WARNING: Spoilers for the first season of the reality show lie ahead as one of its standout troublemakers gives us the inside scoop on what really went down behind the scenes!
"Westside" star Austin Kolbe doesn’t regret bailing on the Netflix reality show before it wrapped, nor does he regret any of his behavior that led to his sudden departure before the Season 1 finale.
In the 23-year-old singer’s first interview since the show premiered last month, Kolbe assured TooFab that he’s "totally okay with not being a part of it" going forward and is content with how he was portrayed — even if he did come off as the prima donna of the cast — and filled us in on life after the cameras stopped rolling.
"I was just being the fullest version of me I could possibly be, so I was really out there. I wouldn’t have changed anything," he told us over the phone from a Los Angeles recording studio, where he’s busy working on new music.
"If being honest is being a bad boy, then I was filthy, that’s for sure," he said. "It was a year ago, and I’m definitely a little bit different as a person. I’ve grown a lot, but it was definitely who I was then, for sure."
"Westside" follows a group of nine LA-based singers joining producer Sean Patrick Murray’s mission to bring a musical revue to one of the city’s most popular night clubs, 1 OAK. The show is drawing comparisons to MTV’s "The Hills," not just because it was shot in the City of Angels and captures drama between the cast, but because it feels, as New York Magazine critic Kathryn VanArendonk put it, "just scripted enough to be obviously produced."
That’s a polite way of saying the reality TV show doesn’t seem all that real, and to be honest, we got the same feeling. Kolbe, however, assured us everything that unfolded on camera was authentic.
When TooFab asked Kolbe if producers ever fed him lines, he answered, "No, not by any means." But like any other reality series, producers did need the cast to reconvene for pickups.
"It was really unscripted, but yeah, there were times when they needed to put other situations into context, so they needed confrontation to put things into context," he explained. "They’d say, ‘Hey, I think it’d be good if you and James met up to apologize, for him to apologize to you,’ or whatever."
He’s referring to James Byous, the singer Kolbe clashed with the most while working on the project before ditching it entirely. Kolbe’s storyline came to a close (SPOILER ALERT!) after Murray and music supervisor Keith Harrison confronted him about his behavior in rehearsals. The meeting did not go well.
"I don’t want to beat around the bush. This is like a very serious, heavy meeting about your participation in this whole project," Harrison told Kolbe, and proceeded to air his grievances over the singer’s bad attitude and arrogance, complaining Kolbe contributed "absolutely no work that backs it up."
The tension throughout the scene was thick as Kolbe resisted taking any of the criticism to heart, and then ultimately quit. "So then you guys have already made up your minds. I’ll just do it for you guys. See ya," he said at the end of the scene. The confrontation lasted just a few minutes in the episode, but according to Kolbe, was much longer in person.
"What they don’t show you is that Keith and Sean guy created a list, and I was sitting there for about 45 minutes, of basically everything they hated about me," he explained to TooFab. "So I was just kind of holding my tongue, sitting there going ‘okay, okay,’ thinking the whole time you guys should probably be spending this time working on your little show."
The last viewers see of Kolbe is the cold open of the finale, when he’s shown working his day job at a restaurant. But Kolbe revealed that footage was shot long before he left the show. "They edit it and make it look like I’m out of the group and now I’m just back at my job and whatever, but that isn’t the case," he said.
"So I wind up leaving and after I just got back to work," he explained. "I didn’t have to be in those 12-hour rehearsal days anymore, so I had those days free to go back in the studio and writing my own music, and scheming and game-planning away on what I need to do to actually become the best of the ones that are on the charts, not the best out of the other eight."
"If they spent the same amount of time focusing on the show that they did on me, then maybe it would be finished and worth watching," he said.
Ultimately, Kolbe thinks he clashed with producers so much because the project never fully aligned with his own career aspirations. "Basically, I wind up leaving because they wanted to write a musical and I wanted to write pop songs," he said. "I was actually trying to be an artist, so it just didn’t fit in line with what I wanted to do."
And working toward becoming a chart topper is what he’s been doing since. The Arizona native, who moved to Los Angeles as a teenager to throw himself into music, released a new single, "Butterflies," late last month after his previous single, "Vice," racked up over 83,000 streams on Spotify. He’s still performing his brand of funky disco-inspired pop around town, and even is working on creating his own club show that compliments the throwback vibe of his music. He’s also busy designing his Drty Dsco clothing line and taking advantage of his newfound fame to promote his work to his growing online following.
Kolbe is completely aware that his confidence in himself and sometimes brutal honesty can rub viewers the wrong way, so he’s embracing the inevitable haters populating social media platforms. "It just gives me life," he said with a laugh. "My mindset is this: Whether you think about me in a positive or negative way, it doesn’t matter, because I’m still taking up space in your psyche."
For him, a nasty comment left on his Instagram account is a victory. And that’s a good attitude to have in this day and age. After all, the Kardashians and President Donald Trump are living proof that stars can rise from the ashes of disdain.
Although Kolbe doesn’t keep in contact with anybody he met on the show, he isn’t holding grudges either. For the most part, at least.
"Sean actually reached out and wanted to apologize for how it went down. I’m cool, so I didn’t really hold a grudge or anything about it," Kolbe said. "That Keith guy didn’t, so I don’t really care that much for him."
"Throughout the whole show, I don’t say anything bad about [the cast] as people, I just always spoke about their talent and if I was turned off by or not impressed by peoples’ talent," he rationalized. "You can’t be offended by that. Because people tell me I suck every single day, you don’t see me caring."
During our conservation, Kolbe truly didn’t sound bitter at all. In fact, he sounded more confident than ever in his talent and identifying it in others.
"I think all the others need more development and understanding of who they are. I think that’s why they all really bunched together so well, because none of them really knew who they were as an artist in today’s age," he said of the cast, which also included "American Idol" alum Pia Toscano and former Pussycat Dolls singer Taz Zavala. "You have to identify that — that’s the most important — and I have, so I didn’t veer from it at all."
Kolbe said he figured out that identity through years of hustling "in the streets of LA," and playing "grimy clubs" with audiences as small as just one person. "That really builds you as an artist," he explained. "I don’t think a lot of the other artists on the show actually went through a similar process, so I think the lack of development for the artists themselves shows."
When asked to name the "Westside" singer with the most potential for breakout success, he named Arika Gluck.
"I think Arika with a little bit of development is bombshell, and can be out of this world. That’s probably the person that people connect with the most, as well, on a personal level from the show, and I think that is key to the success of an artist," he explained. "Arika constantly impresses me, always has."
Kolbe even had nice things to say about his chief rival, James Byous, who he described as "a talented individual, both in the songwriting realm and in the performance realm."
The drama between the pair was the highlight of the "Westside" premiere. They first clashed at a Hollywood open mic when Byous threatened to walk out because he had to play solo after Kolbe performed with a full band. Their beef escalated in an acting class when the cast was asked to think of someone who hurt them in their life and then act out a conversation over the phone about that emotional trauma. Kolbe blew away his collaborators when he broke down into tears in his scene asking his mother to apologize. But he wasn’t acting. He really did dial up his mother, and when he told everyone, Byous called it "messed up." The criticism sparked an intense shouting match, which you can enjoy below.
After viewing both incidents on screen, Kolbe’s not sorry for either.
"I see his mindset. There was no right or wrong. I kinda did what we were supposed to do, which is really show yourself and open yourself up so it can help you create a better product," he explained when reflecting on that acting class argument. "I think the jealousy came out again in him a little bit. He even admitted it in the show, so it’s not like something I’m just pulling out of nowhere."
The conflict wasn’t just entertaining for reality TV junkies who crave confrontation, it was inspiration for Kolbe’s contribution to the show’s original soundtrack. He told TooFab that his song, "Everybody Loves the Winner," was written as "kind of a rough way of summing up the feelings in that moment."
One element that made "Westside" stand out from other shows in the crowded genre was infusion of music videos dispersed throughout each episode. As viewers probably guessed, the glossy videos were shot after principal production wrapped, so producers had time to configure the storyline and give the cast of singer-songwriters a rough outline of the story beats they wanted to pair with the music. Kolbe’s video was initially supposed to be included in the first episode after his screaming match with Byous, but ultimately landed in Episode 4.
Despite Kolbe’s rocky exit from the show within the show, he did get star treatment on set of his video, which he described as an "amazing" experience. He’s proud of the catchy final product that was also written to reflect "the persona and ego" he had while filming "Westside."
Enjoy that video below. If you like what you hear and see — or maybe just want to tell him how much you hate it — you can follow Austin Kolbe on his musical journey via Instagram, and keep up with his latest music and other projects on his official website.
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