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AGT’s Prince Poppycock: Not Just Some Clown Act

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

The top 4 finalists for "America's Got Talent" have finally been chosen, with all of the "Gong Show"-reminiscent freaks and novelty acts weeded out long ago. (Chips, Mary Ellen, Pup...we hardly knew ye.) So among the final four, painted-faced opera dandy Prince Poppycock stands out like, well, a poppy-colored peacock. With his pancake-thick mime makeup, satin pantaloons, harlequin leotards, and towering powdered wigs, this flamboyant fop is a dashing if bizarre figure--imagine if Klaus Nomi had had a starring role in Dangerous Liaisons, or if David Bowie circa 1980, fully clothed in his "Ashes To Ashes" video glam-jester attire, had tackled opera (or, as I like to call it, "fopera") along with new wave. Or maybe if the Upper Crust ever staged a rock operetta.

Sure sounds like a novelty act, huh? It would be, except the man behind the makeup has the goods to pull all this off. Simply put, John Quale's got talent.

John Quale, who is actually quite ruggedly handsome without his kabuki cosmetics, is the creator of the Prince Poppycock character, and he's been performing since he was 11, when he sang with the Washington Opera children's choir at the Kennedy Center. His later accomplishments included fronting a synth-pop group called Endora, releasing a solo album titled Worldview, starring in the award-winning off-Broadway musical The Beastly Bombing, and penning the civil rights anthem "Rise Up & Shout" for a Sundance Channel documentary about gay L.A. artists.

In 2006, genius John came up with the Poppycock character, an ostentatious alter-ego that allowed him to combine his love of opera with his many other cool musical influences (which, according to the bio on his website, include Depeche Mode, the Smiths, Gilbert & Sullivan, and, of course, David Bowie). Slots opening for everyone from the Sounds to Andrew WK to the Dresden Dolls to Ann Magnuson soon followed, and now he's even working on a debut Poppycock album with Kristian Hoffman (an underground legend who's collaborated with Rufus Wainwright, Russell Mael of Sparks, Congo Norvell, Van Dyke Parks, Maria McKee, Lydia Lunch, and even Klaus Nomi himself).

And the good Prince has even released a couple singles, with the awesomely OTT, absolutely fabulous titles "The Last Unicorn" and "I Pop For Poppycock," which can be heard on the official Poppycock website. So what's not to love? Prince Poppycock has had Reality Rocks' vote from his very first audition, and he still has it after his finale performance this week, even if his "Nessum Dorma" performance didn't impress Piers Morgan:

 

Actually, it's kind of amazing to me that Prince Poppycock made it this far on "AGT." This show is all about all-American, apple-pie entertainment--sob stories about homeless vets, terminal illness survivors, undiscovered subway buskers, insufferably adorable children, and small-town chicken farmers abound (and this show's U.K. counterpart, "Britain's Got Talent," spawned the grandma-friendly likes of sweet shut-in Susan Boyle). Prince Poppycock just seems too weird, too hip, too avant garde, to play in Peoria. Judge Howie Mandel even voiced concerns early on this season, about whether or not middle America would accept someone like Poppycock.

But I guess Howie's critique was just poppycock, because, incredibly, viewers voted the Prince through to the top 12 the next night, and Poppycock's star kept on rising. Soon all of America fell in love with the Prince. This culminated with his "Yankee Doodle Dandy" love-letter-to-America performance last week, a genius move that managed to please conservative patriots and fans of far-out camp at the same time.

So "America's Got Talent" finally got interesting this season (it's the first season when I've avidly watched, or voted), and a whole lot cooler. Prince Poppycock may lose out to another pretty opera singer (frontrunner Jackie Evancho, of course), but he's still destined for greatness, and I wouldn't be surprised if this royal clown becomes the prince of Vegas and gets his own revue, regardless. Piers may have inexplicably red-X'd Poppycock on this week's finale, but I'd still pay good money to see the Prince hold court in the City Of Sin.

Marvel as you watch Poppycock's regal journey to the "AGT" finale below:

 

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