FFarrah had her swimsuit, Brooke had her Calvin’s, and Aiden Leslie has his long johns. From the moment the pop star’s DNA underwear photo hit the Internet shelves, the gay icon gods smiled on one of their own.
“I was proud of that shot,” says Leslie, who’s as gosh darn polite as he his gosh darn handsome. “I’m comfortable in my own skin. You can portray your sexiness sometimes without taking your clothes off. And then you have to show yourself in other ways.”
It’s a little difficult to talk to or about Leslie without mentioning sex, and the singer’s not only aware of that, he embraces the notion that gay entertainers are starting to get the kind of attention their hot female counterparts have received for generations.
“When are we going to have the male version of Madonna?” Leslie asked me, on the subject of why gay icons are never gay, or male. “We really celebrate the divas, but do we celebrate the divos? There are very few gay, male artists who are actually getting booked in clubs and getting attention. It’s sad because these producers and promoters don’t always support the guys. One of my missions is to bring the guys to the dance floor.”
Which brings us back to sex. “Gay men and women have made me where I am,” says Leslie on his wholesome-meets-heathen image. “I cater to my market, but I can think of Justin Timberlake, I can think of Adam Levine; they do the exact kind of homoerotic shots, but those are never looked upon as a ‘gay shot.’ I get sensitive about that. I think it’s a double standard. If a straight star does that, it’s just sexy. Look at Channing Tatum. It doesn’t get any hotter than that.”
Speaking of heat, Leslie’s just recorded a new song, “Diamond Dreams,” coming out this summer, along with a video directed by Marco Ovando. He’ll be touring the country to support his new work, and is passionate about the message of the music.
Says Leslie: “The song is about my journey from being a very young man, a boy, coming from Cincinnati, when I was eighteen years old, being in New York all these years and becoming a man. It’s all about rolling on the journey, through the ups and downs. I’ve never left, I’ve always lived here.”
Leslie says that his dad drove him to New York—“in our yellow station wagon”—and dropped him off at the corner of 75th and Broadway. “It was in front of the Beacon hotel,” he continues. “I didn’t know one single person. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I came in pursuit of acting and singing; that evolved into pop music.”
After Junior Vasquez did a remix of Leslie’s “Love to Hate You,” the singer became a club staple, as well as a former resident. “It became a thread in my life,” says Leslie on the gay club scene. “I went to Factory and Tunnel, Palladium and Twilo. That was a real fast track for me. I was a circuit boy; I did lots of drugs and drink. I still drink, but I don’t do drugs. That’s something I left behind. It was very much a part of the culture. Again, that’s what ‘Diamond Dreams’ is about; the journey. I went all around the world, and I was really, really young.”
Young, yes, but not nearly as young as when he first realized gay men did something more for him than the fairer sex. Leslie says that he was about four when he took particular interest in his next-door neighbor. “He was my friend’s father,” says Leslie, practically blushing with laughter at the recollection. “I didn’t really understand the feelings. I just knew I liked him. He looked like Tom Selleck back in the Eighties. I remember him mowing the lawn with his shirt off. I did accept the feelings, but it’s not like I came out. I was like ‘How will I be perceived in a world that didn’t accept this?’”
While pretty much every gay man has a man-crush memory from childhood, not every gay man is lucky enough to have the support of their parents. “Always knowing that I was loved and supported gave me a lot of energy to keep doing what I’m doing,” says Leslie, adding, “I really hope to carve out my own family someday, being in a relationship, having a partner, which I don’t.”
Yes, guys—and gals—Leslie’s single, breaking boundaries in a business that’s breaking them too. “I can think back to just a few years’ ago,” says Leslie, “when I come out with my first single, how different the music business is. I do feel like Adam Lambert broke a lot of barriers. Ricky Martin didn’t become the star he is by coming out, but we’re definitely on the road.”
“The game has changed completely, Leslie continues. “You don’t have these big labels telling you what you have to do. Back then, you wouldn’t be picked up because they thought you wouldn’t sell. Now it doesn’t matter because the majors don’t have any money to sell you. Artists today spend all this money to put something out, and the next day it’s copied. You don’t own what you used to own.”
For Leslie, that means making a commitment to loving the product as much as the placement. “If you get into this to make money, I don’t have an answer for you,” says Leslie, before talking about his take on recording.
“I’m not going to put an expectation on how this should be. You gotta say to yourself, ‘Did I do something great in my eyes?’ Who’s to say if it’s good or bad? If you walk away and love it, that’s the true success of it all.”
Like many gay performers, Leslie performs at a lot of Pride events. Last summer, he went back to Ohio to sing for a crowd of 25,000 people, who’d come to see their hometown boy. What he didn’t notice in the hundred-degree heat was an elderly man sitting in a wheelchair, watching the star. It wasn’t until after the show that he realized his dad was in the audience. “I was blown away that he came to see me,” says Leslie, adding that both of his parents are in nursing homes. “He’s very stubborn, holds onto his independence. He left his assisted living, got on a bus in his wheelchair, traveled from the suburbs, and got down there by himself. He made it there to come hear his son.”
“I know they’re thrilled,” Leslie continues, on Mom and Dad. “Those are the rewards; the things you leave with.” He gets quiet for a second, then adds, laughing, “But I’m not gonna send them the long johns shot.”
Aiden Leslie will be performing June 16 at the New York City Pride Rally, and June 17 at The Monster, NYC. For more information, including performance dates and song news, visit AidenLeslie.com and his facebook page. All photographs: Rick Day.