It’s Friday night at Chippendales, so the audience of mostly bachelorette parties is rowdy and sloppy-exuberant. The emcee, Jaymes Vaughan—tall, tan, blond, blue-eyed, square-jawed with Indiana Jones regrowth and muscle-y muscles—is basically a human Ken doll with a goofy sense of humor. And I have spent all day following him around in the name of … um, research. Watching Jaymes cavort onstage, I realize the effort I spent politely averting my eyes when he changed clothes throughout the day was wasted.
Jaymes calls for three volunteers, and women scramble over each other to be chosen, at one point requiring security to lead a few back to their seats. For this act, Jaymes hosts the Chipp Shot game show, where each of the three ladies must complete a challenge, and whoever garners the most audience applause wins.
Jaymes asks the first contestant to show the audience her best dance moves, which she does, as enthusiastically and seductively as possible.
Contestant No. 2 must display her best sexual position. To help her demonstrate, Jaymes lies on his back on center stage. The girl leaps on top of him, voraciously dry-humping him, tourist party dress akimbo. He meets her movement, bearing a facial expression of raw sexuality. He’s no longer the person who had, in the dressing room pre-show, expressed concern about the classiness of selling erotic toys in the Chippendales gift shop.
The third contestant is tasked with the challenge of applying a condom to a banana in a way that will garner applause. She chooses her mouth. Jaymes holds the banana. Applause is garnered.
Meanwhile, a bachelorette/lawyer from Canada is whispering words of feminism in my ear, “Even when they objectify men, they’re objectifying women.” After the show, she will mob Jaymes for photos.
OK, OK, show’s over. That one, at least. Chippendales runs seven nights a week, so you could see it tonight, whatever tonight is.
Imagine that you are the fan favorite on CBS’ The Amazing Race. You are predicted to win first place, and with it, a prize of $1 million. In fact, you’re so close to winning that you’ve kinda already spent the money in your head. Not on frivolous things, but on your family, your sick dad. And then, at the last second, you don’t win. A taxicab screws you, leaving you behind, costing you minutes that you need to win the race. You watch the cab driving away with what might as well be your $1 million. Second place. No cash prize. Fame but no fortune. Where do you go from there?
This is what happened to Jaymes, 31, and his teammate James Davis, 28, the duo of superhumanly beautiful Chippendales dancers. And they are in a full sprint to use their Warholian gift of 15 minutes of fame to reset the clock. It’s like using wishes to wish for more wishes. Considering their made-for-their-close-up looks, cufflinks-and-bow-tie name recognition and genial personalities, it just might work.
The more outgoing of the two, Jaymes is the duo’s de facto leader. He’s the type of extrovert who lets loose a Southern accent when he gets excited. The Twitter aficionados joke that Jaymes (@JaymesV, approximately 9,000 followers) is “tweet” and James (@James_MNE, approximately 4,200 followers) is “retweet.” But their friendship dates back further than microblogging. In 2007, the best friends dared each other to audition for Chippendales because they wanted to “see the world on their world tour.” They got the job and have been with the male revue ever since.
Jaymes still smarts from the Amazing Race heartbreak. His father, a Vietnam vet, died of a rare cancer associated with Agent Orange in March. Jaymes, who wears his father’s dog tags, wishes that his dad could have seen him triumph. He also wishes that he could have wiped away the medical bills. To that effort, Jaymes has started a campaign called ForgetCancerNow.com to help raise money for his father’s bills. He hopes to eventually turn it into a full-fledged charity. But with his characteristic positivity, Jaymes finds the bright side of not winning $1 million, saying that the loss has motivated him to chase success instead of relaxing into moneyed stagnation.
So how does one go about building a star career? Jaymes starts with a protein shake and a serving of entertainment news on his big-screen TV in his immaculate house—by a mountain, in the suburbs. (He grew up with very little, so he always dreamed of having his house look like a magazine. Mission accomplished.) This energizes him for jam-packed days, where his strategy seems to be: Try every strategy possible. Did I mention that he’s also a real estate agent in his spare time? “If you’ve got 85 pots on the fire,” Jaymes says, “one of them is going to boil.” Here are a few of those 85 pots:
Music: It might seem like music would be outside the realm of a Chippendales dancer. But Jaymes, who emcees and sings in the show, has been a singer longer than he’s donned the cuffs and bow tie. In fact, he performed and sang in Rio’s Show in the Sky, bouncing frenetically between Chipps and the casino floor until the show closed in March.
On the day I rode along with Jaymes, he stopped by his producer Jason Tanzer’s house to record some music. Jaymes describes his style as “pop plus white-guy rapping.” The sound is stylish and upbeat, an audio incarnation of the performer’s personality. So far, that formula is working. At the end of the recording session, Jaymes and Tanzer discovered that the first royalty check for his single, “Tonight,” had arrived, and it contained purchases from around the world.
“I remember doing music this time last year. Nobody would sneeze at it,” Jaymes says. “This year, the day my single came out People magazine did a story about it. Thank you, Amazing Race.” Jaymes has a history of perseverance, thinking of himself as a hard-working singer rather than one with the most talent. Leaving the studio, Jaymes told a story of getting dropped from show choir in high school. He dreamed of taking a summer job as a performer at a local amusement park, but without the help of the choir teachers, he faced slim odds. Not to be deterred, Jaymes approached his middle school teachers, who helped him prepare in their free time. He won the part, beating out his classmates. After all these years, Jaymes still remembers the teachers’ names, Kathy Higgins and Beth Harvey of Bailey Bridge Middle School in Chesterfield County, Virginia. If he ever wins a Grammy, he’ll take them as his dates.
Jaymes is also working on an album with James, who plays the guitar in Chippendales and in a metal band called My Name Engraved. Jaymes figures that since they are more famous together than apart, they might as well make music together. They have already booked 17 gigs around the nation, including gay pride events (Jaymes is gay and has a boyfriend; James is straight and has a girlfriend). The only catch: Jaymes hopes to convert James to pop music.
Reality Television: After their success on Amazing Race, a plethora of production companies approached Jaymes and James, offering to produce a spin-off. The duo turned down the offers, instead opting to produce their own TV show. “That’s what my $100,000 education is for,” says Jaymes, who majored in electronic media and minored in history and public relations at Virginia Commonwealth University. So far, Jaymes is executive producer—in conjunction with Atomic Television—of a travel show called, What the Hell Do We Do Here, where Jaymes and James seek and follow the travel advice of passersby. The show has the friendly dynamic that made them popular on Amazing Race. Jaymes seems to enjoy the producer role as much as he enjoys the screen time. They plan to shop the pilot in May.
There’s another reality show in the works, about Jaymes’ life and circle of performer friends. The production company that does Giuliana & Bill is producing it, but all other details are undetermined. And, of course, Jaymes and James would jump at the chance to return to Amazing Race.
TV News: News anchor Rachel Smith of KVVU Fox 5’s More show describes Jaymes as a “one-take wonder” because he is a natural in front of the camera. On the day of my ride-along, he taped with Smith as a replacement for the regular anchor, who was on vacation. Jaymes also co-hosted his regular show on Fox 5, More Access Weekend with Lindsey Simon.
When it was time to change into his on-air outfit, provided by John Varvatos, there was some excitement in the newsroom. Apparently, last time he changed clothes in the corner of the room. No such luck this time.
Later, between takes, Jaymes commented that it was hot under the lights in his layered suit. I looked up to discover that he had unbuttoned his shirt—revealing ogle-inducing pecs and abs—to “keep the borrowed clothes from getting sweaty.” The camera woman replied with a hint of admiration, “You’re not used to wearing clothes, are you?”
Celebrity Appearances: While it may not seem like our hometown hunks are all that famous—we’ve been accustomed to having them on team Chippendales for years—wherever they go, people want their pictures.
Over lunch at Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza, the duo explained that Amazing Race brought them a contingent of pre-teen fans. Principals invite them to speak at career days. I found this a little hard to believe … until a male customer in his mid-40s asked for a photo with them for his daughter. Jaymes took a sheet of paper and wrote a greeting to the daughter, which he displayed in the photo. Later that night, when Jaymes was scarfing down a sub sandwich pre-show, the two got called down by request of a tourist family with a gaggle of tween daughters. Graciously, as always, photos were taken, and then more by other people, including a woman in her 40s, who wasn’t “into this sort of thing,” but said her daughter was. While Chippendales is by no means kid-appropriate, seeing two friendly, buff teammates on Amazing Race offers a neutered version of masculinity, putting them in the safe tween-idol zone.
Capitalizing on this popularity, the guys follow a packed schedule of celebrity appearances, often for charity, even if they (thankfully) haven’t reached the Holly Madison level of ubiquity. The duo’s next big appearance will be a special performance in the April 21 AIDS fundraiser Las Vegas Broadway Bares: The Barest Show On Earth.
Chippendales: There are only 24 Chippendales in existence at any one time: 12 in Vegas and 12 on tour. Of those 24, Jaymes is one of their only stars and the only openly gay member. In an informal poll, people’s reactions to this fact fall into two camps: One, “Aren’t they all gay anyway?” (No, they’re not.) Two, “Can one be an openly gay Chippendale?” (Yes.) In fact, it’s practically ideal. If you’re going to fantasize about masculine perfection, better to do so without the messy possibility of dating. Or, as I like to think, “If I can’t have him, no woman can.”
Jaymes doesn’t spend much time talking about his sexuality, and he leaves his boyfriend out of the limelight. But here’s what he had to say when he hosted the Aid for AIDS of Nevada walk on April 14: “This past year was the first year that Chippendales was like, ‘Hey, you know what, we’ve got something for everybody [construction workers, vampires, party rockers and military officers]. We’re also going to have an openly gay Chippendale.’ They let me do it, and they’ve been super super supportive. A big shout-out to Chippendales for letting us do that. Everybody’s welcome now: gay, straight, in-between, everything.”