Sam Harris captured the heart of America 30 years ago. Dressed in a baggy hobo suit and topped with curly blonde locks, the young singer took the world of showbiz by storm, singing of a magical world, “somewhere over a rainbow” and winning the first “Star Search” title in 1984.
Today, he is a star of Broadway and television and has dozens of hit songs to his credit. And he still attributes his success to his “blind optimism.”
Harris left Oklahoma at the age of 15 and earned his high school diploma by correspondence in order to pursue his dreams. The aspiring singer was “schlepping around playing in dumps and dives” when a scout for a new TV talent competition discovered him.
“I was in a room in Hollywood with nine or 10 people. It was so small, I sang in the doorway with the piano in the other room,” he recalled.
At first, he was considered “too theatrical” for the show, but producers reconsidered. The rest was history.
“It snowballed and turned into something that was giant. Fame kissed me and stuck his tongue down my throat,” Harris said with a chuckle. Indeed.
Blind optimism or not, the path to stardom wasn’t easy, though, for the young man was told by his father at the age of five that “life was a bowl of shit” and later attempted suicide.
Always challenging himself creatively, Harris most recently turned to writing.
“I love whatever I’m doing at the moment. I’m one of those guys who jumps in with both feet. When I’m doing a Broadway show, I still get a thrill walking through a stage door. I also love doing a TV series and not singing. This newest thing, I’ve written this book, is something that I’ve really loved. You have to tear me away from the keyboard when I’m writing,” he says.
Titled, “Ham: Slices of a Life,” the semi-autobiographical book is a collection of essays and observations, not necessarily told in chronological order. He describes growing up in rural Oklahoma in the buckle of the Bible Belt, a mystical gay kid who dreamed of performing, his complicated relationship with his father and humorous moments from his career, including an episode at Liza Minnelli’s ill-advised wedding to “the man whose name shall go unmentioned.”
He also touches on his biggest role, yet — father — contemplating the incredible changes to his life after he and his partner of more than 20 years adopted a son.
“(Fatherhood) informs everything I do, he is the priority of my everything. If you’re a good parent, it’s your priority, forces you to be the best person when you’re with them or not,” Harris explained. “My life has been about me for a very long time, but there’s no room for a star in the family.”
Not surprisingly, the book soon took on a life of its own, as Harris built a stage show around the stories in “Ham.” But Harris warns, it’s not like most one-man shows. Audiences should not expect a story and then a song. Instead, the songs emerge from within the stories, what he calls a “play with music.”
But, when Harris plays a role, he’s interpreting the words and experiences of others. In his show, “there’s no wall, there’s still a persona in the middle, there is truth.”
As the performer looks back at his career and life, the blind optimist still prevails:
“There were no role models, not an actor, a politician, an athlete, anyone who was open and comfortably gay as a person. It seemed impossible. To not only have been alive at this time, but to be a part of it politically and have this life and this extraordinary child is something I could never have imagined. What an amazing time, it’s an extraordinary blessing”
If You Go:
What: Sam Harris “Ham: Slices of a Life”
When: Thursday, Feb. 20, 8 p.m.
Where: Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 144th St., Aventura
Info: Tickets $39.50 at AventuraCenter.org