Karma Chameleon, alright!
I recently caught up with an old pal, NYC singer Coby Koehl, 40, who used to live across the street from me in NYC's East Village when we were both struggling to get our dreams off the ground. Unfortunately, his didn't hatch exactly as planned.
After years working the local cabaret and nightclub scene, Koehl finally thought he lucked into his big break when legendary Culture Club singer Boy George began a friendship with him via Facebook. That led to George touting him all over the press as "the new Amy Winehouse" and flying him to England twice so they could record and perform together. George also agreed to manage and tour with the fledgling singer, thus finally making him a star. Even Elton John and Yoko Ono started to take notice!
Things changed on that second trip, though, when Koehl claims George became verbally abusive, calling him anti-semitic names (George says this claim is "not only untrue but deeply offensive."), throwing him out of his London home and then reneging on the deals.
Now essentially shut out of George's life, Koehl tells Usmagazine.com what went down in his own words.
UsMagazine.com: So tell me what happened. You were singing in clubs all around New York and then...
CK: I was loving my life! I'm always striving to be better and get more gigs and always trying to improve. Then all of sudden Boy George and I became friends on Facebook. He listened to my music and sent me some amazing messages: "I'm blown away by your voice," "you're incredible..."
Us: How did he find you?
CK: Well, I befriended him. You know, sometimes on Facebook there are celebrities, and you don't even know if they're really them, because there are a lot of fakes.
Us: Yeah, yeah. But he was one of your Idols, right?
CK: Well, I definitely admired him most of my life for many things, yes, but he was not one of my idols, you know what I mean? Is that terrible to say?
Us: (laughing) A little, but go on.
CK: He's an incredible songwriter, he's persevered a lot, he's overcome plenty of things. He's a gay icon. So he was definitely ahead of his time, and I have respect for him on many levels. So I went to England, lived with him in his house, and I did a great show. And then his manager and he decided they were going to manage me and I was going to open for him on tour.
Us: What was it like being in his house with such a legend? And recording?
CK: It was incredible. The truth is some of the experiences I had with Boy George were probably some of the greatest experiences of my life. Actually being in the room with him, watching how he works -- he has a great work ethic, he works very hard. I respect that about him. He told me everything about the days of Culture Club. I mean very intimate, personal things that I thought were fascinating. He was very open.
Us: Oh, wow. Ok.
CK: And I went back in February. I was supposed to get an advance of $40,000 to work on my album, to pay for my living expenses, and then I was going to go on tour starting April 9th. And unfortunately things didn't work out. He started to get belligerent and kind of nasty with me, and then he threw me out of his house in a night rage.
CK: I don't know. I really don't know. I can tell you that his biggest complaint about me is that I was too polite. You really don't want to disappoint the people who are giving you an opportunity of a lifetime, and that's how I was really looking at it. But he started getting mean-spirited and that was very devastating. Then VH-1 came in to do a remastered version of "Behind the Music," and he was telling them he was my manager and I am his new artist that he's promoting and producing my album. And then he wanted me to get up and sing a song in Hebrew, which I thought didn't represent me, and would alienate my audience. (George claims: "I asked him to sing it on a VH-1 special that was being made about me to promote him because I believed, as I still do, that his voice is very special. On the day of the recording he decided, to my utter surprise, that it would be 'inappropriate,' to which I replied, ' are you ashamed of being Jewish? I continued, 'why would you want to record the song and then refuse to perform it on TV?'")
Us: Why would you want to do that?
CK: He's throwing me under the bus! So people wouldn't relate to me, I think. And that's what the big fight was about. At one point, I was mentioned in every magazine article and on television. I was getting really great publicity; he was really pushing me. And it was an incredible feeling. And then all these expectations -- I was supposed to go on tour, I was supposed to have an album out with him, and then it just fell out of the blue. It just all of a sudden, in the switch of a light, in a second, it all just changed. Immediately. It was devastating.
Us: So how long did all of this go on?
CK: Well, the truth is, it's been a continuous thing because for George to admit that he was wrong and that he behaved badly would never happen. So he created this smoke screen by sending nasty messages on Twitter about me...you know, putting doubt in people's minds about who I am as a person. I know he was embarrassed, and I knew he knew he was wrong.
Us: So what has he done? Has he trash talked you all over?
CK: Well, definitely in England. He hasn't said anything nice about me. And I know that he had his friend who worked at Sony call up a management company in the UK, who was very interested in me, and they talked about me, and then they were no longer interested. So that was really devastating.
Us: Yeah. So what kind of things was he saying?
CK: You know, they were very vague, but I know that his best friend, who is now his roommate, said, ‘You're a dried up queen, you've never been anything, you'll never be anything with your jiggly ass. We know what you did, and if you ever show up to England we're going to kick your ass." I mean it's very high school of the performing farts. You know? These are 50-year-old queens! It became like Heathers – I was verbally attacked on videos, on YouTube, and all of a sudden I was the worst thing that ever lived! And I just didn't get it, and it was very hurtful, you know? So maybe I'm over...
Us: Wow. That's crazy! So what's the result? What's going on now? Are you suing him?
CK: I was going to sue him, but it costs thousands of dollars. He threw me out of his house in the middle of the night, never paid me for any of my performances, never paid me for any of my recording, won't give me back my masters, won't give me back my vocals. But I'm working on some new stuff with Man Parrish -- some dance singles. I’m going to be doing a duet with Jason Walker, who is a great singer as well. I'm always going to sing. Nobody's going to take away my talent.
Us: is there anything else we didn't discuss that you wanted to bring up?
CK: I could say really salacious, horrible things. And I could really embarrass him, but I'm really trying to take the high road and I really don't want to hurt his family because they were very good to me and I really adore them. The truth is I'll always love him. I have love for him, but there's how I feel and there is the business side. I just think it's wrong. And am I going to sue him? It's going to cost me thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars, he lives in a foreign country... and the truth is he kept telling me, "We're getting contracts, we're getting contracts, we're getting contracts," and then I never got one. So...