Let’s get one thing out of the way right now: Sam Harris is well aware of Adam Lambert.
Harris, the big winner on the first-ever season of “Star Search” back in the ’80s, has a gorgeous, seamlessly streamlined voice with an incredible range. Lambert, the current favorite on this season of “American Idol,” has a similar instrument, a similarly theatrical style and more than a hint of Harris in every note.
“If you Google Sam Harris and Adam Lambert, you come up with thousands of Web sites,” Harris says on the phone from his Los Angeles-area home. “I’ve met Adam, and we’ve done some of the same benefits. I couldn’t be more flattered because he’s immensely talented. I find out fairly often that I’ve influenced people in some way, and I feel like I’m this young person in the middle of my prime! The other day I was at lunch, and the maître’d said to me, `I came out to LA because you inspired me to be in show business.’ I was flattered but I wanted to say, `I’m not that old!'”
For the record, Harris turns 48 next month, and he’s been in the public eye for almost 30 years, whether he was performing “God Bless the Child” in a straightjacket on an LA cabaret stage or making TV history with a soaring version of “Over the Rainbow.”
He opens Friday at San Francisco’s Rrazz Room for two late shows (10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday), and it’s a rare chance to hear Harris in an intimate setting.
“We primarily play theaters because I design my shows with a theatrical arc,” Harris says. “But I love the different environment of a club. It’s freer in a way. To do what we do with the people right there is fun. You’re quite naked. It’s just you, and I enjoy that. I didn’t used to. I liked to feel more separation because it gave me more theatrical freedom. But I love the challenge of all of us being right there. You’ve got to be real, man. They can tell if you’re not telling the truth, and as a storyteller, that’s your primary job.”
Life is good for Sam Harris these days. He and Danny Jacobsen, his partner of 15 years (and legal husband in California), are the proud parents of year-old Cooper Atticus Harris-Jacobsen.
“My greatest joy is my family,” Harris says. “Becoming a parent is the best thing that ever happened to me.”
For his San Francisco shows, Harris will be joined by longtime musical director Todd Schroeder. They’ve been picking some old favorites and working on some new tunes. Harris’ love of being a parent is evident in certain song selections such as Maury Yeston’s “New Words.”
“I have a tendency to put too much about Cooper into the show,” Harris says. “Everything I do now is affected by him. He is the great love of my life. He’s everything. But, you know those people who show you hundreds of pictures of their kids? I recognize that while I know Cooper is the most gorgeous, genius, advanced child on Earth, not everyone will want to know that.”
Schroeder and Harris have been working on a medley of “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “I’m Still Here.” He’s also planning a Kurt Weill-ish arrangement of “Ain’t We Got Fun” as a reflection of the economy.
Harris has been through San Francisco many times – first on his official concert tour following his “Star Search” win when he released two albums on the Motown label. Then he played the Plush Room several times.
Of course he loves San Francisco audiences (who doesn’t?).
“Audiences there are singular,” he says. They’re family-ish. They’re involved and enthusiastic. And they laugh. I love playing San Francisco.”
Later this year, Harris may be starting on the road back to Broadway, where he was a hit in Grease (which co-starred one of his best friends, Rosie O’Donnell) and The Life. He’ll be in the pre-Broadway production of The First Wives Club at the Old Globe in San Diego. He’s playing a role that wasn’t in the movie. He’s sort of the fourth Musketeer donning disguises to help the ex-wives seek revenge on their former husbands. Rupert Holmes wrote the book and the score is by the hit-generating team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (think of any early Motown hit and they probably wrote it).
Harris also has a new album, Free, which includes an emotionally wrenching version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” and he’s developing a sitcom for Fox that was inspired by his foray into the world of video blogs or vlogs. Inspired by his blog-happy friend Rosie, Harris has his own channel on YouTube (www.samtube.com) and posts counseling sessions where he answers viewers’ questions, provides helpful hints (like how to fold a T-shirt in two moves), sings a cappella, gushes about his baby and otherwise holds court in his inimitably charming way. On Fridays he even posts interviews he does with his famous friends.
One of the producers of “The Class,” a promising but ultimately canceled CBS sitcom on which Harris played a gay-acting straight guy, is helping Harris develop the show.
“I’m as engaged as ever,” Harris says. “I thoroughly love singing, acting, writing and being a storyteller. I’m still ambitious, and I’m driven because I love my work. My work doesn’t define me. It’s what I do and reflects who I am. There was a time when I was young when I wouldn’t even talk to you if you hadn’t heard me sing. If you had heard me, you might like or even love me. If you hadn’t, I wouldn’t know how to distinguish myself or express myself. But now, my work is a reflection of how I think and how I feel. After my family, my work is my great joy.”
[Set your DVRs – Sam Harris appears in the May 11 episode of “The Rules of Engagement” on CBS.]
Sam Harris appears in concert at The Rrazz Room in the Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco at 10:30 p.m. Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9. Tickets are $35-$40 plus a two-drink minimum. Call 866-468-3399 or visit www.ticketweb.com for information.
Now here’s a glimpse of SamTube, Sam Harris’ assortment of advice, performance and interviews: