.” A former member of the now-defunct boy band NLT, Garland was rediscovered via MySpace by gossip blogger-turned-music mogul Perez Hilton, who has aggressively championed the 20-year-old talent on his site and opportunely introduced him to American Idol producer Simon Fuller. Currently working with prolific producer Nate “Danja” Hills on an urban pop record scheduled for release later this year, Garland spoke to us about his Perezcious partnership and other vocal gay admirers.
Advocate.com: How did you feel about your performance of “Believe” on Idol last Wednesday?
Travis Garland: I felt great, and I had a great time doing it. I’m just so proud of all the dancers, the band, and the drummers, because we worked really hard to get there and make it great, so hopefully everybody enjoyed it as much as we did.
Before you hit the stage, Perez Hilton stunned host Ryan Seacrest when he boldly claimed you were “better than Justin Timberlake.” That was quite an introduction, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was. I’m really flattered that Perez thinks that, but I know I have a long way to go before I get to that level and I can earn that kind of comparison. It’s awesome to be compared to Justin because he’s one of my idols.
Do you want a career like Justin’s?
I always looked up to him as a kid, and I admire the way he’s done things. He’s a classy guy, and not many people in the industry have any bad things to say about him. But besides Justin, I also admire Michael Jackson’s career — the way he changed the world with music and affected billions of lives with his talent.
Have you gotten any feedback from Justin?
I have, yeah. My friend Marty Kudelka, who directed my performance on American Idol, is Justin’s choreographer and friend. Justin heard the song and wanted Marty to let me know that he liked it. That was really awesome.
I like your cover of Beyoncé’s “Sweet Dreams.” Do you think she’s heard it?
I don’t know. I haven’t heard anything, but I hope she likes it.
Beyoncé covers aside, I’ve gathered from following you on Twitter that you’re an out and proud heterosexual.
I am. I’m a straight man, yes.
How’s that working out for you?
It’s working out great, man. I’m dating, but I’m keeping my options open.
If you pull a Ricky Martin in 10 years, I’ll be really annoyed.
[Laughs] Not much chance of that happening.
I was in choir, and this guy in choir, a friend of mine, came out. But I was always just raised to love everyone equally and to not judge based on someone’s sexuality, race, or whatever.
And now you’re working with Perez Hilton, one of the biggest gay personalities in the world.
Well, a lot of my friends are gay. People who are prejudiced maybe can’t understand how a straight man can be friends with gay guys, but I don’t look at them any different than my straight friends. People are people.
How exactly does your partnership with Perez work?
Basically, Perez has a label deal with Interscope. I’m an Interscope artist, but I’m also on Perez’s label [Perezcious Music] through Interscope. So that’s the way that works.
What’s it like to work with him?
It’s awesome. He’s always full of really good ideas. He’ll email me 10 times a day, like, “What do you think of this? What do you think about that?” We’re constantly having conversations about performances, songs, and anything creative. It’s a pleasure to work with him.
Perez has a great ear for talent and a terrific platform, but he also has plenty of haters and enemies out there. Were you worried about any potential backlash from getting involved with him?
I feel really grateful to be working with Perez, actually. He helps me by posting my stuff on his site, exposing it to millions of people who haven’t heard about my music, and without him I wouldn’t have performed on American Idol. But hopefully people will just take the music for what it is and accept me as an artist.
Perez has said that he wanted to work with you because you were an authentic artist and not just some manufactured pop act. How important is it in today’s music industry for performers to play an instrument and write their own music?
I think it makes all the difference in the world if you’re writing your own songs as opposed to letting someone else write them for you. To grow as an artist and as a creative person, you have to develop your craft. Whether it’s songwriting, playing the piano, or singing, I always try to push myself to do better and better every day. I feel like people can respect that in an artist.
Perez said that he was also attracted to you because you were “young and hot.” How important is that?
Well, it’s great if people think I’m attractive or whatever, but hopefully people focus on the music and appreciate that.
But how much time do you spend on your hair and at the gym?
I don’t spend that long on my hair, but I am always in the gym working out.
You’re totally Perez’s type. Does he behave himself?
[Laughs] Oh, yeah, he’s very professional. All business.
If Perez has his way, boy bands will soon be making a comeback. As a former boy band member, do you think it’s possible for a boy band heartthrob to be openly gay and still accepted in the mainstream? In other words, would you recommend that a gay boy band member stay in the closet like Lance Bass?
I would recommend that anyone, whether they’re in a boy band or not, stay true to themselves. That’s the best advice I can give anyone. But yeah, if they can sing well and dance well, a boy band member could definitely come out as gay. I think there’s room in the marketplace for a gay boy band if their music is great and they’re a solid group with the right image.
In NLT you worked with Kevin McHale, who now plays Artie on Glee. Do you two keep in touch?
It’s hard to keep in touch with Kevin these days because he’s so busy with the show, but being in the band with Kev and the other boys was the greatest experience of my life, and I really learned a lot. I love those guys and support them in whatever they do, so I wish them all the best.
Quality connections are key, as you know, so maybe Kevin can help you get a guest spot on Glee next season.
Well, Ryan Murphy just had me and Perez out to the Glee concert in L.A., so I got to meet Ryan backstage after the show. He said he loved my single and had caught my American Idol performance, which was really awesome to hear from him because I’m a big fan of his show.
You’re used to getting attention from girls in NLT, but how do you feel about being idolized by gay boys?
I think it’s awesome, man. It’s awesome to have such a diverse group of fans. It’s really cool that the gay community has accepted my music and been so supportive of me.
NLT opened on tour for the Pussycat Dolls, who obviously have a big gay following. Did you feel any love from gay fans back then?
Yeah. Actually, one of my close friends is TJ Espinoza, who’s also close friends with Nicole Scherzinger and danced with Britney Spears forever. TJ was always a big fan of my music, even back then when we were unknown, so it was really cool to have the support of guys like him.
You’re now accessible to fans on Twitter. Are you getting any feedback from gay fans since your Idol performance?
Yeah, I have been getting some interesting tweets. A couple of them have been a little wild, but that’s OK.