Local vocalist and Pride Idol finalist Ryan Hazy produces and hosts “Just Sing Already!”
I first became acquainted with Ryan Hazy last year during Seattle Pride’s final season of its Pride Idol singing competition, fashioned after FOX TV’s American Idol. He was in attendance one of the nights I guest judged and seemed very nonchalant about winning his preliminary round the prior week. His clothing was flamboyant in a Liberace, old school gay way, his attitude confident, and by the way he casually pondered doing a classical number in the Finals, it was apparent he knew his craft. Instead he chose “Lazy River,” a big bombastic jazz standard from the 1930s that suited his voice well. I could easily see him fronting a big band swing act like Eugene, Oregon’s internationally renowned Cherry Poppin’ Daddies or hosting a night of vaudeville acts anchored by his unabashedly in-your-face showmanship. He didn’t win that night. The top three scores went to women. But he wasn’t too far behind them. Not according to my scores.
In the weeks that followed, there were multiple controversies about what Pride Idol had become: clearly a disappointment to many. On Facebook and in karaoke bars, people bitterly complained that it was over and some even alleged that it was fixed. Attendance and participation were scant. One desperate week, judges texted friends to beg their attendance and a couple of us stood on the sidewalk bellowing like carnival barkers to entice passersby to become contestants. Employees of sponsors, there to represent their companies, jumped in to sing just to fill out the evening, despite obvious ethical conflicts. When all Pride events were over, another guest judge, Ryan Crawford (also a writer for this publication) and I formally proposed an overhaul of Seattle Pride Idol to Pride’s board that would have made it more like NBC’s The Voice, a show that has easily eclipsed American Idol, now in its final year. After an unanswered Hail Mary pass to Pride’s communications director, I was flatly told by its president that no singing competition of any kind would be considered.
A couple of contestants subsequently went the DIY route, and the emerging victor in that effort is Ryan Hazy. In the last year, he has launched three consecutive contests, each at a bigger venue than the previous. Complete with industry established judges who also serve as vocal coaches for their teams and originally titled, “So Seattle, You Think You Can Sing?” (until lawyers from the dance television show came knocking), Just Sing Already!, which began with 45 auditioning hopefuls, enters its seventh week of elimination rounds with a Pride Edition themed GENDER BENDER on Friday, June 26, at The J&M Café in Pioneer Square. Ryan spoke with me in person recently about his show and his life.
Xanna Don’t: Why do think Pride struggled with their flailing competition while you’ve successfully produced three of them?
Ryan Hazy: It’s apples and oranges. Part of the problem with that competition, I believe, was that the singers didn’t really get to learn from that experience. So the same people were trying out over and over and it became this show that was just there. It didn’t have any meat to it, in my opinion. There’s nothing wrong with a show like that. It was just a singing contest. But I think it’s unfair for me to compare my show to another, to be honest. Our show is completely different in concept. To give singers the chance to work with someone who’s professionally trained opens a brand new door. There are so many amazingly talented singers in Seattle and a lot of them don’t know how to branch out to get that extra oomph they need as a singer. Our show gives them that chance. Pride Idol was fun; I participated in it last year. There were some circumstances that happened that I thought were a little unprofessional, especially in terms of the finale and glorifying a particular singer. It made a lot of the other contestants feel really uncomfortable. The singer that I’m referring to is an absolutely amazing singer and I respect her and her talent. It’s not her fault that it happened like that. The issue I had was that every other judge [alternating] was supposed to comment on contestants, but when this singer performed, every judge commented. It came across strange. I don’t want to say anything to hurt anyone’s feelings. That was just a contest and ours is more.
XD: How did you meet Michael Cagle, who performed at Pride last year and has been a judge/coach for all three of your competitions?
RH: Michael was in Tennessee planning to move to Seattle and he did a Facebook search on people in Seattle with similar musical interests in the cabaret world and my name was the first that popped up. I was the first person in Seattle he ever met and we’ve been friends ever since. His talent is insurmountable. Michael and I sat down at Maxim’s and we had this idea of putting together a singing competition. Joshua Baron (Season 3 judge/coach) has a competition, too. We wanted contestants to not focus so much on the [lyrics monitor] screen, but on interacting with the audience.
XD: So it was important to require contestants to know their lyrics.
RH: Yes. And seven days [between elimination rounds] is not a lot of time. These people have jobs and personal lives. The coaching sessions can range from a half hour to two hours. It depends on how long the contestants and the coaches want to put in.
XD: Season 2 featured the participation of classically trained operatic singer Becky Peterson as a judge and coach. How did she become involved?
RH: I met Becky through Sparkle Leigh, a local drag queen. She sang a beautiful aria as part of one of Sparkle’s shows and it was at the time that Aunt Betty Malone (judge/coach) needed Season 2 off for a surgical procedure. So I asked Becky if she’d be interested in participating. She came down to the first night of auditions and loved it. Then one of her team contestants won! He was clearly the underdog at the beginning. If you take the advice of the coaches, you can actually go far.
XD: What prizes will the winner of Season 3 receive?
RH: $500 cash, a $350 recording session [with judge/coach Jimi Flaherty of Seattle Sound Productions] and a trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, to compete in the national finals for the Karaoke World Championships. Second place receives $100 cash, a $100 recording session, and will also be sent to Little Rock.
XD: How did you cultivate your sense of style?
RH: I just like things that are flashy and blingy. Like I’ll buy a suit that’s cheap and add bling to it and make it mine. Trying not to copy other people is important. But you could say the Las Vegas lounge acts I’ve seen have inspired me. Brian Setzer [Stray Cats / Brian Setzer Orchestra] is also an inspiration.
XD: What was the Ryan Hazy Roast?
RH: That was a train wreck! It was a fundraiser I did and it really didn’t work out. It was fun, but it was a flop.
XD: You’ve recently morphed your master of ceremonies duties for Just Sing Already! into a new character, Baron Von Hazy. What inspired that? What is he like?
RH: For years, people have known me as Ryan Hazy, and I’ve been known as the guy with the reputation. It was time to create something new to give Just Sing Already! a new feel. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone by creating this fun, quirky German guy who’s outrageous and androgynous, and tells terrible jokes on purpose, jokes he steals from great comedians. He has no hair, no eyebrows, and sort of an alien face. But it’s great, because with make-up [courtesy of volunteer make-up artist Fiona McCrone], you can do anything. It just makes my face a giant palette. I’m hoping to branch out and use this character for other shows as well. He’s a very vaudeville, very old school kind of guy. After interviewing the contestants, he says, “Well, I guess there’s only one thing left to say!” And then the audience begins to fill in the phrase, “Just sing already!” It’s working. It makes the show so much fun. I’ve only been doing him for about three weeks now. He’s just a baby! But I’ll still perform as Ryan Hazy in some places, too. When [NBC television show] America’s Got Talent comes back in the fall, I’ll audition, but this time as Baron Von Hazy. I think television is looking for the outrageous right now. It could work.
XD: At the finals of Season 2, you publicly apologized to all participants for any erratic behavior. Do you suffer from clinical depression? How does it affect your work?
RH: I do indeed. I do a lot of my work from home, including the welcome videos for the themes of each week’s competition. People think, ‘Oh Ryan has all this money to go to the theater,’ but my roommate takes me to the theater to ease my mind. I scrimp and save and live on [some government assistance].
XD: What helps you beat the blues?
RH: Music. Anyone who suffers from depression knows it’s not an easy thing to cope with. For me, being on stage helps to cure that, definitely. Performing and singing, even if it’s just at a karaoke bar or even a street corner [for tips, busking].
XD: What do you think about karaoke in general? Did it liberate singers from needing to have bands and level the playing field for unknown talent?
RH: Karaoke in Japanese means “without orchestra.” That’s how it’s translated. Karaoke has completely changed the entertainment industry. Solo artists like myself no longer need to go looking for a band because we can pay for tracks and use them. As long as we pay for them, it’s legal. Karaoke has changed the world for singers, because there are singers coming out of the woodwork because of it. Like the singers in our competition. Some people think Karaoke should be banned but the people that make it pay for the rights to the music. They’re not stealing it, not when they’re paying for the rights to it.
XD: How do you feel about the cruelty aspect of karaoke? Are bad singers actually more entertaining?
RH: There are bad singers. I listen to them Monday nights at The J&M! But bad singers are not entertaining to me. Some people may think so. I just find bad singers terrible. Which is why we originally had the title, ‘So Seattle, You Think You Can Sing?,’ but I think we moved it in the right direction with the new title. It’s catchy. >>>
XD: Have you always been a singer?
RH: The fascinating thing about me is that I’ve never had a voice lesson. Ever. It just came to me naturally as a kid. A lot of people told me I was never going to be successful. I heard that growing up my entire life. Here’s what I say to them: As long as you’re talking about me, I’m happy. It’s when you stop talking about me, that’s when I need to worry. I will never give up. I’ve created something. I am a persistent little mother and persistence pays off. I don’t take “no” for an answer and, trust me, it’s a blessing and a curse.
Friday, June 26th at 8 pm
J & M Café, 201 First Avenue South, Seattle 98104