It’s a real Renaissance for Cheyenne Jackson—that’s the name of the actor/singer’s new album featuring songs from his “Music of the Mad Men Era” concerts spanning jazz, bolero, rockabilly and soul. Cheyenne lends his lush vocals to the album featuring a 22-piece orchestra backing him and Jane Krakowski joining him for a harmonizing duet. It’s also music to our ears that Cheyenne is returning for the sixth season of American Horror Story: Hotel, on which he memorably played the Cortez’s gay owner, Will Drake, opposite Countess Lady Gaga. (Gaga has confirmed in the press that she’s returning too.) Here’s our mellifluous chat:
Michael Musto: Hi, Cheyenne. What attracted you to Mad Men-era music?
Cheyenne Jackson: This is the music I grew up listening to. As a nine-year-old kid in northern Idaho, I listened to Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughn and Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. It seemed natural to start working on this music in clubs and performance arts centers, and after doing that for about three years, I wanted to preserve a lot of these songs, so an album was the way to do that.
You cover many musical genres in the album. Were there any you had to educate yourself on?
A good melody is a good melody is a good melody, and so many of these songs are part of the American Songbook. I wanted some songs pared down to piano, bass, and drums, and some to be with a full orchestra. It depended on what the melody was and what I was trying to say. This is what I love to do--the music of my youth. I love how the American Songbook is ever expanding, and that’s why putting an Elton John song [“Your Song”] in there definitely works.
You do the 1967 Frank and Nancy Sinatra duet, “Something Stupid” with Jane Krakowski. I happen to have written a dirty version of it.
It goes, “And then you go and spoil it all by eating something stupid like my asshole.”
I’ve done that several times with Jane. Not the “asshole,” but other versions.
I love another song you do, the fiery “I (Who Have Nothing).” The great Shirley Bassey did it on an old variety show that keeps re-running on cable, thank God.
It’s so dramatic. When I do it in concert, I always say, “This song’s been done by Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey, and I’m a perfect version of both of them.” I get it. The irony’s not lost on me.
I see you more as a Tom Jones than a Shirley Bassey. Truly.
It depends on which day of the week. [laughs]
Will you tour with the album?
I’m doing P-town the weekend of the fourth, then Vegas July 15 and 16. But right now, we’re shooting Horror Story. I won’t be able to promote the album ‘till we’re done, by the end of the year.
You had sung “Edge of Glory” in concert, so you were already a fan of Gaga, right?
Absolutely. I’ve seen Gaga live maybe five or six times, everything from big arena shows to jazz performances with Tony Bennett.
Do Little Monsters go chasing you now?
I think, yeah. Because Gaga and I were married on the show, it’s definitely got some Little Monsters love.
Does American Horror Story take you to different places, emotionally?
It’s just different than anything I‘ve ever done.
Will the new season go to even darker places?
Just different. You’ll see. Wild horses wouldn’t make me reveal the plot.
Has the show opened you up to a different audience?
Yes! It was a genre I wasn’t a part of before. I was thought of as a comedy guy, with 30 Rock and Glee. It’s been fun to be a part of this horror fantasy world. Sarah Paulson told me early on, “Get ready for the passion and the fervor of American Horror Story fans. It’s intense.” I love how passionate, opinionated and into this world the fans are.
It seems like every time I talk to you, your career has developed new textures. You deserve it and worked for it, but some others don’t always succeed as well. Do you feel blessed?
I keep working, keep moving on. I feel hashtag blessed. I definitely feel lucky and blessed and all of that, but I’ve also worked my ass off. It’s important to study and work hard and not be an asshole, because life is too short. I want to work in this industry a long time and have been fortunate enough to still be doing it and hope to keep doing it.
You are happily married to Jason Landau?
Is it true that you joined some religion?
Absolutely not. No organized religion.
What do we need to do in the wake of Orlando?
So many things. We need to start by not tearing each other down, even within our own community. Even in our community, somebody comes out of the closet and someone starts ripping how they came out. “It’s not good enough or strong enough…” It’s the negativity. We have to stop tearing each other down. Like everyone else, I wasn’t able to leave the house for four days [after Orlando]. You feel so impotent and powerless. What’s important is loving each other, banding together, lifting each other up, and of course tackling all the major issues we’re in the middle of tackling.
CAN WE TALK? CAN WE BUY JOAN RIVERS’ THINGS?
“Joan Rivers’ apartment reminded me of Anastasia’s grandmother--like deposed Russian royalty,” playwright/actor Charles Busch recently told me, and he would know, having worked intimately with the late comic. And indeed, I loved Joan’s flamboyant style as much I worshiped the wacky woman herself. So I was there for daughter Melissa Rivers’ opening soiree at Christie’s auction house for the Joan Rivers collection of mama’s glittery gowns, sparkly handbags, and swanky furnishings. Rather than grab Melissa and start crying, I kept things light-hearted, asking, “How would you describe her style--early reign of terror?” “Early reign of terror,” agreed Melissa, smiling. “She was a maximalist—which is hoarding for rich people.” What would Joan have said if she’d seen herself walk a red carpet? “What style!” chirped Melissa. “What grace! Oh, is that Cate Blanchett?” We both giggled, and then she leaned in and more seriously said, “You know she loved you!” Rather than dive into the crying thing, I darted away and came across the most interesting item in the entire collection—a restroom sign from Joan’s apartment, which said, “In this day of hepatitis, herpes and AIDS, I would appreciate it if you would wash your hands thoroughly before leaving my bathroom.” Even in the afterlife, Joan Rivers has me spitting out my soda, laughing.
DINA, IT’S ONLY THE BEGINNING
Another lady with a sensational sense of style, drag star Dina Martina, took the stage of B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill last week in an outfit she described as “mother of the bridesmaid meets Barbara Bush going to church.” Swirling in the glorified white lab cat, Dina served up her trademark mispronunciations (hard g’s and soft g’s get reversed), gargly song stylings, and comedy from outer space. A former crouton attendant at the Circus Circus salad bar in Reno, Dina plugged her new album, allegedly called Lookin’ Like Hitler, Feeling Like Chaplin, before getting more sanctimonious and asking God to “bless the BLT community because this week is the running of the gays.” Her finale was a staggeringly funny reworking of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” with lyrics rhyming “pig” and “Diana Rigg.” The crowd ate up the Daniel Nardicio produced event, which brought some balls back to Times Square, even if they were tucked. It was a jift.
SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!
The new film The Neon Demon (which got a raucous reception at Cannes) is the kind of good/bad movie I perversely love. In it, Elle Fanning plays a young model who finds herself at the mercy of blood sucking rivals (including a crazed lesbian) wanting to siphon out her beauty and in fact her very soul. Add cannibalism and necrophilia to the mix, and the result is so offensive and stupefyingly bad at times and so icily intriguing at others that you don’t know whether to protest, sleep or cheer—and that makes it perfect for a future viewing at my good/bad movie club! Highly recommended. Sort of.