photo credit: Joem Bayawa
Mere hours after singer-songwriter Steve Grand released his self-funded, deeply emotional, and innocently sexy music video “All-American Boy,” he’d scored thousands of YouTube views, endorsements on Twitter from Lance Bass and John Barrowman, and the following Buzzfeed headline: “Meet the First Openly Gay Male Country Star.” Indeed, the 22-year-old musician from Lemont, IL had made an immediate impact: He was gay, he was singing about having a crush on another guy, and his confident vulnerability was undeniably anthemic.
The video, about a gay man’s heartbreaking crush on a pal, is well on its way to a seven-figure view count. Grand, who makes his living as an accompanist at his hometown’s Catholic churches, has already taken an interview with the AP and watched cross-country news reports about his video’s impact. That’s not a bad deal for a guy who blew his entire savings on making the video (“I got my first credit card and immediately maxed it out,” he told us) and fretted for weeks about how his all-American effort would be received (“I was so nervous — I was shaking.”)
Grand’s star is clearly just beginning to ascend, but TheBackLot caught up with the Herculean gay singer to discuss his video, when he discovered he was gay, and surviving five years of serious “straight therapy.”
TheBackLot: It’s been less than a week since you released “All-American Boy,” and the whole internet is hailing you as the first gay country star. Judging by the comments on YouTube, you’ve really struck a chord with viewers both gay and straight. How are you handling this deluge of attention?
Steve Grand: I’m just completely in over my head with this, you know? The emails people have sent me, the Facebook messages, the comments on Facebook, the comments on YouTube — it’s overwhelming. I want so badly to get back to these people because they’re sharing really personal stories with me, and I’m not a crier, but I’m so moved by the people who’ve reached out to me and told me how my song is their life story. It’s an amazing thing. It’s all you can hope for as a songwriter, to resonate with people emotionally. Even if I don’t get another view, even if I remain with this relatively small audience, I’m the happiest man in the world just for that. If it were all over today, I’d die a happy man. A lot of people feel like their voice is heard now because of my video, so [the song] is far from being just about me anymore. It’s also a story of not just gay people; it’s also about our straight brothers and sisters. It’s about that horrible ache when you long for someone you know you can’t have. It’s especially an occurrence in the gay community because most of us grew up in a straight world. At some point or another, we crush on a guy. We crush on our best friend.
TBL: I take it you have some experience in this area.
SG: I had many years of that, starting with Boy Scout camp. I had a crush on a counselor there. That’s when it all started, back when I think I was 12 or 13 years old. He was probably a teenager, but he seemed a lot older to me. At that age, you have no perspective. Anyone 16 and older is like a grownup. That was what started it all. That was the first time I had that feeling, that horrible ache, as we drove away. I didn’t want to leave. He was a straight man, but he made me feel special in a way. He took me under his wing and it was really powerful. I felt like I haven’t had a lot of men in my life do that. Feeling that masculine energy and being embraced by this older cool guy, taking a liking to me and thinking I’m cool, being totally unthreatened by me — it changed my life. I remember on the drive home, that’s actually when I realized, “Holy sh*t. Wait. I’m gay.” That was it. It was the hardest thing in the world. I had no one to go to with it. I hated myself for it. I grew up in the Catholic church, and Catholicism was an important part of my family and tradition. I felt like I was letting everyone down. There was a point where I was suicidal. I felt like there was no way I could be gay, that I’d rather be dead than be gay.