Adam Rippon: How the First Openly Gay Olympic Figure Skater Left His Mark on The Games and Our Hearts
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With good looks, dazzling talent, and personality to spare, US Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon is officially having his “moment” - and it won’t be his last. 

One of my earliest childhood memories was watching the Winter Olympic games. I was sitting on the edge of my parent’s king size bed, wrapped in blankets, unable to look away from the pairs figure skating event. I was enchanted by the grace and agility; terrified by the lifts and jumps. My early obsession could only mean one of two things: I was destined to be a figure skater, or I was destined to be gay. It was the latter.

My partner, Matthew (aka “The Shirtless Violinist”) had a strikingly similar experience growing up and watching the sport on television. In Matthew’s home, TV-watching was a rare occasion reserved only for very special events like their annual screening of The Music Man, Presidential inaugrations, and —yes— the Summer and Winter Olympics. Just as I did, Matthew (and his 2 siblings) huddled together on the end of their parent’s bed to watch the figure skaters in action. “Perched like birds on a branch” Matthew says, “we sat mesmerized.” 

And ever since those early childhood memories, we have both looked forward to the Winter Olympics for the same reason: Figure skating. And not just the pairs - but also the men, women, and even the ice dancers!

With all the glitz, glamour, and flashy outfits — and I’m just talking about the men — it’s almost impossible to believe that there hasn’t been an openly gay Olympic figure skater in history. Not even Johnny Weir, now a (wonderfully) sassy skating commentator, was waving his rainbow flag while he competed in the 2006 and 2010 games. Although he wore outrageous costumes and triple-axeled his way through routines set to Lady Gaga, Weir didn’t officially announce his sexuality until he released his memoir in 2011. 

As a young gay man growing up in rural Canada, I was afraid to come out of the closet. And as I got older I became more self-conscious about my love of figure skating. While other boys were eagerly discussing their favorite hockey players, I was wistfully daydreaming about David Pelltier in his gold medal performance at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. And as a teen I wasn’t just a closeted gay, I was also a closeted figure skating fan!

And all the while, although my gaydar was often in overdrive while watching the sport, there was not a single openly gay Olympian in the mix. Until now.

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Enter: 28-year old first time Olympian Adam Rippon from Scranton, Pennsylvania. He came up short when the team was selected for the Sochi games back in 2014, came out as gay on social media in 2015, then qualified for Pyeongchang soon after. Coincidence? Maybe not. Rippon’s message of self acceptance while simultaneously snubbing the Vice President for his stance on LGBTQ issues, is quickly (and deservedly) making him a household name. 

Oh yeah - and he’s really cute, too. 

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God, what we would have given for an Adam Rippon in this sport a decade ago! But alas, it’s 2018 and we finally have our first openly gay Olympic athletes (lest we omit Gus Kentworthy) and —in Rippon—our first openly gay Olympic medalist! How’s that for a title?

Recently, when asked what it’s like to be a gay athlete in sports, Rippon quipped “It’s exactly like being a straight athlete. Lots of hard work, but usually done with better eyebrows.”

Did we mention he’s really funny, too?

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If Adam Rippon isn’t the whole package, then we don’t know who is. 

Matthew and I watched and cheered as Rippon performed a nearly flawless short program to the tune of “Let Me Think About It” by Ida Corr vs Fedde La Grande. As promised by Johnny Weir just before Rippon took the ice, he delivered sass, energy, and perfect white teeth. And if the gay club anthem wasn’t enough to solidify his place in our collective hearts, then channeling Meryl Streep in his post skate interview certainly did the trick.

When asked how he felt about getting social media fist bumps from A-listers across the country, Rippon didn’t skip a beat:

“Well, you know, on the spectrum from Reese Witherspoon to Elmo, I’m at —like— a Meryl Streep. Does that make sense?”

We’ll let Meryl Streep answer that question.

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The following night, Matthew and I were on the edge of our seats as we watched Rippon’s final Olympic skate. Wearing a glittering green top and skating to “O” by Coldplay, Johnny Weir chimed in to inform us that Adam was portraying “a bird with a broken wing.” Never faltering, never wavering, Rippon combined strength and grace while the song lyrics filled the arena:

“Fly on, ride through. Maybe one day I can fly with you”

It was a powerful performance that surely left many viewers in tears. And when it ended and the crowd rose to their feet (and Matthew and I erupted into cheers) it wasn’t just for this final skate, but for his entire, impeccable Olympic journey. As Adam looked around and took it all in, he couldn’t help but squeeze just a little more out of the moment. Enthusiastically waving his arms to lift the crowd more and more, the cheers grew to a deafening roar. 

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This, ladies and gentlemen, was a moment. Not just for Adam; not just for the Olympics; not just for the LGBTQ community. But for all of us. And I got to experience it right next to my love, hand in hand. Mesmerized as the day we first watched the Winter Games as children. 

But with better eyebrows.

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Sex & Violins: The Journey from Sheltered to Shirtless
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Growing up in America’s bible belt with an ultra conservative mother and two younger siblings, I would never have imagined that one day I would answer to the name “Shirtless Violinist.” Had my mother ever dreamed such a thing could be realized, I am sure she would have immediately traded in my beloved violin for a harpsichord (because, honestly, “The Shirtless Harpsichordist” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) Thankfully, however, she didn’t have that kind of foresight and I—along with my brother and sister—continued to play the violin every day of my young life. We practiced together for six hours a day at our peak, and travelled the country and eventually the world with our own little group, “Two Hits and a Miss” (a pun that, I’ll admit, made my sister fume.)

Inevitably we went the way most child-sibling-string-groups go: We grew up and stopped playing together. But while my brother and sister went their own way, I never stopped playing. From symphony seats to movie soundtrack recordings, touring concert gigs and many, many weddings, I played as often as possible. I eventually parlayed my love of the violin into a successful teaching career, opening my own string studio in the Pacific Northwest using the Suzuki method. In doing so I discovered a passion for teaching children, and it’s something I will do until the day I die.

So you might be thinking - “Sure, that all sounds well and good - but what’s this about a shirtless violinist?” 

For years now, I have daydreamed about turning my love of classical music into fun music videos for YouTube. After watching several pianists, cellists, and other violinists do this successfully (never a harpsichordist. Never, ever a harpsichordist), I finally bit the bullet last summer and filmed my first video, a cover of Katy Perry’s Olympic-themed ballad “Rise.” But there was one little problem - how would I get people to actually click and watch my video? It’s not enough to be good or even great, musically (there are hundreds if not thousands of very talented, completely unnoticed musicians on YouTube), in today’s “insta” world, you need an edge.

So what would be my edge?

In addition to teaching music, I am also a fitness instructor and self-described health nut. When I’m not in the studio, I am often in the gym - so you would think the whole “shirtless” idea came to me rather quickly. Not true. It was actually my boyfriend, Paul, who finally looked me in the face and said “Matthew…you can do this, you can film these videos and post them online but you need to promise me one thing”

“Yes?” I asked.

“You gotta do it without your shirt on, otherwise people won’t watch” he laughed.

We both laughed, knowing full-well that I was the kid who wore a t-shirt in the swimming pool every summer in Kansas City. I was the boy who wore oversized, baggy sweatshirts year-round because “it wasn’t modest to show off your body.” I was the last person you’d expect to see parading around, half naked, with over a quarter million YouTube views, a live-streaming contract, and set to appear on a major television reality series next year (I would love to talk about that, but mums the word until further notice!)

So now I had the song and the edge. What about the actual video? Well, as luck would have it last summer, I was on a road trip from Seattle to San Francisco and back again, so I simply picked beautiful spots along the way to film snippets of the Katy Perry song. When my trip was over, I uploaded the footage on my Mac and used iMovie to piece the segments together. I recorded the song separately on a Yeti microphone and voila! That was my decidedly auspicious start. 

So here I am, now preparing to release my sixth music video since the summer (recording my songs in a professional studio and using Final Cut Pro to edit) and having the time of my life. Yes I thought the idea would get some attention, but not nearly as much as it has managed to garner. I have been lucky enough to get sponsorships for my last two music videos, from a fiddle shop in Florida to an underwear company in LA - I mean, seriously, how many people can say that?

Certainly not The Shirtless Harpsichordist - that I know for sure.

"You Can't Do That!" And How I Did
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“These 2 things don’t belong together. Be a model, or be a classical musician. You can’t do both!”

When I began my journey as The Shirtless Violinist last summer, I knew the idea would ruffle some feathers in the classical music world. As evidenced by the real comment above, some people in the community have a rather narrow perspective with little room for exploration and possibly ZERO room for — gasp! — being sexy.

Say what?! 

It’s definitely okay to feel sexy while you’re playing a classical instrument. Hell, other musical genres have been doing it for years and years. It’s not just inevitable; it’s needed! These two things certainly CAN belong together and small-minded comments only fuel my mission further.

But for every utterance of scandal, I have received a hundred comments of love and support. Like so many other people I know, I am simply an artist working on his art. That’s a very good thing, and I embrace criticism from those who dare to do the same, publicly.  Besides, what is art without a little adversity? 

I am on a quest to “make classical music sexy”, but it doesn’t stop there. From the very beginning - from the moment of incarnation - The Shirtless Violinist also proposed another daring idea:

To take the “shirt of my back” and help those in need. 

Through the use of my YouTube channel and other social media platforms, I have supported The True Colors Fund, Food Bank, and Combat Veteran Suicide Awareness. I have even launched my very own charity campaign called “The Shirt Off My Back Challenge” designed to provide clean clothes for the homeless and nutritious food for the hungry. To learn more about this special campaign, visit my website where I also sell t-shirts (go figure) and donate all of the proceeds to the charities listed above.

The charitable component of my endeavors remains to be a very important part of the bigger picture, and that’s not going to change.

I have just released my 9th music video, a stirring cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” complete with my own backup singers and filmed inside a beautiful church (don’t tell anyone, but when I got permission to use the sanctuary, I “forgot” to mention the whole “playing shirtless” part…let’s hope the Priest doesn’t watch YouTube!)

“Hallelujah” was the song I was playing in my living room when I had the idea to create the “Shirtless Violinist” 6 months ago - so it seems only fitting that I would give it some love, but I had to figure out how to make my version fresh and new. I guess I could have decided that playing this classic tune on a violin, without a shirt, would be original enough - but I truly feel this is a song that requires a little something “extra.” An idea of mine had been brewingfor a few months when I realized I had never heard an instrument backed up by singers (it’s always the other way around!)

So I found this lovely little group called “The Sound Four” and I thought - YES! That’s it!

Have you ever seen a SOLO violin backed up by a QUARTET of singers? I sure haven’t! If you listen closely (I dare you to close your eyes) I truly feel the “voice” of the violin shines in a way I’ve never quite heard before. It’s very exciting to be part of a new “brainstorm” like this one, and it’s just the beginning of many more exciting ideas to come.

I am preparing to shoot my next video, a high-energy tribute to the Oscar-nominated film La La Land, complete with 20 choreographed dancers on a massive stage. I’ll even be dancing for the first time (watch out Lindsey Stirling!)

Next month,  I will be timing my video release with Disney’s new live-action version of “Beauty and the Beast.” Will I be Beauty or will I be the Beast? You’ll just have to wait and see (hint: I look great in yellow!)

Videos aside, I have also been fortunate enough to catch the eyes of 3broadcasting companies and am in talks to appear on major network television shows this coming Summer and Fall.

If there’s something I can tell you about my adventures as The Shirtless Violinist it’s this: 

These two things do belong together (and you can do both.)