Jai Rodriguez: Stage, Screen, And Everything In Between!

Photo by Storm Santos

 

A great entertainer is an artist who holds the power to leave a lasting impression on his or her audience. Their performance not only provides the viewer with a sense of comfort and delight, but inspires them to follow their dreams no matter how big or small.

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This statement holds true for the incredibly talented Jai Rodriguez, who has been a positive influence for those within the LGBTQ+ community throughout his illustrious career. Rodriguez’s passion for his craft continues to impact television history, while also encouraging fans to be true to themselves and embrace their differences.

Jai Rodriguez began his distinguished career at just eighteen years old, when he was assigned to the part of ‘Angel’ in the renowned Broadway musical RENT. This not only made him the youngest actor to be cast in a leading role, but granted him the opportunity to act in a number of productions following his breakout performance as well. This included parts in The Producers, Spinning Into Butter, and the title role of ‘Zanna’ (created by Jai himself) in the off-Broadway hit Zanna, Don’t!.

In 2003, Rodriguez stepped off the stage to accept his new title as the “Culture Vulture” in the Bravo TV series: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The show was celebrated for its representation of the LGBTQ community, and how it helped bridge the gap between queer and straight men. In 2004, Queer Eye won the Primetime Emmy Award for “Outstanding Reality Program,” as well as the GLAAD Media Award for “Outstanding Reality Program.” When the series took a filming hiatus in 2005, the young actor created and performed a one night stage show called Jai Rodriguez: xPosed. The show told the story of Rodriguez’s life, including his time on Queer Eye, and the struggles he faced when coming out to his extremely religious family.

After spending five seasons with the original “Fab Five”, Rodriguez became a regular cast member in ABC’s hit series Malibu Country, alongside Reba McEntire and Lily Tomlin. He also appeared in a number of other popular television shows during this time, such as How I Met Your Mother, Harry’s Law, and Bones, just to name a few. This even included a part as the newscaster in the infamous “Telephone” music video starring Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

To this day Rodriguez continues to inspire his audiences and captivate the hearts of his fans. He is currently the host of Lifetime’s Dance Mom’s reunion show, as well as the co-host of radio show The Morning Beat streamed on Channel Q. This year, Rodriguez will also star in the Hulu original comedy Dollface (airing November 15th), the fourth season of Netflix’s Eastsiders, and in the second season of the acclaimed Australian series The Horizon, which has been named the most viewed LGBTQ web series in the world.

Eager to learn more about the accomplished entertainer and his forthcoming projects, BELLA connected with Jai Rodriguez himself…

What was it like to go from performing on Broadway to filming a reality TV show?
Here is the crazy thing, that term wasn’t a thing. “Reality TV” was Real World and things like Trading Spaces. So I didn’t know what I was stepping into. While QE did seem like reality, I would term it docu-reality. We didn’t flip tables and call each other prostitution whores… that happened much later in Bravo TV history.

Jai Rodriguez: xPosed is the stage show you created and performed back in 2005. What was it like to share such a personal piece with a live audience?
Playing a Broadway sized house with an autobiographical musical theater piece was incredible. Tackling subject matters like my mother disowning me when I came out and my first gay kids were definitely moments I wasn’t scared of in rehearsal, but once we did the show and my family was in the audience I was. They actually pulled Rosie Perez aside and said she really nailed my birth mother. I felt I had written something accurate and not a character assassination when they had that exchange.

Can you tell us a little more about The Morning Beat and how the show got started?
So Channel Q is the first nationally syndicated LGBTQ+ coast to coast radio station available on FM, AM, HD, and any smart speakers like Alexa by just saying “Hey Alexa, play Channel Q on radio dot com”. We are everywhere. I host the morning show there. The station is NOT a podcast (many friends assumed that that was what I was doing). The Morning Beat with myself and my co-host Mikalah Gordon (formerly of American idol) airs live 6-10am PST. We cover everything from Trump to pop culture, and of course LGBTQ+ issues. It’s been a dream to be a part of something so powerful from the beginning. I give the innovators of the think tank at Entercom that created the idea all the credit. I also give our Program Director, Brian Holt, all the praise for nurturing the talent he brought on to make the show so unique and loving. It truly stands up to our catchphrase: Giving everyone a voice.

In addition to hosting a talk show, you are also the host of Lifetime’s Dance Moms reunion show. What is that experience like?
Oooooh, Lord help me! I have hosted five one hour specials for Dance Moms. The adult reunions are the hardest. I basically sit between the screaming women and try to be that flight attendant who puts their hands on the seat and under their knees during turbulence, all while maintaining a pleasant face lol. It’s tough because I’m a pretty drama free person, but I get why there is passion in their voices, as it is their child.

Working in the industry for 22 years now, is there a specific role that you are most proud of?
Hmmm. Well this is NOT a role I would accept now, but I played a trans woman on a David E Kelly show for NBC called Harry’s Law. The hair, make up, wardrobe, and director all had different visions of who the character was. Per the script I KNEW she was a trans woman, as she lived as a woman 24/7 and most who met her didn’t know she had a different gender assigned at birth. I felt deep guilt taking the role and I use that word accurately. I screen grabbed the character break down and they weren’t seeing trans women nor drag queens. So it was either me or someone else who wouldn’t be as sensitive or knowledgeable about the trans experience. I’d practically been raised by trans friends after coming out. But this was 2011. I knew I had to do my best to give the character all the integrity that she deserved, and I vowed I would never TAKE another role from a trans person again. I believe all trans actors should be allowed to tell their own stories.

What is something that you would like other people to know about you?
My social media. We didn’t have that on the OG Queer Eye and I like having access to new friends and those who want to connect with me.
Jai’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jairodriguez/

What advice would you give to an individual who is struggling to obtain a positive relationship with his or herself?
Ooof. To know that it’s a journey. Some days I feel great about myself and some days not so much. Don’t ever compare yourself to others. Your path is yours, and it is your uniqueness that makes you special and that’s worth celebrating.

Are there any new, up and coming projects that you can share with us at this time?
A few I can’t talk about – which kills me. But, I’ll tell you about the ones that I can! I’m seen on Eastsiders, which I’m sure you’ve seen on Netflix. This season William’s character is getting married, and my character has a lot to do with the wedding. Outside of that there’s also Hulu’s Dollface, which I have a great guest star on. Finally, I’m sure you’ve seen the Dance Moms reunions – which I’ve hosted five of now. The most recent in this season were insane. I love the new cast, and Abbey Lee Miller brings back a true testimony to the strength of the human spirit.

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