Constantine Maroulis Leaves Behind Record-Breaking Rock of Ages, Talks "Idol" Stardom, Fatherhood and Haters

News   Constantine Maroulis Leaves Behind Record-Breaking Rock of Ages, Talks "Idol" Stardom, Fatherhood and Haters
 
Over six years after audiences first heard him tear into Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" Off-Broadway at New World Stages, Constantine Maroulis – the Broadway leading man who first gained notoriety on "American Idol" – looks back at a whirlwind decade that included television stardom, a Tony Award nomination, fatherhood and the phenomenon that is Rock of Ages.

Constantine Maroulis
Constantine Maroulis

Playbill.com caught up with Maroulis days before Rock of Ages was scheduled to take its final bow on Broadway. The hit musical, which closes Jan. 18 after 2,350 performances, has been central to Maroulis' life and work.

Maroulis spoke candidly about his experience with "Idol," the Rock of Ages film, as well as his personal life, crazy audiences, and dealing with social media haters. He even took a moment to speak up for fellow Broadway actor, Wicked and If/Then superstar, Idina Menzel, who got flack for her New Year's Eve live performance of "Let It Go."

Did you ever think you'd be back with Rock of Ages? You've been attached to the show for so long and given a lot of your life to the project, even after it found legs of its own.

Constantine Maroulis: It's an honor to have the opportunity to come back and finish the show off as we began it. I think it's every actor's dream to create a role like this that becomes in a way iconic. Who knows, for me, this might be the only time this will ever happen. It has been a tremendous run. So much has happened in my life since I began Rock of Ages in summer 2008. But, as early as winter of 2005, they had been talking to me about it. I had just been eliminated from "American Idol," and I remember meeting [producer] Matt Weaver, and he pitched me this show. It's essentially been a ten-year process for me. And to see it become a global brand like this and be successful on so many levels... And unsuccessful in other ways as well... Honestly, the movie. I think if the movie was what we wanted it to be, even close to what we, as the original cast, wanted it to be, it really could have helped sustain the brand for far, far longer on Broadway. As you can see now, we've been doing tremendous business for where we are. I think there's such excitement in the air. It feels fresh and new again. We have a really solid cast right now. It's a shame to see it go. But to be honest, I never thought I'd be back. I smelled the finish line, and [the producers] were hoping to get some of the original energy back into the show. It worked out for all of us, and I ended up staying for five/six months.

Are you sad to see it go, or does it feel like the right moment for you? CM: It's mixed emotions. I'm ready to move on and shave my head and do something different, but I will certainly miss it. [Laughs.] It's my part. It's been my career-defining role and work.

I think of Rock of Ages is the rare sort of combination, for me, as an actor, of everything I do well. It's sort of an underrated big acting role for me. It's a character people are not used to seeing from me. If you haven't seen the show, you come in assuming I'm going to be some balls-out rockstar the whole time and mugging, but it's really about something completely different, and it's a completely different arc for me. It's got all these great comedy moments and honest comedy moments for me. All of the rock and roll flair is awesome vocally and all that, but I think that it's just one of those rare parts. There are shows like Wicked and Phantom of the Opera, which had amazing original casts, but have managed to be able to find very strong replacements, even stronger replacements at times. I think I can boldly say, it's not the case with Rock of Ages. I think that there's something about me going home early on "American Idol" ten years ago, being that underdog, playing the underdog in Rock of Ages, and me getting the baby at the end of our story and me ending up with a baby in real life... It's sort of this strange kind of cosmic connection. Granted, the show is great without me, or any of the original cast, it's very well written and well crafted, but I feel that there's just something different when I'm there.

Did "American Idol" prepare you at all for the mainstream success you've found since that show and with Rock of Ages?

CM: It was a completely new experience, but it felt like a natural progression. I knew I wasn't ready for college right out of high school, or a conservatory at 17. I hustled for a few years. I worked full time. I auditioned a lot. I was a very young 21-22; younger than most people, even though I kind of grew up in the New York area. I went to college later and then had the experience after that with Rent. So, by the time I got to "Idol," it felt like a progression in my life and career, not so much like a lotto ticket the way so many of these kids approach it. It felt like where I belonged. I worked for ten years, essentially, before "American Idol," to get myself on TV, to get on that platform. Even the Rent experience on the road, the show was still a huge title at the time. I was doing TV and press in every market, and that prepared me for "Idol" and going to The Boston Conservatory prepared me for "Idol." "Idol" sort of prepared me for the real work ahead, which was essentially Rock of Ages.

Constantine Maroulis
Constantine Maroulis Photo by Joan Marcus

How do you feel about these talent contests now? Are they still useful? Broadway seems to be looking to them more and more, especially for replacement casting.

CM: I think it's cyclical. These talent contests have existed since the early days of radio. Like anything, they become very successful, then competitors surface, the landscape becomes crowded and then no one then is truly successful, everyone is just a little successful. The thing about "American Idol" is, for as many of hundreds of people who have come through the show who we get to meet every year, for so many of them that don't become successful, it's still a brand that does produce legitimate stars out there. There's the obvious Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, even myself, Kat McPhee, and other people who have had a solid career, too... Though not always, necessarily, a stratospheric star. The other shows have not proven that. The real stars of "The Voice" are the judges and those red chairs. I can't even name one person from "The Voice."

What people don't know, is that a lot of the kids on these shows come from theatre and performing backgrounds, and they just need a shot. But it's been hard to find somebody who has the real chops to sustain on Broadway and beyond. They're enjoyable, it's still an opportunity. You still have to do all the work.

Do you think many of the young kids who get a shot on "Idol," or other reality competition shows, are caught off guard with the amount of work and stamina it requires once they take it on professionally?

CM: Absolutely. You know, especially the young ones, who go from being the leads in all the high school plays and the great singer in town, to be suddenly on stage in front of millions on television. Their egos explode. I don't envy a 15 or 16-year-old kid being on that show. You're life ain't gonna get much better than it is for those six months. It's really impossible to sustain the level of success. It just doesn't happen anymore. Then, certainly on "American Idol," they really do work your ass. But, if and when these performers get the chance to do an eight-show-a-week thing, they're often surprised. It's not normal what we do [on Broadway]. Even as far as vocal recovery... But because it's been such a passion, and we looked at the Tony Awards with love and delight [growing up], we've always had that deep eight-show-a-week mentality and other people just don't think that way. Even the biggest rock stars who play hundreds of shows a year don't play every day. It is something to work toward and train for, and that is a true tool that you obtain. It's a craft.

Your career began to take off kind of before social media really amped up. What's it been like to grow with that and navigate the public/private persona?

CM: I sort of came in at a time when the social media thing hadn't quite taken off yet. I kind of was able to dodge the TMZ stuff and things like that even when I was doing some crazy stuff after "American Idol." [Laughs.] Strangely, years later, there's kids that you've never heard of who have millions of followers. My fan base is an interesting one. I'm the kind of guy that can lead a show on the road and sell out theatres and things, but on Twitter, I have less than 20,000 followers, compared to some other people. But I put out just enough to make it informative. I'm not provocative on social media. Also, some people do too much. They put a little too much out there. It's always nice to have a little mystery. I'd rather have a nice slow burn than to blow up and burn out.

Do haters ever get to you?

CM: I've fallen into the trap of getting into hater boards or chat rooms and reading that. During Jekyll & Hyde I did. I hadn't done it in years, since probably "American Idol," but it can be very hateful, and it's just not productive. I have a home and a beautiful family. I have success, and I hope to do more great things, and reading that stuff is miserable. It's not worth engaging.

Constantine Maroulis
Constantine Maroulis Photo by Monica Simoes

What do you make of the trend of "hate-watching," which is becoming kind of popular, and in some way,s even welcomed from certain marketing standpoints?

CM: Those haters would kill to be part of it. It's a shame that there's so much hate. It's just not productive. Everyone is doing their best and is just trying to get what's theirs and survive and provide. It's silly. It makes me sick. It's so polarizing. Look, I think I can be a polarizing type, but people who know me think I'm a pretty good guy. I work hard. If I'm ever a d*ck, it's because I expect the best out of people at work. I don't want anything less than that. I think the hate watching, even with "Smash" and "Glee," these people would do anything to be on these shows.

Referencing the recent drama with Idina Menzel... This is one of our greatest power vocalists. For her to even receive any such criticism is just stupid. It's impossible to sing live on television at these events where they're moving the band in and out, and the sound check doesn't sound like the performance, and she's wearing [ear monitors], and she's getting something different than she thought she was getting, and then there's static, or you can't hear the band, or the track is too loud... There's feedback. Sh*t happens that you can't really avoid. And by the way, she's on one of the most insane schedules. She's doing eight shows a week and having the biggest year that anyone could imaging having within our community, with appearances and magazine covers and setting up tours and records. Give her a break.

It can be hard to deliver like that all the time. Even for me, in Rock of Ages, I know audiences are hungry for the rock, and you have to give it for them, no matter how you feel vocally sometimes. And sure, I get upset if I'm off and I crack. It's just real.

You've become a dad during your time with Rock of Ages. What's it been like? CM: It's incredible. I wasn't exactly ready for it at the time, but as soon as she came... Your life is forever changed. Everything you do is for her. I now wake up with a little stress. I'm lucky that I've done well, but nothing in this business is for sure. You worry that you're not going to be able to provide for her as well as you are now. You get her dressed for school and bring her to school and see how happy she is to be around her friends. Also, she looks just like me. We lost my dad last year, and she was there through all of that, and she misses him. And I see her with my mother and the relationship they have. It's very surreal, but it's so normal and natural, too. Angel is an incredible mom and a great partner. We're very blessed. It's not easy all the time. But we're doing our best and we have a great home, and we're excited about what's next and what the future will hold.

Looking back, do you have any crazy fan stories from Rock of Ages? Audiences can get pretty rowdy.

CM: There's been some demented fan experiences. I remember one in particular at the height of the show. There's a joke in Act II that starts, "Hey Drew, what is it that you really want?" And then the "Oh, Sherry" theme that we've been teasing comes on. And some guy shouted, "No way. You can't sing that one!" Like right in the clear. The entire Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 1,200 people heard it and were like, "Oooooooh!" And I looked at him and kind of raised an eyebrow, and then I had to leave stage. But, of course, when I come back on and sang it, I ripped it harder than anyone has ever sung that song ever.

We also had a couple of guys on the tour just run up on stage during the show, and I had to grab them and throw them off the stage. There's been fights in the audience. There's been vomit nd a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. [Laughs.] It's a really heartfelt show at the end of the day. It's unlike anything that's ever been on Broadway. We found a new audience and introduced them to Broadway as well, so that's been cool.

What's next for you? Are you ready to shed the rock persona?

CM: I certainly have a brand, and I'm aware of it, but I very much look forward to doing something completely different. And, of course, all of the shows I'm attached to are in the world of rock and roll, but I really long to do something very different. I'm talking to some great directors and writers, and I look forward to meeting their expectations and the challenges for sure.

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