Rent, original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Broadway, Eastsiders, and more, gives Jai an inprssive bio
From his role as Angel in Broadway’s Rent to his memorable impact on the iconic series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the laughter he brought to Malibu Country, playing opposite Reba McEntire and Lily Tomlin, Jai Rodriguez brings a charming talent, diversity, and sexiness to the table. Not only does he balance his vibrant radio career with his career as an actor (most recently in the Netflix show Eastsiders and Hulu’s Dollface), Jai also has a heart for advocacy, working with organizations like The Trevor Project and Project Angel Food. So, there you have it, just a small taste of his big, impressive bio.
It’s not often you get the chance to sit down with someone who embodies such a broad spectrum of success. It was hard to get off the phone with this inspiring guy considering all of the diversity of work Jai has accomplished. He gets us out of bed in the morning with his fantastic radio show, only to lull us back to sleep with his outstanding singing. Rodriguez is the whole package. We are sharing some of that passion here. I’ll stop swooning!
It’s been an exciting year for you! What are you working on?
Jai Rodriguez: It’s funny, you work on things and then they are put away and you put them out of your mind for really long periods of time. I shot Eastsiders and Dollface nearly a year ago and it launched this past December. You have epic gaps between times on set and you spend your rest of your life doing another gig, whether it’s a cabaret show or a waiter/bartender or whatever you do on the side. Mine happens to be an actual separate career, which is the radio show, the first nationally syndicated LGBTQ FM talk and music station now coast to coast. We were supposed to just be LA. I thought it was a cute little show that’s like three hours long. You know a little music, a little talk, no big deal. Now that it’s really grown in the world, we’re in over 40 markets on FM platforms.
What’s so cool about it is it’s like being a part of something that is corporate America. I’ve never had that experience. Working for Entercom is different! Many of their radio stations have been on the air for decades with a long legacy. Here we are, the new kids that are under their parent company and we’ve been really well received. This keeps me busy and somewhat in the “know” about politics and queer cinema and pop culture.
What do you find most rewarding about the work?
JR: The fascinating piece was thinking this would be something done in tandem, and I didn’t realize it would be so all encompassing. I’m constantly searching for the newest, breaking, most interesting story. Even if it’s dense and complex and making it relatable and understandable. It’s been eye opening to be able to understand our government better. To juggle radio with my acting career is a blessing.
There would have been a time in my life where I would have said one career or the other. When I signed with my manager, I told him I wanted to be the Puerto Rican Ryan Seacrest. As I was getting overwhelmed this year with the amount of work and radio, I thought of leaving the station. He reminded me, “Just so you know, Ryan Seacrest still broadcasted even when he was on the road doing American Idol auditions.” It’s about working hard and having discipline to get to your ultimate goal. I’m thankful for the steady work; it’s been a long journey.
Share with us one of your favorite moments in television.
JR: It was the first time I got on set for Malibu Country, a comedy with Reba and Lily Tomlin. It reminded me of theater having a live audience. If you tell a joke, you hear laughter in real time as opposed to a comedy movie where there’s no laughter, no one’s laughing on set. It’s quiet. You don’t know if it’s funny until like six months later when that movie hits cinema.
When you’re doing a new show, they usually show the audience the first pilot to get them familiar with the storyline and how everyone’s character is connected. When I entered the scene for my first scene, I got like weird celebrity applause because they had really responded well to my character. When they saw me they loved me and I didn’t even open my mouth yet. It was this surreal moment to be working with comedy giants and also feel like you could create a character equally beloved.
Eastsiders’ final season was recently released; tell us about the series and your role on the show.
JR: Eastsiders is one of those passion projects that Kit Williamson and his partner John knew they wanted to create using their friends. Season one featured huge names like Constance Wu who had yet to do Crazy Rich Asians. It was a really great troop of actors. I saw season one, loved it, and I was like, “Listen, if there’s anything, literally anything in season two, I’ll just do it.” He was like, “Oh we’ll find something for you.” My role in that season was like a little confidant to some of the well known drag queens in the show. Eastsiders is a group of friends addressing love, relationships, intimacy, jealousy, navigating life and what it’s like when you have a family of choice and how you go through the ups and downs together, hopefully walking away much stronger for it. It’s about family and how families are very, very different.
Disney+ is premiering a show with you, that’s exciting!
JR: Diary of a Future President is about a strong willed 12 year old Cuban American girl named Elena who embarks on a journey to become the future president of the United States. The show is executive produced by Gina Rodriguez and guest stars as Future Elena. Selenis Leyva plays Elena’s mom. Most people know her epic role as Gloria Mendoza in Orange is the New Black. The show was created by Ilana Peña and based on her own childhood.
While working on it, I noticed the set had more people of color, and women on camera or behind the scenes than I’d ever seen. The stories covered in this series really shed light on those who don’t feel seen and will inspire people to dream big. I was offered the role with no audition and when I met Gina in the hair and make up trailer she said she was a fan and had seen me play Angel in Rent on Broadway several times. I was floored. It’s a true honor to work with her. Now, if you’ve noticed, I haven’t shared who I play on the show. I’m not allowed to give away any plot points and saying who I play might do that, but you won’t wanna miss this one. I got chills more than once while filming.
Let’s talk about talk radio. Channel Q with Mikalah Gordon must be a blast!
JR: The show is called The Morning Beat. Mikalah and I are a generation apart. There are a lot of innate differences. She’s more of a drag queen than I am. She’s more happy to stay out and see a concert at 10pm and be at work at 4:30am. We have a lot of differences, but within the year, going back to the family part of things, it does feel like we’ve built a family. It’s always been decisions that are best for the show. It’s about how much of yourself you’re willing to compromise. It’s learning how to listen and respond and really hear someone.
How does the show reflect your passion for making the crazy world we live in a better place?
JR: What we’re doing here is a party with a purpose. It’s uplifting, fun, something to make you happy in the morning. We give you the news as we know it, report it accurately, but we also have fun tips and things that just make your life better regardless of how you identify. Growing up, I didn’t see myself reflected in media. I didn’t feel like there were places I could go to learn about the things that I wanted to learn about. Even in mainstream media, there is coverage every now and again of a black trans woman being murdered, but 21 were murdered in 2019. That number is astronomical and it just gets a quick mention maybe in gay blogs, but really it’s an epidemic. Places like Channel Q, we can talk about why it’s an epidemic, what we could do about it and how we can all, as a family, come together and make sure that these numbers go away entirely.
How can our readers keep in touch?
JR: @jairodriguez on all social media platforms! Slide into my DM’s, I like to talk to everybody!