Mike Ruiz :: Life on the A-List
Celebrity photographer and imagemaker Mike Ruiz has been the most transparent participant in Logo's reality soap opera The A-List: New York, which is the way he wants it. EDGE spoke to the hunky icon about criticism of the show and his role on it.
You would expect life on New York City's A-List to be full of glamour and excitement, but for celebrity photographer and imagemaker Mike Ruiz, it's been a non-stop whirlwind that's not even close to slowing down -- especially if he has his way.
"I did the A-List: New York in order to expand on my platform," and in an effort to connect more intimately and relevantly beyond the gay community. Ruiz's efforts as an advocate and role-model are well reported on. Yet no television show, especially one featuring one of television's only all gay casts has polarized the gay audience more than Logo's new reality hit The A-List: New York.
Almost as soon as the first episode began to roll on its end credits, everyone (including the EDGE’s very own sharply witty Mark Russo) had something to say about its cadre of characters. Whether you like it or not the A-List: New York had arrived and now that the veil has been lifted, with it the critical barrage that was expected.
"It’s like all of sudden the show had revealed the behavior that everyone has been trying to keep a secret." Everyone that is, except for Mike Ruiz. "It’s very clear why I’m doing the show." It’s not about the need to be on television for Ruiz, and admittedly to him the show is delivering on just what it had always promised. "It’s fluffy entertainment, but the negative backlash," he says, "is extremely much more counter productive than the actual show itself."
The reactions, both pros and cons to the A-List: New York, do appear extreme, and haven’t escaped Ruiz’s attention. "It feels like the show was a trigger, and the moment it was pulled everyone had something to say -- but the anger just seems misplaced.
"We’re being held accountable for the bad behavior routinely on display on the show," Ruiz says referring to the drama fest that characterizes most of the weekly episodes, "but people have been acting that way on reality television way before we came along."
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Watch Mike Ruiz’s director’s reel:
Entertaining and catty
And now that the mirror is being held up to the gay community perhaps we’re not entirely happy with what is being revealed. Gay audiences have made celebrities of The Real Housewives with their over-the-top lifestyles. Reality television has built its fandom on celebrating the table turning, the intoxicating lack of judgment and the bitchy cat-fights, and now that gays are being scrutinized by a similar standard the reflection in the mirror isn’t exactly what it’s all cracked up to be.
"Who hasn’t at one time or another acted like one of the guys on the show?" Ruiz asked. Now that the A-List: New York is putting us under the microscope is it too hard to accept that the gay community is just like everybody else?
"It’s entertaining and [yes] catty, but I don’t view it as self-loathing," Ruiz says. "It’s unfair to give the show that much weight... it’s a reality show soap-opera." A lot of the criticism has also stemmed from the timing of the show, and the fact that the week that it premiered was among one of the most tragic within the gay community: five gay youth, all the product of social bullying were recently lost; victims of suicides. Citing many to note that the A-List: New York cast should not be the types of role-models representative of gay men to gay youth. "People are also very quick to spew their venom, but don’t give the show the props that it deserves."
Mike Ruiz’s role on the A-List is the most transparent. Seemingly able to navigate around the wild antics of his cast mates, Ruiz is often the voice of reason or the able mentor helping Rodiney find a modeling gig or offering him advice on his tempestuous relationship with Reichen. He shared a very intimate moment with his father, which he admitted was very hard to shoot, but wonderfully genuine and revealing in its authenticity.
"I’ve overcome a lot of self-loathing -- very dark things in my life -- and I’ve come the entire arch. It’s important to illustrate you can overcome." That he’s able to share the love and support that he gets from his family, especially his father is very important for Ruiz to realize on national television. Those are the moments meant to resonate with the audience he hopes to reach. "In the very least every single one of the guys on the show deserves to be given the props for putting ourselves out there."
A deliberate plan
Admittedly the reality show stardom has perfectly worked into what was his deliberate plan all along. "As far as I’m concerned my mission has been accomplished," Ruiz admits. The A-List: New York has allowed him to elevate himself and made him a valuable asset to the many charities that he supports, including among them the Trevor Project, as well as the Leslie Lohan Gay Art Foundation. "It’s given me an opportunity to lend my name and support the organizations that need our help. There is an audience that understands the value of appearing on the show, and I’m not reckless." It certainly hasn’t detracted from what was always his original intention and the gratifying benefits of supporting charitable works. "I can do that now on a broader scale. I can share my point of view."
The one-dimensionality of scripted reality TV can take it’s toll, but it’s opened up the floor for Mike Ruiz to encourage others, especially young people struggling with their sexual identity, to not give up hope. "I really want to do the responsible thing," Ruiz says of supporting his position as a role-model. "It would destroy me if a young fan ever said I was a disappointment to them." That can hardly be expected from Mike Ruiz who busily taxes his day with efforts in support of GMHC and GLAAD. An example that we can all aspire to.
"This is very therapeutic," he says of our interview. "It puts things into perspective. I can’t conduct my life by other people’s ideologies and worry about what others think. I’m responsible for my own self-worth." Beyond the glare and glitz of the reality show cameras and the distracting flashbulbs of the red carpet, Ruiz does focus on what’s important: his multimedia work ("I shot four editorial campaigns in one day, and done pick-up shots for a music video! Who does that?") and his charity work. "In ten years, perhaps I’ll have a different assessment of my time on the A-List: New York," Ruiz concludes, "but right now, socially it’s proving necessary." Every moment captured in an effort to prove that for Mike Ruiz life on the A-List...it just gets better.
You can catch Mike Ruiz on The A-List: New York on Logo, Monday nights at 10/9c.
Watch Mike Ruiz and the other cast members of The A-List: New York speak out against bullying: