(Candy with her alter ego Will Harrell. Photo by Rick Odell)
An Interview with Candy Samples
A self-described "good Presbyterian woman", Candy Samples hails from Atlanta, Georgia-- and has the accent to prove it! But today, Ms. Samples is one of the hardest working gals in her adopted town, New York City. The flame-haired chanteuse writes all her own songs, which include such titillating titles as "Boy Crazy", "If I Had Only Left (Two Shots Early)", "Sweet Scandal", and "Green Bean Casserole" ("Everyone can relate to a church potluck!" Candy says of the song.). Equal parts sweet and sassy--and more than a little sexy too-- Ms. Samples is motivated largely by her M.O. of using her powers for good. She has spent a seemingly infinite number of hours performing for her favorite philanthropic causes. Candy's most recent single is her homage to the the fuzzy fraternity known as the Bear community-- named "Bear Season". With an infectious beat and truly priceless lyrics ("I used to be 'boy crazy', but I can't wait for bigger game! I'm locked and loaded with two shots, one kiss; tapping out to stake my claim!"), the video for "Bear Season" features, among other eye candy (ahem...), the diva clad in a black negligee on a bed full of hot-to-trot, half-naked Bears. Candy recalls, "I was a little nervous going into that, but I think that it came off!" (Which makes me ask, "What came off? The negligee or the video?!" Candy responds, "Both!")
You can watch the video for "Bear Season" here.
Ms. Samples is going to be busier than ever these next few months. She tells me, "There's a lot of new music that's gonna be happening: a new single this summer, and possibly an EP at the top of the year. I'm writing a lot. I'm doing a lot of ballads. It's an introspective Candy. I have stories I want to tell. Some of them aren't all sunshine and roses... and some of them are just about ME-- the person that I am. " She also has her own podcast on I-Tunes, "The Candy Show".
Candy Samples spoke with me about her upcoming endeavors, her most passionate cause, her biggest influence (You'll never guess!), and about sometimes being confused with that OTHER Candy Samples!
JR: Thank you so much for meeting me, Candy!
CS: Thank you for having me, Jed. Oh, that sounds so naughty! (Laughs)
JR: Exactly. The naughty side of Candy does come out!
CS: ... Every now and then!
JR: Sometimes you have to "un-straighten your stockings"... Isn't that how they say it?
CS: Oh, I just take 'em off! (Laughs)
JR: Even better!
CS: I'm a good Presbyterian woman, but I've got needs too. It gets hot down South, ya know!
JR: I know. I've seen "A Streetcar Named Desire"! So, first off I have to ask. "Candy Samples". When people hear that name, do they still get you confused with that notorious big-titted porn star of the past with the same name?
CS: They do! I did an AIDS benefit concert years ago: the Miss Pool Slut Pageant in Atlanta, Georgia. I was given my name and my title-- Miss Hershey Kisses-- by a bunch of gay dudes in Atlanta who had never heard of the original porn actress with that name. I won "Miss Pool Slut 1995", took that name, and ran with it-- and then found out years later that there was someone in the adult film world who used that name. You can look at my chest and see the difference! I'm a modest "C" cup!
JR: (Laughs) Well, you're giving the OTHER Candy Samples a run for her money, if she's still alive!
CS: I believe that she is... but I believe that she is retired from that life.
JR: Yeah, I should hope so. At this point I'm sure her nipples are scraping the ground, poor girl! Gravity can be very unkind!
CS: She's on Medicare! (Laughs)
JR: So, congratulations on the success of The Candy Wrappers, your AIDS Walk NY 2013 team, last month. Is HIV and AIDS awareness your biggest philanthropic cause?
CS: Yes. Anything that will get people to talk and raise awareness about HIV and AIDS; and to encourage people to get tested; and to get people to know their status... and either (1) remain negative or, if they are positive, (2) to seek treatment and take care of themselves. Let's stop spreading the virus!
JR: Right! Are there any other causes that you feel particularly passionate about?
CS: AIDS work is my calling. But also, I feel passionate about LGBT youth. I did some stuff years ago with Marriage Equality New York, with my performance troupe Gender Offenders-- with Chic and Sassy. They have since left New York City. We did a lot of work with Cathy Marino-Thomas, President of Marriage Equality USA.
JR: You are definitely one of the busiest gals in town!
CS: I do a lot of benefits. You have to use your powers for good, as I say-- and it's a great way to get out into the community. You can be social, and have a good time, and also help raise money and raise awareness. I think it's fun to party with a purpose!
JR: Yes! While we're on that subject: What upcoming projects do you have planned for the year?
CS: As you know, I performed at the release party for Freddy Freeman's CD, "Just Bear With Me"... and Freddy will be producing my new single "Queen of the Bears", coming out at the end of the summer. It's the follow up to "Bear Season", and the Bears are gonna love it!
JR: Wow! While we're on the subject of Bears-- one of my favorite subjects-- I know that the video for "Bear Season" got a lot of hits on YouTube and got a lot of attention...
CS: Yes! It got a great response from the community... and actually that's how I met Freddy Freeman. He saw the video and in about 24 hours, he e-mailed me and asked me to host the Bearapalooza Tenth Anniversary. I'll be honest: I wrote "Bear Season" to get laid. (Both laugh.) It was my "Le Freak"! I wanted to get a lot of Bears in me... so I wrote "Bear Season"! I love the Bears... and I want to love them more!
JR: Did it work?
CS: Not so much! (Both laugh) Not so much in that regard, but it did get me introduced to a lot of wonderful people, and I've been able to do a lot of wonderful things... so I've got a great network of friends, and I have a Bear family that I did not have before! It's just been wonderful.
JR: Where does your affinity for the big hairy guys come from?
CS: I don't know! I'm just a good Southern woman! I love 'em furry, and I'm a petite flower, so I like 'em bigger! I like all types of guys, and I think that's why I've never really fit into one particular scene in the community. When I started to become friends with men in the Bear community, they really welcomed me into their world, both as a boy and as a drag queen. I got a lot of encouragement to keep going, especially since I started recording my own music and going that route. As you know, every drag artist-- Reverend Yolanda is a great example-- evolves over time. I went from being a karaoke hostess and MC to going out and concentrating on my original music, which is something I wanted to do as a teenager. I got sidetracked by the "theater bug" and moved to New York City with that Broadway dream. Then, suddenly Candy crept back into my life, and I love it. I think that the universe takes you on a journey, and you should embrace it and follow it.
JR: Well, we can all be grateful for Candy coming back! So, what's the hardest part about being an independent singer/songwriter in this day and age?
CS: Booking gigs and making money. I'm a one-man band. I work with a wonderful collaborator, Jesse Sklar. I've also worked with other fabulous people like Alan Parker, and when I was with Gender Offenders I worked with two wonderful queens, Chic and Sassy. You get asked to do a lot of benefits, which I love. If it's for HIV/AIDS, I drop everything and I'll be there in a heartbeat. But the hardest thing is getting gigs and getting people to buy the music. They'll watch the YouTube video... but go to I-Tunes and download it! I'm the cheapest date in town: 99 cents and you get a little piece of Candy. And I'm sugar free... but still sweet! Perfect for the Bears who may be watching their calories!
JR: Not the Bears I know. The ones I know never met a hamburger or hot dog they didn't like... including me!
CS: Speak the truth and shame the devil! (Laughs)
JR: Now, let's talk about New Orleans, one of your favorite places in America...
CS: I do a big benefit every year at Southern Decadence for Food for Friends, a part of New Orleans' AIDS Task Force. I do that benefit through a group who travels down there, Decadent Duck Events. They have a huge following: over 300 men take over the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel-- and it's become a big family. I started with a small show five ears ago, and it has grown and grown, and we raise more money each year. People come out of the woodwork for my "Sunday Services". It's at 11 AM before the Parade, on the Sunday of Decadence. So, you know it's dedication when people get their asses up that early to see a show!
JR: No doubt! Better than any "morning eye opener", that's for sure!
CS: It's a good crowd down there. I go for Decadence every year, because Decadence is my Christmas. Being a Southern person, New Orleans is very much home to me. It's a magical little place, and I have a great time. There are so many people who work there in the Bourbon Street area, and I get to go home and "see my family"!
JR: I haven't been there yet, but it is one my "list". There are many reasons to visit New Orleans: for the food, for the history, for the shopping... and to help the economy as well.
CS: All of the above, baby! Everyone should go to New Orleans. Make a pilgrimage! I hope to see you there soon.
JR: Now, let's talk about "RuPaul's Drag Race". You have to hand it to the creators of that show, because not only is it a fun show with really hardcore, dedicated fans... but you have to give credit to RuPaul for contributing to the resurgence of drag in pop culture and appreciation for drag artists. A lot of girls look at being on "RuPaul's Drag Race" as the pinnacle of drag visibility and an affirmation of success. Do you feel that way?
CS: I feel like: Yes, the show is great visibility. Is it something that you'll see Candy Samples doing? I doubt it. I don't think I'd fit that RuPaul "brand". I spent some time reading the contract online, and was ready to apply in February. I was seriously considering it. I don't think that Candy would be a good fit for the show. I'm not the "Supermodel of the World" type. I'm a good Southern Presbyterian woman! I really consider myself a storyteller. I describe myself as more of a "Carole King of drag queens". I like the smaller venues and enjoy the smaller crowds... and enjoy sharing my story. You're not gonna see any splits on the runway by me!
JR: Not yet, anyway!
CS: Well, never say "never"! Fame is a lot like love, and my Mama always said that love don't pay the rent! You can be famous and not see a penny of it. And, I'm a little prudent in what I do and the shows I do. I get myself out there, and I'm very happy how I present myself, and I think the fans really enjoy it. As long as I'm doing what I'm doing, I'm in good!
JR: So, in addition to Carole King, who are your role models?
CS: My biggest influence-- and I'm being totally serious-- as a young gay man coming up into the world was Debbie Gibson. She was the new thing in town, and I wanted to be just like her. I wanted to write, record, and produce my songs-- and I'm doing it. And she's still older than me!
(We then both exchange our Debbie Gibson stories. I share how I first saw a teenage Debbie Gibson at Madison Square Garden back in 1988, when I was still in high school... and then saw her again when she performed at New York City Pridefest in 2001, where she was flanked by two shirtless Chippendales dancers. Candy recalls seeing Debbie on her Electric Youth World Tour and later, on her first trip to New York City, sitting third row when Ms. Gibson was starring in "Les Mis" on Broadway ['I could see her sweat!' recalls Candy.])
JR: When Candy Samples is not writing, or producing, or performing, what does she like to do for fun?
CS: I like to cook, and I love to watch HGTV. My friends will attest to it, that it's the white noise that goes on in the background of my apartment. Usually it's music, and shows, and benefits, and... that's about it. But it's a good life. Who would want anything more? I could use a boyfriend or two. Gotta work on that! (Laughs) If any of your fans are single, Jed, let me know! I can cook... and you love my sweet tea!
JR: Yes, I do!
CS: I made you a pitcher, because I knew you were coming!
JR: Just serve them your famous "Green Bean Casserole" on the first date, and they'll be yours forever. They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. I personally prefer to aim a little bit lower!
CS: Well, I've tried that once or twice too.
JR: (Laughs) Oh, Candy, don't ruin your reputation now!
CS: I have a naughty side! My listeners know that!
You can see more of Candy's naughty side-- as well as her nice side, and all other sides-- at www.SampleMyCandy.com. She'll appear next on July 6th and August 10th at New York City's landmark cabaret venue The Duplex in "Candy on the Keys" where she'll be showcasing some new material and "tickling the ivories" of that famous Duplex piano. Don't miss it!