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Josey Greenwell is a male specimen of the highest rank: dreamy eyes, Southern boy charm and the body of a Greek god. And he’s the Motor City Pride host, which means you’ll be seeing a lot of him (maybe even literally) during the June 1-3 festivities, launching with a kick-off party on Friday at Necto in Ann Arbor and then continuing through Sunday at Hart Plaza in Detroit.
We chatted with the 23-year-old about his careers in music and modeling, being ditched by a country label for being gay and what his mom thinks of his half-naked pics.
What’s been your experience performing at previous Prides?
It’s a lot different than just an actual show. There’s so much more going on; it almost makes it even better. And everyone is already excited to be there, so it almost just adds to the whole environment.
It’s pretty gay, too.
(Laughs) I mean, it’s gay, but it’s cool because the support is so incredible, and just me being an artist who happens to also be gay, it’s really cool for people to see that.
What was your first Pride?
My first Pride was in Atlanta in 2007. That was the Pride I went to where one of my interns from the (country) label saw me and I wasn’t out, but I was after!
So what happened?
I was with a country label at the time in Nashville and I went down to the Pride in Atlanta and one of the interns was down there and they didn’t know I was gay at the label – and so they came back up and were like, “Sooo?” Then a bunch of legal stuff went on. They couldn’t have a gay artist. I was dropped because I was gay. It was bittersweet. Now, looking back at it, it was probably one of the best things that could’ve happened, because I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. The initial moment of it was shock.
The way I write isn’t really country to begin with. I always thought my writing was pretty pop in general; it was just being produced country. But now I feel like I can be more myself.
Why did you go into country in the first place?
Because people in Nashville loved my writing and how fresh it sounded and really wanted to mold me into a country artist. That’s where I started the whole singing thing in general – at the Colgate Country Showdown (in 2006), a country talent competition. I actually won. It was awesome.
When I moved to Nashville, all I could do was sing. I ran into a music executive in town and he was like, “If you’re going to be here, you’re going to need to learn how to play guitar.” I thought, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” I’d find some songs I liked and looked up the chords and just sat in front of the computer for hours trying to figure it out.
Tell me your coming out story.
I lucked out. You hear all these horror stories about coming out and you think that would be the case with me, being in Kentucky – that’s where I’m from. But it was honestly one of the easiest things ever. They’ve always been so supportive.
I told my mom first – there were questionable pictures on Facebook – and she was like, “What is this?” I was like, “Ooh, nothing.” Then I ended up telling her. I have two sisters and I told one of them and the other one got mad that I didn’t tell her first. I should’ve just sent a mass text message. (Laughs)
Is Josey your stage name?
My first legal name is Joseph. I have the same name as my dad, so to avoid confusion they nicknamed me Josey from “The Outlaw Josey Wales.” So since I was born, that’s what everyone always called me. And it’s funny, because everyone thinks I chose it just because of the music industry.
How did the modeling start?
It was a spin-off from the music. I started once I had an independent album finished. I really wanted to promote it as much as I could, so I started reaching out to magazines and newspapers and blogs. A couple of the magazines wanted to do a shoot so then I had this whole modeling portfolio. I just started really trying to progress in that arena and then it just kind of took off, too. I really try to keep involved in both music and modeling.
What does your mom think?
She actually likes all of my modeling ones. She really appreciates the fitness aspect and she’s like, “Wow, you’ve worked so hard.” And I’m like, “Thanks, Mom. It’s so weird you’re saying that.” (Laughs)
What about your body drives you nuts?
I always look at certain parts of my body and think, “OK, I want to make this part better. I want my arms just a little bigger. I want to build my chest more.” I’m always changing to make sure I’m always progressing.
What’s currently your work-in-progress?
I lost a lot of weight when I was in Europe promoting this single (“Stuck in My Head”); I lost like 20 pounds, so I’m trying to bulk back up. I’m almost there.
Are you working on a pop album?
Yeah. I did a lot of it when I was in Paris, and then I did the first half in Miami. We’re wrapping it up now and seeing which singles we want to do and then we’ll pitch it around. I’m excited. We’ve had some offers, but me being a songwriter, I’m not one to want to give credit where it’s not due. I’m really looking for a label that will work with us.
What’s the vibe of the album?
It’s really cool because I’m taking my very autobiographical style of writing and adding a lot of pop and urban to it. It’s very different because it’s coming from a guy’s perspective.
A lot of people describe my writing style along the lines of a more mature, male Taylor Swift. I don’t see that, but of course I’m going with it because she can write a hell of a song.
Do you get hit on a lot?
Not really. People are obviously friendly, but I don’t know. Maybe they do and I don’t even notice. (Laughs)
What can we expect from you when you host Pride?
I’ve just been looking at different options to fill my spot and introduce some new stuff to the audience, as well as stuff they already know. That’ll be really fun. I love doing stuff like that, but I’m also going to perform.
Shirt on or off?
Both! Off if I lose audience members.