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Life after ‘A-List’

Reichen Lehmkuhl candidly talks reality TV regrets, DADT and ex Lance Bass’ career copycats

Some people had a hard time sitting through The A-List: New York, Logo’s tawdry teledoc about a gay gaggle that got eye-roll reactions from viewers who couldn’t completely look away. Imagine starring in it.

Reichen Lehmkuhl, who became the show’s punching bag for nasty names, looks back with regret that you didn’t see him like you should have. But he’s learned to get on with his life and focus his attention on the future — one that includes a film based on his first book (a follow-up to 2006’s Here’s What We’ll Say: Growing Up, Coming Out, and the U.S. Air Force is in the works) and exploring other avenues of his bottomless ambition as a political activist, model, musician and jeweler (seriously, he has his own line).

In a recent chat with Lehmkuhl, the 37-year-old got personal about his hurt feelings, how the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell affected him, his book-turned-movie, and his take on ex-boyfriend Lance Bass seemingly copying his career.
You were called a lot of nasty names for your behavior on The A-List: New York.

How do you feel about the way Logo cast you?

It hurts. If it didn’t hurt, I think there’d be something wrong with me. I see myself differently. Clearly when I look at my life I see myself being raised in a trailer park and breaking into a successful military career, serving my country and graduating from the Air Force Academy.

After getting out and writing a book that sticks up for our entire community and cries out for help from everyone to get rid of a policy that’s going to help a lot of other anti-gay policies fall, to see anyone in the community turn around and call me a douche bag, it just makes me say, “Wow.” I watch A-List with different eyes, I’m sure. I guess if I were watching the show from those people’s eyes, maybe I would think I was a douche bag, too.

How is it balancing serious stances on issues like DADT and then doing a reality show like A-List?

(Laughs) It’s really hard, because with a show like A-List the cameras are on us for five months — 3,600 hours over the summer just of me — and you probably saw, over 10 episodes, maybe three hours. Imagine what they can do.

I tell people, “Don’t talk to me about editing until you’ve done a reality TV show, because you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Out of 3,600 hours, you take three hours of that and you make a person whatever you want them to be. A show like A-List doesn’t want to show anything that’s boring and not what people are tuning in for. They want the things that are sensationalized, and we understand. We signed up for this and we understand what they’re going to do. I wish I could just tell people, “That’s not the way it is.” But you look even more stupid sticking up for yourself, so I’ve learned to just let it go.

You said you’re surprised by some of the reactions, but you also said you knew what you were getting into. Do you have regrets about doing the show? Would you do a second season?

Umm… I don’t know. They haven’t even said yet if there will be a second season, so we haven’t really thought about it yet. I think that there are definitely some regrets. There are moments when I think, “Wow, we shouldn’t have even given them that.” A show can make you look like you’re hitting on someone in a club, but the editing doesn’t let you see that it’s your friend of 13 years. (Laughs) Suddenly, you’re hitting on someone in the club because you’re having a conversation and saying it’s too bad someone’s leaving the next day. That’s terrible, and it’s hard.

Even doing my song (“Up to the Sky,” a DADT protest tune), they showed the one moment where I really screwed up, and anyone who’s a singer screws up. They took that and ran it over and over and over, and it ruined any credibility that I had to sing or to have a song or to try to do something good. You see the tragic part, and that’s it.

Had I known it was going to be so negative, I wouldn’t have done any of that on camera. I would’ve kept it as a very private part of my life and just released a song on my own, because now a lot of people won’t even download the song. They’re judging it based on what they saw on the TV show.

Would you like to continue to pursue music?

Um, yeah. I think I’d love to record more songs. I play the guitar all the time. I’ve been playing the guitar since I was 7, but the show makes it look like I am 7. (Laughs) If I did record more songs, I would never ever do it on the show. It was a humiliating experience for me when I set out for it to be really great project from the heart and to make a difference.

Do you look online for buzz about you?

I used to. I used to care, and after a few years you realize it doesn’t matter and that it’s just a handful of people who are negative that are actually drawn to those kinds of blogs and websites. The majority of people are normal.

As someone personally affected by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, how did you feel when you heard it was repealed?

There are no words to describe how I felt. It was 3:30 on the East Coast on Dec. 18, and I’ll never forget it: I had a few friends over here, we were watching C-SPAN like it was the Super Bowl.

The verdict really lit a new fire under me for the integration of LGBTQ people in the military, because now we have ground to stand on to get this done, and I feel like it’s just the beginning of integration. Now it’s really up to our community to watch like hawks these people who are integrating the military and to make sure they do it correctly; if they do it too slowly, if they do it right and if they don’t enforce it the way it should be enforced, we need to watch for that. We really need to be careful not to say, “Oh, that’s all done,” and wash our hands of it.

If this repeal had taken place while you were serving in the military, how do you think it would’ve affected you?

Oh man — at this point, if I were still in, I would be so anxious about when I could come out, and I think I would probably be leading the barrage to get every servicemember who is gay to come out now. The more people who come out, the bigger problem they have with keeping us in.

There’s an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 LGBT troops serving right now, and that’s just people who’ve admitted it on survey forms. If all those people came out, it would send really big waves through the squadrons and it would just normalize everything. It would say, “Hey, we’re here, everything’s cool. I’m the same guy you’ve known, but if you ask what I did this past weekend you’re going to hear the truth rather than a lie.”

I really wish I could go back in right now. I don’t know if it was a moment of insanity or a moment of nostalgia, but I thought, “I wonder if I could investigate what it would be like for me to go back into the military and serve again.” But then I thought I would be a captain still, because I got out as a captain, and I would be 10 years older than all the other captains. That might be a little weird, but the thought’s crossed my mind.

Regarding Obama, you’ve said he’s failed you. Does the repeal of DADT restore your faith in him?

No, because he didn’t do anything to make it happen. And the thing is, when President Obama had the Justice Department appeal the decision of the court ruling to end the ban, which he was under no obligation to do, he risked having this policy maybe another two years, maybe another six years if we didn’t get it passed just now.

If there wasn’t so much hype from everybody who was screaming — from me to all my friends on Twitter to all these huge organizations that we’ve spent entirely too much money to support because of this crap and this horrible ban — and if that hadn’t happened in the lame-duck session, we would be screwed.

So yeah, I still have no faith in him, because he brought us to that point. I hear all these excuses being made for him, but I’m not going to apologize for him because I’m a Democrat.

Your book’s being turned into a film, and names like Chace Crawford and Taylor Lautner are allegedly being considered for the lead. Who would you want to play you?

You know what, it’s not my call. I want whomever the casting director says should play me. Those are names that were on the shortlist and that are on a list, and there are a lot of other great names.

Like who?

Well, that’s the thing. That’s not something I’m going to talk about yet, because it’s pointless. I’m not going to give names of people who aren’t even going to be involved in the project.

My vote’s for Taylor Lautner. He has your abs.

(Laughs) It would be interesting. All the people that casting has lined up are great actors or up-and-coming actors who I would love to see play a gay role.

Whomever plays you, it must just be cool to have a movie made about your life.

I don’t even think about it being made about my life. The main character is not named Reichen, it’s not like that. It’s a story based on my life, and the lead of the movie is going to represent what happened to every gay cadet that was in the Air Force Academy.

I’m wondering how you feel about certain people also making movies about their lives. And, you know, taking over a role that was once yours in a play called My Big Gay Italian Wedding.

(Coyly laughing) Um. You know, I don’t even care. I just don’t care. I hear chatter, and I wish Lance very well.

Will you see his movie when it comes out?

(Laughs) Maybe if I’m invited I’ll go see it. I mean, I’m not against it. I have no ill-will toward him.

But didn’t you at one point?

I think when people break up, they break up for a reason. Usually those reasons are confined to personal space, and we were in a more public situation — so things got out and made it look like more than it was. Our relationship was a couple of months, and it was so long ago. A-List made it look like we just dated; it’s ridiculous. That’s ancient history.

Chris Azzopardi

Chris Azzopardi is the editorial director of Pride Source Media Group and Q Syndicate. He has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey, and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.

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