Talent, work, talent, activism, and did I say talent? Of course, charismatic good looks and gilded vocal abilities don't hurt either. All of these describe Jade Esteban Estrada, a dynamically propelled energetic ball of talent hurling himself into the opportunities of life. Through the successes, the hard work, the admiration, the talent, there is one constant not frequently mentioned - his personality.
My experiences have shown that Estrada is a consummate professional who has not allowed his notoriety to distance him from his following. Always attentive to inquiries and responsive with appreciation, he is a proud example of not only our GLBTI community but everyone's community, the world.
Forthright with his answers, and prompt to respond, Estrada has made this interview enjoyable, interesting and one I will not soon forget.
Jade Esteban Estrada, singer, songwriter, actor, director, award-winning comic, choreographer, writer, speaker, activist and so much more. How do you find the time to fulfill your goals?
I take after my father in the way that I can be overly ambitious. But I try to be wise in my choice of which opportunities I take up to narrow it down at least a bit. If the endeavor feeds my spirit, then I know I'm doing the right thing. "Hay mas tiempo que vida" as my grandmother always says. (There is more time than there is life). So I know that I can't do everything-but I can certainly try.
Right now, I'm working on my "ICONS: The Lesbian and Gay History of the World, Vol. 1" project. It's a one-man show and it's been the most fun I've had in years in the creative process. I'm debuting a piece of it this weekend in New York but the real McCoy doesn't go up until September due to my touring schedule. I'm really excited about the music. I haven't written in what seems like ages.
Does that leave much time for a personal life?
No, it doesn't. But I try to make it my business to keep my relationships deep and meaningful and make it a priority to escape and be alone when I can to take things in. Relationships are so important. I think there is a part of us that dies inside when those needs aren't met.
What motivates, moves you to achieve your many accomplishments?
I have this passionate love affair with people. It's so deep and it reads when I'm onstage I've been told that I would do anything for them. My grandmother saw me performing at the Arneson River Theatre in San Antonio at the Miss Latina USA Pageant recently and she told me that it was in that moment that she realized that I did not belong to her anymore. She said I belonged to the people. I heard that "ring of truth" when she said that and I feel it's true when I'm on stage. The people motivate me. It's my job to take them away when they want to escape or need a bit of inspiration.
As an "out" performer, what do you have to say to performers who say being out is professional suicide? You are living proof that is not always the case.
I'd ask them to reevaluate the reasons they are performing in the first place-for the need of creating and performing or for an impressive paycheck? I'd ask them to define their standards of success. You can always spot the performers who love themselves in the art and not the art in themselves.
Have you found it more difficult being an "out" performer in any area?
I was an actor/singer/dancer in New York City for years before I got my break. The only reason I might be more successful than the next guy is because I've fallen on my ass a hell of a lot more times than he has. Rejection is an old friend of mine! You grow thick skin in show business and the difficulties I encounter now as a result of being out are truly laughable in comparison to the horrible rejections performers have to endure every single day on auditions. Casting directors and choreographers in NY and LA can be just wicked sometimes with little regard for peoples feelings.
That reminds me very quickly of Madonna's auditions in the early nineties for one of her tours. She was so considerate of dancers' feelings. You could tell it bothered her to tell people that they were not exactly what she was looking for. This kind of consideration is a rarity. You could tell she'd been there.
What advice would you send to GLBTI youth with regard to being out and successful?
Love and hard work are the only things that matter in this world. There isn't time for anything else.
How does your family react to your success and your "out" status?
My sister Celeste (Angela Estrada) is a successful playwright and very liberal and very supportive. She wrote Tortilla Heaven, the one-man show I'm performing right now in New York and on the road. My brother David (Miguel Estrada) is an actor who refuses to play any gay roles. He's very conservative and not so supportive. I don't really speak to my parents and everyone else might read about me in the media and contact me online to send an occasional hello. My grandmother is the only one I really set out to impress but she only cares that I eat and that I'm happy. I could sell apples on the street corner and she'd still think I was great. I count my blessings that I have a few family members that extend into my circle of "real family." Some people don't even have that. In this era of war and discontent in the world, I'm happy that I have any family to call my own. There are people in the world right now mourning a lost loved one right now as I say this.
You know who has been supportive of me, to my surprise - actor Erik Estrada. I went through my conservatory in New York (because he attended the same school years before) having all of my professors thinking that I was his son. I didn't find this out until graduation and what a laugh that was. It's so ironic now that we are in contact. It's like having a Hollywood dad!
What is the best part of your life at this time?
Wow. I guess the appreciation I get for my work on stage and in the studio. When you're a chorus boy, which I have been all my life, it's expected of you to hit a high C and to be able to kick your ear and do three pirouettes for little to no praise. Now when I perform, I feel so much more appreciated. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing to admit. Like when I was auditioning for Broadway shows in the 90s, I was told that my singing voice was "too pop" and when I was a scratch vocalist for the Back Street Boys I was told I was "too Broadway." My acting coaches told me that I was "too animated" or "too silly onstage." Now I never hear that. All of a sudden it's called my "style. "
What is the worst part of your life at this time?
I once heard Tina Turner have a moan about how lonely it was on the road and I used to be like, "whatever." But it is! She's right! It can be very lonely. And as lovely as the people are from city to city they can never replace your home, your dog and your family and friends. Not in that order, of course. That's the worst part of it. The other part is having to watch what I eat. I hate that. I'm Mexican. We eat when we are happy and we eat when we are sad. It's my birthright and I've been stripped of it. I'm pretty bitter. It's all about those lovely tortillas - a staple in the Jade Esteban Estrada diet. Don't tell anyone.
Tell us about Jade the man, your passions, your dislikes.
I love to sing. I love to write. I have always been an artist in one way or the other and I really feel that that power I've been given is the only tool I have to survive spiritually. I love my sister. I love my career. I love God. I love my country and I love my culture and history as a gay man. That's the reason I am writing ICONS. I really love the material and subject matter. I dislike being limited by society or the media or anybody with money. Did I just describe America?
What do you feel is the largest obstacle facing the GLBTI community?
Honestly? Each other and ourselves. There is so much separatism among men and women and transgender people. And that is so silly! Also, we all have to learn to love ourselves just the way we are. When something about us is bothering us and we see that quality in someone else, we take it out on them. It's really ourselves that we have the problem with. And I can say that because I'm guilty of it myself. It's one of my many shortcomings that I'm in the ongoing process of overcoming. We have a saying in Texas, "En este mundo, el que no se cae, se resbala." (He who does not fall, will slip). It basically means that no one is perfect.
Regarding equality issues, we as a community have a distance to go, in what areas do you feel we need to grow regarding equality within our own GLBTI community?
Well, within our own community, we have to practice what we preach and really take a hard look at our own tolerance for diversity. We sing the song of diversity on a stage that says "no lesbians allowed." It doesn't make sense. I have met many prominent gay men and who are prejudiced towards women and transgender people. I think that everyone should take a good look at the leaders they're following so that they don't stand behind something that they don't believe in.
Considering your busy schedule, how do you stay in touch with your following, fans?
On the road, I always stop and talk. Some people I've met have traveled far and wide to see me and as Charo once told me regarding her fans, "this is my real family." She's right. So I make it my business to get to know as many people as I can when I'm on the road. If I weren't doing this I'd be a reporter or an interviewer because I love hearing peoples stories. Barbara Walters and Oprah have the best job. I love to hear what's important to the people I meet. You'd be surprised how interesting some people's lives are. You'd be surprised what you can learn from them.
As the award-winning "Prince of Pageantry" who has brought positives to the industry, what would you have to say to those who feel beauty pageants are not a positive role for young women? Some pageants are considered to place beauty over skills.
Women are beautiful. Pageants are a celebration of beauty and are a fantastic opportunity to bring girls out of their shell so that they can feel good about themselves. Women have the power of looks and brains. Why not use them both? Critics of pageantry have not seen first hand all the wonderful things it has done for many girls like I have. Sappho once said this of women and how quickly the world forgets!
What is it like to work with Charo?
It was a gift from God. I was so lucky to land that job. She really whipped my butt into shape! She mothered me to a certain degree and she also told me when I sucked and we all need that kind of honest criticism in our professional lives as performers. I remember being in her dressing room holding her curling iron in her hair as she did something else to prepare for her show. She would tell me about her former husband who I had never heard of. She'd tell me great show business secrets. I felt like I was part of a legacy in a way. I am very grateful for her guidance.
As you have worked with many notable entertainers, do you have a favorite?
Phyllis Diller. They don't make 'em like that anymore.
What do you do to relax?
I read books. I stretch and I spend time on my own away from distraction. I go to Central Park here in New York as much as I can. What a great idea that was. I also have a weekly column that is published internationally. I can't tell you how nice it feels to be just a guy with an opinion sometimes. It's very relaxing and I am grateful to share my experiences.
In your opinion, what has been your most notable achievement?
I have two - my keynote speech at the OutFront Minnesota Statewide Conference in Brainerd, Minnesota last year and standing with Melissa Etheridge, RuPaul and the Pet Shop Boys with the Being Out Rocks project for the Human Rights Campaign this year. It's thrilling to help the younger generation take the human race to the next level.
|Estrada at Charlotte Pride 2001
|Photo by DAN SCHENK
Would you take a few moments to tell us about the causes which you support?
Marriage Equality. AmFAR. Human Rights Campaign. LLEGO.
There is quite a bit of discourse regarding GLBTI press in our community. Many feel that advertising dollars take strong priority over content and community support. What is your opinion on this subject? Is there a responsibility factor here in your opinion?
Many years ago…and I mean a long time ago. Kings and queens ruled the world. Everything in the country would honor them. Times have changed but the idea hasn't. Now we are subjects in the kingdom of capitalism. Corporate kings and queens rule the land and that is a fact of our era. There's no getting around that. Does the media have a responsibility in my opinion to balance empowering editorial with colorful sexy ads? Yes. They are the voices for us. They unite us. Do I think they overdo it with the sexy colorful ads? No. Not really. But I do think they could get more good editorial in there. They let us in on how the other half lives. However, publishers are independent businessmen and it would be wrong of us to insist they change they're format. They have a right to publish what they want. If we as readers don't like it, we shouldn't buy it. Better yet, why don't we support the publications and media that do put forth the editorial content and community support we claim to want? It's an interesting debate.
What advice would you have for artists just getting started?
Take advantage of your nearby resources like the local theatre. The best acting school you could ever go to is the one that gets you on stage in front of an audience. Getting cast in the local theatre production doesn't usually cost anything. Go to the library to learn about other artists and their approach to the craft so you can narrow down what exactly you would like to do within the performing arts. Most importantly the most important bit of advice that I have is to ask questions, ask questions, ask questions! All those things are free.
What would be your solution to end the separatism which exists within our GLBTI community?
How do you feel about being a role model for our community and for GLBTI youth?
I had great role models when I was growing up and we all deserve them. If I am a role model to someone, I'm honored.
In closing, what message would Jade like to get out to the world?
To take a moment each day to try to understand someone whom you don't. Now, more than ever, it's time to pray for peace.