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Rock of Ages’ Constantine Maroulis on Groupies and Performing for Drinking Audiences

After season four of American Idol, Constantine Maroulis became one of the first non-winners to develop an after-show career on his own terms. Now he's starring as Drew, an eighties-era bartender with a rock-and-roll dream, in Rock of Ages, which opened on Broadway last night. Maroulis, who was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Jersey, spoke to Vulture about his own eighties heroes and his fellow Idol alums.

You grew up in Jersey. Which eighties bands made a real impression on you growing up?
From day one, Bon Jovi. I remember hearing "Runaway" on the radio before they really, really blew up. And definitely Twisted Sister, with those amazing videos and the Parental Advisory sticker, and the whole issue with their lyrical content. And then Guns N' Roses, who just came with a whole 'nother energy, like they would kick your ass. If you dreamt up rock stars in your imagination, like for some sort of comic or like a cool graphic novel, you couldn't even think of a character like Slash or Axl.

Drew has to deal with a sketchy industry guy in the show. Did you deal with anything like that after Idol?
Now more than ever on the show, they're saying to these kids point blank, "Who are you? What kind of records to you want to make? What kind of artist do you want to be?" When I was on the show, they didn't focus on that, and I think post-Idol, a lot of labels and management and industry sorts didn't know exactly how to categorize me. Was I a rock guy or a balladeer or this kind of musical-theater guy? I wanted to make a great rock record, and I wanted to tour and also do Broadway, maybe start a label. I've gotten to do most of that.

I'm sure Idol fans compare to hair-metal groupies. What's the craziest thing you experienced?
Our season's tour was amazing, and fans would literally be waiting for us in hotel lobbies — particularly me. Teenagers and middle-aged women with all these Greek flags and these posters with "Greek Boy!" written on them, that's their name for me. The other Idols were getting mad, thinking I was tipping off the fans, but that's not what I was doing — believe me, I look like shit at 2 a.m. If they want to find out where you're staying, they find out.

It's interesting how many Idol finalists end up on Broadway at some point.
There's actually a lot of negative attention with Idols coming to Broadway, which is unfortunate, because if you look at it on a case-by-case basis, the Idol usually fits the role and the task quite well. My first role, in The Wedding Singer, was perfect for me at the time — comedic role, guy from Jersey, very sweet and vulnerable. Diana DeGarmo in Hairspray, perfect for that. She grew up doing musicals. Fantasia grew up in the church — that's the music from The Color Purple, she was basically playing herself and was able to embrace that. Taylor was, heh, tailor-made for Grease. You know, he comes out, does it in a very Taylor way with a harmonica and the whole Elvis thing.

Your hair figures prominently in this show. Just how instrumental is it to your role?
Guys in the era of the show cared more about their hair than anything else; they knew more about it than their girls did. I'm sure they shared tips with each other. So it's become a part of my character; the way I sort of touch it in certain scenes, or get it out of my face, or wing it back over one side, or come out of the headbang the right way. There's definitely hair choreography going on.

People drink in the audience. Have you noticed any amusing effects of this from the stage?
People have been pretty well behaved so far, but [with] Off Broadway it got nutty sometimes. We were doing Friday-night late shows for a few weeks, and those were just insane. One night, we had a few big groups in there at once, and it got a little out of control; people were going crazy during the whole show, not really paying attention, a few fights, definitely people standing and trying to get on the stage, shouting my name in the middle of scenes
constantly ... a little silly.

Photo: Getty Images