Life on the A-list: Out celeb photographer talks new reality series

Are you ready to get your catty, name-dropping, materialistic, bitchy, preening reality-show freak on?

If not, turn the page right now.

“The A-List: New York,” Logo’s new “docu-reality” (whoever coined that term should be slapped) series, bills itself as “‘The Real Housewives’ with balls.”

Call the Emmys: This show is aiming high.

The new series follows the lives and drama surrounding a select group of New York city’s gay elite, which includes “The Amazing Race” winner, actor and model Reichen Lehmkuhl, his Brazilian model boyfriend Rodiney Santiago, celebrity photographer and frequent guest of shows like “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “America’s Next Top Model,” Mike Ruiz, international model and Marc Jacobs’ former flame Austin Armacost, modeling agent Derek Lloyd Saathoff and ultra-high-end salon owner Ryan Nickulas.

Right about now, some of you are wondering why a guy who’s only on the show because he’s dating Lehmkuhl (you know — the artist formerly known as the guy who was dating Lance Bass) automatically becomes one of New York City’s gay elite. Well, it turns out the show is going to really need the fish-out-of water that is Santiago because cast member Armacost, another star-chaser who has fallen on hard times because he no longer has the chiseled physique to model, really has his sights on getting in between lovebirds Lehmkuhl and Santiago.

So when it came time for interviews for the show, we gravitated toward Ruiz — because we had actually heard of him before we ever heard about this show and he actually has a solid career. He also, at first glance, appears to be the most grounded and least narcissistic person on the show.

PGN: Did you know any of the cast members before the show came together? MR: I actually met them the first day that I taped. I had met Reichen briefly once. But we certainly hadn’t bonded. We were strangers when we started doing the show. PGN: Is it safe to say you’re the cast member who is the most together with his life? MR: It’s all subjective, isn’t it? I think I have my life together but they may not think so. Speaking for myself, I’m at a place in my life that I’m proud of. I feel like I’ve achieved a certain amount of success professionally, personally and spiritually. So if I could define it myself, I guess I could say that I have it pretty together, but I don’t know how to relate it to the other guys.

PGN: Who on the show do you relate to the most? MR: I relate to them all for different reasons. I really relate to Ryan for his philanthropic effort and the way he’s hoping to use his notoriety for good. I kind of went into the project with a little of that intention. I think Rodiney is a sweet, kind-hearted guy. TJ [Kelly, manager of Nickulas’ salon] is hilarious. He’s really funny and irreverent and so is Ryan.

PGN: Do you make the rounds in New York nightlife as much as your castmates? MR: A lot of the socializing I do is work-related. When I’m not doing some work-related function, I tend to be a homebody. I kind of like it that way. It creates a little more of a mystique. I’m not at every opening. I do enjoy a night out every once in a while but I can’t say I’m a fixture in New York nightlife.

PGN: Unlike the rest of the cast members, it seems you are trying to keep your relationships off-screen. Was that your intention? MR: I have a multitude of reasons why I wanted to do this show and none of them were to exploit my personal relationships. I value my romantic relationship. I hold it dear to my heart and I don’t currently or would ever want to use it in some professionally beneficial thing. It’s very important to me to keep the two things separate.

PGN: Logo is comparing the show to the “Real Housewives.” Are you a fan of that series? MR: I’ve never seen it. Although I’m acquainted with some of the housewives. But I haven’t seen any of the shows.

PGN: How much of your time do you actually spend in New York? MR: I guess I spend 60 percent of my time in New York, which is another reason why, when I’m home, I want to just hole up and order from The Dish, my favorite diner.

PGN: The title of the show seems to imply that it will branch out to different cities. Is that a fair assumption? MR: Hopefully, we’ll do it right and it’ll be successful enough where Logo can franchise it out. That’s the goal. With all the franchises for “Real Housewives,” I’m imagining they’re hoping this show will follow the same course.

PGN: Will you still be involved in TV shows like “My Life on the D-List,” “America’s Next Top Model” and “Drag Race”? MR: Oh, sure. I’m all about the experience. I love doing this stuff. I’m in L.A. right now doing an episode of “Drag Race.” I’ll continue to do all of that. I do have some TV stuff of my own in the works. So I’m kind of using all of this stuff to get my bearings. It’s kind of a crash course in TV production. I really enjoy doing it. It’s a blast. As long as I keep getting offers, I’ll keep doing them.

PGN: What effect, if any, does appearing on these shows have on your career? MR: As far as expanding my client base, it’s hard to correlate a direct relationship to these TV shows, but I’ve certainly become a lot more visible. And as a result, it has opened up a lot of doors for me. It’s also broadened my ability to do stuff and made me a viable spokesperson for different organizations that resonate with me, like The Trevor Project. That really means a lot to me that I’m able to do something real with these on-air things. They’re not just gratuitous, like, “Look at me, I’m on TV.” Although I do love that aspect of it too.

PGN: You are known for doing really wild and eye-catching celebrity photos. How much time does it take you to get your ideas together for a photo shoot? MR: It’s pretty quick, depending on who I’m shooting. I’ll make a quick assessment of them and who I think they are and who I would like them to be. It usually comes to me pretty quick. I’ve mastered the ability to tap into underlying things in people that I am quickly able to bring to the surface.

PGN: Are there any celebrities on your wish list to work with? MR: I’d love to work with Phyllis Diller. I don’t know why, but I feel like I want to do some crazy, high-fashion transformation on her. I know I’m reaching for the stars here. My goals are very lofty but she’s a legend and an icon. I’d love to do something fun with her. I’d better act quick, though. Isn’t she like 107?

PGN: Are you going to be directing any more films? MR: Videos, certainly. I just wrapped an Erika Jane video. As far as film features, I’d like to. RuPaul and I have toyed around with the idea of a sequel to “Starbooty,” but he’s being pulled in every direction with “Drag U” and “Drag Race.” That’s been pretty overwhelming to him. That’s probably the only project I’d consider doing at this point unless I were to be offered something. My goal was not to become a film director. I did it because I thought it would be a fun, whimsical, self-indulgent project, which it was. I would do something of that nature again, but my aspiration is not to be like Steven Spielberg.

PGN: Even though you work with celebrities and people who are used to the spotlight, was there any trepidation about having TV cameras follow you around while you work? MR: I used to model before I was a photographer so I was pretty used to having cameras in my face. Although it’s a completely different context. It was fun. It has been fun. It wasn’t intrusive in an uncomfortable way. Everything I’ve done so far has been great. I really want to show the cool stuff that I get to do. I want to show the viewers what is possible when you put your heart and soul into something. So I really embrace the whole process.

PGN: How do you think the viewing audience will react to “The A-List: New York”? MR: If we don’t have any haters then we haven’t done our job. So I’m certainly anticipating plenty of those. But hopefully it’ll get a very impassioned response no matter what it is. At the end of the day, it’s entertainment and we’re hoping to be engaging in a way that people will want to watch whether it’s good or bad. Hopefully what people will take away from it is a positive message, but it’s hard to speculate. A lot of people have preconceptions about what it is and most of them are wrong. It’s hard to say how people will respond. I’m hoping people will like it.

“A-List: New York” premieres at 10 p.m. Oct. 4 on Logo. For more information on Mike Ruiz, visit www.mikeruiz.com.

Larry Nichols can be reached at [email protected].