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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW - Jon McLaughlin rockets from the farm to the Oscar stage
by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

At the age of 25, Jon McLaughlin has already done what some people dream about their entire lives: appear on the Academy Awards. After performing the nominated song "So Close" from Disney's urban fairytale Enchanted on the telecast, the native Midwesterner became an overnight sensation. Sales of his debut album Indiana surged more than 1,500 percent at Amazon.com, and he was soon asked to tour alongside Grammy-winner Kelly Clarkson, as well as breakthrough acts Colbie Caillat and Sara Bareilles. With a substantial lift of confidence, McLaughlin began working on his second album with a new team of writers and producers that had previously worked magic for such artists as Rihanna and Carrie Underwood. The result is Beating My Heart, a sophomore album set for an October release of this year. The leadoff, self-titled single has just been added to national radio stations and the music video now appears on YouTube. Should you go online to watch the video be warned: it's guaranteed to increase your heartrate significantly. Let's just say from head to toe, McLaughlin's got the whole package. The top-potential newcomer will perform Sunday night, July 27, at The Triple Door (www.thetripledoor.net) here in Seattle. Visit www.myspace.com/jonmclaughlin to ear-sample his music.

A recent transplant to Los Angeles from a rural farmtown, this All-American beefcake appears to be on the fastrack to bigness. From a tollbooth in Ohio, here's what Jon McLaughlin shared with me inside "The Music Lounge."

Albert Rodriguez: Are you in a tour bus or van?

Jon McLaughlin: I'm sitting in my van. I'm looking at it right now, it looks terrible. My trailer is falling apart. I literally have duct tape on the front of it holding the panel together. I can't give up on it, I've had it for too long.

Rodriguez: Where do you call home?

McLaughlin: Home has never been more ambiguous than right now in my life. I grew up in Indiana. Back in May, my wife and I got a place out in California, but ever since then we haven't been there. We've been in Indiana and now we're on the road.

Rodriguez: You're originally a Midwestern boy, corn-fed and the whole thing?

McLaughlin: Total Midwestern boy, every meal.

Rodriguez: What's the biggest change, aside from the weather, with living in California than the Midwest?

McLaughlin: The biggest change, I would say, is space, or lack of space.

Rodriguez: LA is so spread out, you're kind of forced to drive when you're there.

McLaughlin: I love driving in LA, to be honest. I would love it if they had a subway system or a bus system that was a little better, but you just can't do it because it's so big. I love driving in LA because everyone's a little crazy.

Rodriguez: Take me back to Oscar night, what was that like?

McLaughlin: It was the most extreme of every emotion I've ever had. I was the most nervous I've ever been in my life. I probably had one of the most fun nights of my whole life, definitely the most memorable. That's like a once in a lifetime thing to even be able to just go to the Oscars. So being able to sing and perform and be part of the ceremony, it's crazy. I had to pretend not to throw up.

Rodriguez: Who did you meet that blew you away that night?

McLaughlin: My biggest crazy moment, for me personally, was when Tom Hanks walked out to present. I hadn't seen him before then, he wasn't on the red carpet, I don't think, he wasn't sitting in the theater that I saw. We were sitting right in front of the podium that he walked up towards, so he was four feet away from us. For me, Tom Hanks has been my favorite actor my whole life. That was my big crazy moment.

Rodriguez: I would imagine the small town you're from in Indiana doesn't have any Gay bars, correct?

McLaughlin: I don't think so, none that I know of.

Rodriguez: You work in an industry that obviously has a lot of Gay professionals, from makeup artists to stylists. So Gay culture isn't new to you, right?

McLaughlin: It isn't, and honestly I feel like growing up I sort of had a unique experience because when I was younger, even in elementary school and junior high, I did a lot of musicals and plays. The Midwest is a different culture, like the city I grew up in is a small town in Indiana. But it's not to say there weren't these little communities within this small community. So when I did all these musicals and plays, I feel like I was exposed to a world early on that I'm exposed to now like you're saying. It's not like anything I've had to get used to or adjust to.

Rodriguez: Maybe your wife will meet some new Gay friends in California to hang around with while you're on tour, then you'll have nothing to worry about on the road.

McLaughlin: [Laughs.] True.

Rodriguez: After the Oscars, your first album, Indiana, enjoyed a sales splurge.

McLaughlin: It was really great, and it just goes to show how ridiculous the exposure is to be a part of the Oscars. I can't even fathom how many people around the world sit down to watch the Academy Awards.

Rodriguez: People in some parts of the world have to wake up to watch it at 2:00 in the morning.

McLaughlin: My brother-in-law actually was over in Iraq, he's in the Marines. He had a bunch of his Marines in a convoy, literally they were in a convoy, and pulled off in some tiny little town in the middle of nowhere and found a satellite - and they all crammed around it to watch the Oscars.

Rodriguez: Comments on YouTube for your video for "Beating My Heart" state the obvious. Does it ever bother you that fans prioritize your good looks over your music?

McLaughlin: I think regardless of how you look, if you're going to be in a profession where you're in front of people and be a quote-unquote performer, at some point you have to figure out how to deal with how you look and what your image is going to be. A part of me wishes we just had radio nowadays, for music to speak for itself. I never want to get any sort of advantages, or disadvantages, because of the way I look. As upset and anxious and tense as I get about the whole physical appearance thing, in the end it comes down to the music.

Rodriguez: But music is an art form, and part of that is being visually stimulating to the eye. Fans want to see who's behind the music. It's part of the package.

McLaughlin: You're right, it is an art form - all-encompassing. Ironically, as you say that, I'm getting more and more into video. But I still think bringing it down to how someone looks cheapens it somewhat, at times. I don't want people to focus too much on what I physically look like. I want them to see the video and get the whole experience, not focus on one aspect of it.

Rodriguez: If you didn't want people to focus on what you look like in your video, you should've worn baggy basketball shorts instead of form-fitting jeans and a leather coat.

McLaughlin: [Laughs.] That's definitely true.

Rodriguez: You're very young and I wonder if at some point you'll embrace your physical appearance - your sex symbolism, for lack of a better term. Justin Timberlake is a great artist, and he's hot, and he embraces that by injecting it into his music and performances.

McLaughlin: Justin Timberlake is obviously a very good-looking guy, and if I'm a Justin Timberlake fan - which I am - and if I go to his show, I want to see him do his thing. I want him to own it. I do realize that when I get up onstage, people come and want to be entertained. They want you to be confident, they want you to do your thing. So I'm working on it, I'm trying to embrace it.

Rodriguez: What's the last item of music you downloaded?

McLaughlin: It was either the new Raconteurs album, Consolers of the Lonely, which is like my favorite album at the moment, or the new Coldplay record.

Rodriguez: Who is an artist that you always support or always buy their music?

McLaughlin: It would definitely be my all-in-all guy, who is Billy Joel. But he hasn't done any pop stuff since '93. I would say now it'd probably be Ben Folds, regardless of what he's doing. I'll get anything he does.

Rodriguez: On your last visit to Seattle, did you have a chance to scope it out?

McLaughlin: The last time I was in Seattle was amazing! My band and I rented scooters. We got there early and across the street was this scooter rental place, and we rented these scooters. It was like the most gorgeous day in Seattle, and we just rode these scooters around all day long. Ever since I did that, I was thinking non-stop about scooters so I went out and bought one.

Rodriguez: Here's to gorgeous days and scooters! Safe travels to Seattle this weekend.

McLaughlin: Thanks, and I will see you soon.
photo: Jon McLaughlin
 

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