March 25, 2011 01:00 PM

Like father, like daughter? Not so for Constantine Maroulis and his 3-month-old daughter Malena James Reed-Maroulis.

A very “proud Greek-American,” the former American Idol alum, 35, admits that growing up with an unusual name often left him with plenty of explaining to do. “I got tortured for my name for years. They called me Dean. To this day they screw up my name, and I didn’t want that to happen to her,” he tells PEOPLE.

Instead, Maroulis looked elsewhere for inspiration and found his answer in the 2000 Italian movie Malena. “I always loved the name. I’m not fond of a lot of Greek female names,” he reveals. “James is my middle name and my father’s name. It just fit.”

Brooke & Eric Lagstein/Be Creative Photography


And while deciding on a moniker for his baby girl was smooth sailing, the same could be said for Malena’s December debut in Nevada, from where mom Angel Reed, 29, hails and chose to deliver their daughter.

“I was to have two weeks off [from Rock of Ages] during those Christmas dates,” Maroulis explains. “The baby came the 23rd, almost the 24th — Christmas Eve. I got there the day before. Came out, we had the baby the next day.”

Capturing the big event on camera, the proud papa admits nothing could have prepared him for the first time he saw his daughter. “She looked like a raspberry when she came out — like a blueberry in Willy Wonka,” he laughs of his “beautiful” baby girl. “Then they swaddled her like this little Glo Worm.”

However, after spending quality bonding time with Malena and her mom, Maroulis had to pack up and head back to work. “It’s really hard [to be away], but I’m working so she can have a better life,” he explains. “One day Malena can look back and be like, ‘My dad did some cool stuff.'”

Brooke & Eric Lagstein/Be Creative Photography

Once Maroulis wraps his Tony-nominated lead role, currently touring through July, he plans to head back to New York, where he and Angel originally met while rehearsing Rock of Ages in 2008.

Rock of Ages has been a huge blessing for me. I met Angel and we had Malena,” he notes. Though not currently a couple, “we’re best friends, and all our focus is on our baby.”

And with their “incredible network of support” in the Broadway community — something Maroulis says can’t be found in Hollywood — the doting dad is excited to one day introduce Malena to the world of musicals.

“She won’t be seeing a show like Rock of Ages for a long time, that’s for sure,” he says.

“I think she could probably appreciate some of the great shows at as young as 2, 3 years old. Mary PoppinsLion King could be inspiring … I’m looking forward to that.”

— Rennie Dyball and Anya Leon

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