Viewers of NBC’s popular summer reality series “America’s Got Talent” over the years seem to prefer good old-fashioned singers, no matter how many wacky knife swallowers and magic acts the producers throw out there.
Within the singer category, they absolutely adore pop-opera acts. The 2008 winner was an opera singer. Last year, the runner-up was an opera singer. This past summer, two operatic performers landed in the top four.
One, 10-year-old Jackie Evancho, is a young prodigy with angelic vocal skills. (She unfortunately won’t be at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center show Saturday featuring the top 10 acts. Given her age, her parents wanted her to spend less time on the road.)
But the other finalist, Prince Poppycock, went further than many people expected. Played by John Quale, an openly gay performing artist, the flamboyant character is a dandy who dons 18th century wigs and outfits and sings operettas with infectious fun, bravado and grace.
“I used to do my act for 20 somethings in Los Angeles,” said Quale in an interview earlier this month. “Now I’m doing it for blue-haired ladies in the Midwest who just love the act. They’ve been incredibly supportive. I wasn’t expecting that.”
On the tour, he’s been performing two six-minute acts: an extended version of Figaro’s aria from “The Barber of Seville” he did in his original “Talent” audition and Queen’s ”Bohemian Rhapsody” - minus the not-so-family-friendly line about killing a man.
Prince Poppycock, which Quale developed in 2006, has an entire back story: ”He is not from this world. He’s from another dimension. He’s kicked out of court by his arch-nemesis Baron Nefarious. Marauding space pirates pick him up and he learns to be a man, not a self-indulgent vain party boy.”
Quale did not intend to audition. His boyfriend signed him up. And he didn’t have expectations of getting far. “I had no idea how it would play out,” he said. “I felt like in the end, I bucked the trend. I’ve been more of an underground performance artist.”
To be more mainstream, he said he’s had to cut out the bawdier jokes but “given the resources at my disposal, I can fully realize my vision more.”
During the tour, he’s also been able to expound for a few moments about acceptance. And he credits show host Jerry Springer for allowing him to do that.
“I wanted him to do that,” said Springer in a separate phone interview. “He has a wonderful message. It’d be a waste just to laugh at his act and not realize it’s the tears of a clown.”
“I was a victim of hazing and bullying and homophobia growing up,” Quale said, in Virginia and Massachusetts.
“It’s very relevant to what’s going on now,” Springer added, alluding to some high-profile anti-gay crimes hitting the news recently.
After the tour, Quale hopes to create his own Vegas-style revue act with costume changes, props and a blend of classical and pop-rock music.
“I’m not going to talk about my sexuality in any of my performances,” he said. “I don’t think I ever will. I think it’s pretty obvious I’m a homosexual. I’ve never hidden that.”
Here was his original on-air introduction on “America’s Got Talent”:
“America’s Got Talent” Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 6, $51.70 to $112.65 with fees, Ticketmaster.com, 1-800-745-3000