He is an Indianapolis native, reality TV star, and all of 24 years old now. As a New York–based model, Austin Armacost once infamously dated fashion designer Marc Jacobs. Boys become men, but this one did so on camera, for the world to see. He’s one of the hedonistic stars of The A List: New York, a self-descriptive, loud and rowdy program on the LOGO channel following the lives of six gay and bisexual men in New York City. The show is produced by the Manhattan-based True Entertainment, also responsible for the like-minded Real Housewives of Atlanta. It is now appearing on UK and European TV.
Armacost returned to Indy for Spotlight 2012, a May 7 showcase at Clowes Memorial Hall on the Butler University campus that saw performances from 20 local artists and groups ranging from opera to orchestra, from the theatrical to, in Tasha Jones, the poetic. The event netted $401,000 through ticket sales and donations for charity partner Indiana AIDS Fund.
IM caught up with Armacost the day after Spotlight for his thoughts on that event, his Indiana ties, marriage activism, his own half-British union, growing up on-screen, and more. (Oh, he’s not really a fan of the Big Apple anymore.)
IM: You came in for last night’s Spotlight event. What did you think of the performances? What did you like best?
AA: Some of the performances were incredible, and some put me to sleep. But the reason they were performing shined through, and for that reason I appreciated each and every person that got up on that stage.
IM: Had you been to the event before? What prompted your attendance this time?
AA: No, I have never been to Spotlight in the past. I first found out about it through my manager mentioning something to me. After looking into the event, I found it to be a great fundraiser and a beautiful way to help raise funds for people battling this disease. I have attended The Fire Island Dance Festival for DRA (Dancers Responding to AIDS), and it was the same concept. It is a fun, entertaining way to raise money. Not just your same ol’, same ol’ boring charity event.
AA: Well, I was invited by the directors themselves to come. When I attend events as a celebrity guest, I try to raise as much awareness as possible since I do have a very large number of followers on all of my social media. I have been given a voice by my TV show and am learning to use it in a way that helps people.
IM: Spotlight’s take on the night was $401,000 toward HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs statewide, the second time in a row it has taken in $400k-plus, and nearly $5 million in its 17 years. Your thoughts?
AA: It is amazing to me that people are able to contribute so much to a cause that probable hasn’t impacted them personally. HIV/AIDS is a common part of life for many people in many different parts of the world. Indiana, however, not so much. So I think it is wonderful for people to get involved with a cause such as this in the Midwest and stand up for people who are affected by it.
IM: Indy native Ryan Murphy, creator of Glee and more, basically shirks his hometown and wants nothing to do with it. Why is it different for you? What does Indy or being from here mean to you?
AA: Well, first off, there are times when I am very proud of my state, and there are times when I am very disappointed in my state. I will never write off where I am from because, of course, that has helped mold me into who I am. But I will feel more comfortable in other parts of the country and in other countries that do have a more socially accepting mindset toward my community. My hope in staying strong to my roots is to inform people. Many of my relatives and friends have never left Indiana and have not experienced other ways to look at society. I have been fortunate enough to travel all over the world and gain knowledge and experience from several different walks of life and transmit that level of acceptance to my more sheltered of friendships and relationships.
IM: Are there local spots that you must hit when you’re in town? How often do you come back? Your mom is here?
AA: My entire family is in Indiana—my mother, who attended, and my father who recently went through shoulder surgery, so he could not join us at Spotlight. I try to get back at least once a month, if not more frequently. I am lucky enough right now to be young and have time to travel. For me now, a trans-Atlantic, eight-hour flight home to the UK is like catching a bus down the street. Anytime I get on an airplane now when the flight is longer than three hours and I don’t have to clear passport control and customs, it feels worthless. [laughs] Local spots … I love to walk the canal at night, especially when [husband] Jake is with me!
IM: You’re known for playing yourself or just being yourself on The A List: New York, and you’ve been dubbed the show’s arguable villain. Some or most all of the guys have unflattering portrayals at times. Is that simply an effect of all the hours of footage that are shot?
AA: What it boils down to is drama. [Emphasis his.] We do film for hours on end, and most of it ends up on the cutting-room floor. Most of our more endearing qualities usually do not make it to air. But that is what reality TV is all about. So no, none of us gets too upset with what is shown because we know that is only a small glimpse of our overall personalities.
IM: How do you think people act differently when they’re on camera, or just when they know they’re being watched?
AA: To be quite honest, after the first few weeks of filming, the cameras seemed to disappear and I forgot about them. None of us, I would say, changed at all from on camera to off camera. We may have just been a bit more vigilant about what we were saying.
IM: Activism is important to you now, relating to equal rights. Do you feel like you’ve grown up on camera?
AA: Absolutely. But I feel that if the cameras weren’t there, I still would have been growing. I have had to face a lot of harsh reality being in a same-sex, bi-national relationship, and there are times when I have wanted to give up. But as I continue to advocate for this cause, it feels ever more fulfilling. I am lucky to be in a financial situation where I can travel back and forth to the UK. Also, I consider myself lucky to be with a partner from a country that does recognize our relationship. I am a full UK citizen now. People think that America is so progressive, but let me tell you, we are not! However, watching the last 18 months of what is happening for the GLBT community, I can say we have made more progress in that time than we have in 20 years!
IM: You are married now, and to a Brit. What has that domestic life been like for the past three years?
AA: I love it. I am on the verge of domestication and really enjoy it. From ages 16 to 21 I was an out-of-control, hell-raising party boy, but my husband has helped to transform me into a proper gentlemen. I had a great time when I was younger and regret nothing, but as I grow older, I feel myself getting anchored more into my relationship and enjoying quality at-home time with Jake.
IM: You don’t live stateside, at least in part because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA]. Do you hope to return to the U.S. if and when that is repealed and have a home here? And would that be in New York?
AA: Jake and I most certainly plan to have a home in the U.S. if or when DOMA is repealed. We are both realists and understand that there is a possibility of that not happening, and in that case would have to remain out of the United States. But if this awful piece of unconstitutional legislature is repealed, yes, we would love to have a place in America. No, not New York—neither one of us are huge fans of the city. It is a great place if you are young, ambitious, and single. Not really a great place for a couple like us. We are more outdoors and laidback country folk!
IM: What does your husband Jake [Lees] think of Indy?
AA: We met while he was completing a 12-month internship through his university in the UK here in Indianapolis. He loves this city—the people, the cleanliness, the city itself. He enjoys all aspects of Indianapolis.
IM: What’s next on your schedule, and as your activism goes? Career-wise?
AA: Well my castmate Derek [Saathoff] and I are heading to Vienna, Austria, next week for Life Ball, which is Europe’s largest HIV/AIDS fundraising gala. Jake finishes school the day before, so he will be meeting us in Austria as well. As far as my career goes, I am working on a few projects that are still in developmental stages, so I cannot talk about them. But first I need to know which country I am going to be living in. (laughs) Jake and I are working on employment for him to obtain a visa for the U.S., but if that doesn’t work we may end up back in England or head down to Australia where Jake has family.
IM: That doesn’t sound shabby. Last question: Are you happy that I didn’t ask about Marc Jacobs?
AA: (laughs) Well, surprisingly enough, I rarely ever get asked about Marc anymore. That was one of my goals in doing the show, to separate my name from being synonymous with his. I am glad I have achieved my own level of success but will never take for granted the opportunities that friendship/relationship has afforded me. Marc is a wonderful person, and I wish him tons of happiness. I don’t think, however, that he is going to find it in porn stars or prostitutes. Which seems to be his favorite industry when looking for a man of the month. (wink)
Photos, left to right, by Max DeCherchi and Jonathan Scott (at Spotlight 2012)
>> BONUS: Poet Tasha Jones, a Spotlight audience favorite, in a designer gown and in her own words
>> ALSO: Our review of the 2012 Spotlight show’s performances