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Brian Justin Crum brings Freddie Mercury roaring back to life

‘America’s Got Talent’ star joins the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles for the ultimate rock show on April 2 and 3

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Graphic via the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES – They will be nights to remember. The regal Royce Hall of UCLA will be transformed as the extravaganza venue spotlighting QUEEN of the Night. QUEEN will literally “rock you” on April 2 and 3 by weaving together an incredible meld of talent.

The production features the bright new talents of Brian Justin Crum, the breakout star from “America’s Got Talent” and LA Opera’s rising star, the stunning Alaysha Fox. They will be entwined with the classic magic of the iconic powerhouse, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, and united in spectacle, they will channel forth the spirit of Freddie Mercury and Queen with a dozen sense erupting anthems.

Brian Justin Crum ascends into the production he seems destined to embody. He has reincarnated Freddie before. He is a Broadway veteran of the theatrical production “We Will Rock You,” and in it, sang alongside Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor.

With piercing aqua eyes against a beastly furry chest, Crum is definitely a “thirst” inducer. Match that with a powerhouse voice that rivals Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, it is easy to see how he achieved a viral sensation with his cover of Radiohead’s “Creep.” That performance resulted in 100 million views while his versions of “Somebody to Love” and “Never Enough” soared on iTunes.

Crum exercises his singer-songwriter talents currently in Los Angeles. With soaring vocals and emotional storytelling, his first single “Show Me Love” reached #2 on the Billboard Dance charts. His career did not start by working its way to Broadway and the show “We Will Rock You.” By the time that show came around, he was already Broadway ensconced having walked on his first stage at the age of 17. His theatrical successes have led to sold out worldwide concert tours and to his ongoing studio work. 

It is small wonder that the Gay Men’s Chorus has been pleading with him for years to come do a Queen-infused production. “It has finally happened!” declared GMCLA executive director and producer Lou Spisto. “He has a monster voice and in the Queen canon, he has few equals.”

Besides his stunning talent, Crum’s life experience as a gay man made him an inspiring extension to the Gay Men’s Chorus activist artistry. 

The GMCLA is renowned for artistic excellence while remaining deeply rooted in service to the Los Angeles community and beyond by promoting civil rights, tolerance, and acceptance through music. Founded in 1979 during the emergence of the gay rights movement, GMCLA has spread its message of love and acceptance with concerts across the globe and has raised its collective voice in the struggle for equality, social justice, the fight against the AIDS crisis, the fight for marriage equality, and all those seeking to find their own voice.

Crum was one of those voices. Crum came out in elementary school and was bullied for it. He shared the experience from the “America’s Got Talent” stage, which further endeared him to audiences, but also furthered the awareness of pain that LGBTQ youth face. “His speaking his truth on one of the biggest shows on television seen around the world was huge for the LGBTQ+ community, and that makes his appearance with GMCLA even more significant,” states Spisto.

Crum is not stuck in his past however. “I don’t live in a place of victimhood,” he has said. Of his animal magnetism and how he has expressed it in his music, he has stated “Something that was super important to me was for people to see me take my power. A lot of my power comes from sex. I’m very sexual. Why wouldn’t I be proud of that?”

Crum is not alone on the QUEEN stage as one of the great Los Angeles talent breakouts. Lending her own brand of artistry to the extravaganza is award-winning soprano Alaysha Fox.

Fox is a stand-out member of LA Opera’s Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program where she performed recently as Dorothee in The Anonymous Lover. Having also recently been featured with the LA Philharmonic, this fall she makes her LA Opera mainstage debut in Verdi’s Aida as the Priestess. She has fond memories of the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Program for Singers, where she sang the role of Bridesmaid in Le Nozze di Figaro.  

Fox has been honored with several awards including: Winner of the Palm Springs Opera Guild Vocal Competition, Loren L. Zachary Finalist, HGO Concert of Arias Finalist, Grand finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, winner of the Joan Taub Ades Vocal competition, semi-finalist in the Elizabeth Connell dramatic soprano competition, and the Lotte Lenya emerging artist award.

Her contribution to QUEEN of the Night will be encircling the mash-up productions with gorgeous arias.

QUEEN of the Night will be presented Saturday, April 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. at UCLA’s Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. Tickets are available at GMCLA.org starting at $30. Intermission refreshments will be on sale at Royce Hall’s beautiful West Terrace. For detailed venue information go to RoyceHall.org/visit.

It will be a night where Freddie Mercury rises through the voices and energies of Los Angeles’s newest and brightest. It is a night where an artistic and activist choral institution explodes into jaw dropping fabulousness. It is not a night for mere mortals, it is a night for queens.

Be a queen.

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Music & Concerts

Introducing Estelle Fox, but don’t call her the next Billie Eilish

She is unique, haunting, empathetic and artistically human. Her debut EP is currently being made available one song at a time

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Courtesy of Estelle Fox

HOLLYWOOD – Blame it on Billie Eilish. Certainly, we adults have been telling young girls to believe in themselves, to express themselves and to strive for greatness.

At age 14, Billie Eilish, with the help of her brother had the gall to actually go and do it, from their bedroom studios no less.

Her success, of course, is huge and amazing. Besides her musical talent accomplishment, she has laid the gauntlet for other ambitious teen singer songwriters to sail into her wake.

Now, one has. I won’t call her the “new Billie Eilish” because she is not the “new” anyone else.

She is Estelle Fox. She is unique, haunting, empathetic and artistically human. Her debut EP is currently being made available one song at a time. The EP’s title Prettiest Parts of Me is ironic. The two songs that have been released so far, Crazy and I Always Do This, are self-effacing and at times brutally honest self-portrayals of insecurity and obsession. Fox’s voice is lovely and alluring, while delivering a confessional that most people save for their therapist.

Her next single, Losing a Friend, drops at the end of September, and I can’t wait.

I sat down with Estelle on the podcast RATED LGBT RADIO. We talked about her influences that includes musical artists Clairo and Beach Bunny. “Clairo is one of my all-time favorite artists. Her older stuff is soft pop and I was drawn to the queer music and women voice aspect of her work. My generation has had it easier growing up than those before us, but even we are built to have internalized homophobia. She gave us great representation in music, which I really enjoyed obviously. She has this incredible and really really beautiful sound. She has a soft calming voice and her instrumentals are so moving. She is very connected to lyrics which is what I like to look for in songs,” she tells me. 

It is clear how her appreciation of Clairo is a clear path to her own work. “I always knew music was what I was going to do, particularly writing… I’m always looking to connect with new people and tons of people. So, being able to write songs that people can relate to, and listen to, and be seen by, it’s just been so good to have that opportunity now and be able to reach people with my music, definitely always something that I’ve wanted to do since I was very little.“

The song Crazy , and the accompanying video, shows the internal emotions behind a dysfunctional relationship. It reflects a truth Estelle does not attempt to hide. “When the people you are involved with are incapable of feeling the same amount of love that you can, because obviously that’s your own perception…it’s hard to comprehend. My songs deal with the fact that I feel so deeply. Some people, some people just don’t. That crazy goes through you. There’s a calm-like verse where I’m talking about my feelings in a chaotic and intense chorus where I am having a full on break down,” she says.

Being emotionally real is part of Estelle’s true mission.  She is driven by the need to empower young women in a world of excessive social media, stereotyping, and unrealistic expectations stamped upon them in teen culture. “A lot of my songs are about women. Some of them are about non-binary people and some of them are about trans men. It just comes down to love and loving people. Whether it’s platonic or romantic, we should never be ashamed of it,” she states.

Estelle has the attention of the industry’s top creatives. She took her songs to the top 5 Billboard chart-topping and Platinum record producer Barb Morrison (Blondie, Rufus Wainwright, Franz Ferdinand). Morrison fell in love with the voice immediately and got her into the studio. There, they gave Estelle’s songs “the love and attention” that her songs so rightly commanded.  

While Estelle’s songs are deeply personal, her message behind them is not, it is a message in which she wants to speak for her entire generation. When she looks at the public oppression that teens are under from intolerance, to gun violence, to anti-lgbtq animus , she says her generation is “heartbroken.” 

“The younger generation has always had so much more influence and impact than people could imagine. And I think that that’s going to be true for our generation. Definitely, I think that we have we have a new perspective and we’re able to see beyond the binaries… our generation is definitely one that’s going to be more unified, and more loving, and more accepting…I think that we’re going to be able to step in and make our messages known and be able to change things for the better. We still need to keep fighting and we can’t just wait it out. Kids growing up, being told that gay is a bad thing. Being trans is a bad thing or something that we can’t speak about. Those identities are a very real reality of so many people and they need to be celebrated because we can’t be going backwards,” she asserts. 

So that is what happens when you let teen girls follow their passion, They not only make incredible cutting edge music, they also dream big about changing the world.

We need to let them.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more. He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine. He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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RATED LGBT RADIO with Rob Watson:

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Music & Concerts

Trail-Blazing trans artist Gio Bravo, brings hot fun erotic masculinity

“I didn’t start doing music officially until I started transitioning, realizing these changes in my voice, my face- it was something”

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Photo of Gio Bravo courtesy of Marco Gonzalez

HOLLYWOOD – There are four new great reggaeton anthems in the world, and dance floors have just gotten more erotically rhythmic than ever. Reggaeton is best when it is loud, fun, infectious, sexy as hell and free-spirited, weaving its strong Latin America and hip hop influences. 

For those who groove into its sensual hip moving poses, recording artist Gio Bravo has released a hot four-some of songs with which to move, grind, love and sweat with in the most steamily stimulating way.  At the beginning of August 2022, Gio dropped the first single titled “Esta Noche,” followed by three additional tracks: “Tiene Ganas,” “Lo Que Ella Quiere” and “Eres Fuego.”

The music is infectious, the lyrics are blatantly sexual and the arousal to dance them out is overwhelming.

The boldness of the music is representative of the man behind it. Its in-your-face masculinity is emblematic of the masculinity that Gio bravo has had to fight to embrace for himself. He was the first transgender artist to break barriers in the regional Mexican music genre. 

Self-discovery was a long path. Gio kissed a girl in kindergarten, and everyone laughed. A small red flag went up in his mind, but it wasn’t until middle school that he realized he was very different than his friends. The girls around him were crushing on boys, and not only did he have no interest, he instead was crushing on them. People would ask him if he wanted to get married when he grew up. He would say “yes”, but in his mind he could never see himself as a bride. Today, he wishes he could have seen a role model in his world, but there was no transgender men visible at all. “It would have helped me have a little bit more direction on what my path was,” he told me in our conversation on the podcast Rated LGBT Radio

Had he known of the science behind transitioning, he would have transitioned much sooner than he did. There are no regrets however. He states, “In my journey, I feel that when I started transitioning, it was the right time for me with everything I had lived up to, or I had lived through up to that moment. It really helped build that backbone that is truly needed to do something like transitioning. When you transition, it’s not just you, it’s your family, your friends. You have to know, that they’re going through this transition with you. You definitely have to have a lot of backbone to be the man you are and carry those around you with you on the journey.”

Gio dove into music as a safe haven from two traumatic events, the divorce of his parents, and the death of a close friend. It was through his music artistry that the true vision of his authentic self emerged in the most pronounced way. “When I started my journey of really exploring my sexuality, who I was,  I always found solace and my music. When I wrote music again there was no trans visibility out there. I always felt like I didn’t want to be a female artist singing songs directed at men, which is kind of  the standard For Mexican music. When you’re a guy you think heartbreak or romantic feelings for women and vice versa, the women to the men. I didn’t want to be that artist, all my songs that I wrote, they were always like in the perspective of a man singing into a woman.”

“I didn’t actually start doing music officially until I started transitioning. When I began my hormone replacement therapy, I started realizing like these changes in my voice, in my face and it was something. Something about seeing myself, becoming the person that I always wished. It made me remember when I was a kid, five or six years old, people would always tell me  ‘you are like the spitting image of your dad.’ I would feel so flattered. I liked the idea of looking like a boy and I looking like my dad. When I started seeing these changes with my hormone replacement therapy, it’s just like triggered the me from inside. It gave me a confidence that went through the roof. Without my transition I would have never taken the step to becoming a recording artist and go after that dream.”

Photo of Gio Bravo courtesy of Marco Gonzalez

Now Gio is transitioning again. This time within the genres of Mexican music. Just in time for some end-of-summer dance vibes, Gio announced this new transition.  Following the launch of his musical career in 2017 with Regional Mexican album “El Comienzo,” a Banda Sierreño style that was very personal to him reflecting memories with his dad, he is now ready to take on a new music genre with tracks penned by himself and produced by renowned Urban Latin Venezuelan music producer Rayyen.

Gio describes his artistic transition this way: “I’ve always been a Reggaeton fan, in fact, one of my all-time favorite albums is Daddy Yankee’s ‘Barrio Fino.’ My very first Project in this music genre was a very cool collaboration I did with the talented and well-known Mexican singer Helen Ochoa with the song “Diabla.” I think it was spot on because it was well received by my fans and at the same time, I truly felt this was the genre that resonated well with me. Reggaeton is a genre that allows me to express myself in a more authentic way and it allows me to be who I really am. I love Reggaeton music. It’s less judgmental, more open to accept new concepts. Now, I can honestly say that I feel like I can live my truth. These new tracks are a bit more erotic and sensual, and they make me feel more comfortable in my own skin.”

When listening to these new power-pumping tracks his fans can hear Gio embracing a higher level of raw confidence. He says the new songs are “very kind of sexually driven, which is another thing, you know. Now that I’m in this point of my life and in my transition, I feel very comfortable in my sexuality to make songs in reference to sexuality. It is the perfect timing. My life comes full circle. I’m pretty excited.  Honestly, I’m really happy with where I’m at with my music right now.”

Gio bravo is about renewal. He grew out of trauma and tragedy into a discovery of musical passion. That passion acted as a mirror into his soul and allowed him to address a self-knowledge he had hidden away.

With his music, he has renewed his passion and creativity to new levels for himself. He has refreshed his public persona for the world. He has created a role model that he himself never saw: the first trail blazing transgender recording artist of Regional and Reggaeton Mexican music.

 He is, as Norma Desmond, from a whole other cultural time and place, might say, ready for his close up.

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Rob Watson is the host of the popular Hollywood-based radio/podcast show RATED LGBT RADIO.

He is an established LGBTQ columnist and blogger having written for many top online publications including Parents Magazine, the Huffington Post, LGBTQ Nation, Gay Star News, the New Civil Rights Movement, and more. He served as Executive Editor for The Good Man Project, has appeared on MSNBC and been quoted in Business Week and Forbes Magazine. He is CEO of Watson Writes, a marketing communications agency, and can be reached at [email protected] .

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Music & Concerts

“I know it can be hard to wake up to something so unreal-” Raue rocks LA

Feeling as though the venue was the Whisky a Go Go of the punk rock scene, the nostalgia found within Raue’s performance permeated the room

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Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

LOS ANGELES – The phenomenon of teenage angst is one met with general discomfort and chaos: the phase that ‘isn’t just a phase’, the transition to adulthood, and worst of all… growing pains.

Yet, as the sound traveled through LA’s BlackRose, audience members embraced the feeling and passion of teenagedom as the two musicians on stage performed. In a culture where the space between childhood and adulthood is dissipating, the feeling of Raue’s sound is nostalgic. 

The Urban Dictionary defines Raue as a German colloquialism referring to strength of character, which this dynamic duo of teenaged musicians clearly display in their music and performance.

Raue (pronounced roo-ay), a band based in Santa Cruz, California is composed of two members: singer/guitarist Paige Raue Kalenian and drummer Jax Huckle – both of whom differ from the conventional teen we see today.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

Kalenian released her first highly anticipated eponymous album titled Raue in 2021. The album contained themes of somberness, loneliness, and deja vu. Huckle joined the band a few months later where they collectively released the band’s first EP titled Erase and Rewind this year; the EP contained similar themes as the first album (albeit with more maturity and experimentation).

The BlackRose’s stated mission to provide a platform for all artists to perform their craft, highlighting all art forms including music, dance, visual arts, musical theater, burlesque, and beyond – well suited the performance.

Feeling as though the venue was the Whisky a Go Go of the punk rock scene, the nostalgia found within Raue’s performance permeated the room through the various aesthetics: Black sport coats riddled with pins in patches, floppy dyed hair, and skinny ties hung loose. Unlike typical teenage style today, the members of Raue dress as if they are a punk rock band in the 90’s.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

In a cathartic homage to the sound of Nirvana, Green Day, and Alanis Morsette, audience members saw energy unlike any other performance. Kalenian defines Raue’s sound as “90’s grunge punk rock.”

It was obvious from the start what this band was, but when they covered My Hero by the Foo Fighters, it was clear that these teens had a rich music upbringing. Yet, it was difficult to truly label this band. Kalenian calls it a “Paradox of Ineffability” – a language that comes close to defining a sound, but not quite encapsulating all of what the sound has to offer.

The LA Blade had the pleasure to interview Raue after their performance. The band members took the Blade into a quiet, dimly lit patio in the back of the BlackRose. Quite the opposite space in comparison to where the performance took place.

After a discussion about the perks of touring from place to place to perform music, Kelenian described what Raue’s purpose is in the music industry.

“Our message is to spread love unconditionally,” Kalenian explained. It would be an understatement to call this band inclusive as inclusivity feels all too general. In fact, Raue’s sound queers the space that its in – not queer solely in the aspect of sexuality, gender, or identity, but in the sense of transformation. A true political praxis that manifests a radical queerness that seeks to envelop spaces with kindness, love, and difference.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles (Photo by Noah Christiansen)

Kalenian isn’t the only member of Raue who feels this way – Huckle also opened up with his discussion of the pertinent aspects of vulnerability both on and off stage. “I feel like it’s a matter of showing the crowd that you’re vulnerable,” he says, “that’s the first step to having the crowd open up.” He’s not wrong. In the beginning, the crowd was stiff. At a usual concert venue, audience participation is always optional. But, when Kalenian jumps off stage with her guitar, just feet away from the audience, it’s impossible to not move with the music. “She’s all around,” Huckle says, “She likes meeting everybody.” 

With deep messages in the music, there is a sense of closeness between the band and the audience. As Kalenian instructs the audience members to sing the chorus to a song with themes of loneliness, people have a sense of relationality to the music. I mean, who can’t relate to these lyrics: “Sitting here by myself and I feel lonely / Does that mean anything to you?” 

Although the singer gets a lot of attention naturally, there is no doubt that the eclectic personality was shown through the drummer’s performance. With the waving of drumsticks like a magical baton constructing the audience that is the orchestra, the character of Huckle was brought to life among the loud drum licks. When asked about the meaning of punk rock, Huckle responded by saying, “All punk rock has a deep message. Even if it’s loud and messy – it’s human expression.”

When the show was coming to an end, Kalenian turned around to show the crowd what was on the back of her coat: the words “I LOVE YOU!” with a picture of a screaming cat underneath the letters.

Raue performs at the BlackRose in Los Angeles
(Photo by Noah Christiansen)

As Raue makes their way to release more music and continue to perform across the states, it is no question that this band mixes the ubiquitous flare of teenage angst into their sound – not something to be criticized, but to be embraced.

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