With a blow-dryer in one hand and pomade in the other, Constantine Maroulis was trying to fix his voluminous hair, which was in a mass of curls after being pinned up underneath a brown mullet wig for his Friday-night performance of The Wedding Singer on Broadway. The room had two mirrors, two stools, a refrigerator, a sink, two bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne, a six-inch stack of unanswered fan mail, a food gift basket with Greek flags sticking out of it (one of Maroulis’s many nicknames is Greek Boy), and about a dozen empty vases that had been filled with roses and flowers. The costume rack for Maroulis, best known to Broadway audiences and most Americans as the fifth runner-up in the fourth season of American Idol, was stuffed with ’80s outfits, including one sparkly white glove and a red jacket reminiscent of Michael Jackson in “Thriller.” The names on the rack didn’t identify the clothes as belonging to Maroulis; instead the label read “Matthew Saldivar,” an actor who has left the show to make room for Maroulis.
After the 31-year-old rocker finished fixing his hair, even fluffing the hairs on his chest a bit with the blow-dryer, he sprayed a coat of Axe deodorant all over his torso, put on a purplish T-shirt with an indescribable graphic design, yanked on a pair of ornately embroidered beige cowboy boots, and put his arms through the sleeves of a slick black leather jacket. As he prepared to leave, he looked one more time at the only photo that decorated his otherwise nondescript dressing room—of Maroulis standing with his arm around a pudgy middle-aged woman, the fan who sent the photo to him. He smiled a little as he looked at it, as though it reminded him of those who found pleasure in standing next to a real live star.
Tonight a woman Maroulis had met recently—at one of the rock performances at bars and clubs that now fill his schedule—and who had been writing to him on his MySpace page was going to meet him backstage. He seemed interested to get to know her because they shared New Jersey roots. “She’s, like, a very sexy Jersey girl,” he said to a visitor as he prepared to reacquaint himself with her in a few minutes.
Maroulis is always the last cast member to leave the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on West 45th Street to sign autographs for fans. But he at last finished with his post-show primping and was ready to face his adoring public. At the bottom of the stairs he paused, took a deep breath, and said, “All right, let’s go for it.” He then stepped out onto the sidewalk and stopped for a moment as about 100 women and girls screamed his name and pushed to get closer to the metal barricade. Women held their playbills out to be signed and snapped his photo. Patiently Maroulis looked into every camera with either a straightforward grin or his famous American Idol pout, a sort of puppy-dog look that involves tilting his head down, gazing up with his brown bedroom eyes, and sticking out his bottom lip.
A woman standing at the stage door called to Maroulis, who at first seemed confused. Then he remembered: It was the very sexy Jersey girl, a skinny brunette, wearing a low-cut black top and pants, standing with her two blonde friends.
“Oh, hey!” Maroulis said.
“You walked right by us,” she said.
“I did?” he replied, quizzically.
After talking with them for a few minutes Maroulis returned to signing autographs, giving hugs, and having his long hair stroked by dozens of strange, reaching hands. It took nearly 30 minutes before he wrestled himself free of the throng and jumped into a Chrysler 300 luxury sedan and sped away, alone in the backseat, leaving the very sexy Jersey girl behind.
“I think she’s married,” he said.
Since it burst into the American pop culture consciousness in the summer of 2002 as an immediate Top 10 sensation, American Idol has become as enduring a part of the culture as The Ed Sullivan Show was to a previous generation, attracting 35 million viewers to its finale last season. When Maroulis was voted off the show in April 2005, just before entering the final five, it represented a huge upset for the many fans who had fallen in love with his rocker persona and his lanky, casual sex appeal. As one of the first self-proclaimed “rockers” to earn a finalist spot, he achieved front-runner status when Paula Abdul, one of the show’s three judges, who was highly susceptible to masculine charms, had proclaimed him the “one to beat.” She cried on air when he left the competition. But Maroulis assured Abdul and his fans that there was nothing to worry about.
“I’m gonna keep rockin’ ” were his parting words.
After American Idol, many in Hollywood expected big things for Maroulis. He was quickly approached by Ralph Lauren, among others, about modeling. He was represented by the top talent agency in show business, the all-powerful Creative Artists Agency, which also handles the careers of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Steven Spielberg. He was named the sexiest 30-year-old in America by People magazine. He struck a deal to develop a network sitcom at ABC to be executive-produced by Kelsey Grammer. He performed that summer on an American Idol tour to sold-out crowds. He took his pre- Idol rock band, Pray for the Soul of Betty, out on the road in a decked-out tour bus. He went on a solo tour of the Philippines. His popular rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” earned inclusion on a Queen tribute CD titled Killer Queen, and he even got to chat with Jay Leno when he performed it on The Tonight Show.
Maroulis’s life changed forever—or at least for a while.
But then, almost as quickly as they’d been mentioned, the modeling offers were withdrawn. His sitcom never got past the script stage before ABC passed on the project. He’s no longer represented by Creative Artists Agency and says he’s had offers from other agencies. Even Pray for the Soul of Betty broke up. A gossip website, tmz.com, which once reported on Maroulis as a rising star, was now noting with sarcasm the fact that he was soon scheduled to perform at a Greek-food festival in Dallas.
Maroulis was upset most recently by the headline “Even Losers Can End Up on Broadway,” which apparently ran atop an Associated Press story about him in a Pennsylvania newspaper. The article reported on the trend of bringing American Idol runners-up to Broadway to boost ticket sales and included as a prime example Maroulis, who joined the cast of The Wedding Singer, a 1980s-set musical based on the Adam Sandler film about an unlucky-in-love wedding singer, at the beginning of September.
At 11:15 p.m., in the back of the Chrysler heading to his Gramercy Park apartment, Maroulis began checking messages on his BlackBerry and making phone calls to friends to set up plans for the rest of the night.
His first call was to Alex Krug, a close friend who works as a consultant for the clothing line Stryker, which specializes in T-shirts with hip graphic designs and ironic sayings that Maroulis described as “urban chic.” He put Alex on speakerphone.
“You sold a bunch of tables? Where? At Stereo?” Maroulis asked.
“I think so,” Alex said.
“I have no idea, bro. I just woke up from a nap. People are like, ‘Wake up, let’s go get motivated. I’m coming to see [your show] tomorrow at two o’clock.'”
“Cool. Well, I’ll see you in a little bit.”
Maroulis was going to meet Alex at Stereo, a club in Chelsea where he always gets the A-list-celebrity treatment on arrival. He never has to wait in line, his entourage gets a regular table, and a cheerful server brings free bottles of Grey Goose vodka and Bud Light all night long, in return for Maroulis’s regular presence.
When he pulled up at his apartment, his best friend, Michael Hamboussi, was waiting for him. Hamboussi was the drummer of his former band. Back when Maroulis was on American Idol, Hamboussi had told an Associated Press reporter, “The reason why he’s doing American Idol is for the band, not for anything else.” Hamboussi now serves as the webmaster for constantinemaroulis.com. He wore a brown beanie cap, a white collared shirt, and a blazer. His most distinctive feature is his goatee, which is combed into a small braid on the end of his chin.
Maroulis rents a tiny one-bedroom on the ground floor of a 10-story building on East 26th Street. It has a tiny kitchen, a bathroom, a living room with a navy-blue futon and an entertainment center, and French doors that lead into the bedroom, which only has room enough for his queen-sized bed with a puffy white comforter thrown on top. The walls were blank white except for a poster that said “Yankees vs. Cubs, Wrigley Field, World Series, 1932” in the kitchen. His hardwood floors were bare. On top of his entertainment center sat a pile of collectibles arranged as a display. They included a toy car featuring the band Queen (still in its box), an R2-D2 doll, a Yankees talking bottle opener (still in its package), a snow globe of Broadway from the year 2000, numerous buttons each with a different American Idol finalist on them (including one of himself), a Constantine Maroulis Street Team button, and a Prince and the Revolution seven-inch record. The only framed photo was one of him; Bo Bice, the first runner-up of American Idol Season Four; and Scott Ian of Anthrax doing devil horns with their hands. He also had about 20 books, including 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, The Yankees Fan’s Little Book of Wisdom, a book about the musical Rent, and two biographies of Jim Morrison.
While Maroulis sat on a stool at his kitchen counter and checked his MySpace page for new e-mails on his laptop, Hamboussi was playing around with the new Chocolate cell phone and MP3 player Maroulis received in the mail as a gift. Maroulis was looking at photos of himself online and complained that unauthorized shots of him taken by a Broadway photographer were being circulated. This was driving him nuts because they accentuated what he considers to be his double chin.
“It’s so annoying to see it again and again and know you could have controlled it,” he complained to Hamboussi. “How does someone like Angelina Jolie deal?”
Suddenly Hamboussi noticed that Maroulis had another brand-new cell phone sitting unopened in a box, which he also got for free.
“You should give me this phone,” Hamboussi said.
“No,” Maroulis said, quickly and definitively.
“You’re not going to do anything with it. What are you going to do with it? You know in like two years it’s going to be obsolete, so you might as well give it to me.”
“Oh totally. There is potential for me to give that to you. There’s potential.”
“Show me your brand-new phone.”
Maroulis held his up.
“Look! A BlackBerry. You don’t need this piece of crap,” Hamboussi said, referring to the free phone he wanted.
Maroulis seemed to be feeling embarrassed now and said in a quieter voice, “I like to have everything.”
“What?” Hamboussi laughed.
“I’m OCD. I just like to have all my shit.”
“I have a cheap Nokia phone. Look!” he said, placing the sad-looking phone on the counter. “I should have a nice, dope phone if I’m going to be the webmaster. Wait till you see the new design.”
Finally the subject was dropped and Hamboussi took out a joint for them to share.
“I mean, whatever,” Maroulis said as he took a drag off the joint, “if people think that’s so terrible that I like, ooo . . . took a puff off a little joint. You know, I’m a fucking artist.”
“Bill Clinton did it,” Hamboussi said and simultaneously laughed hysterically and coughed. At around midnight, the two left the apartment after Maroulis sprayed it heavily with Lysol air freshener. Maroulis’s driver was waiting for them and they sped off to Stereo.
“I’ve paid my dues.” That is a phrase Maroulis employs often to explain that he is not a loser like the other American Idol losers. He believes the show merely helped him achieve the kind of success he deserved and would have perhaps reached on his own—if it were not so impossible to break into the entertainment industry as an unknown. His dues-paying includes a bachelor of fine arts degree in musical theater from the Boston Conservatory of Music, an apprenticeship at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, and a lead role in the international touring cast of Rent. He has also worked as a bartender and, right before joining American Idol, he rented apartments to “cute I-just-got-out-of-college girls” as a real estate broker. “And I was good at it too,” he said. Another indicator for Maroulis that he is not a loser is that he was recently invited to appear on MTV’s TRL, the day before the night out at Stereo.
Maroulis was going on the show to plug The Wedding Singer. He was wearing tight blue jeans with ripped black leather pockets, cowboy boots, and a white T-shirt that said “Decidedly Underdressed.”
Maroulis had been excited to be there until he was told that the segment he would be doing would involve his mimicking the dance moves of three ’80s music videos: Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” the Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian,” and David Lee Roth’s high kick in “Jump.” This seemed to Maroulis to be an insensitive move on MTV’s part, as millions may recall that he fell on national television when trying to make one of his famous rocker kicks at the camera during a Fox news segment about American Idol, or so he presumes.
Maroulis sat on a red velvet couch and watched TRL VJs Vanessa Minello and Susie Castillo on the large-screen TV. “Oh my gosh,” Maroulis said. “Did they say me? They’re like, ‘We know he can sing, but can he move to some ’80s music?’ I’m like, Great, I’m going to fall on my ass again on national television.” Maroulis had three guests in his entourage that day: a publicist from New Line Cinema, which did The Wedding Singer, and The Wedding Singer‘s composer Matthew Sklar and co-writer Chad Beguelin. They all laughed at his remark.
“I think I can say safely that these are the two hottest VJs ever on MTV,” he went on, studying them on the monitor. He nervously fluffed his hair, cracked his knuckles, and began warming up his voice with some singing. After TRL he was going around the corner to the Hard Rock Cafe to sing for a live radio broadcast with members of The Wedding Singer. Maroulis then left the greenroom to dance in front of the two hottest VJs, a very enthusiastic studio audience of teenagers, and millions of viewers. When he returned to the greenroom everyone assured him he looked cool, even though this was obviously a lie, because no one on earth could walk like an Egyptian and look cool at the same time.
As Maroulis left MTV wearing Gucci aviator sunglasses, he briefly pouted for two paparazzi, who snapped several photos. He then climbed into a sedan to drive to the Hard Rock Cafe, even though it was only a couple of doors down. During the 90-second drive, Maroulis checked his BlackBerry, which was beginning to quickly fill up with messages from friends who had just seen him on TV.
He continued obsessively reading e-mails as he entered the Hard Rock Cafe’s greenroom and took a seat on one of the black leather couches. Maroulis changed into his light-blue Wedding Singer T-shirt to match the six other cast members, who were there to help him perform his only big musical number in the show, “Single,” a song about living the good life as a bachelor. Maroulis continued checking his BlackBerry and talked to a friend. He began to grow agitated as the consensus from family and friends was that his hair was in his face on TRL. But Maroulis had tried to put his hair in his face on purpose, he said, to hide the side view of his double chin.
“My sister can make me feel more like shit than anyone,” he said, apropos of nothing.
A tanned Donny Osmond, wearing a black leather jacket less biker-friendly than the one Maroulis wears, appeared at the door. Osmond, who is currently appearing in Beauty and the Beast on Broadway, was to perform after the Wedding Singer cast, and Maroulis stood up to give him a hug.
Osmond hung out and joined in the discussion among the cast members.
“Carrie Underwood never warms up in her life,” Maroulis said of the fourth-season Idol winner. “She’s got like a really powerful instrument—a really supported sound. Never a voice lesson. She’s just like drinking a soda before she goes on and then she goes out there and wails like ‘Independence Day.’ ”
Maroulis’s assessment intrigued Osmond. “Well, how old is Carrie?” Osmond asked.
“She’s like 23 or 24 now,” Maroulis said.
“That’s why she can do it.”
“Exactly. In a little while it will change.”
“I’d hurt my voice if I did that,” Osmond said.
“Bon Jovi now warms up hours before and after the show every night, you know?” Maroulis said.
Osmond had nothing to say about that.
Across the room, one of The Wedding Singer‘s female producers winked at Maroulis. “Are you excited?” she asked.
“For what?” he said, confused. “For this?”
She walked over and sat next to Maroulis on the couch.
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’m always excited to rock,” he said
After the performance Maroulis was picked up by a black Cadillac Escalade. As it drove down 42nd Street, Maroulis thought he saw someone he knew and rolled down the tinted window for a better look.
“Hey! Yo! Yo, man!” he shouted and waved at the guy on the sidewalk, who didn’t look up.
“What the fuck is his name? He went to the Boston Conservatory. I forget his name.” Maroulis waved a little more, to no avail. “He’d freak out if he saw me right now.” But the man never looked Maroulis’s way, and the Escalade continued down Broadway, its passenger left unnoticed and alone.
Maroulis won a rabid fan base during American Idol and keeps almost every letter, trinket, teddy bear, drawing, and photo he was ever given in his parents’ basement in New Jersey, which he calls his own “little Graceland.” One of his favorite possessions is a homemade booklet with his face on the cover that has poetry written by his fans. On one page, accompanying an onstage photo of his boot was a poem titled “Ode to Your Favorite Boots.” It began like this:
He’s put many miles on those soles
almost worn out the heals and toes
although he’s now a lot more rich
don’t think he’s ready to give ’em the pitch
“One day when I’m unemployed and miserable,” Maroulis said as he showed the poem to a visitor, “I can always look at that stuff and hopefully feel a little better about myself and what I once did and my contributions to society.” But for now, he is staying busy with his career. After The Wedding Singer, Maroulis will continue working on recording his solo album, which he plans to release on his own label next year. He can be seen at the moment on five episodes of MTV’s Little Talent Show as a singing judge. He hopes to soon join the cast of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, which is currently running Off-Broadway. He says he is also working on a documentary about his life that he claims will feature some “pretty substantial” celebrity appearances, though he won’t identify them. “You’d be surprised at who watches Idol,” he said.
Maroulis still struggles to understand why he was voted off American Idol so early, seemingly at the peak of his popularity. He said he believed he was going to the top and had friends close to the show who told him he was getting so many votes he had nothing to worry about. Not one for conspiracy theories, however, Maroulis mostly blames himself and wonders what he could have done differently. Throughout the show he had tried to show a progression and said he even held his talent back a bit in order to appear as though he were improving.
“I showed different layers,” he said one day, as he was walking down 45th Street. “I showed I could do any style. I had different looks and took risks. I would go with eyeliner one week and my hair different and a great outfit. And everything matched. I coordinated everything—not just the clothes but the style with what I was doing. If I was crooning one week I had on a great suit. If I was rocking, something else.”
The song he had planned to do the week he ended up being voted off was U2’s “Beautiful Day.” But the day before he was to perform he was told the song wasn’t cleared, and he had to go with a song he didn’t know, “How You Remind Me” by the rock band Nickelback. “My mistake was trying to go back to that rock thing and people didn’t respond too well,” he said.
Some observers have speculated that the main trouble for Maroulis was that he came from Brooklyn, and not the South. Out of the 15 contestants who’ve made it into the top three, 12 have come from Southern states. He believes the fact that his family was from an affluent New Jersey suburb and appeared on the week he was voted off could have been a factor.
“It’s fucked-up,” Maroulis went on. “You put Scott Savol’s poor overweight kind of white-trash family on there stirring the spaghetti and some ketchup and all of a sudden you get, like, half the country’s votes. That’s just the way it is.” Savol beat out Maroulis and entered the top five before being eliminated.
“My father is sick, so we didn’t put him on camera,” Maroulis explained. His father suffers from Parkinson’s disease. “The funny thing is, if we had put him on camera, I would have gotten big votes,” he said.
But Maroulis managed quite well by using his own savvy for most of the competition. In the finals he obsessively checked fan pages to read what they were thinking about his performances and did what he thought they wanted on the show. “Fans would send me red roses all the time,” he said. “And then finally I wore a red rose on the show and I pointed at it and all the fans went crazy because they knew they had given that to me. And it could have been any one of the dozens of roses, but to them it was like I was connecting to them.” Connecting to his fans continues to be a top priority for Maroulis.
At about 20 minutes after midnight, Maroulis and Hamboussi picked up two friends who work for Stryker and headed to Stereo. A crowd of stylishly dressed young women and men lined up outside, hoping to get beyond the velvet rope. Maroulis and his friends stepped up to the front and were immediately ushered to a long couch and two tables in a corner at the back of the club. A DJ was spinning hip-hop, and the volume was at a level where everyone had to shout into one another’s ears to hear.
Maroulis is more than six feet tall and skinny, and if you didn’t know who he was you might have confused him for one of the many models hanging out that night. Maroulis likes models and said his model friend Anna was going to meet them there later. His friend Alex, whom he had spoken to earlier on the phone, was there with someone identified as the son of a famous photographer, along with two club promoters named Bernie and Brady (also known as B2), a pretty blonde named Andrea, and several other people from Stryker. All of them were new friends Maroulis had met over the summer. Andrea worked as his assistant for about three days, until she lost a CD he gave her of 300 images of himself and he had to fire her, but they’re still friends.
Trays with bottles of vodka, carafes of orange and cranberry juice, and buckets of ice with blue bottles of Bud Light were brought to their tables. After about 20 minutes, one of the tables they were at was sold, and the whole group had to cram into one small area of the couch, sandwiched between two other parties. Maroulis stood on the floor and Andrea stood on the couch behind him and began to play with his hair. She said Maroulis uses her as protection. If a girl comes up to him whom he doesn’t like, Andrea is his girlfriend. But if he does like the girl, he tells Andrea to go away.
Throughout the night Maroulis checked his BlackBerry about every six to seven minutes, sometimes just pulling it out to look at it and then putting it back in his leather jacket. In fact, almost everyone in his group had a BlackBerry or some kind of BlackBerry-esque device. At various intervals the table fell silent because everyone was checking their messages.
At around 12:45 a.m. Anna appeared with her friend. Both women had long, straight blond hair. Anna, who was pretty but did not seem tall enough to be a model, was wearing a multicolored, sleeveless, low-cut dress and carrying a little gold clutch purse. Maroulis sat on top of the back of the couch with a vodka-cranberry, and surveyed the packed dancefloor as Anna took a spot next to him.
Anna explained to someone else at the table that she is taking time off from Dartmouth. “I guess you could call me a model,” she said, “but I’m not, not really.”
Anna pawed at Maroulis and was soon
standing on the couch in front of him dancing and singing the words to the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This).” Maroulis loosely touched her waist and didn’t seem too into the whole idea of dancing with her on the couch, that is, until “Faith” by George Michael came on. Then he stood up and pulled her close, and they sang the song together.
Maroulis and Anna danced and talked until 2 a.m., when she left. “For the record,” Maroulis explained after her departure, “she wanted me to leave with her and I didn’t. I’ll probably call her, though.”
Almost immediately a brunette in tight jeans and a low-cut white top approached. He said he had met her at an MTV Video Music Awards party. She seemed especially excited to see him, and as he sat on the back of the couch talking to friends at his right, the woman straddled his left thigh and began grinding it with her arms flailing wildly in the air.
“Don’t you want me, baby,” she sang along to the ’80s song. Maroulis checked his BlackBerry again.
The woman, who identified herself as an anthropologist, was soon holding on to his neck so tightly she appeared to be strangling him. Maroulis does many faces besides his sexy pout, and right now as he looked at his friends he made his scared-goofball face, which is raising one eyebrow and opening his eyes wide in shock. They all laughed, but the woman seemed too drunk and oblivious to care. Eventually Maroulis gave in and slow danced next to the table with her for a while. After talking to several more women throughout the night, Maroulis and Hamboussi left at 4 a.m. Maroulis knocked on the window of the Chrysler to wake up his driver, who was sound asleep.
In the car, Maroulis checked his BlackBerry and said, “That was a mellow night.” Hamboussi agreed. Maroulis, whose voice was hoarse from shouting, briefly discussed his troubles with women and said, “What I want is a girl who can party and be brilliant as well.” Maroulis saw a black Maserati parked on the street and thought out loud about how great that would be to drive to Hollywood for pilot season in that car.
“Get a fucking Hyundai, man,” Hamboussi advised. “Ten-year fucking warranty.”