When Ricky Martin recently came out, many jaded observers reacted with yawns and sarcasm. After all, hadn't his sexuality been an open secret? Perhaps, but he is one of the biggest international stars—the biggest?—to formally come out. The connection he has with so many fans who have followed his story from the time he was a kid in the group Menudo is deep; it's extra tricky for a heartthrob like Martin to come out because so many of his fans were girls who had crushes on him during their formative years, and acknowledging he's been gay all along runs the risk of alienating them. So far, so good for the most part for Martin.
But Martin was not the only gay member of Menudo, nor was he even the first to come out. His bandmate Angelo Garcia acknowledged he is gay two months earlier, even before a subsequent TV Notas interview that received much more attention. And while he's not the household name that Martin is, Garcia was once a beloved heartthrob in his own right as the youngest member ever asked to join Menudo—word that he's gay was huge news in Latin America.
Through the years
I asked the newsmaker for an interview and found him to be more than forthcoming about his unique career path (he once stripped at New York's infamous Gaiety but is now working on a new album), his devotion to bodybuilding, what his sexuality means to him and whether or not he's hoping to reconnect with Ricky Martin in the future.
Towleroad: What were the most positive and negative aspects of being asked to join Menudo, and how did it compare to going solo, as you eventually did?
Angelo Garcia: The positive aspect of being in a boy band is that you have the support of other members and you do not feel alone when you are on stage. I was able to learn how to be a popstar thanks to Menudo.
The negative aspects are I lost a HUGE chunk of my childhood and had to become an adult by the time I was 11 years old. That was a lot of responsibility and for someone that young—it sometimes was overwhelming.
My solo work in the early stages of my career was frustrating because I felt I was a puppet and that my suggestions and opinions were not heard. What I wanted to accomplish in my solo career didn't seem to matter to anybody but me. When you are in Menudo, you must go with the flow because the group already had a concept and you are just part of that. But as a solo artist, I wanted to be me and show another side of myself. In the early stages, that was a constant battle. I am happy to say I am in complete control of my music and image now, so there is no longer a battle. I write all of my songs, do all my vocal arrangements and do all my background vocals. What you hear is all ME, and my music now comes from my heart and truly represents my personality and who I am as an artist.
AG: I was certainly exploited. I was granted many opportunities, but when you enter a music machine like Menudo, I guess it comes with the territory. I would advise parents to allow their children the opportunity to grow and enjoy their childhood. If they have the talent once they are mature enough to understand the responsibilities and commitments of being a public figure, then they can make the choice for themselves if they want to pursue music. I was never home and I did not have my family around a lot and as a child you need that.
AG: I think Menudo was the original and MDO was a clone of what Menudo once was. Nothing usually beats an original. The new Menudo, though, didn't really get the opportunity to blossom, so I can't really comment. I'm not sure what went wrong with that group, but what I can say is that all the guys who were in it are very talented.
T: Being in the public eye as a teen heartthrob, was it exciting or a lot of pressure to have millions of girls fixated on you?
AG: It was definitely a roller coaster ride. I had a love/hate relationship with fame at that age because I loved the attention, but the problem with fame is you can't turn it off when you want your private time. As a child star, it was frustrating because I couldn't go to the movies or the mall or even to Disney World without being mobbed. I am a lot more prepared now and with the maturity to understand how to deal with fame, so if it ever happens again I will be ready.
AG: I always knew I was different, but I didn't realize I was gay until I hit puberty and started to understand what sexuality was and how I was sexually attracted to men. I remember my first kiss with a girl and it was great, but the first time I kissed a guy I felt fireworks. I knew for sure then.
T: When did you come out in your personal life, and how did it go?
AG: I never came out to the world. I do not owe the world any explanations for what I do in the privacy of my bedroom. When I was comfortable enough in my own skin and finally accepted myself for being a gay man, it was a natural thing for me and I just was who I was. I would have my boyfriends and hold hands with my boyfriend, etc., and if anybody had a problem with it then they didn't need to keep me in their life. The people that love me are still here and they can care less if I choose a man or a woman to love.
I did feel I owed it to my mother to have the sit-down conversation and at first she was not happy. I know she was concerned with how society would scrutinize me for being a homosexual. I am happy to say she is an amazing mother who loves me and accepts me for who I am and she loves my boyfriend.
T: When you formally came out professionally in the media (before your old bandmate Ricky Martin did), did you experience any backlash, or was it a positive experience?
AG: At first the media and people were indifferent because I am not a huge star, so me talking about my sexuality went unnoticed. I want to make it clear I never "came out"—I did not feel I needed to as I don't feel it is something that is anybody's business, but I did casually talk about it in an interview. My sexuality became of interest once my former bandmate Ricky Martin came out because then it became newsworthy not only that Ricky Martin is gay but also his ex-bandmate, so now there are now two openly gay Menudo guys.
I did suffer a backlash as the press twisted my story into a coming-out story. Most of the headlines were, "Another member of Menudo follows in Ricky Martin's footsteps and comes OUT!" I was not happy with this twist; some of the public had their comments that I wanted to try and ride Ricky's coattails when the reality is I had discussed my sexuality before he ever came out. I never looked for the press, the press came to me.
So let me make it very clear: I am my own person and I write all my own songs, regardless of what people think I know the truth and I know my talent will carry me through any drama or ignorant comments some people have because they were misinformed. All in all, it was a positive experience and I am proud of who I am and thank all the positive supporters I received in response to some people's responses. We are all EQUAL, and me being gay is not a flaw. My homosexuality comes to me as natural as a hetrosexual person feels their heterosexuality, and people need to understand that and not judge something they do not understand. Until you walk in someone's shoes, you should consider what you are really saying. Is it about what you are discussing, or just a reflection of yourself?
T: If a closeted public figure (singer, actor, whoever) came to you privately and asked for coming-out advice, what would you tell him or her?
AG: It is a very personal choice, and you do not owe it to anybody to come out. It is your private life and it is nobody's business but yours. If you feel it necessary to come out, then you should do it when you are ready. It is an emotional and personal choice for anybody in that situation and they should feel it is the right time for them. Be proud of who you are and know you are not flawed. The people who truly love you wont care.
AG: At this point, I am indifferent. He has not been there for me in a very long time and at this point I wouldn't even consider him an acquaintance. Time has passed and his life took him in a different direction. I will always be connected to him because of the HUGE experience we shared. I recorded three albums with Menudo, two of which were with him, so we have that bond—but that's as far as it goes.
T: When did you become serious about bodybuilding and what attracts you to it?
AG: I have always liked the muscular look. When I first started to work out, I did it for vanity reasons. But then I fell in love with the lifestyle and how it made me feel. I have worked hard to maintain my body and I feel healthy because of my choice. I have been training for 15 years and that is why my body looks the way it looks regardless of what a lot of people want to believe. My body is a product of a healthy lifestyle, a strict diet and discipline. I have maintained a lifestyle choice and that is why I look the way I do!
T: You were famous first as a kid, so now that you're grown up (on top of your muscles), you're probably able to avoid being recognized even by some of the people who were big fans as kids. Have you encountered anyone who didn't know who you were at first then were shocked to realize you were someone they knew well back in the day?
AG: LOL. All the time! People are shocked at how much I have changed, but if you really look at my face I am the same person. I'm just a grown-up now, but I'm still very much in touch with my inner child and I feel that is one of the secrets to staying young—keeping that inner child alive.
T: Do you have particular fans you know who've stuck with you from your teen career through now?
AG: There are some diehard "Menudas". I am lucky I already have a loyal fanbase, so it is just building it from there. I have people that have been loyal to me since I was 11, and for that I am truly blessed.
T: How would you describe your music now?
AG: Fun, sexy, catchy electro-pop. If I had to compare it to anybody I would say a male, tough version of Lady GaGa.
T: What's next for you regarding singing, songwriting, music videos?
AG: I am currently shopping my new album to all the major record labels and I am very proud of this new body of work. It is fun, edgy, catchy and very personal. I can't wait for everybody to listen to these new tracks. I feel it is my best songwriting and work. I can't wait to take these songs from demo tracks to radio-ready songs that can be played over the air or remixed by DJs for club play.
I am still recording the album, but you can go to my Web site to keep track of what is going on with my career. I promise there will be many surprises for everybody. I am an out and proud artist. I feel we need more out artists to represent the gay community and show the world we are not that different form anybody else and proud to be who we are.
T: Are your songs usually from personal experiences or where do you get inspiration?
AG: I take my life experiences and twist them into to songs. My songs can be about life or they can be about stories friends shared with me or even reflections of what is going on with the world. My songwriting derives from a very organic place. I may not write a song for six months and write 12 in a week.
T: Which of your new songs is your favorite and why?
AG: I have only recorded three demo tracks so far, and of those thre I love "The Morning After". If you listen to the lyrics, it is a VIP backseat to the way I feel with my boyfriend—in love. I wrote that song for him and at first glace you would think it is a song that talks about meeting a person at a night club and having a one-night stand. It is actually about how I met him at a health club and how we feel asleep in each other's arms the entire night until the morning after. I knew I wanted him to stay in my life and my music reflects that!
AG: I can be scandalous when I want to and have always had the courage to be me regardless of what people think. With me, you either love me or hate me and there seems to be no gray area. I feel a lot of people do not understand me and a lot of people judge me by what they think they see. I have been accused of being a meathead and a himbo, but have surprised many. When they meet me, they realize I have a brain and I am just a humble and genuine guy.
T: You seem to enjoy flirting with perceptions of what's "scandalous"—you must have stories about stripping at The Gaiety…?
AG: I was pretty brave to have danced there, and yes I was nude and suggestive and I know what some of the boys there were doing. I was paid a lot of money to dance nude and I am comfortable with my body so it was easy, but that is as far as that went regardless of what people want to think. I was always the featured dancer and it was because unlike many boys who were selling their bodies, I was selling an amazing show. I am a showboy and I know how to entertain people. It is in my blood. Clothed or not, you will be taken on a ride.
T: How different is the feeling of stepping out on the stage to perform musically and the feeling when you stepped out to perform as an exotic dancer?
AG: A show is a show. The difference is that performing musically I get to use my voice to tell a story and take you on a journey, and as a dancer I used my body to tell a story and take you on a journey. The concepts are similar but the execution is totally different.
T: Similarly, why did you decide to pose nude for Paragon Men (NSFW link) and what was that like?
AG: I did semi-nudes—no frontal nudity—and I only agreed to do it because I am comfortable with my body and they wanted to do something that was artistic and beautiful. I love my Paragon Men pics and I am very proud of them. It was fun to do that shoot and it was very freeing to do those poses because it's pretty much just you. There is nothing to hide behind, and that can be a very vulnerable place to be in but also very freeing to be that comfortable in your skin.
T: You seem to be harnessing all the buzz about coming out and redirecting things toward your work. What are your ultimate goals musically?
AG: You got that right! The gay issue is a non-issue. I am proud to be a gay man and want to represent my community in a positive light. People in our community need to feel comfortable in their own skin. You are who you are. The music is all that matters and I am not looking for fame. I just want to be able to be established enough where I can continue to write and create music until my journey on this planet is over. I feel really lucky I have been given the opportunities I have had and that I can express myself through my songwriting. As long as I can continue to do that and share that with the world, my friends and fans, I will be eternally grateful and blessed. What else can I ask for if I am doing what I love? That is the most satisfying feeling anybody could ever have—to be doing something you love—especially when that is your job that pays the bills. I truly feel blessed and I am so excited about what else life has in store for me. My life has not always been easy, but It has certainly been an exciting life to live. I wouldn't change a thing.