Country music star Steve Grand has a problem many other young gay men would envy: He’d rather fans love him for his brains, not his well-tuned body.
“People don't buy an album because they think someone is hot or because there is a picture of them in their underwear,” says Grand, who performs Friday night at Miami Beach Gay Pride.
Grand became an Internet sensation in 2013 when his music video All American Boy received one million YouTube views in eight days. After a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $326,000 in pledges, Grand just released a debut album, also titled All American Boy.
“My album just came out March 23,” he says. “That’s the big news. I’m very excited about that. The album is also called All American Boy. Making that song and video and releasing it really helped. Obviously it got a lot of attention and press. I used that attention to get in contact with producers to work with.” The Fray’s producer, Aaron Johnson, also produced Grand’s new album.
The same day Grand released his album, he posted a new music video to YouTube, Time. It’s already had more than 152,000 views.
Grand, 25, began taking piano lessons at age 6. Growing up on Lemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, he began the coming out process in his early teens.
“I was always mostly interested in songwriting,” he says. “It was around the age I started feeling like more of an outsider and more misunderstood. Songwriting became therapeutic for me because it was a way for me to express how I was feeling. I was 13 when I realized I am gay. That’s when songwriting became even more important to me. I didn't have anyone to guide me or have anyone who understood what I was going through.”
Grand grew up in a conservative Catholic household.
Being gay “wasn’t something that was understood or encouraged,” Grand says. “I didn’t want anyone else to go through what I went through. Gayness wasn’t something that was ever talked about or discussed within the school or community in any way that wasn’t negative or just joking. I didn’t feel that was an acceptable way to be. The church and my family actively opposed it. It wasn’t until I got out of the house and could think for myself and find my own people that I could feel it wasn’t such a bad thing.”
Grand’s family sent him to a Christian therapist. “I think they thought it would make me change or help me change. That’s what they were counting on because they really didn’t understand being homosexual. It scared them, understandably. I wouldn't classify my experience as ex-gay therapy. I’m also not going to say that what I went through, where my sexuality wasn’t affirmed at a time I was essentially in crisis, that wasn’t good for me, either.”
At age 19, Grand began modeling.
“I was as much a model as someone who did a handful of photo shoots when they were 19 and never saw any money,” he says. “It’s not the conclusion anyone would draw from a Google search, but it’s a small snapshot, if you will, of when I was 19. I haven’t actively posted those pictures since then. I have no attachment or feeling toward those images. I probably feel annoyed that they are used to represent me, because they’re not an accurate representation of where i am personally and professionally.”
Still, he’s not exactly shy. Last year, Grand took a naked plunge into Lake Superior to raise money for ALS. He posted a well-circulated photo on Facebook and a video on YouTube that has had more than 321,000 views.
“I definitely have a fan base that’s based in the gay community, but there are as many gay people who want me to fail as to succeed,” Grand says. “All American Boy wasn't out a couple of days when people were trying to find ways for me to look bad. They said it wasn’t authentic, and that was a lie — I was still living in my parents’ basement and making $100 a night playing in a piano bar in the city.”
So far, Grand’s fame is mostly within the LGBT community. “It was within there that people were embracing me and trashing me, like what happens in the regular world.”
Grand is not the first gay country music star, but it’s been widely said that he’s the first county star who didn’t begin his career in the closet. In 2013, country star Chely Wright told Michael Musto for Out magazine: “I came out after having been in the business for years. He’s trying to get into the business.”
Friday night, Grand will not only perform, he’ll mingle with VIPs and donors at Miami Beach Gay Pride’s Red Carpet Angels Reception hosted by Elaine Lancaster.
“We’re proud to have openly gay performing artists as they provide role models for the youth in our country, in fact all LGBT citizens,” says Steve Adkins, president of the Miami Beach Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. “What a better way to show our pride than to recognize these brave performing artists. Even in this day and age, it’s still difficult to be out in Hollywood — slash — Nashville.”
Grand takes his role as role model seriously.
“Pride is a very special thing for me,” he says. “I’m very moved by all the support I’ve received. This is what I’ve always wanted to do and to have a platform that embraces me has moved me in a very powerful way.”
If you go
Miami Beach Gay Pride features singing stars Steve Grand, Nicole Henry and Jessica Sutta, along with DJ Alex Infiniti, Jane Castro and TLO Ivy, beginning 6 p.m. Friday at the Vapor Shark Stage, Lummus Park between 11th and 12th streets off Ocean Drive. Admission is free.