Nick Gruber’s Reality Show Hits YouTube!
By Michael Musto
But wait! There’s something possibly worth catching on the small screen! (No, not YouTube—I’m talking about the actual telly.) Tomorrow night, openly gay opera singer Branden James performs in the semi-finals of America’s Got Talent, coming live from Radio City Music Hall. He’s one of the 18 contestants left, having scored with “Nessun Dorma” from Turandot and Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up”—two songs I’m terrible at!
This time, California-born Branden told me, he’ll belt out an ‘80s rock hit, hoping to shake up some expectations. “I’m very fond of pop music,” he said. “That’s where my heart is, even though I'm a classical singer. I’m trying to bring classical singing more to the mainstream. I started singing at 17. I was a loner kind of kid. I didn’t have a lot of friends and was bullied, and then I found music. My mentors steered me towards classical, and I studied it in college.” But bring on the rock song! This could make Howard Stern’s hair frizz!
Not quite so cheery is that fact that Branden has a dramatic backstory of the type that these shows tend to thrive on. (His parents couldn’t deal with his gayness, but eventually took steps forward.) “None of that was discussed in my initial audition,” Branden, 34, told me. “It was all about my singing at first. Then when I’d go against the judges, I told them about being young and gay and having a strained relationship with my parents. They perked up.
“Everything’s a lot better now. It’s amazing how being on national television helped mend a lot fences. We’ve become a lot closer and learned to communicate better. It had gotten better in last couple of years, but it’s improved even more. I didn’t even tell my parents I was going to talk about it on the show. I decided to be brave and open about my sexuality. It’s been amazing to see the outpouring, especially from young people, 12 to 15, coming to terms with their own sexuality and needing advice.”
But how about the outpouring from the folks? Is there actual proof that they’ve significantly changed, other than mom hugging him and crying on camera? “My father left me a message,” Branden obliged. “There was a hush, then he whispered, ‘I don’t want your mom to hear me, but I’m fine with who you are and love you as a son’.”
And mom? “At first she wouldn’t acknowledge things I said about my partner,” related Branden, “but now she loves him to death and always asks how he’s doing.”
“I guess some parents need to get used to things before realizing they shouldn’t discriminate against their own child,” I offered, sagely. “It’s amazing how long that takes,” Branden replied, “and how much pain you carry as an adult from those experiences.” So the trauma has left scars forever? “No,” he said, “not forever—and our scars have made us who we are today, so I’m proud of them.” The guy’s poetic enough to be a Tennessee Williams character—except he’s totally open.
Watch Branden James "AGT" Cover of Josh Groban's "You Raise Me Up" below: