Mike Rowe Opens Up About Ambition to Be an Opera Singer

by Chase Thomas
(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

You may know Mike Rowe from “Dirty Jobs” but did you know before all of that? Before all of the fame there was a different version of Rowe out there? A different guy than who you see on your television today or who you listen to on your podcast player?

Yes, before Rowe got heavily into his second act at 40-years-old, Rowe had a different dream entirely. Rowe wanted to be an opera singer. Is that something or what? To say what he does now might be a tad different than working in an opera might very well be the understatement of the year.

Mike Rowe in the opera?

Here is what Rowe told CNN about the choice, “Back in Baltimore in 1984 the unions were a big deal. I wanted to work in acting and commercials and I had to be in the Screen Actors Guild, or in the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts. I couldn’t get into either union because back then, you couldn’t do that kind of work unless you were in the union but you couldn’t do the work unless you had your union card. There was a loophole – there was another union called American Guild of Musical Artists, and if you can get into that guild, you can buy your membership into the other guild. It occurred to me that I’d have a better chance at faking my way into the opera than I would into the movies.”

But it wasn’t for the reasons you might think. It’s not that Rowe dreamed of being an opera singer all his life, no, he wanted to use that role to springboard him onto television by getting a union card and joining the Screen Actors Guild. If he could memorize the lines and do a good enough job he thought he could make it all work.

Why the Opera for Mike Rowe?

It really was clever thinking by Rowe at the time, wasn’t it? He knew the odds weren’t good to get into the union the traditional way, but he didn’t let that stop him, as he found another way. It wasn’t a traditional easy way to be sure, but it ultimately got him where he needed to go. He did what he had to do to follow his dream. It’s important to note that he still needed to be talented at singing the opera to get in and it was a talent he had.

Ultimately, it did as Rowe was an opera singer for eight years before transitioning to various freelance television roles. This was the case up until a phone call from his mother that prompted him to change careers entirely. She wanted him to do the kind of TV work that his grandfather would ultimately make his grandpa proud.