Three-year-old Jason Downs took his first dance steps watching his parents bopping around the living room to the 50s Oldies but Goodies. Born in Columbia, Maryland in 1973, the budding actor, singer and dancer grew up in the small community of Ellicott. “I first heard Elvis Presley sing while dancing with my parents, and when I watched him perform on some television reruns I was absolutely transfixed,” explains Jason. “His presence was electric and when I saw the frenzy he created in the audience, I was hooked – I knew I wanted to sing, dance, and act just like Elvis. I watched, I studied, and soon I was doing a flawless impersonation of the King of Rock and Roll.”
Downs with Neil Patrick Harris in Clara’s Heart
At the age of nine, Downs joined Ellicott’s Little Theater on the Corner and landed the role of Conrad Birdie in the youngsters’ production of “Bye Bye Birdie.” The live theater experience sharpened Jason’s love of acting; he was swept away by the dynamic relationship between the audience and the actors on stage.
It wasn’t long before he had added the moves of Chuck Berry and Cab Calloway to his dancing repertoire. Then he saw Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video when he was ten, and became a student of his movements. Jason’s impersonations of the singing stars made the young performer a hit at parties as well as on the stage, but he began to feel that something was missing, “Impersonations were a good party trick, but I needed to develop my own unique style. I bought a guitar and began studying and writing music – learning the craft of song writing in my spare time,” he said.
Downs on the set of Hairspray and with Ricki Lake
Jason continued acting and in 1987, at the age of 13, the teen landed a role in filmmaker John Waters’ movie “Hairspray,” starring Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, Ricki Lake, and Divine.
“The movie was patterned after the popular ‘American Bandstand’ television show hosted by Dick Clark,” explains Jason. “It featured the music and dances from the 50s. Waters loved my dancing; he called me ‘the Mashed Potato kid.’ (The Mashed Potato was one of the popular teen dances of the day). I only had one speaking line, but I was a featured part of the ‘council’ (the regulars on the dance floor) and I became a local celebrity.”
Jason got an agent and began doing national commercials and voice-overs. Academics were still an important part of his life, but he was a paid actor through most of his childhood in Maryland and admits that his favorite part of high school was performing in the musical productions.
He earned scholarships to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. To help pay for the prestigious school he got part time jobs, worked as a handyman for Fifth Avenue families, and began concentrating on his singing and songwriting. “After I graduated, I made a country western demo and showed it to a woman who worked for one of these families. She gave it to a cousin who was a hip-hop producer for rappers. He liked the sound, and told me if I could add some rapping, we could shop our ‘Hick Hop’ sound to Jive Records.”
In 2000, Jive produced Jason’s first album with the eye-popping cover title “White Boy with a Feather.” Reaching back to an ancestry that included some Cherokee blood, Jason struck a pose on Wall Street wearing nothing but his boots, guitar and a feather in his hair. The cover and the songs created a sensation – especially in Europe where the album worked its way into the United Kingdom’s Top 20. The successful album sales led to concerts and touring in front of cheering European crowds.
“I was living the dream,” says Jason, “but the bubble was about to burst. As I was preparing to do a second album, Jive Records was sold and the phenomena of Apple Music and iTunes shook the music industry. I was suddenly on my own with few prospects and realized that my music success had been based on a trendy craze. I was still being an ‘impersonator.’ I hadn’t developed the unique style I wanted and that had sidetracked my acting career. After graduation, I could have been working my way up the acting ladder, doing guest shots in television series like ‘Law and Order’ instead of playing to the fleeting adoration of fickle teenage fans.”
Downs decided to take a time out and escaped to a quiet, introspective life in Woodstock. The hiatus turned his life around. He met his future wife and fellow actor, Sharon. The couple had two children and Jason began to develop an appreciation for life outside the limelight. He didn’t give up acting altogether. In Woodstock, basking in a newfound maturity, he found he could be himself, not just an impressionist, and landed his first staring role in the independent film, “Racing Daylight.”
Another life changing moment occurred when Sharon’s sister, Laurie, introduced him to his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Weston Middleton. The two men quickly bonded over shared show business experiences and the couples became close friends. The friendship led to the collaboration and support of each other’s career goals.
Middleton’s movie industry jobs prompted him to move to California and return to his hometown of Valencia and in 2014, the Downs family decided to join them. By now, Jason had added a new talent to his show business repertoire — writing novels and screenplays.
Once settled in their new hometown, it was a natural next step for the two men to explore a new business idea – an Internet Protocol that uses integrated media to develop screen writing technologies. Both Jason and Weston have been working with the Santa Clarita Business Incubator to make their idea a reality.
Getting acclimated to a new town and working on a new business partnership are just a few of the activities that are keeping Jason busy these days. “I love the Western history in the Santa Clarita Valley,” says Jason, “it prompted me to write the script ‘Time Dancer,” which is about a time traveling cowboy in the 1850s. His ranch is located in Placerita Canyon. The script gives me a meaningful way to contribute to this valley’s history and keep the history of the Western alive. It’s also a way to connect with the community.”
Part of that connection involves the Santa Clarita Rotary Club, an organization he joined earlier this year. He has been lending his talents to the club’s fundraising and service projects. Most recently, Jason served as master of ceremonies for Rotary’s Peoples Choice Car Show, which was held in June to raise funds for three organizations dedicated to helping the homeless: Family Promise, Bridge to Home and The Village Family Services.
“My family and I love this community,” concludes Jason, “and by contributing the skills I have learned over my career in the entertainment industry, I hope to play a new part — a part in Santa Clarita’s dynamic commitment to the quality of life for all its residents.”