If you've ever seen Beyonc's "Freakum Dress" video and wondered how she came up with those freaky moves -- she didn't. Jont Moaning did. The triple threat -- musician, dancer, singer -- got his start with Alvin Ailey before booking his first gig with Janet Jackson -- at her infamous 2004 Super Bowl performance. Since then he's been singing, dancing, and choreographing for both himself and some of the biggest names in the industry and this spring he'll release his first album in Japan (and around the rest of the world soon after). We caught up with Moaning to find out why he's so big in Japan (and his favorite part of visiting the country), why he's thankful for Lady Gaga, and why, when it comes to his art, gender ain't nothing but an expression. Plus: Below you can see our video interview with Moaning, and on the second page check out a video of him dancing to his single "Ya! Who?" Details about his upcoming performance at NYC's Santos Party House can be found at the end of the interview.
Out: How did you get started in the industry?
Jont Moaning: I started off as a dancer first, in Portland, Oregon, training at the Oregon Ballet Theater when I was 13. I graduated from high school and moved to New York City in 2001, August 11th, a month before September 11th. Crazy right? And I started training at the Alvin Ailey. I took classes there for about a year and I kind of got fed up with it because I didnt feel like I was really growing, so I was like, let me go out and audition for a different artist, and see if I could just be in it. And the first gig that I got was Janet Jacksons Super Bowl show. But it took a while -- from 2001 to 2004 -- to get a gig, so, it really shows that you have to work hard if you want to be in the industry.
How would you describe your sound?
Id say R&B, pop, and '70s? And a little bit of the '90s.
I love the '90s. I think musically theyre really underrated.
I feel like its going to come back. The '90s will be back soon.
Can you name any specific influences? Musicians, or fashion or film --
Music-wise, I love old-school singers like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price, and opera singers -- David Bowie -- theyre all amazing. Anybody whos had an impact on this world Im attracted to. Michael Jackson, of course, hes one of my icons. He can sing, he can dance, and hes just amazing. The whole Jackson family, they kind of inspire me.
I know youre really big in Japan --
[Laughs] Am I?
Yeah, from what Ive seen. How did you end up over there?
The first time I went to Japan was in 2004. I started teaching dance in Hiroshima, and no one spoke English so it was like I was forced to learn Japanese. There were about 30 students at the studio, and they were like my family, I was there for almost two months, and I was just teaching them every day, and they had a showcase at the end of the month. I was so inspired to choreograph out of that, that was my first time ever choreographing. Thats why I kind of moved to Japan.
What about Japanese culture inspires you?
The food. The food in Japan is amazing. They cook with so much passion. Anywhere you go in Japan youre going to have great food. Ive never been to a bad spot.
I love it. I could eat sushi every day and be totally happy.
Right? But you know whats funny? I never eat sushi when Im there.
No, they have so many different types of food that you just Even the McDonalds is flawless in Japan -- they have the hottest shrimp burgers ever. To die for.
Sounds amazing. Youre a musician, a dancer, a choreographer -- do you consider yourself more one kind of artist than another or do they all sort of interact and bleed into one another?
It all kind of comes together. If youre a singer you should be able to dance, if you dance you should be able to act -- it all goes hand in hand. If you cant do one than you shouldnt do the other. You know what I saying? You have to put all of yourself [out there] so that you're an artist.
In the press Ive read about you, youre often referred to as a drag queen or a tranny. How do you think of yourself in terms of your gender presentation?
Im just an androgynous male. Thats it. I look good in womens clothes so I might as well wear them, you know? Thats what it is. Im really not a drag queen. Although I love drag queens, thats really not me.
Totally -- I just wanted to hear it from your mouth. People love to label stuff --
Of course. I just dont get it. But Gagas opening that door.
I saw her last night. Whats your opinion?
I havent seen the concert yet but I think shes amazing because people are starting to open their minds a little bit about looks. I hate to say it, but in this industry everythings about a look. They look at you first and then decide if youre good or not. Its sad. But Im thankful for her -- that shes opening the doors for people who look different.
How does gender play and gender manipulation manifest themselves in your act?
You know I dont even focus on gender at all. I make it very neutral: I am what I am and thats it. When people come see my show they dont even think gay or faggot, they just think its amazing. And thats how it should be -- it shouldnt be anything about sex. Because once they think sex then they think youre this, or youre that. It should just be about the art. I am the art.
You have gotten a lot of attention for choreographing other artists, like Beyonc and Janet Jackson, as well as yourself. What inspires you when youre choreographing?
Music inspires me. As soon as I hear a song I already have this vision in my mind: Oh my god, this would be perfect for this sound, or that voice. I do everything on the spot too, like when I worked with Beyonc or Janet, everything is on the spot. I have to go into the room and hear the music first and then I also like to see if they can handle what Im doing, because it has to look good on them. I hate to go home and choreograph on myself because its me. [Laughs.]
What do you have planned for 2010?
Im going to release an album in Japan. Itll be my first album release this year, so thats my plan for this year. To see how that goes. Take it from there, probably go to Europe next.
How far along are you?
Oh my God, I have about 30 tracks that Ive done. Its just trying to select which ones are going to be on the mini-album. About eight or nine songs.
And whens it going to be out?
Were saying Aprilbeginning of May.
Are you going to do a video?
Of course. Of course. You want to be in it?
Trust me -- that wouldnt be good for anyone. But well put it up on Out.com the minute its finished.
Jont will be performing along with Cherie Lily, Bad Brilliance, Narcissister, Roxy Cottontail, Andrew W.K., and Dantes Fried Chicken at Santos Party House, 96 Lafayette Street, NYC, on Thursday, January 28 from 7 to 10:30 P.M. The event is 18+, tickets are $10, and theres an open bar (for those of legal age) from 7 to 8. For more details, head here.