On Saturday nights, off the often grimy but consistently pulsating strip that is Canal Street, lives a world of neon, spandex and hairspray. Those evenings, Jessie’s Girl, an ’80s tribute band, rolls up on stage around 11:30pm to packed crowds at Canal Room to perform a string of nostalgic and sparkling hits that cover all the bases of the decade’s lushness.
Constantine Maroulis, the American Idol alum turned Broadway leading man, is over the snobbery of today’s mainstream-leaning indie rock that’s bred in areas like Williamsburg. “That’s why I like the decadence of going and hearing great fucking songs at the Canal Room and hearing people sing the shit out of ’em and play the shit out of ’em and have a great time,” says Brooklyn-born, Jersey-raised, Bon Jovi-lovin’ Maroulis over breakfast at a Manhattan diner. After stints in The Wedding Singer and Rock of Ages on stage, which helped breathe new life into his career post-Idol, Maroulis has become a go-to guy for delivering the decadence he loves and exudes the same neon bright over-the-top quality we come to expect from a proper tribute to the decade that birthed some of the biggest personalities and talents pop music has ever known.
As Canal Room owners Marcus Linial and Sam Lott celebrate the 10th anniversary of their successful nightclub (congrats, guys!), Maroulis prepares himself to join Jessie’s Girl’s talented trio of lead vocalists, Chris Hall, Jenna O’Gara and Mark Rinzel, for a six week stint. In advance of the September 16th preview of his residency at the club (more info on that at end of post), Maroulis talks about his big plans for the show, his complicated history and the future of his hair.
Do you know which songs you’ll be covering?
I’ve had a lot of success with Rock of Ages, so I think that people are going to come to expect some of that sort of stuff, right? But I think I’m going to surprise them with a few other cool moments in the show. It was a really a thing that Marcus [Linial] and I had a dialogue going on [about] for years. I’ve popped down there and have gotten up there with the band over the years, and Miley Cyrus’ family had hired me to come play a private show for them. She had seen Rock of Ages and was a big fan. She was turning 17 or 18.
No! It was all going on back then, too! But you know what, you grow up in a business like that…you grow up a little fast. She’s got a great mom. I have not met her pop. I’ve met some of her family. And she’s a pretty great girl. She’s smart. She knows what she’s doing. Everyone’s talking about it. Anyway, this was a small birthday party. We had a great night. That’s sort of how [Marcus] and I began this dialogue. Originally what the sort of idea was, is that we were going to build a different show for me. You know, maybe something that encompasses all of the classic rock genres, but it is hard to sort of fix what ain’t broke. He’s got an awesome thing going on there on Saturday nights. We both thought that I could only strengthen that [and] potentially only bring more attention to it. For me, I thought that maybe I could take it to a more national level–get more dates out of town, potentially turn it into an arena show like [the ones] I used to see as a kid with my family. Things like Ice Capades. I know that sounds crazy, but a live event like that. An accessible, live event for all ages. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra are the ideal business model. They’ve taken a pretty simple idea–turning Christmas songs into sort of hard rock, symphonic, full production numbers. I always try to think big in those terms. But we just kept coming back to the fact that I did a series of shows called “A Night at the Rock Show.” It was a bit more of my like American rock ‘n’ roll songbook show. Very personalized.
What kind of songs did you have included in that?
That was more of everything from like the ’50s up ’til late ’90s and some current songs. It all sort of tied together. New orchestrations. New arrangements of everything. Sort of some mash-up type stuff going on. Really sort of telling my story of getting into music through all those great songs. Now was that show I wanted to do with [Marcus]? No, but we just kept coming back to “wow, Back to the Eighties is a great show…Rock of Ages…great tie-ins there.” So, we just kind of decided to go forward with the Back to the Eighties show and me sort of coming on and fronting them for a nice little residency at the Canal Room. I’ve popped in there a couple times over the past couple of weeks for a couple of unannounced shows, and it went great. We had a great time. We’ve arranged some things where we’re all going to be on stage. We’re going to use the whole space, not just the stage. There’ll be things happening on the bar, things happening in the VIP, things on the floor. Some fun stuff. And we might be cheating the decade a little bit. But we did that in Rock of Ages. People don’t realize it, but some songs in there are not actually mid-to-late eighties hard rock songs. The Extreme song? Actually ’91. Foreigner stuff? Might even be like ’79. So, there’s more of that cheating going on.
Do you think it’s more about the aesthetic and what the ’80s felt like rather than the timestamp?
I think it’s really about the celebration of the culture of the era. The MTV explosion. The color, the fun, and the great hooks. It’s unbelievable because it is a younger audience. I mean, you’re young. It’s probably all early-twenties types, it felt like. Maybe up to mid-twenties. Maybe I can help bring in those thirty- and forty-somethings that really grew up with this music. These guys discovered it later. That was the genesis of trying to build the early show. They would get a lot of calls about “hey, midnight is great when you’re 21 but we’ve got kids at home and live in Long Island. We’d really like to see Constantine and see a slice of Jessie’s Girl. Is there an 8 o’clock show?” etc. That was sort of the idea behind it.
I’m in between Broadway shows. I’m back writing again and working with some great people. It’s just an excuse to play, really.
When you say you’re “in-between Broadway shows,” does that mean you have something else coming up?
Yeah, I’m actually championing an amazing show. They’re giving one last big effort to getting The Toxic Avenger to Broadway. It’s a show that I was a part of over the years and did out of town [in Houston]. I’m doing more of producing work on that, and I’ll also, you know, I’ll star in the show. We’re hoping to get it in as soon as possible. Right now I’m in a place where I’ve made a couple of bucks. I’ve been doing 8 shows a week straight for about five or six years. I need a little break. Just a little bit. I’d like to get more into film and television, but singing is my passion. It’s nice to be able to fulfill that live music craving first with Back to the Eighties. I think some people will be like “gosh, he’s doing the eighties again?” I’m sure there’s some negative criticism out there, but I think hey, I don’t think many people do it better than I do. I have that voice. It’s just good math. I don’t really care what people have to say. I try to do good work. Good projects. I think there’s a lot of money to be made in the future with it on the road.
What is it exactly that you feel you bring to this ’80s music and this ’80s vibe moreso than others?
I’m not saying that I do it moreso, but I’ve been blessed with a big voice. I grew up with sort of the frontman fascination as a singer. I’ve fronted a lot of bands. I’m a little older than, let’s say, Jenna. I just bring a different dynamic. They don’t have that sort of hard rock, frontman guy who comes out in leather and has that sort of Guns ‘n Roses look going on.
They did do Guns ‘N Roses last night!
I know, I know! It’s just me. [I’m] just going to bring me. They’re already doing amazing so I’m just going to try and do my part and add to it a bit.
Were you in any cover bands before?
Not cover bands, but I was in a band that played other songs as well as our songs. It’s just fun. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been able to play sold-out arenas with the [other] American Idol [contestants]. The most beautiful theaters in the country with various Broadway shows. Played Broadway right here in New York City. And I’ve played dirty, filthy clubs like Lit in the Village. For me, it’s just a microphone and an audience. I’m not much of a songwriter. I’ve gotten to work with some great people, and I’m work with great people again who bring it out of me, which is cool. I still think I have a great rock record in me, but it’s just fun to play music. I mean, shit, let’s face it, none of us are ever going to write songs as good as these. It just doesn’t happen. Not anymore.
What came first for you – theater or music?
Singing. Music. I remember when I was a little kid I had this big, belting, crazy voice. And I don’t say it like “oh, I’m some great singer,” but I honor it. I know I’m blessed with something that I have to honor. I have to respect it because it can go away. I think in an effort to sing more, I got into shows and musicals and singing in choruses and bands. My brother and sister were into it, too. They’re 9 and 11 years older than me. My brother was always in bands, and I always wanted to be just like him. Even my sister did shows. I got into shows. I had great teachers that encouraged me. Then in high school I was singing in bands.
Have you ever felt like there’s been a struggle between your love of rock music and your love of theater?
Of course, of course. And then you add to that the American Idol element where – granted there’s been huge success – but there’s a stigma involved in that. You put that into the equation, people kind of try to tear that down.
But you were on one of the earlier seasons when Simon Cowell still judged and the show was a bit more popular….
I think it’s about opportunity. We all require an opportunity. There are so many people that are great at what they do. There’s so many great doctors out there and lawyers. I mean, how many people does Harvard Law School put out there every year? Not everyone can become the biggest and best lawyer of all time, the most successful guy of all time. People come out of state colleges that do better than Harvard grads. I think it’s about an opportunity. It’s about timing. There’s so much fucking luck involved. I didn’t even know what I was getting into. I graduated [from] a prestigious school, and I was touring in Rent.
You went to Boston Conservatory, right?
I did. I did my BFA there, and I even took some classes at Berklee so that was awesome. I love Boston. I’m just a purveyor of good material, I’d like to think. I’m a good singer. I’m a hired gun. I’m an artist, but I’ve never tried to change the world with my words and my songs. I’m like a blue collar kid. I just want to do good work, solid work. The Tony nomination, all the accolades, and all that stuff is great. I love all that. But I would be doing this if nobody knew who I was anyhow. I would be doing tours and regional theatre. I’ve sort of achieved the dream I wanted as a kid. I wanted to star on Broadway. I wanted to be a significant voice in the contemporary stage. I wanted to be in Rent. I wanted to have a vehicle like Rock of Ages. I envisioned all of that. It’s easy for me to say it now, but I kind of had a plan because I was basically fucking around in New Jersey after high school, doing a little college, hustling a little bit, coming into the city and playing with some bands. Then I kind of just woke up, and I was like 22. I had gotten arrested right when I turned for something stupid. I just kind of woke up a bit.
When I got to Boston, I was, strangely for a kid who kind of grew up in and out of the city, I was pretty immature. I was still two or three or four years older than most of the kids that were there in my class. It took me a little to figure some things out. I had a plan when I went there. I basically did [all that I planned], but in a different way. My last year in Boston was rough. I lost my first cousin in 9/11, and it just rocked me. It rocked everybody. It was like “does any of this shit matter?” But then you realize that maybe it’s the only thing that does matter because it’s the only thing that makes people feel better. It made me feel better. I was never going to be a desk job kind of guy. But I always was survivor. I always knew how to make a living. Looking back on the 13, 14, 15 year old me, I was starting to get leads in high school. Who would’ve ever thought I would’ve played multiple leads, title roles on Broadway, you know? Features in the The New York Times, Tony nominations, Drama League Distinguished performance, accolades and shit like that. It’s insane. It’s kind of what I wanted, too. People are like “did you ever think you’d do this?” And I’m like “yeah, this is what I wanted to do!” But I needed an opportunity like everybody else. I hope that doesn’t sound arrogant, but I think it’s something you put out there and feel like “this is what I do.” I’m not some big celebrity or anything like that. I just try to do good work.
Do you still feel an attachment to American Idol or do you try to distance yourself from it now?
No, I absolutely don’t distance myself from it. Like anything that’s so popular and so successful, it’s really had quite a run. I like contributing on television. For some reason, I’m good at that. I can hold a conversation. I can pretty much talk about anything from sports to pop culture, so they always seem to bring me in for a comment or to talk on Fox or cover a show or do something like that. I always seem to get pulled back into it, but I honestly can’t even name the last few winners off the top of my head. Or really that many people from that show. I don’t know. Is that saying something about where they’re at with it? But I also can’t name anyone from The Voice or X-Factor or anything like that, too.
I feel like the next Carrie Underwood still could pop from that show. I think that is going to be very hard. I think that we came at a time…they weren’t quite ready for me my season. They were like “who the hell is this guy?” They hadn’t had anything like that. Carrie was the perfect story and the perfect voice and the perfect vehicle. I mean, she’s so gifted. Her voice is insane. It was just like kismet. By the time Chris Daughtry came around the next year, I feel like they were like “we’re not going to miss out on this again.” He became really popular and he’s so talented, and they got him right in the freaking studio.
Yeah, you and Bo Bice were two of the first rock singers on the show.
And we couldn’t be more different! Looking back, it was fun. It’s hard to argue what kind of opportunity it presented for me, but it all happened so fucking fast. I was lucky I was older and knew how to survive. There have been some tough times, too. But who the fuck knows what I’m going to do when I’m 50 or when I’m 60, you know? That’s why I’m lucky I’m an actor. I feel like I’ll always have a place to work in that world, on the Broadway. I may not always be starring in shows. My agent’s been trying to get me to cut my hair, and I think that time is coming very soon.
Yeah. I just think that this has been good for me, right? But you have to sort of evolve as well. It’s also sort of pigeonholed me as well. Unless it says like tall, Greek, and rocker, you don’t need to see him right now. That’s insane. I’m a Tony-nominated actor. I didn’t get a Tony nomination for singing high notes and waving my hair around. It’s about the earnest performance I gave as an actor, but what are you gonna do? You can’t change people’s minds. But if you wanna do a wider range of things, I think you have to become more of a blank canvas at times.
What’s kept you in New York?
There’s just nowhere else to live, for me. I love so many other places. I love San Francisco. Fucking San Francisco’s great. I love the West Coast. The thing about L.A. is I’ve been out there for stretches of time. I love old Hollywood. When you’re coming off a big TV show and you’re going out, there’s a fun thing going on there. That gets old real fast. Remember, I was a little older and it was like “okay, I’m done.”
After American Idol, did you come back to New York right away?
Basically I was right away involved in the television series with Kelsey Grammar’s company at the time. I was always there and here. I was doing the bicoastal thing. Then I’ve been out there for longer stretches of time. I was doing the soap opera [The Bold and the Beautiful] for a year. L.A. is great, but L.A. is really great when you have a good job and you’re there. Not kind of like trying to make it or you’ve made it and now you’re trying to find the next job. It can be really hurtful. Everyone there is so celebrity-driven that it’s annoying. They just assume that you think you’re somebody because you were on a television show. It’s like dude, I’m not trying to be anybody. I’m just me. But L.A.’s cool. I’ve got a lot of friends out there. It’d be great to go out there and work on a show. I loved playing Rock of Ages there. I loved bringing Jekyll & Hyde there. My brother lived there forever. But New York…my family is here. My parents are old. I’m not going to leave. I love it. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, despite all the snobbery.
Do you play your daughter a lot of ’80s music?
She’s loves it. She’s obsessed with my work. She knows Rock of Ages. She knows Deborah Cox. She was at Jekyll & Hyde every night. Not in the show, watching the show. I did bring her out on stage for the last curtain call at the matinee. She’s like a Broadway baby all the way. She literally is the baby in Rock of Ages that they pick up. That’s her. I met her mom while doing Rock of Ages. Now we have a three-year-old.
Do you have anything particularly special about the 10th anniversary show you’d like to spoil?
We’re just going to give them a little sneak peek of what we have in store. There’ll be the big intro with the videos and all of that. I just think it’ll be a different vibe. It’s an earlier show. It’s a weeknight. There’ll be some friendly faces and people in the crowd. Some fun guests that we’ve invited. Maybe an ’80s icon or two. It’s going to be fun! I mean, the ’80s weren’t invented to be cool through Rock of Ages. It’s always been a cool thing. I think it’s funny that now the ’90s are nostalgic to people. Even in fashion, kids are doing the ’90s thing. I’m just excited. I think it’s a cool opportunity. Marcus is taking very good care of me. I think it’s something that we can build together.
Constantine Maroulis joins Back To The Eighties Show of Jessie’s Girl at Canal Room every Saturday starting September 21st at 8 and 11:30 p.m. Tickets here. For VIP seats call 212- 941-8100.