July 21, 2023
Dance! Qween! Dance! Jonny McGovern Back for More 'Gogo for the Gold'
Timothy Rawles READ TIME: 6 MIN.
"In some ways, we wanna hold on to our secrets. I think it's sort of exciting to be able to see so many colors of the queer rainbow on TV."
That is television host and singer Jonny McGovern speaking about the popularity of unscripted queer television – more specifically, the show "Gogo for the Gold," now airing on OUTtv. The competition reality series showcases 12 gogo boys from around the United States as they vie for the $10K grand prize and the title of "America's #1 Champion Gogo Superstar Star.'"
McGovern is not new to the genre. In fact, he is kind of a trailblazer in his own right. Having just celebrated his 46th birthday, the entertainer is finding new success as a host and singer. For almost a decade, McGovern has been behind the desk interviewing some of the most well-known queer entertainers in the industry. It's a niche market, and getting any kind of mainstream exposure is rare. His popular chat show "Hey Qween" was often the first stop these underground celebrities had to get publicity beyond the stage.
"When we started, 'Hey Qween' I could call up any of the girls to just come on the show," McGovern says. "I emailed RuPaul directly to be the first guest, and that was a simple email where he was like, 'Uh yeah, sure, I'd love to come.' "
That was 14 years ago, and times have changed. "RuPaul's Drag Race" has become a 27-time Emmy award-winning franchise with 20 international spin-offs. Unlike in the early years, the queens now have managers who oversee interviews and appearances. It's not as easy to book them for one-on-ones outside their contractual obligations anymore.
McGovern says the mainstream popularity of queer spaces is unavoidable. He contends queer culture has always been cool and cutting-edge. "We do something, and then, five years later, straight people get into it. Now, with social media and with the immediacy of TikTok and Instagram. people are catching on to our culture more than ever."
He makes an example of Beyonce's new album "Renaissance," which celebrates ballroom culture, a quintessential queer competition. "In some ways, I think there are some of us who wanna hold on to our stuff and be like, 'That's for us.' But, you know, I think the cycle of how the world is going now is that we just have to accept that people are going to get into what we're getting into because, as the LGBTQ, we do the best stuff."
Now in its second season, "Gogo for the Gold" seems like it might become a regular part of the OUTtv lineup. It has all the trappings of a competitive reality show, including drama among its contenders. In Episode Two, contestant Jake walks off – live on camera. When asked if that was all a set-up, McGovern, who is also the producer and director of the show, says it absolutely was not.
"I was shocked for sure, because it really came out of nowhere," he says. "We're standing there on the set with, you know, 100 people in this gigantic room with all the cameras rolling at the same time, [and] our sponsor Scruff and Johnny Scruff are right there. So when that happened, I was thinking, like, 'How the fuck am I gonna figure this out, finish this day and move on?' "
Fortunately, the walkout happened immediately after that week's eliminated Gogo boy, Mochila, walked off stage, so McGovern reinstated him back into the contest on the spot. "He had not walked out of the room yet, and was just backstage listening to what was going on. So, he just happened to be right there to hear me and walk back out on stage. So everyone's reactions, my reactions, his reactions, are 100 percent authentic, and there was no discussion between me, the camera crew, my co-director, or anyone else before that happened. It was a wild day."
His quick thinking comes from years of experience doing live television. As a kid, McGovern envisioned himself as a TV host or creator. After college, it was a different story. He attended Boston University's School of Acting and thought he would become a traditional actor, going from audition to audition in hopes of getting cast for something on TV.
Living in New York City, he realized an actor's life wasn't for him. Instead, he wanted to create his own material – and that, he did. "That was really when I started to have success," he recalls. "And pretty much the thing that popped off for me was creating the character of the Gay Pimp and doing the song 'Soccer Practice,' which out of the blue became sort of a worldwide smash and a viral video before YouTube even existed." In the video, a young McGovern tries to entice a handsome athlete to do "manly things." It's an upbeat banger with earworm appeal; no wonder it was such a hit.
On the heels of his viral success, McGovern says he realized being authentic was the key to his future achievements, especially in representing himself and the queer community. As he got a little older and let his facial hair grow out, he developed "Hey Qween," a talk show in which he interviewed drag queens with his co-host, the late Lady Red Couture, who often stole the show with her quick-witted retorts.
He kept producing shows such as "Hot T" and "Look at Huh," both of which offered queer representation.
"And it's something that I think we continue to do with 'Gogo for the Gold,' to show queer people in all their facets and colors and shapes and sizes, and hear their stories, and see them shine," he says. "We did eight seasons of 'Hey Qween,' and to be able to have so many hours of queer stories, and stories of people's coming out, and stories of people's inspirations – that's a legacy that I'm extremely proud of."
McGovern has stayed away from music for almost a decade, but he is making a comeback. His song "Man Areas," which played on Episode One of "Gogo For the Gold," was actually a B-side from his last album. It also became his biggest hit, with 18 million streams on Spotify. Inspired by its success, he headed back into the studio for a new album produced by Adam Joseph. He also has a podcast called "Gayest of All Time," exclusively for his Patreon members.
That's not all he has up his sleeve. Since "Hey Qween" ended, there has been a high demand for its return. "I cannot say too much, but people have been asking," he says. "So every time in the street, everywhere I go, [people] keep telling me how much they miss 'Hey Qween.' And there is a super-secret project that soon people will know about, and all those people will be extremely pleased. That's all I can say."
As for "RuPaul's Drag Race," we asked if they have ever called him to be a judge on the show since he was instrumental in promoting it in the early days with "Hey Qween." He says they never have. "So if RuPaul ever called, honey, I'm right there."