If you’re a fan of Broadway, you knew Billy Porter before his Emmy-winning turn as Pray Tell on the FX drama Pose. In 2013, Porter won the Tony award for Best Actor in a Music as Lola in the stage version of the film Kinky Boots. In 2014, he won a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album for the same musical.
And while Lola, at the time, was Billy Porter’s career defining role, Broadway fans knew him for other roles, including the 1994 Broadway revival of Grease. I saw that show with Porter and he was amazing as the Teen Angel.
In 2019 Porter made history as the first openly gay Black man to win an Emmy for Best Lead Actor for his portrayal of Pray Tell on Pose.
Pray Tell isn’t your typical tv drama leading man. He’s not a detective, doctor or crime lord. He’s a gay man who MC’s ballroom competitions in the drama that features African American, Latinx LGBTQ+ characters living and surviving in New York City at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late 1980s and early 90s.
Porter gives such a nuanced performance as Pray Tell. While a lot of his ballroom scenes dialogue contains snark and some venom (hello Ms. Candy!), he’s also a best friend to the show’s female lead, Blanca, played by Mj Rodriguez and sometime reluctant father figure to the show’s younger characters. At it’s heart, Pose is a family drama and Pray Tell lends sage advice to the younger characters, acting as a father or maybe uncle to those whose biological families have cast them aside.
Billy Porter has so many great scenes in Pose that I could spend days listing them out. But, one that immediately come to mind are the scenes in season one when Pray Tell said goodbye to his boyfriend Costas who was dying of AIDS. Those scenes were heartbreaking and gave us an insight into the softer side of Pray Tell. Another is from season two, when Pray Tell and Ricky make love for the first time. We saw two dark skin gay Black men in bed making love. This was groundbreaking. Gay Black guys got to see men who look like them in an unapologetic love scenes and in that moment they were scene and knew it was okay. And then there are all the fantastic scenes of Pray Tell reading the contestants at the balls for filth. It’s always great fun filled with a bit of drama. Not your typical television leading man.
Billy Porter has changed what a television leading man looks like, sounds like and represents. Through his portrayal of Pray Tell he’s helping to give agency to so many gay men of color who struggle to fit into a particular narrative. He’s telling us all that whatever narrative we choose is just fine and that’s why during this Pride month and really every month, we celebrate Billy Porter.
Take a look of some scenes of Billy Porter’s portrayal of Pray Tell below.