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Cheyenne Jackson’s taste for old-school music has paid off

Cheyenne Jackson was a kid with tastes only a music teacher could love.

Well, a music teacher, or a parent or grandparent or anyone who in the mid-1980s would rather listen to Billie Holiday over Billy Idol.

While he was growing up in Washington State, Jackson’s music teachers told him he was born in the wrong era. But his tastes for old-school music paid off: Jackson went on to an impressive and varied show-biz career: He’s a Broadway star (credits include “All Shook Up,” “Damn Yankees” and “Finian’s Rainbow”), starred in the 9/11 movie “United 93” and has become a familiar face with roles on shows including “30 Rock,” “Glee” and now “American Horror Story.”

On Saturday Jackson is joining the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra to perform “Music of the Mad Men Era,” his homage to the tunes he loved as a teen – and a show that previously sold out Carnegie Hall.

Question: Did you embrace having different musical tastes as a kid?

Answer: I liked the fact I was different. I felt I was privy to some kind of musical secret. I felt like (the other kids) were missing out, because they were only listening to pop radio, and they don’t realize all this great music from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s was all around them.

Q: If you were growing up today, do you think your musical preferences would still set you apart?

A: I don’t think it’s as strange now. Musical tastes are so varied, and there’s also much in pop culture that fosters that. You look at “America’s Got Talent” or “American Idol” or “The Voice,” there’s a lot of these 14- and 15-year-old kids that go on these shows singing straight-up jazz, old-school stuff. I don’t take it as different nowadays.

Q: How have shows like those changed people’s perception of what it takes to achieve fame and success?

A: It depends on the person and on the show. Some amazing people have come out of reality shows. I remember the very first season of “American Idol” and Kelly Clarkson. But I do worry about all of these kids who are 15 and 16, and they have this expectation that as soon as they’re on the show, they’re going to be rich and famous and have a career forever. That’s not the case for 99 percent of the people. Unless you have a plan, a road map, and people around you, there’s nowhere to go but down. You really have to be grounded and have people with you. It’s rough to watch all these kids come out. That’s not the way I wanted to do it, and I’m glad it never happened like that for me.

Q: In what ways are you trying to push yourself as an actor?

A: I try to not do the same thing twice, and that’s difficult because once you gain some notoriety doing a certain thing, people want to see you do the same thing. For a while I played the kind of hunky dumb guy who’s not quite in on the joke. I’ve done different variations of that through different incarnations. That’s not interesting to me right now, because I’ve done it. On “Horror Story” I’m playing somebody who is a fashion icon, builds his own empire, does not suffer fools, and it’s very, very different for me. I like to always challenge myself to do something I haven’t done before.

Q: As you’ve become well known, what have you learned about the best ways to handle the spotlight?

A: I guess I’m still figuring that out. I look to my friends who are all across the board – some not very well known, and then some very, very famous. I watch how they handle it, and see what works and what doesn’t. I think as long as you remember why you’re doing what you’re doing, as long as you’re in show business for the right reasons: in order to create art, and not to become famous. As long as you keep yourself in check, and have fun with the whole thing and not take yourself too seriously, I think that’s been the key so far for me.


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