The day I spoke with Gregory Nalbone he asked me if I thought the word “chanteuse” should be taken as offensive—a magazine used that feminine term to describe his transformation from go-go boy to cabaret singer. When I told him no, he pretty much agreed, and admitted he thought it was funny … and good press. It was an indicative moment, because Nalbone is that rare breed who doesn’t get bent out of shape easily and doesn’t much care about censoring himself.
Yes, he danced in his underwear for 15 years, and loved it, yes, he’s posed half-naked more times than Madonna, yes, he used to have girlfriends back in New Jersey—“when I got to third base I looked down at my hands with a Carrie look on my face and felt like I had the stigmata,” he tells me, humorously grossed-out at the remembrance. And yes, a couple of years ago he decided to pursue his life-long dream as a singer, beautiful-body-means-no-talent skeptics be damned.
“I’ve never felt such crippling fear yet such overwhelming happiness back to back,” says Nalbone on his first night singing for a live audience, over two years ago. “It was almost surreal.” Nalbone had been taking voice lessons with the money he was making as a dancer, when his instructor practically forced him to perform at a Manhattan club. “They pulled me out of the car and I texted my friends and told them the show had been canceled.”
Nalbone’s friends didn’t believe him, and a crooner was born. Open mic nights became weekly events, and soon the kid from Jersey had his own show at the Duplex in Greenwich Village. Today, Nalbone’s show consists of 13 songs, and a repertoire of about 75. “There’s no pole on the stage and I will not be gyrating my hips in little boys’ underwear,” jokes Nalbone, on the main difference between yesterday and today.
Nalbone’s back story is as full as his lips, as distinct as his Jersey-kid accent. Growing up in a Catholic family, and going to Catholic schools, he was a self-described hottie in high school, with the hot girlfriend in tow. “We were the wedding cake couple,” says Nalbone. “She was a rich girl with stilettos, I had my John Travolta hair. She used to try to turn me on by slowly putting on her blood-red lipstick with an applicator. She had these pouty lips that any guy would want his cock around, and I’d be thinking ‘Oh, she missed a spot,’ or ‘She should use more of a Nude.’”
They might sound a bit like Billy Joel’s Brenda and Eddie, but their popular steady years ended abruptly. Nalbone had his first sexual experience with a man in 10th grade, at the store where he worked—Chess King. If that’s not movie material enough, the older man was the store manager, and Nalbone’s girlfriend worked alonside him. When Nalbone finally confessed to her what happened—in his car when he was having trouble getting aroused—she punched him in the face and never spoke to him again. Will and Grace they’re not.
Nalbone left his Jersey life almost by accident. He hit the popular New York gay club The Men’s Room one night, and the owner asked him to dance. “I told him I only had on white underwear and sunglasses, and he said ‘perfect,’ says Nalbone, who proceeded to live out his Magic Mike fantasy in front of thousands of gay men. “The room stopped. I was there every Sunday after that. It was like Flashdance, but without the bucket of water.”
Unlike men who whine about their struggling, questionable beginnings, Nalbone has nothing but fond, fun memories of life on a box.
“They made us feel like gods,” says Nalbone. “It was the lighting, it was the intense male energy in the room, it was the music, it was the men; it was a heightening experience. There you are being worshipped by a thousand people and getting dollars in your jockstrap.”
Nalbone danced for 15 years, and if you name a club, he’s played it. He had a signature look—“boy’s underwear and a cock ring”—and was single for most of that time. He says he’s lucky he didn’t have to deal with the jealousy issues many man in his business face. “It’s rough; it’s the sex industry,” says Nalbone. “It’s not porno, but it’s in that genre. You’re not up there for your dancing moves; you’re up there for your ass and your abs.”
Today, Nalbone is up there for his singing, with a set list that can include anything from Cole Porter to Styx to Barry Manilow. He’s as passionate about his new career as his eyes are intense when you ask him what the thrill involves.
“I love songs that I can really reach far inside and touch upon something special,” says Nalbone, referring to one of his favorite tunes to perform, The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses.” “You really dig into a strong, deep, powerful place. It takes a lot of stamina and strength.”
It also takes a past, perfect or otherwise.
Gregory Nalbone will be performing at the Metropolitan Room, on Thursday, Sept. 20. For more information, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/show_right.cfm?id=81187&cart. Photos, top: Karl Giant. Bottom two: Sam Devries. Cover Photo: Karl Giant. http://gregorynalbonemusic.com/ for more info on Mr. Nalbone.