Jermaine Purifory has always been able to sing. He could also act, and he was pretty fast around the track as well. Back at Cleveland High School, he did all three until it became clear that he would have to choose. He opted to give up track and dedicated his time to show choir and the theater.
At Lee University, being a member of the Voices of Lee caused him to make another decision: He gave up acting. Still, theater remained in the back of his mind, so when he stumbled across a link for the Chattanooga Theatre Centre while Web surfing earlier this year, he visited the site just to see if he might want to take in a show.
An announcement for auditions caught his eye, and the acting bug returned in full. Next week, the one-time “American Idol” contestant will play the role of Seaweed in “Hairspray” at the CTC.
Q: How long have you been performing?
A: I have been performing, or at least taking it seriously, since I was 14. Before that I was trying to be an athlete. I had this desire to be an All-American athlete. I let go of that at 14. In high school, I was heavily involved in show choir and theater and ran track. That was my sport. I stopped running track as a junior because coaches started pushing me toward colleges and I knew I did not want to go to college for track.
Q: What sort of things did you do in high school theater?
A: I did plays and musicals. I was in “Music Man” and also “A Christmas Carol,” “Our Town” and “Where the Lillies Bloom.” That was my first. We also did “M*ASH”.
Q: How about at Lee. What did you do there?
A: At Lee, I only did Voices of Lee. The scheduling didn’t allow time to do theater and music. I was on scholarship with the group so you commit all your time to that.
Q: The Voices of Lee were part of something exciting last year. Were you part of that?
A: They were a part of the “Sing Off” [on NBC]. I was part of that but because of “American Idol,” which I was also part of, once I made it to Hollywood on “Idol,” I was not allowed to be on two shows on competing networks. I signed the contract with “Idol” first and it was the more established show anyway.
Q: How far did you make it?
A: There were about 50 or 60 contestants left. I was eliminated at the end of the Hollywood week round.
Q: How was the experience?
A: It was great. I loved it. It taught me how competitive the entertainment industry is. I learned so much. To be on that show, you have to be different and stand out and be unique. It was a major learning experience for me.
Q: Was it a confidence builder or a deflater?
A: It was a confidence boost, but more importantly it made me happy because it was something I could say I did. Of course I was upset to be eliminated in public like that, but more than anything it made me want it more.
Q: How did “Hairspray” come up for you?
A: “Hairspray” is my first time back in theater since high school. I hadn’t really realized that until just now. Wow. It’s funny, I was just surfing the Internet and I’ve never even been to a production at the CTC. I came across a link by accident. I was on one site and it had a link to the CTC. I clicked on it just see if they had a show I could go see and they had an audition notice.
I’ve wanted to play Seaweed ever since I first knew what “Hairspray” was. I just knew at some point I would play Seaweed. I didn’t know when or where.
Q: How has the experience been?
A: It has been so much fun. I honestly don’t know how I’ve stayed away so long. I didn’t realize how much I missed playing another character. We rehearse Sunday through Friday and I can’t wait to get there. It’s the best part of my day. I’m a little rusty but I’m coming back into it. Remembering lines has been a challenge, but man it is just a great experience. I’m really grateful
Q: Do you plan to keep acting?
Q: What about singing?
A: Ha. I would like to record an EP of about five songs of original songs. Right now, my guilty pleasure is karaoke. I love every bit of it.
Contact Barry Courter at email@example.com or at 423-757-6354.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...