Boy bands are successful because they're formulaic, giving fans the archetypes they want—you've got the cute one, the dangerous one, the young one.
Well, how about the gay one?
Twenty-seven-year-old Nathaniel Flatt is not a household name, and you can be excused if you have not yet heard of his boy band V Factory since their single "Love Struck" is just now making an impact at pop radio ahead of a projected summer album release on Warner Bros. Records. What makes him remarkable, aside from his obvious good looks and musicality, is that he's the first member of a U.S boy band to be out from the beginning of his career.
Lance Bass made a huge splash when he came out as gay three years ago on the cover of People after *NSYNC had disbanded, but he'd been beaten to the punch overseas—both Stephen Gately of Boyzone and Mark Feehily of Westlife, Irish boybands with enormous international followings, had come out while their groups were actively recording and touring.
But still, no American boy band has started out with an openly gay member. In talking with Nathaniel about his life and his approach to the media, it became apparent that simply being honest has helped him avoid a lot of uncomfortable situations, kept him proud of who he is and, interestingly, has made the act of coming out itself feel almost an afterthought.
The aim of pop music, in particular teen pop music, is usually to sell, sell, sell, leading to strict rules about the content and length of songs and the appearance and behavior of performers. But for Flatt, his sexual identity is "a part of me just like my arm is so I can't deny it." Being out is not a marketing ploy or a way to head off an impending tabloid story, but a simple matter of authenticity. And haven't explosions of authenticity from within the clichés of the pop world led to some memorable artists?
It's anyone's guess whether V Factory will join their ranks, but they're on their way, sharing a manager with Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame and with former teen idol Tommy Page as their A&R at Warner Bros. (his "I'll Be Your Everything" went to #1 in 1990).
As for Flatt, it sounds like he's already where he needs to be.
Matthew Rettenmund's full interview with Nathaniel Flatt below:
Towleroad: When did you first get interested in singing and dancing?
Nathaniel: I was pretty young. I saw a production of Peter Pan—I can’t remember how old I was—and I saw them flying around and I thought from then on, “Oh, my God, I wanna do this.” I think also being the youngest of four there were probably some attention-starved aspects that also kinda came with it. I just have always sung in musicals and acted in plays and all that.
Towleroad: What was your first play?
Nathaniel: First play…it was some sort of Easter Bunny play and I was the Easter Bunny. I started it off right!
Towleroad: Was it considered cool among your friends to be involved in performing? No teasing?
Nathaniel: I kind of kept it really separate. The town that I’m from is really small. Once I got pretty serious into it, the town actually where I did most of the productions—I worked in a professional theater—it was like 45 minutes away, so where I did a lot of my training and performing wasn’t even in my town. I never did the high school production of whatever because I was actually doing stuff and being paid for it.
Towleroad: What was your hometown, Cookeville, Tenn., like?
Nathaniel: Really small. Everyone knows everybody and my family’s been there forever, my grandparents. I was a pretty good kid, I think, also because I knew that my parents were gonna find out about things. It was a pretty strict household...we went to church Sunday night and Wednesday night—that whole thing.
Towleroad: At what point in your life did you realize you were gay?
Nathaniel: I think as long as I can remember. People are always curious about that kind of stuff, girls or what-not that don’t know any gay people. I remember my roommate in college was like, “Oh, I didn’t realize until I was a sophomore in high school,” or something and I was like, “Whoa!” I mean, I just always knew. When you’re that young, you don’t really put two and two together, but I just…really liked Jem and the Holograms better than He-Man. [Laughs]
Towleroad: Was being gay ever something that stressed you out or worried you?
Nathaniel: I definitely struggled for a really long time with how that fits in with what you’ve been taught in church. I think being gay is so hard growing up because, like, let’s say you’re a minority that is completely segregated from anyone else. If you’re living in America and you’re Hispanic or something, more than likely you have a Hispanic family, obviously, and some sort of culture, but growing up in the South in a small town, I didn’t know anyone else who was gay. I didn’t have anything really to base that off of until I started performing and there were older professionals that would come in that I knew were gay. I just assumed they were going to hell or something.
Towleroad: Were you aware of seeing any gay representations in the media?
Nathaniel: When I was older, Will & Grace was on television. I was embarrassed just to be watching that in my household. I would watch it in my room with the door closed like it was something dirty.
Towleroad: Who was the first person you came out to?
Nathaniel: I left high school and then I ended up going to college. I went to a performing arts college, and I just assumed we would all continue the charade. But I wound up meeting somebody and had my first boyfriend and it was kind of like there you were gay until proven straight. They just assume everybody is gay. It wasn’t, “Dah-dah-dah-dah…I’m gay!” It was just kind of assumed, and I was dating someone so….
Towleroad: That’s a very decisive way to come out!
Towleroad: How did your family react?
Nathaniel: I didn’t actually tell my mom until much later. We don’t talk about it much. I know that she loves me. My family’s amazing. I know that they support me no matter what. Even now, they’ve never left this town—I don’t hold that against them, but I don’t think they fully understand it.
Towleroad: Ever have any really negative reactions to being gay?
Nathaniel: I would say sometimes in high school, yeah, people were cruel just like for everyone, but I always knew there was a bigger picture. Sure, that kind of stuff hurts, but I didn’t let it get to me. Like I said, in college everyone else was gay, too. Now, when I go back to random cities in the country [on tour], I don’t dress differently or alter anything about myself and I don’t notice people cracking jokes or anything, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m not operating on an assumption that someone is gonna think of me differently or what.
Nathaniel theorizes he doesn't give off the sexual, young-boy energy teen girls want.
Towleroad: How did you first get involved in V Factory?
Nathaniel: I knew a girl that was running an audition for the label that was interested in putting together a music group. I just knew her from working in L.A.; we had done some jobs together. She called me and said, “Hey, I don’t know if this is your thing, but I know you sing, so come on down.” I kind of thought it seemed a little ghetto, but everybody in L.A. has a record deal or something. It was just down the street from my house so I thought, “Okay, I’ll go down at the end of the day.” I was the last person to audition, 10 minutes late. Even with that I was very apprehensive once this all got rolling. I actually lied about my age! You were supposed to be 21 and I was 24 at the time. She was like, “Oh, just say you’re 21!” So I put down that I was 21.
It wasn’t for a few weeks into it I was like, “Shit, like, how do I come out to them? Are they gonna just fire me because I’m gay?” or whatever. It just kind of organically unrolled. A couple of the other guys, some of us had mutual friends, so they knew I was gay. I can’t even remember how it ended up coming up. But it was never an issue—at all. I feel very fortunate, because a lot of people ask that—that’s one of their first questions: “So, do you have to be in the closet with this group?” The label, everyone has been pretty…pretty…pretty good about it.”
The guys of V Factory have always accepted Nathaniel. V Factory (L to R): Jared Murillo, Wesley Quinn, Nathaniel Flatt, Nicky Teti & Asher Book. Photo by Joe Magnani.
Towleroad: Are the members of the group totally fine with it, too? No issues?
Nathaniel: No, no, not really. Just kidding around and stuff. We all have nicknames for each other all the time and Wesley affectionately calls me WeHo. [Laughs]
Towleroad: What’s your place in the group?
Nathaniel: There’s the age thing, so I’m older and more mature. I’m a voice of reason a lot of times. I think most of the time I’m the one calling people, “Okay, we have to be in the lobby at 9:30.” Things like that. I think from being gay—I hate to sound stereotypical, but I feel like it brings a queer eye to the group. They always ask me, “Should I wear this?” There for a while when we started I was kind of the stylist just because there wasn’t the money to go around so I would go and buy stuff at Nordstrom and just return it after our photo shoot.
Towleroad: Do they come to you for personal advice?
Nathaniel: We all have different dynamics with how we relate to each other. I would say maybe Nicky would ask me for advice sometimes. Like, if he had some issues he wanted to talk to management about he might send me the e-mail and say, “Hey, do you think this is cool?” We’re supportive that way with each other for sure.
Towleroad: The old joke is that absolutely every boy band has one gay member—
Nathaniel: [Laughs] Some have two!
Towleroad: —right, and the most famous one to come out was Lance Bass, though he came out after the group was over. Did his coming out have any impact on you?
Nathaniel: I had heard that through the grapevine, really, so I wasn’t really surprised by it. I guess I thought…I’ve also heard crazy stories about his record label buying him a girlfriend to just have around at parties and stuff like that, so I would think, “Wow, that must’ve been so hard living that persona for years at the height of their career.” Being so ungenuine like that must have been very difficult and hard…and something I would have no interest in doing.
I know gay people that are in the public eye that are uncomfortable with that and by no means do I think that they are cowardly by not choosing to talk about it, it’s just something that I think should be said for me personally. When we first started we had a meeting with our publicist, not just about me, and we addressed the gay thing and even then I wasn’t as comfortable with it as I am now. I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds about it. Maybe then, let’s say you approached me with this interview, it would’ve been, “Oh, no, thanks, that’s not for me.” I just feel like I want other people to live an authentic lifestyle and to promote change in the country, so I feel like I need to do that by example. But you know, everybody blossoms in different ways. I’m sure there’s other things I could be doing that I’m not comfortable doing yet. But being honest about my sexuality is something I’m definitely comfortable with.
Towleroad: Does this mean you’re against outing?
Nathaniel: I mean, I don’t want to generalize like that. Did you see Outrage? I saw [the director] interviewed and I definitely see his perspective where he’s saying that he’s outing hypocrites. So, you know, hey, if you’re voting for this or standing for something but you’re not leading that lifestyle at home or behind closed doors, maybe that deserves to be brought to the attention of the people that are electing you to office. But I don’t know. Some people just are private. Where does the line draw? I might be gay, but does that mean that I feel comfortable talking about my relationships or how many people I’ve slept with? Being in the public eye, you expect a certain amount of intrusion, but I don’t know where the line is, what’s too much.
Towleroad: How many people have you slept with?
Towleroad: Just kidding, but is it fair to say you’ve encountered lots of performers whose fans would be shocked to know they’re secretly gay?
Nathaniel: I’m kind of a homebody, so I’m not out at the parties and I don’t know all these celebrities, but I would say sure, there’s people I know that people would be surprised.
Towleroad: Do you have any gay role models?
Nathaniel: I really think it’s great how Ellen can be funny and everyone loves her but she still has a social agenda, too, and doesn’t hide the fact that she’s gay or that she opposes Proposition 8. I think it’s great that she has done that kind of stuff in a tasteful manner so it’s not like she’s cramming it down your throat. I never wanted to be an artist that bases their identity on their sexuality, you know what I’m saying? But, I mean, that’s something that is a part of me just like my arm is so I can’t deny it. I know in this day and age, that’s the kinda stuff that’s gonna sell the magazines, so that’s what people are interested. Hopefully by one more person coming out or being gay from the beginning—there doesn’t need to be a coming out—it’s not really a story. I sleep with men, just like you or whoever sleeps with women. We all do it. I think that maybe by one more person not bringing attention to it or making it a big deal, it may be one more gay person in Hollywood that some kid in Wyoming can see on the television who is gay but is not crazy.
Towleroad: Aside from being a role model, you’ve also done lots of actual modeling—do you consider yourself a model?
Nathaniel: No, I don’t. Models are tall. [Laughs] There’s so many things I’ve missed out on because I’m two inches too short. That’s really just something I’ve done along the way to pay the bills, because it’s not really that fun to me. I don’t enjoy it. It’s really rather boring, and usually the other people aren’t that interesting to talk to. It’s not a safe game to identify yourself with your appearance, the way you look, because that’s fleeting so it’s not going to be around for long. When you go to castings and you’re sitting there and there’s like 30 beautiful people in a room staring at the wall, I feel very uncomfortable. And I also feel like the shortest person there.
Towleroad: Do you follow the gossip blogs?
Nathaniel: I definitely have been a pretty adamant follower of Perez and it kind of feels like an addiction that I’m trying to kick. I don’t always agree with what he’s saying. I literally have just gone there for news, for what’s going on, because I do appreciate a blog that is maybe telling it like it is. I think in this day and age where the Internet has made things so much more accessible, I feel like we see through the B.S. of polished news stations—I don’t believe half the stuff that comes from the mainstream media anyway. Whether it’s Perez or someone, I definitely think [blogs like his have] a place and I think that is kind of what the media is coming to. I don’t even know how to describe it, but I feel like our culture is in transition in so many areas. I think the media is one.
Towleroad: Is music another?
Nathaniel: Music is one. Record labels haven’t exactly figured out how they make money on their artists. We’re all just trying to just figure it out.
Nathaniel said Barbara Walters wasn't knocking down his door for an interview. She should be. Photo from here.
Towleroad: Do you think V Factory’s fans realize you’re gay?
Nathaniel: Wes actually said something like that to me the other day. I can’t even remember what the situation was, but…I can speak from what I notice. I think that for the most part we have a younger, female fanbase and they are really interested in young, strapping boys and I don’t think that I give off that energy so I don’t find them drawn to me. When we’re signing people’s autographs, they’re always liking Asher and Wesley because I feel like they’re the two that promote the most, emanate the most sexual, young-boy energy. And so I don’t feel that, “Oh, wow, I’m ugly!” or “not good!” I think that they can just tell. I think that they can just tell that I’m not interested. Now the moms—that’s different. They like me! [Laughs]
I’m perfectly fine with them knowing that. I don’t think that that hurts our fanbase; if I’m gay and they can’t date me, there’s four other guys that they can choose from. I feel that that maybe even widens our audience. It maybe gives us a little more credibility because we’re not the idea of what people think of as a boy band. We’re not trying to be something that we’re not. I think that maybe would draw a maybe more adult audience, a more refined taste. I think our music is great anyway. I wanna have validity and substance.
Towleroad: Your fanbase is such that you’re doing lots of teen-magazine interviews. Are you often asked the dreaded questions about girls, and how do you react?
Nathaniel: I never wanted to lie about it, so when I tell my first-date story or my favorite place to take someone on a date, it’s the same regardless. No teen magazine has ever asked me, “Do you date boys?” so I never felt obligated to bring it up. But that’s why I was really excited that you even asked me to do this because, I mean, I would love to talk about it but I don’t feel that [teen magazines are] the platform to bring it up.
Towleroad: What do you think of the teen purity-ring craze?
Nathaniel: I’m not a teen, so I don’t know what the vibe is among them, but…the Jonas Brothers have them, right? If they feel socially compelled to bring that up, I feel like that’s not really different than the things I’m wanting to spread. I just want people to accept me and appreciate my beliefs whether they’re different from theirs. I respect them for whatever they wanna do.
Towleroad: You said girls naturally assume you’re not available to them. Is it getting to the point where teen girls can idolize a performer who’s openly gay and fantasize about them in the same way they do with straight or supposedly straight stars?
Nathaniel: I mean, maybe? I definitely know girls that have approached me, that being gay doesn’t matter to them; that was a barrier they were interested in crossing. [Laughs] I would like to think that they respect the artist. I’m sure everyone knew Boy George was gay or Freddie Mercury, but you saw the music or the performance or the personality.
Towleroad: What about Adam Lambert?
Nathaniel: Oh, exactly! I know him, actually. He’s like the most freaking talented singer I’ve ever met in my entire life. I saw something today that Gene Simmons said it was the biggest mistake he could ever make and I feel like that is just an old-school mentality. He’s operating on the assumption that people aren’t gonna respect that or relate to it in Milwaukee. I think Adam is such an unbelievable talent that that’s not really why you’re buying his record; it’s because of his complete authenticity.
Towleroad: And Adam was a person who has been himself almost from the very beginning. He was a little reticent to acknowledge he is gay while he was still on American Idol, but immediately afterward he put the pink elephant in the room out of its misery.
Nathaniel: I followed the show with him in it. I didn’t talk to him about it, but I knew that he’s comfortable with himself and I knew that was something we would not not address.
Towleroad: How did you celebrate Pride?
Nathaniel: For Los Angeles Pride we were not in town; I was somewhere performing. But actually we just performed at San Franciso Pride. I was really excited to do that. We performed for 92.7, their radio station in San Francisco that plays a lot of dance music and that's actually playing “Lovestruck.” We performed on their stage on 16th and Market. That was a lot of fun! And I actually knew three or four random people that happened to be in the city at the same time, so I just hung out with them afterwards.
Working it on 92.7's stage at San Francisco Pride. Image from here.
Towleroad: I noticed you Tweeted, “Pornstars are not my style.” What, pray tell, was that all about?
Nathaniel: [Laughs] Oh! I met my first pornstar that night. I’d never really met one or talked to one and he was rather interesting…at the beginning. And then it got a little strange. I was like, “Now I understand why you’re a pornstar.” [Laughs]
Towleroad: Are you seeing anyone?
Nathaniel: I am, yes.
Towleroad: What does he think of your job?
Nathaniel: He…doesn’t understand it. [Laughs] At all. I don’t think. It’s good to have that separation from the industry and then be home with someone who doesn’t really get it and has no interest in anyone famous or anything in that kind of lifestyle. So it’s great. [To boyfriend] He’s asking me about you. Did you want to promote anything? [Laughs] See? He can’t even answer.
Towleroad: It’s probably good not to have someone who’s a huge fan as your boyfriend.
Towleroad: But I have to break out a teen-mag question here: Would you ever date a fan?
Nathaniel: [Laughs] You’re asking it in a completely different way this time! You know what, I don’t know just because I don’t want to rule out anything, but I think that would be a little strange to come home and your picture’s on the wall. But hopefully we’re gonna be big enough anyway that everyone will be a fan of ours anyway, so I won't be able to avoid it.
V Factory on MySpace. Nathaniel Flatt on YouTube.