Seattle’s Corey Lay grew up with almost no Black, gay role models in pop culture. He remembers Karamo Brown on “The Real World: Philadelphia” (2004-05) and the characters on scripted Here TV series “Noah’s Arc” (2005-06). That was about it.
And today? There are a few more — Billy Porter, Lil Nas X — and Brown is better known than ever thanks to Netflix’s “Queer Eye.” But the reality TV pickings remain slim beyond RuPaul’s “Drag Race” empire.
After being plucked from Instagram to appear in December 2020 on HBO Max’s gay dating show “12 Dates of Christmas,” MTV producers contacted him after the first few episodes of that series began streaming. Lay was immediately ready to sign on to MTV’s “The Challenge.”
“I still feel like I bring something to the table that people need to see, the world needs to see, kids growing up need to see,” says Lay, 31.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Oceanside, California, Lay came out as gay at age 14 while playing football and running track. He said his parents, friends and teammates were all supportive.
“I want other people to have that as well,” he says, “which is why I think visibility is so important.”
Lay went into “The Challenge: Spies, Lies and Allies” (8 p.m. Wednesday, MTV) with intent.
“A big part of why I want to do TV is to prove that queer Black men and queer men in general are worthy,” Lay says. “And on a show like this, it’s about competing. I want to remove the stereotype that gay men are weaker or queer men are weaker.”
Another of Lay’s goals is to show queer people are not a monolith.
“With heterosexual people on television, there are so many shades of gray,” he notes. “What I want for the future is that queer Black men on TV are able to be themselves without feeling like a stereotype, without being a specific character.”
Lay worked in the video game industry in Las Vegas before moving to Seattle in 2016 to be a video game quality assurance tester. He moved back to Los Angeles for two years to work as a certified personal trainer, returning to Seattle last year to get back into video gaming (his personal training work dried up due to COVID-19). He now resides on Capitol Hill.
In his early 20s, Lay did some acting, including small roles on “NCIS,” “90210” and “The Fresh Beat Band.” He’s game to do more scripted work, too.
“I love storytelling in many different [forms], which is why I got involved in video games,” Lay says. “Storytelling as an actor is something that I always enjoyed. I did take acting classes but I never pursued it seriously. I just did it because I lived in L.A. and everybody there dabbles in it. But looking forward to the future, I think that is a side of me that I would love to explore more.”
Lay says his Seattle employer, whom he declines to name, was supportive when he took an unpaid leave from his job as a video game producer to film “The Challenge” in Croatia earlier this year. After his rookie season on “The Challenge,” whether he won $1 million or lost, Lay’s “anxiously awaiting the phone call” inviting him to return for another season.
In the meantime, he’s connecting with fans on Cameo, selling short personalized videos at $10 a pop.
Lay’s hope is to someday meet one of his inspirations, Karamo Brown. Like Lay, Brown’s second significant reality show was “The Challenge” (2005).
“When I got announced for ‘The Challenge’ I tweeted, ‘Shout out to Karamo,’” Lay says. “Karamo responded and said, ‘I hope you do better than me.’ And he follows me now. We have not met in person yet but next time I’m in L.A., maybe I’ll try to make that happen.”