The new musical reality series shines light on nine potential megastars.
Halsey has a radio hit with “Eastside,” but there’s a lot going on with Westside, the new musical reality series streaming on Netflix. One of the show’s co-creators and lead cast members, Sean Patrick Murray, has put his all into the new show, even marrying his now-husband in a memorable episode. I caught up with him to talk about the creative process, and what he hopes music lovers will take away from Westside season one.
Derek: Netflix is seen as the ideal platform to have your content on these days. Why do you think that is?
Sean Patrick Murray: What I love most about Netflix is their willingness to take risks. Jenn Levy [Editor’s Note: Levy is director of unscripted originals and acquisitions at Netflix] and Brandon Riegg [vice president of unscripted originals and acquisitions] both saw and believed in this project from day one. They knew it was a swing, but high risk comes with high reward. When I think of Netflix, I think of opportunity. I think of possibility. I think of discovery. It's the new frontier.
D: In addition to starring, you’re a co-creator on Westside. What was the behind-the-scenes creative process like?
S: Producing is something that I never planned on, but I fell into organically. I had created a seven-minute pilot while at NYU called Under the Arch that Michael Flutie, Executive Producer of Westside, discovered back in 2007. He took me in, harnessed my creativity and taught me everything I know. Our production company Madwood Studios partnered with the incredible Kevin Bartel at Love Productions and we co-produced the series together. We spent over a year developing the show, fine tuning ways to make sure a show like this would be original and different. It needed a hook. And that’s where the music videos came in. However, once we sold the show to Netflix — and I was officially cast in the show — I had to take a backseat to the physical, day-to-day documenting of any “reality," in order to preserve the integrity of the show, and there not be any conflict of interests.
D: As a musician, what excited you most about telling your own story in such a visual way?
S: I come from the theatre world. So the old saying goes, "Speak to tell your story. When speaking doesn't do your emotion justice anymore, sing. And when singing isn't enough, dance!" What excited me the most was that my entire life I was auditioning for roles that weren't written for me. In this project, I had the opportunity to tell the most unique and personalized story — my own.
D: What do you hope people take away from your music on Westside?
S: [Laughs] The answer is in the question: hope! While our show may have dark moments, the message is that no matter what life throws at you, you can overcome it. It doesn't matter if you're a doctor, a lawyer, a cashier or construction worker… everyone wants to be the best version of themselves possible. I hope this show ignites that fire in us that we felt when we were kids; that the world is our oyster, and anything is possible, if we just believe.
D: Which artists are your biggest musical inspirations?
S: Wow. Okay. Here we go… The Beatles; No Doubt, Tragic Kingdom was my first album; Ed Sheeran; Justin Timberlake; Josh Groban; Michael Bublé; Gavin DeGraw; Jason Mraz; Maroon 5. And last, but not least, Zac Efron. God, I love that guy. That guy can do it all!
D: Pia Toscano is a part of the cast. Her elimination from American Idol in 2011 was one of the most shocking in the show’s history; I remember watching it live. Westside seems to be offering her and other artists a rare second chance, which are hard to come by in the music industry. Do you have thoughts on this element of the show?
S: For some of us this is our first chance, for some like Pia, our second chance. For me, this seemed like my last chance. I had to take life by the horns and say, "If something is going to happen, it's not going to be by me just sitting at my house waiting for someone to knock on the door and discover me!" You have to be willing to take risks, and part of taking risks is acknowledging that you may fail. But it's in those failures that the most important lessons come to us. Pia Toscano — my “Sepia” — has become one of my closest friends. To be honest, I didn't watch her on American Idol. I saw her performing in a For The Record show with fellow cast-member James Byous. I remember thinking to myself, "I haven’t heard a voice like this since Whitney [Houston] or Céline [Dion]." Then I Googled her and saw all her Celine and Whitney cover songs and, naturally, fainted. [Laughs]
D: Your wedding is featured in episode three. How did you make the decision to share that day with the world?
S: Having my wedding featured on the show has proved to be the most rewarding part of my story. One of the biggest takeaways from this show has been acknowledging and managing "the ego.” This show wasn't about me. Having our wedding featured wasn't about “me.” It was about the impact and message it would send to the world. That LGBTQ+ relationships are just as loving, committed and supported as any heterosexual relationship. Also, being able to relive that moment for the rest of my life isn't too bad either [Smiles].
D: What surprised you the most while filming the series?
S: I was surprised how many demons I was hiding. I realized I'm still very insecure, and that it's ok to be vulnerable. I learned that when you share your vulnerability, you allow others to connect and relate to you, furthermore empowering them to share their own truths. I still care deeply what people think of me. It's a weakness I strive to strengthen. But it takes trust… not just in others, but myself. I think one of the reasons I had been struggling for so long was that I don't think I ever fully believed in myself. I was scared of my own greatness; of finding out what I was truly made of
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