Kevin Covais has film debut in ‘College’

[25 August 2008]

By Rafer Guzman

Newsday (MCT)

MELVILLE, N.Y. - The last time most of us saw Kevin Covais, he was a pale-faced, adorably scrawny 16-year-old running the gauntlet of Simon, Paula and Randy on Fox’s “American Idol” in 2006. White scalp shining through a close-cropped buzz, glasses perched on his nose, the Levittown, N.Y., native crooned Josh Groban’s “You Raise Me Up” well enough to make it to Hollywood, and America came to know him as Chicken Little, a nickname given him by castmate Paris Bennett. Though he narrowly missed becoming a top 10 finalist, he got a hero’s welcome when Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi declared March 30, 2006, as “Kevin Covais Day.”

ON CAMPUS Experimentation, initiation, intoxication - the college experience has always provided plenty of comic material for the big screen. Here are five campus-themed classics: “College” (1927) - ‘Twas ever thus: When skinny bookworm Buster Keaton realizes the big men on campus are jocks, he blunders his way through varsity sports, hoping to score with pretty coed Anne Cornwall. “Horse Feathers” (1932) - School-based slapstick had long been a motif in cinemas and vaudeville houses when this Marx Brothers comedy hit the screen. As the new president of failing Huxley College, Groucho delivers a rambling speech to a baffled student body: “That reminds me of a story so dirty I’m ashamed to think of it myself.” “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (1978) - Perhaps the definitive college comedy, starring John Belushi as the raunchiest member (“I’m a zit!”) of a slovenly frat full of social misfits. Hollywood has been trying to repeat its crude, chaotic magic ever since. “Revenge of the Nerds” (1984) - It’s the skinny eggheads versus the popular jocks - where have we heard that one before? - in this modern classic full of jockstrap jokes, gas-passing and female jiggle. “Old School” (2003) - In a twist on the campus theme, Luke Wilson, Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn are midlifers who try to recapture their college days. Babes, beer and bongs remain the crucial ingredients.

What’s Chicken Little been doing since then? Among other things, growing up.

The man - at 19, no longer a boy - is on his own for the first time, sharing a pad with roommates in Los Angeles. Visiting New York last week, he talked about his film debut in the comedy “College,” and it’s no kiddie flick. The R-rated movie focuses on three high school boys who experience a wild weekend at a college campus; the poster shows a young man apparently vomiting into a toilet.

Covais’ next project isn’t exactly a Disney movie, either. In “Labor Pains,” he plays an office intern opposite Lindsay Lohan, who stars as an unhappy worker faking a pregnancy to save her job. (The movie is due out next year.)

Sitting down last week at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ on Manhattan’s West Side to eat half a shrimp po-boy - the other half went to his father, John, a retired corrections officer, at a nearby table - Kevin Covais still seemed fresh-faced and earnest: His favorite words were “definitely” and “excited.” But he also revealed a mind of his own and a clear-eyed view of his own modest celebrity status. (His waitress, an aspiring singer herself, didn’t recognize her customer’s face or name.)

“I’m going to be perfectly honest,” Covais said. “The further away you get from doing something like ‘Idol,’ if you’re not right back out there with a single or an acting opportunity, people tend to forget.”

Covais certainly ran that risk. After “Idol,” he turned down opportunities to cut a record, mostly because the concepts struck him as “unoriginal,” he said. “I think I had a different vision, a vision for myself,” he explained. Instead, he took a semester of general classes at Hofstra University and turned to his other childhood dream - acting. As it turned out, Deb Hagan, the director of “College,” was a regular “Idol” watcher and had wanted Covais in her film from the moment she read the script. His role: an adorably scrawny kid named Morris Hooper.

“Whether he could act or not, I didn’t know,” Hagan said in a phone interview. “But if we could capture the Chicken Little that I saw on ‘American Idol,’ I felt like we’d be in good shape.”

Alongside castmates Drake Bell (from Nickelodeon’s “Drake & Josh”) and Andrew Caldwell (from the Owen Wilson comedy “Drillbit Taylor”), Covais had to shoulder his share of raunch.

“I don’t think Kevin realized going into it how physical the role would be,” Hagan said. She taught the tee-totaling Covais how to “walk drunk,” forced him to lick the toes of Gary Owen (playing a domineering frat dude) and had him simulate a quickie sexual encounter.

“There were quite a few risque scenes,” Covais acknowledged. “I’ve already told fans who have asked about the movie, ‘If you’re as young as I think you are, you should probably wait about five to seven years to see it.”“

“Labor Pains” also fell into Covais’ lap - one read-through and the part was his, he said. And it was “thrilling” to work with Lohan, whom he described as punctual, professional and personable, despite her somewhat rocky reputation.

“There were people who worked on ‘Labor Pains’ who had previously worked with her on other projects,” Covais said. “But I heard from those same people that there was a drastic improvement and she was doing really well. I can tell you for a fact that every day I was on set and working, she was there on time, and she delivered really admirably.”

Covais still has one more childhood dream to pursue. He’s hoping that brief semester at Hofstra will lay the groundwork for a career in broadcast journalism. Not content with acting and singing, Covais wants to be a television sportscaster.

“It was what I’d do as a kid - I’d turn the volume down and start calling the game myself,” he said. “Whether it’s the Super Bowl or the World Series, I want to be the first guy who gets to sing the national anthem and then go upstairs and call the game.”

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