Valley of the doll
Bowie-adoring, Pokémon-loving songster wants to be the most famous boy in the world, no matter what Simon Cowell tells him
Published: October 26, 2011
Gholston says the "Teenage Weirdo" bit is about a year old and he uses it as way to reflect who he is as a person in this life right now. "When I first started getting into performing outside of school, all of the acts were older than me," he says. "That set me apart. It's a good representation of where I'm at now. It's not really about high school or middle school — not that kind of teenager — it's about being on the verge of getting older, moving onward."
Will he still be calling himself a teenaged weirdo at the ripe old age of, say, 22?
"No, that'd be like KISS still wearing those awful outfits," he says, laughing. "I can't keep doing the same thing. I probably won't be using it a year from now, maybe even months. I'll stop using it, but I'll think of something else."
Sort of like killing off his own Ziggy Stardust? Maybe. The teen pop-star-in-waiting is a big Bowie nut, after all. (His stripped-down, synth-heavy "Jean Genie" cover is a highlight live.)
And what's up with the Pokémon fetishization at his shows? He's a Pokémon fanatic, and he uses the themes of various games in the series to introduce his shows — another reflection of who he is, though this piece of nostalgia is from an era when he was alive.
"I remember watching some Lady Gaga show and she used a Clockwork Orange intro [to open the show]. Come on, David Bowie did that years ago. I like A Clockwork Orange too, but it's not part of my life. I don't have a connection to it. It's cool to go back and pick up pop-culture references, but you should pick something that's closer to yourself. I was born in the '90s, so I use Pokémon."
Although he uses his 18-year-old stage partner, Amber Miller (aka Nikky Velvet) in nearly all of his shows, Gholston is a solo artist and not so fond of folks calling the duo a "band." He employed a guitar-playing friend for a few shows but sacked him.
"I don't want a live band," he says. "I don't like bands. A lot of the stuff I listen to is from solo artists. I don't like that whole 'band' thing. After shows people asking me: 'Oh, what's the name of your band?' I hated that. I don't have a big head, but the whole 'band' thing is not part of the whole setup."
That makes sense, seeing as Gholston's idiosyncratic music is born of his very singular vision; Duane the Teenage Weirdo knows what he wants, and he's learning how to get it. Plus, it has never been easier to write, record and produce your own music.
As he began to play out live, he booked his own shows. His first gig was at Detroit gay bar the R&R Saloon in spring of 2010. Not to stereotype, but his outward androgyny and sugar-high tunes went over well there, just like how Grace Jones won gay crowds in the '70s. Otherwise his music and image can polarize audiences and some of his early, more "rocky" gigs didn't help win over people. He knows that if you are going to shock aesthetically, you have to be really, really good musically.
Is he ever afraid to be dismissed as a drag-queen or, worse, a tranny? As Alice Cooper taught us years ago, and then Boy George, middle America can be pretty mean to kids who prefer to dress up.
"I've never been referred to and I don't consider what I do drag at all. I think there is a fine line between pretending to be some crude, loudmouth, overly glammed-up, make-believe woman and being a creative person who is comfortable with their own sexual identity, one who doesn't have to pretend to be something they aren't. I'm a boy, and I plan on keeping it that way. And, no; I'm not scared of anything. But, I do take caution when on the streets; everyone should, no matter what you look like."
The people who should pay attention are beginning to. After a few good shows, Gholston landed a guy named Cornelius Harris to manage him and book his local shows. Earlier this year, local rock star Steve Nawara (ex of Detroit Cobras, Electric Six) and his Beehive Recording Co., a premier Detroit indie, got wind of him. The name got Nawara first.
"I first heard of [Gholston] when Chris Turner from Dark Red told me they were playing a show together at Jumbo's," Nawara says. "As soon as he told me his name, my ears immediately perked up. The raw sound and the strange appearance reminded me of Klaus Nomi sparkled with glam. The music had me instantly."
Nawara released Gholston's first studio single, a three-song digital download only, a few weeks ago, and it's available on Beehive's website.
He may also record a vinyl single at that well-known record label down in Nashville, Tenn. — though everyone involved is pretty tight-lipped.
Gholston stays busy, whether it's gigs, school or work. He has to. He gets bored fast, and if he doesn't stay occupied, his attention wanders, and he'll do "stupid things." On one bored day back in the spring, one "stupid thing" happened to be his signing on to audition for the debut season of the hugely popular music contest show X-Factor (which averages about 12 million viewers weekly). Gholston trekked to Chicago to participate. He suffered a two-day audition process, and he eventually performed a Grace Jones tune in front of the judging panel, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Cheryl Cole. The reception was lukewarm. Cowell's only comment was, "Do you have any pets?" The footage aired a few weeks back and, though he didn't advance, Gholston doesn't consider the experience a humiliation exercise. He got to see pop celebrity through its own TV lens, in all of its deceptive insanity.