Bret Michaels doesn't want to talk Donald Trump. Doesn't like talking politics at all, actually.
You can understand why. Michaels isn't just the singer for glam metal heroes Poison, the bandanna'd Casanova at the center of the reality datesploitation series Rock of Love. He's an entrepreneur, a logo, a lifestyle. He has a cologne (Roses & Thorns) and home collection through Overstock.com. Michaels is a brand, and brands don't pick sides. Brands work the aisle. Brands, as the old Poison song goes, give you something to believe in.
Still, it's a curious thing. Michaels won Season 3 of The Celebrity Apprentice, and thus became, in the eyes of many Americans, one of the stars most closely associated with our president-elect. Yet throughout the fractious 2016 race, Michaels remained mostly mum on Trump and his controversial campaign — no small feat for a singer who dearly loves the spotlight.
So you wonder: How has Michaels managed to stay out of the fray? And why?
"It's tough for me, because I never spoke a lot about politics in the past," said Michaels, 53, calling before his Dec. 29 concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall. "It doesn't mean I'm not involved, or I don't want a great president. I want the best person for the job, you know what I'm saying? It's not always about change. It's about taking what we've got — and we've got an awesome country; I love this country. I mean it. And I think if this is what it takes to take it up the next notch, then that's what we do. It'll be amazing.
"This is the facts: He is our president. We've got to have his back and go in there and negotiate. Let's make this country great. Let's take it up a notch."
Finally, the ex-Apprentice is ready to discuss his old TV boss. Strap on your bandanna and let's go.
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No one ever imagines they'll one day find themselves sitting at the right hand of a future president. Certainly not Michaels, a suburban Pittsburgh kid who shot to fame with Poison on L.A.'s Sunset Strip, slinging raggedy rockers like Talk Dirty to Me and Nothin' But a Good Time, and the lighters-up power ballad Every Rose Has Its Thorn.
Michaels was one of metal's most engaging and media-savvy singers, always eager to be a talking head or deliver a print-ready quote. When Tom Cruise was researching his role in Rock of Ages, who do you think he turned to for advice?
"When someone asks me a question," Michaels said, "I'm honest with them."
That openness led to his second life as a TV star, first on VH1's guilty-pleasure sensation Rock of Love in 2007, then on Celebrity Apprentice in 2009. For Michaels, appearing on Trump's smash reality competition was all about charity. He had known Trump's sons Eric and Donald Jr. through the fundraising circuit, and when the opportunity arose to raise money for diabetes research, he wanted in.
"I never knew I was going to win. I just never thought I would lose," he said of Celebrity Apprentice. "My attitude is have fun, but get it done. And I went in there with that attitude. I'm not doing it just for a charity, I live it. I'm a five-injections-a-day diabetic since I've been 6 years old. I've lost really good friends of mine that I grew up with that were diabetic, went to camp with me, who were counselors. The disease took their life, and so I fight really hard for that. When you have that willpower, it gives you that extra boost. Luckily, they saw it."
Michaels said his personal relationship with Trump was largely predicated on helping others. "He was a really good guy, and the benefits we did together were amazing, and they raised a lot of money for charity," he said. "In one night, with 500 people in the room, we raised $1.3 million for St. Jude's. That's pretty good."
On and off set, Michaels says he never saw Trump say or do anything negative toward women or minorities: "If he was tough on anyone, he was tough on me." He described Trump as an "amazing businessman" who "gets stuff done" and "was extremely great around my family and my kids."
"I've never seen him do anything but talk about America and being an entrepreneur," he said. "And it really fires people up. I really, truly believe, if we give him a chance, I think he's going to do a great job."
Michaels has to be careful here. He never endorsed Trump for president, never appeared on the campaign trail. And he has nothing against the Obama administration, either.
"They were handed a rough economy, they were handed a rough situation, and I think he did good," he said. "Obama did a good job getting it to here, and now we've got to say, Trump is going to take it from here and take it up a notch for his term — or terms."
America is in a good place, he said, no matter what the naysayers say. We just have to respect one another and work together.
"There is such richness in the diversity of our country," he said. "Variety is the spice of life, at least that's what they told me. And I truly believe that. It's what makes it great."
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Michaels talks so much about Donald Trump that you almost forget he doesn't like talking about Donald Trump.
"If I was looking for shock value, if I was looking for that kind of publicity, I would have ran with this," he said. "That's not what I want."
What he wants is to look forward, not back. He's excited about returning to Tampa Bay, a strong market for the Bret Michaels brand, where he has played almost every festival, theater and arena you can name. He's filming a top-secret new show ("I'm hoping it's the next evolution of good, fun reality TV") and hopes Poison's vintage lineup will tour in 2017.
"It'd be great for Bobby and C.C. and Rikki and I to just be out there and have three months," he said. "It's on my wish list, we're close to making it happen, and I know they want to do it, and they'll have a great time doing it."
Just as he did before Celebrity Apprentice, he's staying dogged in his many charitable efforts. In the midst of his Florida run, he'll fly home to Phoenix, where on Christmas Day he and his children will visit one of his favorite causes, a family suite at the same hospital that treated his near-fatal brain hemorrhage following a stage mishap in 2010.
Michaels hasn't said if he'll play an inaugural ball or visit his old boss in the White House. He never foresaw all the crazy opportunities that have come up in his career so far. Who's to say what might happen next?
"I love where I've been, but I love where I'm at, and where I'm going," he said. "I've been in the good times and bad times, but I'm living now. I'm excited to come down there and play."
If you see him, just don't ask about politics. He really doesn't want to talk Trump.
Contact Jay Cridlin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.