Simon Cowell says he’s never seen a band like The Other Direction at the quintet’s audition for “America’s Got Talent” on Tuesday, June 22.
And for the guy who put together One Direction, Fifth Harmony, Il Divo and so many other pop sensations, that’s actually saying something. And TOD, who bills themselves as “the world’s gayest boy group,” hopes his lyrics will ring out for a good, long show on the show – and beyond.
“It’s amazing and surreal,” said Jacob Mondry, a Franklin native and alumnus of the Detroit Country Day School who started TOD six years ago in New York City, over the phone from Los Angeles. “It was a crazy experience, for many reasons, but so much fun.
“The judges understood it straight away. They got the joke. They have the characters. They understood the concept. We didn’t have to explain it to them. It couldn’t have been better.
Not bad for an idea that lasted seven years.
OTD’s roots were planted at DCDS in Beverly Hills, where Mondry, whose family once owned the Highland Appliance chain, met music teacher Jim Territo. The two met up in New York City – Mondry after spending a year at Oakland University, then graduating from Florida State University – and over lunch in 2014, Mondry told Territo about his idea for a comedy. musical that they ended up writing together.
“I grew up being a huge fan of boy groups – Backstreet Boys, NSYNC. I was completely addicted to them, ”recalls Mondry, 33, who came out about 10 years ago, after moving to Manhattan. “I think it was also kind of my way of exploring my own sexuality, my homosexuality while growing up. Having all these haunting guys sing ballads was an exciting idea for me.
“So I thought, ‘It wouldn’t be funny if there was an all-gay boy group. If you really think about it, a boy group is kind of a girlish thing, but I’ve never heard of an all-gay group. So it was an interesting idea.
Similar to “The Monkees” and “This is Spinal Tap”, Mondry’s show features a band, with their own original music, which can exist both inside and outside the plot simultaneously.
The premise is five singers from across the country who met at a show choir camp while in college and dated each other.
“We made a pact that at 21 we would be the most gay boy group in the world,” notes Mondry, who plays Norm, a cowboy from Montana. “We wanted to show that these guys all have different upbrings and different gay experiences, but they came together to be something bigger than themselves.”
The initial show was only performed once, in 2015 at 54 Below in New York City, before Mondry and Territo embarked on other projects. Then, earlier this year, a call for “America’s Got Talent” came “out of the blue,” according to Mondry, leading him to reform the group for the show. It grabbed original cast members Jamison Daniels and Dale Sampson as well as newbies Drew Machak (another DCDS alumnus) and Chris Fishburne – and revamped the musical’s story arc into segments for the audition “AGT”, which included the ballad “Gurl Ur the Best”, and the following episodes in which TOD will perform.
The current quintet rehearsed mostly on Zoom for a few months, entering the same room for the first time just two days before appearing in front of judges and audiences on national television on Tuesday.
“We were just super focused,” Mondry says. “We had built the chemistry on Zoom, which was really fun but it was also like, ‘How are we going to learn all these dances? How are we going to polish all these characters in 48 hours?
“But immediately, when we introduced ourselves and posed, (the judges) broke down. At that point, I knew it was going to work.
The group was, in fact, a unanimous choice among the talent show’s four judges.
The goal of TOD is now “world domination” – what Mondry and company expressed to the judges of the “AGT”. Live shows begin on August 10, although producers have yet to determine times for these, with a finale on September 14. Regardless of how the band behaves for the rest of the “AGT” season, Lui and Territo have plans to bring the music to Broadway and possibly spawn TOD in the boy band world.
“It’s our dream – to be part of a hilarious, fun project – and it’s on national television. What more could you ask for? ”Says Mondry, adding that the emergence of TOD is also a good way to cap Pride Month.
“There are 10 year old boys or gay people at home watching this show, and they say, ‘You know, it’s me!’ I see myself in (the group). ‘ They don’t have to live in New York, LA or San Francisco. They can be in the middle of the country, and we can inspire them. So it is as if all our dreams come true in an instant.