LOS ANGELES – Chaz Bono is not going to let the brouhaha broiling over his casting in the mega hit TV show “Dancing With The Star” deter his determination to win the prized disco ball.
In an exclusive interview with San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, Chaz stresses that he is highly motivated by the naysayers upset that a transgender celebrity is allowed to compete on the dance show. Chaz talks about his casting and shares his inner thoughts about the milestone that his appearance will accomplish.
2011 is the year of Chaz Bono
After a very high-profile period in the 1990s, followed by a relatively quiet decade, Chaz Bono, the former entertainment media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the only child of megastars Sonny and Cher, came out (again) with abandon this year and hasn't stopped since.
The chatter began in January when "Becoming Chaz," a 90-minute documentary that detailed Chaz's journey through gender transition, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. In many ways, this was the filmmaker's film, but Chaz said he is happy with the end result.
Months of buildup followed the Sundance premiere until May, when the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) launched its new documentary series by telecasting the film, and the rest of the world could now follow Chaz's journey (or not).
At that same time, he also released a book, "Transition: The Story Of How I Became A Man," which he wrote himself. The book delved even deeper into the dark corners of his 40+ years, those places and moments of clarity that guided him to his decision to transition, and to do so, so publicly.
To support both the documentary and the book's release, Bono hit the media circuit, and he hit it hard. From May through July, there was not a morning news program, late night talk show, or newspaper interview, that was untouched. He was everywhere.
Finally in mid-July the media surge seemed to slow to just a whisper. That is, until now.
This week, ABC announced that Chaz will be joining the new season of "Dancing With The Stars" (DWTS) as a cast member. Speculation immediately swirled: Who would be Chaz's partner? Would it be a male or a female? The following day it was revealed that Chaz would be paired with dancing professional Lacey Schwimmer, for season 13.
The news of Bono's inclusion has literally blown up the twitterverse and blogosphere, as "devout Christians" feign their disgust and vow to "never watch the show again." Many state that the show has lost it's "family appeal."
All the brouhaha may seem to be setting the stage for a showstopper, but in reality, it is little more than a distraction, since controversy is really nothing new on the popular hit show.
After all, in the past we've seen Kim Kardashian, Kate Gosselin, former Playmate Kendra Wilkinson, bisexual Margaret Cho, "Jersey Shore" cast mate Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino, even "abstinence role model" Bristol Palin. And as the women slide around the floor in next-to-nothing, week after week, the men are jiggling their midsections right along beside them, like Elvis making love to a microphone.
The fact that it has always been far from a "traditional" family show is exactly what has kept the ratings consistently in the clouds.
As Kiri Blakely, a Forbes contributor, pointed out so astutely this week, the "DWTS" cast -- since Day One -- has been filled with people who did not appear on the show as everyone knows they were born to be.
Despite the media storm currently surrounding Chaz, San Diego Gay & Lesbian News was given access to him so Chaz could discuss his new gig.
Determined and ready
According to Chaz, producers of the smash hit TV show asked him to be on the program for season 12, long before publicity leading up to the wide release of "Becoming Chaz" had hit the airwaves.
For obvious reasons, Chaz said he had to turn down that first offer, but this year, after wrapping up his documentary and book tour, he called the producers back.
He was ready.
"I cleared my whole schedule and am 100% focused on the show," Chaz said. "I want to do the absolute best I can for as long as I can."
Although America only found out about the line-up this week, the celebrity and pro pairs were already hard at work rehearsing, having started on Friday, Aug. 26.
"We're doing four hours per day now, and it will go up from there," Chaz said, adding that he's currently working on building up his stamina.
"I like it. It's hard work, but I look forward to going, every day. Everyone is amazing, the staff, the crew, the professional dancers, they couldn't be nicer people.
"Lacey [Schwimmer] is the perfect choice for me, I'm very happy they picked her to be my partner."
Although everyone seems to think that all celebrities know each other, Bono assured SDGLN that other than a possible meeting in passing, he didn't know any of the other stars in this season's competition, but he was looking forward to getting to know them all.
"So many reality shows are salacious, " Chaz said. "But this one is different. I just met the whole cast earlier this week at the announcement and everyone is really, really nice."
Chaz also commented that he and J.R. Martinez (of "All My Children") are rehearsing on the same schedules and when the two aren't busy learning their dance moves, they have found some common ground.
"We both do activism work, just for different communities, so we have talked quite a bit," he said.
Martinez is an Iraq war veteran who suffered burns on over 40% of his body in 2003, when the Humvee he was driving hit a land mine, less than a month after he arrived with his unit. His recovery was long and painful -- he lost an ear, and despite 30+ surgeries his face still shows major scarring -- but today he travels the country, motivating and speaking out for other burn victims and disabled veterans.
Chaz is clearly not amused by the controversy that has occurred since the announcement of his appearance on the show, but he quickly downplayed it. He is not deterred at all and has publicly said it will only fuel his competitive fire even more.
When asked if ABC has a Plan B or even discussed one with him, Chaz was full of resolve. "Nope. We are going forward no matter what," he replied matter-of-factly.
Like many Americans, Chaz hasn't always been a faithful watcher of "DWTS" since season one, or even the last few years. But once it was put on his radar last year, the performances and the sheer novelty of the show have made him a huge fan.
"I hadn't watched much before [they initially reached out], but I started watching it online and now I've watched a lot of seasons," he said with a chuckle. "It really sucks you right in."
Chaz realizes just how groundbreaking his appearance on this ratings giant of a show will be, and that is precisely why he is doing it.
"The most important thing," Chaz said, "is that I wish there was someone like me on television when I was a kid, or even when I was a little older and struggling so much. That is the inspiration for me. I know I can reach more people this way, those who are afraid to be themselves, or unsure and scared."
With the media attention his appearance is garnering -- on a show that already boasts over 22 million viewers worldwide -- he will definitely reach plenty of people, even without those who may decide to boycott the show.
Lots of support
Those who have seen his documentary know he will have a huge support system cheering him on back home, led by his girlfriend, Jennifer Elia.
And all though his mother was a little "slow on the uptake" when it intially came to accepting his transition, she has already been cheering him on and fighting back against the "bigoted" people who have been blasting ABC and saying negative things about Chaz since the season's line-up was first announced.
Cher reached out to her 300,000+ Twitter fans this week to voice her support of her son's choice to do the show.
Lovelies! Chaz is being viciously attacked on blogs & message boards about being on DWTS! This is still America right ? It took guts 2 do it
I support him no matter what he chooses 2do! God! will there always be haters! It took COURAGE 2 do dwts ! TG Chaz has an unlimited supply
Can u guys check out sites & give him your support ? BTW ...Mothers don't stop getting angry with stupid bigots who fk with their children !
Not all "DWTS" fans are threatening to turn off their TV sets rather than watch this season. This fan's supportive post on the ABC website is definitely worth noting.
ABC did something brilliant. They gave the entire country a reason to tune in. I have watched exactly three episodes of the show in my entire life. I will however watch and DVR every episode along with most people I know. Why? Because Chaz Bono is brave. Because even in the face of hate and judgement he is going to show the world that he has nothing to hide from or nothing to feel bad about. Chaz is a hero to every single kid out there who never felt he/she belonged, to every parent who ever loved a child who was picked on and teased and pointed at for being different. He is a champion against the so-called "Christians" of the world who sit in their glass houses heaving bricks at their fellow men and women.
The world is filled with enough hate and violence, do we not have enough to take care of under our own roofs that we need to peer into the bedrooms of our neighbors and decide for consenting adults what should them happy? Don't you people have other concerns than this? Aren't there bigger fish to fry? I am completely bewildered as to why anyone would boycott a show based upon a person's RIGHT to live their life to the best of their ability. Chaz is a human being. He isn't asking you over for dinner. He isn't even asking you to approve. He is just dancing on corny show for fun. Its fluff tv folks!!
The only person who may be happy about the firestorm of controversy could be Carson Kressley, the openly gay stylist best known for his helpful fashion advice on "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy." After all, it points the spotlight elsewhere and takes the heat off his own appearance on the show.
Kressley will be dancing with Anna Trebunskaya, although ABC producers say they did consider teaming him with a male professional before deciding to stick to standard ballroom dancing guidelines.
As for Chaz, he is looking forward to the competition and has his eye on that disco ball.
"I'm really excited," he said.
His last on-screen competition of this nature was "Celebrity Fit Club" in 2007. While this reality show trades out the obstacle courses and weigh-ins for dips and dance-offs, in the bigger scheme of things, dancing with Lacey across that ballroom floor will also let Chaz be as Chaz as Chaz can be.
Bono also has ties directly to San Diego
Two years ago Bono was the keynote speaker at the first-ever international conference, called "Supporting Students, Saving Lives" sponsored by CESCaL, the non-profit run by San Diego State University's School Counselor Graduate Program.
The conference helps K-12 school counselors and other educators learn how to advocate for LGBTQI students, and gives them the tools to do so.
The conference is attended by every major national LGBT support non-profit and other local and national educational organizations and has grown each year. Country star and LGBT advocate Chely Wright was the keynote speaker for 2011.
This year CESCaL decided to establish an National Advisory Council to assist with and help guide the conference, and Chaz was quick to say yes when they reached out to him.
The next conference is scheduled for Feb. 17-19, 2012, in San Diego. Keep checking the website as guest speakers will continue to be added and announced.