Transamerica

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It was announced Saturday actress and advocate Laverne Cox will make television history as the first transgender series regular playing a lawyer in a new legal drama picked up by CBS. Doubt follows a smart, chic, successful defense lawyer at a boutique firm who starts to fall for her charismatic client who may or may not be guilty of a brutal crime.

Kudos to CBS for this groundbreaking move at a time when transgender men and women are being targeted by bigoted laws across America.  States such as Kansas, Tennessee, Washington, South Dakota, Texas and South Carolina have targeted transgender  rights, but particularly restricting their access to public bathrooms.

The Obama administration instructed public schools across the U.S. on Friday to let transgender students use the bathrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity. The order was issued a few days after the Justice Department and North Carolina sued each other over a state law requiring transgender people to use the public bathroom that corresponds to the sex on their birth certificate. Since there are no “bathroom police,” the Rowan County school district is permitting students to carry pepper spray as a “defensive” measure against transgender students.

When you dissect the law, anyone with a brain can see it does not make sense. During a recent appearance on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, advocate and I Am Cait star Jenny Boylan summed it up best, “I am a woman. I have an F on my driver’s license. I have the anatomy of a woman, but because my birth certificate says M, I would have to go to the men’s room. That makes me unsafe.”

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Shame on North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory and other so-called “leaders” for their blatant transphobia. WTF is wrong with people?! It angers and sadness me people living in these bigoted communities have to face such disrespect and hate.

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I tweeted North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory expressing my outrage. I suggest you do the same.  @PatMcCroryNC https://twitter.com/patmccrorync

Relationship Status

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Dating in the digital age can be downright dreadful. I recently set up a Tinder profile in hopes of finding more relationship oriented guys than the ones trolling Scruff and Grindr. After hundreds of swipes and likes, my best match was already in a relationship with my former real estate agent. WTF.

Relationship Status, an 11 episode digital series available on Verizon’s go90 app from executive producers James Frey and Milo Ventimiglia, tackles the subject head on. It follows 30 guys and girls in New York and Los Angeles navigating through love and friendship – all told though the lens of social media. Gilmore Girls and Heroes hottie Ventimiglia stars as “Jack” a light hearted, fun gay bartender.

I met Milo while working background on the show. I found myself blushing while chatting briefly near the craft service table. To me, it was love at first sight. Milo featured me in a scene and gave positive feedback on my reactions.

After a long day of dancing in a simulated gay club, I checked one of my social accounts and noticed a guy who resembled Ventimiglia checked out my profile. I wondered if this was a case of life imitating art or just wishful thinking? My imagination ran wild. The experience inspired me to start writing a screenplay about a straight actor who in research for his role hooks up with an over eager extra via a sex app.

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In good fun, I tweeted Milo a picture of his character “Jack” remarking how hot he is. Here’s the problem, I mistakenly called him “Jake”  – the doppelgänger I chatted with online! A case of mistaken identity. How embarrassing. But this is Hollywood, who can tell what is real? Good thing Milo has a sense of humor.

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Make sure to check out this funny, smart and relevant show. If you watch it in slow motion you just might spot me too.  As for my dating life, my Relationship Status remains the same – SINGLE!

Relationship Status premiered last week on StyleHaul’s YouTube channel. Additional episodes are streaming on Verizon’s go90 app now.

Later this year, Ventimiglia returns to Gilmore Girls for its Netflix reboot.

Once I was “7 Years” Old…

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When I was “7 Years” old, I had the desire to move to Hollywood,  33 years later, I’m pursuing my childhood ambitions. I didn’t know that starting over at this stage in life would be so hectic! Re-establishing my career has been top of mind, planning my 40th birthday party the last thing on the list.

I was invited to attend an event the same day as my birthday. I figured, why  not celebrate there? It just so happened to be the after-party to the pop-soul sensation Lukas Graham’s sold out show at the Troubadour. The event, hosted by YRB Magazine, was the held at the ultra-hip Bar Fifty Three on Sunset Blvd.

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Lukas Graham’s catchy coming of age smash single “7 Years” is currently #1 on iTunes. I’m sure you heard it on the radio 100 times….Lukas Graham is taking America by storm and will be musical guest tonight on Jimmy Kimmel.  Their debut album Lukas Graham drops April 1st.

Monday night while chatting with friends, I spotted Lukas waving to me. He came over to say hello and  I congratulated him on his success and posed for a photo.  Fun way to spend a birthday.

Sometimes if you look back and reflect on your past self –  you may realize everything is going to be OK. It’s about the journey.  🙂

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Exclusive: Richard Simmons Is Fine!

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Richard Simmons wants you to know he is just “fine!” For 40yrs, the flamboyant ball of energy has motivated thousands of people around the world to lose weight and live their best lives possible.  At 67yrs old,  Richard is taking a much needed break from the public eye. When you give so much of yourself sometimes you need to slow your roll to honor yourself and your body.  As a public servant and advocate for healthy living, Richard is doing just that.

Rumors have surfaced Richard is being held against his will by staff members at his Hollywood Hills mansion. Friends have expressed deep concern since Richard has seemingly cut off those closest and has not been seen at a public event since 2013. TMZ reported police were even sent to his estate but found nothing out of the ordinary.  http://www.tmz.com/2015/12/17/richard-simmons-disappeared/

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I too have been concerned. I don’t know Richard personally but I’ve been a fan for years. I can still remember dancing to my parents Sweatin’ To The Oldies VHS tape in our living room. And let’s not forget those Deal A Meal commercials. 🙂

Before celebrities were outed for being gay by bloggers like Perez Hilton, Richard was the biggest cheerleader for being your true self without having to identify who you sleep with. He was and continues to be an inspiration to me.  I was beyond ecstatic when Richard and I became friends on Twitter also around 2013.  He would often send me words of encouragement. Those would also come to a stop, raising my suspicions that something was wrong.

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I reached out to Richard’s publicist Tom Estey and he assured me, “Richard is fine and enjoying his time away from the public eye while still tending to his flock on a daily basis. His desire to live a more private life for a while in no way will affect his desire and need to help others.”

That is great news – sometimes what we perceive as “wrong” is the right thing for others. It is important to respect peoples’ privacy. Richard’s businesses are doing well, and if he wants to run the show from behind the scenes that is his prerogative! If he has a change of heart, we will be here to embrace him with open arms.

 

The VV itch

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I’ve read countless glowing reviews about the new horror film The Witch – this is not one of them. It’s not that the movie sucked, it’s better than the usual Hollywood trash but it fails to deliver on it’s promise to terrify. Let’s set the stage….a family leaves the safe walls of their Puritan community circa 1600s – they travel into the harsh, dark wilderness to begin a new life. They find a place to settle and a build a house which seems to happen overnight without the help of a construction crew.

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The family’s oldest daughter, Thomasin (played by Anya Taylor-Joy), is on the verge of womanhood. Even her younger brother can’t help but notice her developing breasts. Gross but they live on a farm in the middle of nowhere – poor kids. Anyway, Ms. Thomasin takes her baby brother or sister (it doesn’t really matter) to the woods edge for a game of peek-a-boo. The baby disappears right before her eyes – the work of The Witch in the woods?

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The family does its best to carry on but then the finger pointing begins. Thomasin jokes that she is wicked – she really just wants to shut up her annoying younger brother and sister (twins). Here’s the scary part, the family’s lack of trust for each other will lead to their demise. Again, is the work of The Witch or the evil that lurks within? Or perhaps it’s the doing of the black goat feared to be Satan himself?

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Writer/Director Robert Eggers has the right idea and does a beautiful job recreating this scary time in American history. However, The Witch falls short on invoking feelings of terror beyond the idea that if this happened in real life it would be terrifying. Worth a watch, but save your money for the DVD/digital release.

Bigger Is Better

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I believe a persons true character is measured  by the amount of people they touch. This week we lost a beautiful soul, Angela “Big Ang” Raiola. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Angela Raiola was the niece of Salvatore “Sally Dogs” Lombardi, a drug dealer in the Genovese crime family. As a young woman, she worked as a bartender and was known to date mobsters. She lived an extravagant  lifestyle which caught up with her in 2001 when she was indicted for selling cocaine out of the bars she worked. Angela did her time being placed under house arrest for four months.

In 2011, Angela joined Season 2 of the VH1 reality show Mob Wives. Angela became an instant fan favorite because of her colorful larger than life persona, her big lips and even bigger boobs. Angela believed that bigger is better – which is true of her heart and spirit. She would go on to star in two VH1 spin offs. Angela was a star.

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She was the peacemaker, the voice of reason, the person who would bring people together. She was a loyal friend, loving mother and adoring grandmother. I know this not only because of TV but by all the wonderful things people are saying about her. Personally, she brought joy to my life and made me smile. I loved her raspy voice, zany one-liners and authentic “tell it like it is” attitude.  I met her once.  My cousin has been a family friend for years and I have another relative who worked at The Drunken Monkey, the bar she used to own on Staten Island.

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My cousin told me how she met Angela back in the day. Angela was working at a bar in Bay Bridge, Brooklyn. Apparently, she had too much to drink and need help behind the bar. The bar owner asked my cousin Francine to pitch in and the rest is history. My cousin told me, “Angela is the type of girl who would take a limo wearing a feather boa to a Chinese restaurant. She was always the center of attention.”

Many of us are saddened by the loss of this bright light who bravely fought cancer in the public eye with beauty and grace. If you can make that kind of impact on so many people – you have done something right! May she rest in peace and harmony.

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Photos via VH1.

Code Black – Patient #10 Lives

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Since moving to LA, I’ve been doing background acting and it can be a hustle. 16 hour days, early call times, standing or sitting for hours on end and sometimes under extreme weather conditions. The pay is low and work is not consistent but it can be fun. A few weeks ago, I was booked on the CBS medical drama Code Black. “Code Black” referring to when the number of patients outnumbers the resources/staff available to treat them.

At first, I was asked to do some camera passes – which simply means walking in front of the camera. Take after take this can become boring very quickly so I always hope to get chosen to do more. While on a break, a production assistant walked over to me and said “Come with me, today is your lucky day.” I was selected to be placed  in the trauma unit, AKA, Center Stage!

When I arrived, I noticed here was a man laying on one of the beds with fake guts coming out of his stomach. I was directed to lay on the bed next to him. It was decided that my character “Patient #10” was suffering from internal bleeding. The ER was short on staff. “Mama,” played by Luis Guzman, had to tend to both of us.

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The whole experience was surreal.  The actors around me worked feverishly to keep me alive. I could hardly breathe under the oxygen mask – I started to feel like I was really in the hospital. When the scene was over, I was out of sorts. Must be my method acting, lol.

The epispode aired on Wednesday and I almost died when I spotted myself! I posted my performance on social media and the response has been amazing. Everyone is asking “what happens to your character?” I have no idea, after they wheel my bed out to the operating room the scene was over. What a cliff hanger!

I think they should have me back on the show. Who knows, maybe “Patient #10” is a long lost relative of one of the doctors? That might be a bit of a stretch.  But I’d at least like to come back to thank the doctors for saving my life! My loyal fans feel free to tweet @CodeBlackCBS and let them know I MUST return!!

Code Black airs Wednesdays at 10pm on CBS.

Straight Up

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More and more, I am finding myself less attracted to gay men with eyes focusing on the straight ones. I gave up chasing after straight guys in college after one left me with a broken heart. But I am finding myself fantasizing about walking down that road again and reminiscing about the one that got away…

“Jeff” stood in the doorway and held his hand in mine. He pulled me closer and gave me a gentle kiss on the lips. I looked at him and said, “I want more,” and he kissed me harder before returning to his dorm room across the hall. In that moment, everything was perfect. The young man I desired for two years was mine – if only for a fleeting moment.

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The next day, he avoided me. I understood, but my heart was crushed. I had never been in love or had anyone I cared about feel the same. Now that I had experienced it, I had to let it go. He was graduating in two weeks and was set to marry his long time girlfriend.

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I first spotted “Jeff” on a typical snowy day in the art building on the SUNY Oswego campus. He had an athletic build, olive skin and the most beautiful crystal blue eyes. It was love at first sight. Fortunately, the art department was small and getting to know each other would be unavoidable. We shared a night class and slowly became friendly.

The following semester, I studied in London. While I was away, “Jeff” began to hang out with one of my girl friends. I was filled with jealously, but when she wrote he had asked about me, I melted with excitement about returning to campus. Being somewhat of a stalker, I got ahold of a floor plan and moved in a few doors down the hall from where “Jeff” would be living. I was determined to get to know him better. I wasn’t aware of his sexuality and I didn’t care. It was about what I wanted.

Soon enough, we become buddies. As we grew closer, my feelings deepened. I was a shy virgin and could not express my longing. It killed me to learn he had a fiancee. While I wasn’t sure what our relationship was, we clearly had chemistry. People began to notice how happy he would act around me – almost giddy.

The night of the kiss, he drunkenly whispered that he had kissed a boy once. I said, “I’ve kissed a girl” too. With that, we laughed. I asked him if he loved me. His response “I lust for you!” I wanted him to love me, but his admission of lust was validation for what I had suspected. I said, “You don’t love me just a little?” – He nodded “yes”. We walked home from the local bar silently that night, until we reached my room and shared our first and last kiss in the doorway.

18 years and numerous heartbreaks and disappointments later, I am still looking for love. I thought moving to West Hollywood would be an opportunity to throw myself into a new dating pool, but I am seeing only the same stereotypes I found in New York. When I walk down Santa Monica Blvd., go to gay bars or cruise online, I am again confronted with the bear, the otter, the muscle head, the steroid queen, the fashionista, the coupled, the partnered, partiers, leather daddies and self proclaimed “pigs.” I may get heat for making such generalizations, but I am turned off by the options available.

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Recently, I’m finding myself again increasingly drawn to straight men. I perceive straight men as being self-confident without trying hard to fit in. Straight men seem to have it all and appear able to do what they want. These days, straight men can be sensitive, sport a man bun, get mani/pedis and be fashionable without forgoing a sense of sexuality identity. Perhaps it’s simply the forbidden fruit syndrome? Maybe we should just stop putting labels on ourselves?

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I’m not giving up.  At the end of the day, you never know when love will strike – it just happens and it could be with anyone. Love does not discriminate. As for “Jeff”, last I heard he got divorced. The struggle is real.

The Great Debate

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There has been much written about #OscarsSoWhite – I’m not even sure why there is even a debate. If you look at the voting history of the academy – it’s fair to say there is a lack of diversity across the board. Mover over; if Will and Jada Smith choose to boycott that’s their prerogative. Personally, I unfriended a few of my “friends” on Facebook due to their ignorance. One person said, “they should get over it” and implied Jada is upset simply because Will did not receive a nomination – how absurd!

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Others claim nominations are based on merit not race. This would be a valid argument if non-white actors were on the same playing field. A non-white actress looking for a lead role in Hollywood may have a different point of view.

The debate is bigger than The Oscars – Hollywood is a microcosm of larger racial divides within the country. My experience working in magazine publishing for over ten years, proof positive. Having 2 or 3 “black” co-workers raises an eyebrow. Non-whites are rarely featured on covers, within the editorial pages and in advertising images. Anyone who denies an unbalanced  representation of non-whites in Hollywood or elsewhere does not want to dig deeper and face the truth. That is called denial. Many are OK with the status quo and look down upon people who challenge the establishment. I applaud Will, Jada and anyone else taking a stand for equality.

I haven’t made up my mind if I will be watching. But I am very curious how host Chris Rock will handle the controversy. To be continued….

The Oscars air live February, 28th – on ABC.

Return Of The Penns?

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This week blogs, gossip sites and major news outlets published reports of Madonna and Sean Penn’s alleged re-coupling. Madonna  flirted with the idea during a fundraiser for Help Haiti Home in Beverly Hills on Jan. 9. In front of a full crowd,  she professed her love “I want to say [to] Sean that I love you, from the moment I laid eyes on you — and I still love you just the same.”

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Madonna and Sean were never media darlings. In fact, they were once dubbed the “Poison Penns” – mainly due to Sean’s hot temper. Penn landed in jail for spitting and attacking photographers outside Madonna’s old Upper West Side apartment. As a young Madonna fan, I would walk by her apartment hoping to get a glimpse – the closest I came was seeing her jogging  in Central Park.

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When Madonna and Sean wed at a secret location in Los Angeles on her birthday, August 16th 1985 – Andy Warhol and Cher were in attendance. The reception became a total spectacle with photographers dangling out of helicopters trying to get a shot. Madonna’s image started to change. It appeared as if Sean took Madonna away from her fans. Many kids my age stopped listening to Madonna altogether – she was no longer cool. She was a married woman devoted to Sean – his reputation rubbed off on her. Their flop of a film Shanghai Surprise put the nail in the coffin.

Rumors of abuse began to circulate. It was said, Sean had beat Madonna and tied her to a chair.  Madonna supposedly, filed a police report but never pressed charges. Madonna has since denied this ever happened. Most recently,  in a deposition in Sean’s 10 million dollar defamation lawsuit against director Lee Daniel’s who referenced Sean as an “abuser” in an Vanity Fair article.

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Madonna and Sean’s marriage lasted four years. I never gave up hope on Madonna – I prayed she would find herself.  After the divorce, Madonna returned with one of the most celebrated albums of her career, Like A Prayer (1989). Her new sound was mature, empowered and self-expressive.  Madonna dancing in front of burning crosses and kissing a black Jesus in the Like A Prayer video promted Pepsi to axe a commercial starring the controversial pop star. Madonna kept the 5 Million dollar pay check. Yes, Madonna was back. And the rest is pop culture history…

 

 

Troublemaker

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Leah Remimi is no stranger to headlines – her defection from Scientology was news heard around the world. I received her book Troublemaker as a Christmas gift and  just finished reading it. I met Leah years ago when I was employed by Marc Anthony and Leah’s BFF Jennifer Lopez.

It was Jennifer’s birthday and Marc was throwing a surprise party at his Long Island estate. I remember being excited Leah was coming. Like Leah, I am half Italian and born in Brooklyn (I thought we would bond). I caught her whispering to Marc’s daughter Ariana – I heard her say “who is that?” I was standing in an earshot, I didn’t understand why she couldn’t directly introduce herself. Being a “Troublemaker” myself – I walked over to her and said “my name is Damon. We met at Marc’s birthday in Vegas.” I reminded her that she wasn’t feeling well that night. Her demeanor was somewhat aloof. That said, she didn’t make a great first or second impression. That night, I became really turned off when I heard her barking orders at the chef.

Now that I read her book and gained a deeper understanding of her world, my opinin of Leah has changed. I had no idea what she was going through back then. Leah is a remarkable woman. Leah’s mom Vicki joined “The Church” when Leah was a teenager. Vicki was hardly home – Leah demanded to know why she spent hours away from her family. Vicki said “if you want to spend more time with me, come see for yourself.” Leah and her sister Nichole saw this as an opportunity to take the train into the city after school; away out of Brooklyn. Leah and Nicole joined “The Church” as well. Leah wanted to do her part to make the world a better place with the best intentions. She wanted to “save the planet.”  Leah and Nichole soon headed to Clearwater, Florida for Sea Org training (an order composed of most dedicated members). They lived and worked for hours on end in less than desirabe conditions. Long story short, Leah got into a lot of trouble for breaking the rules. Leah and Nicole were asked to leave. Vicki relocated the family to Los Angeles.

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Leah’s connections in “The Church” helped her land an agent. From that point on – there was nothing stopping Leah from becoming a star. Don’t get me wrong, her career was not handed to her. There were plenty of failures and cancelled shows. By the time she earned a starring role on The King of Queens, she was waist deep in Scientology. Her new found celebrity status provided privileges and access to “The Church’s” biggest and most  powerful member Mr. Tom Cruise.

Leah did her part to “stay on course” but was accused of ruining Tom and Katie Holmes “wedding of the century.” How could she ruin their wedding?  For starters, she upgraded her hotel room, questioned why handlers tried  to separate her from Jennifer and Marc who were also in attendance.

BRACCIANO, ITALY - NOVEMBER 18: In this handout photo provided by Robert Evans, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes pose together at Castello Odescalchi on their wedding day November 18, 2006 in Bracciano, near Rome, Italy. (Photo by Robert Evans/Handout via Getty Images)
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She also questioned why her friend “Shelly” Miscavige  (who  is married to Church of Scientology leader David Miscavige), was not in attendance. Questioning her whereabouts – off limits. Michele “Shelly” Miscavige to this day has not been seen in public. Leah even filed a missing person report with the LAPD. The offical response -“she does not want to be found.” Leah did not understand why certain members of “The Church” (including Tom Cruise), were not held accountable to the same set of harsh rules and regualtions. After 30yrs in “The Church” and millions of dollars spent on courses and training, Leah became the enemy.

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Troublemaker is a deeply telling personal account of a woman with conviction. Leah believed in Scientology and felt she could change what she saw as corruption of “The Church.” Leah was labeled a “Suppressive Person.” Meaning fellow parishioners, friends and family were told to disconnect from her. Thankfully, her family stood by her side and left as well. Leah Remimi is brave for coming forward with her story. Troublemaker worth a read – Leah’s unique pov inside “The Church” and candor is both eye opening and inspiring.

 

The Hollywood Medium

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Being new to Hollywood isn’t easy especially if you are a 19yr old clairvoyant medium. Tyler Henry stars in E!’s new eight part reality series Hollywood Medium which follows Tyler balancing everyday life along with his unique abilities. As Tyler’s grandmother was terminally ill with cancer in April of 2006 he began having strong intuitive hunches that would later turn into a series of profound visions that proved to be true.

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His ability to provide detail-oriented specifics with medical professionals and law enforcement has catapulted Tyler to become Hollywood’s “go to” celebrity medium.  Tonight at 8pm/7c viewers will get a sneak peak of the series premiering January, 24th, 10pm.

Like Tyler, I have experienced premonitions and heightened levels of intuition.  For example, yesterday I was thinking of a friend who I haven’t seen in about three years. We lost contact following the passing of a mutual friend.  While out shopping at CVS our paths crossed again- an unlikely meeting since I recently moved from NYC where my friend currently resides. When I returned home, my friend who passed mom called….strange.

When my grandmother passed, I felt her presence too (in a dream). I told her “it was ok to go” and I felt a comforting burst of light. When I woke, my mom called to let me know my grandmother had crossed over.  I bring this up because while doing research for this article, I noticed several parallels between Tyler and myself.

Tyler did a reading on Carnie Wilson of Wilson Philips (who I recently interviewed). I had previously reached out to Tyler about the Carnie reading and he told me, “My reading with her was one of the most intriguing of the show because there was an exceptional amount of specific information and the messages that were delivered were incredibly revealing. It was a fascinating, healing experience that I got a ton out of.”

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This article was supposed to be a simple write up of the show. But after learning of Tyler bringing up the death of Brittany Murphy (whose unexplained death I have written about and even started a petition to re-open her case), during his reading with actress Jaime Pressly; I feel the urge to talk to Tyler in more detail. Yet another parallel. I have chills just thinking about it! Until then, I’ll be watching  and so should you.

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Be sure to check out tonight’s sneak peak episode of the Hollywood Medium only E!, 8pm/7c.

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Twitter: @tyhenrymedium

http://www.mediumtylerhenry.com

Brittany Murphy: Six Years Later

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Today marks the sixth anniversary of Brittany Murphy’s tragic passing. A Hollywood mystery that has left family members and fans wondering what really happened to Brittany and husband Simon Monjack, who died of the same mysterious circumstances just five months later.

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Murphy’s elderly father Angelo Bertolotti, has since provided evidence (through independent testing) of unusually high levels of toxic metals found in Brittany’s system. Famed pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, has gone on record agreeing that the circumstances surrounding her death are far from normal.  Bertolotti believes Brittany was poisoned and has accused Brittany’s mom Sharon Murphy of foul play.  Sharon was present at both times of death – allegedly hastily seeking medical attention for her ailing daughter.  The LA Coroner’s office has ignored the claims refusing to re-open the case.

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Bertolotti recently tweeted, “been working for months with the Reelz Channel on a documentary.”  Hopefully, the documentary will shed light on Brittany’s case and do a better job of celebrating Brittany’s legacy than last year’s disastorous Lifetime film “The Brittany Murphy Story.”

Here’s a look at Brittany’s “Hits Not To Be Missed” as told by The Hollywood Reporter.  RIP.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Equality In Hollywood. Just Kidding.

empirePhoto: Fox (Empire). Openly gay actor Jussie Smollett as Jamal Lyon (left). 

For decades, Hollywood has unequally represented the LGBT community. Today even with prominent LGBT characters popping up this season on Fox’s Empire and Scream Queens there is a lack of LGBT characters being represented on television. According to GLAAD’s annual Where We Are On TV report, “there are only 35 LGBT characters being represented, compared to 881 Straight characters.”

As a new gay actor in Hollywood, I’ve discovered not only is there an imbalance of LGBT vs. straight roles, it can be totally confusing figuring out which roles to go for. For example, while combing through countless casting notices that read “30-40yr old males to play role of dad.”  I ask myself, “would I be believable as a heterosexual dad?” I usually breeze over these notices, I automatically think, the “dad” is straight. But in reality, he could be gay too OR be equally played by a gay man!

Although the numbers are stacked against me,  I booked several jobs working as an background actor. For one job, the Casting Director  asked “if I was comfortable” playing gay. I chuckled and  thought to myself “I have no issue with being type cast.” In fact, I welcomed it.

We ended up shooting an additional scene that day and to my surprise, I was paired with a female to portray a heterosexual couple on a date. For some reason, it gave me an odd sense of feeling validated — to think the Assistant Director saw me as straight. Yes, I have the ability to transform, this is acting. However, I questioned why I felt surprised by being cast in the role. I often wonder if straight actors playing in gay roles ask themselves similar questions?

Nick Jonas who played two gay characters on TV this year, recently told USA Today that he doesn’t consider “whether the character is gay or straight, but about what the story is and what the audience is going to get out of it.”

Nick-Jonas-Careful-What-You-Wish-For-capaPhoto: Fox (Scream Queens), Nick Jonas. 

Well said, but there seems to be a double standard.  If a heterosexual actor portrays an LGBT character they are referred to as “courageous.” On the flip side, if a gay actor plays straight they are rarely referred to as “brave.”

Actor Milo Ventimiglia (who took his first LGBT role at age 18), has spoken on the topic. While disucussing his gay following and playing LGBT roles, Milo once told The Advocate a producer said, “It’s very brave of you to consider something like this.” Ventimiglia challenged this notion and replied, “Why? It’s a great role.” “I tend to lean toward a good role despite any stigma that’s possibly attached to it.  The fact that people are still worried about stuff like that just baffles me.”  Milo is right, it is baffling!

Milo-VentimigliaPhoto: Fox (Gotham), Milo Ventimiglia. 

Although there is an imbalance in roles and stereotypes to combat, I’m learning to remain open and not to let anyone’s perceptions (including my own) stand in the way of pursing my dreams. Hopefully, we will continue see our lives equally reflected in the future.

GLAAD’s CEO & President, Sarah Kate Ellis notes, “We’ve witnessed tremendous progress in television since GLAAD began tracking the presence of LGBT characters 20 years ago, but there is still a great deal of work to be done and many new and exciting stories to be told. We will continue to applaud networks and streaming services telling these stories – and hold their feet to the fire when they don’t.”

GLAAD’s full 2015-2016 Where We Are On TV report: http://www.glaad.org/whereweareontv15

Jody Watley Keepin It Real: Exclusive Interview

1427991936Photo by: Albert Sanchez

I still remember hearing “Don’t You Want Me” and “Looking for a New Love” blasting out of car windows in Brooklyn. Jody Watley was on fire with a self-titled solo album that infused R&B, Pop and Dance.  The 1988 “Best New Artist” Grammy winner’s musical style, fashion sense and artistry remains not only relevant but serves as an point of  reference to artist of the day like Rihanna and Solange Knowles.

Jody Watley’s independent creative spirit has taken her full circle, relaunching the group that kick started her over 30yr career. But before reaching global success, an ambitious teenaged Watley landed a spot as a dancer on the television show Soul Train.  As her popularity grew, she was selected by Soul Train creator Don Cornelius to join the hit R&B group Shalamar.

jodywatley_shalamar_1977_fierce_originalJody Watley makes her mark as original female lead with Gary Mumford and Jeffrey Daniel in 1977.

Today, with a Shalamar reboot and multiple creative collaborations underway, I had the privilege to sit down with Jody to discuss her incredible journey.

Was it always your intention to perform music?

Yes. I’m thankful for being prepared for the opportunity when it came in the form it did – Soul Train was the right show for that moment through Don’s vision as well as his vision to create Shalamar and ask me to be a part of it. I’d been preparing for it since I was a little girl dancing and singing in the mirror in my Mom’s high heels and fabulous clothes. Being onstage with music legend Jackie Wilson, my godfather, who brought me onstage.  Yes, I was born to do this, despite being very shy. Music is a gift in my life – it’s a gift to all of us…even those who don’t have aspirations like this…I can’t imagine life without music. For those who have no idea what Soul Train was – as an iconic show in television history – head to Youtube!

By 1987, it was clear you arrived. Your solo debut alum “Jody Watley” became a huge success. Were you surprised or did you feel like you were poised for something great?

Yes, I was surprised…I thought Terence Trent D’Arby would win the Grammy because he was offered a performance slot and was more embraced by critics. I feel it was my blessing and reward for stepping on faith – from a successful group, just to be happy is what I’ve always said – and get control over my life.  Everyone said I would fail. There was an article written back then that said my future would be questionable or up in the air.  Winning the Grammy was a sucker punch to the doubters – some are still bitter about it.  People have no idea what I was actually going through at the time. That win was everything. I know some still hate me for it to this day, which is their problem, not mine. I’m thankful to the executive who put me on the ballot in that slot and that the rules at the time made me eligible. It was a first glimpse at who Jody Watley really was…despite being in Shalamar for 6 years.  Nothing will ever make me NOT believe in myself. I know there is a force always with and within me.

The entertainment industry can be surreal – can you share any “pinch me is this really happening” moments?

Surreal – and shady (laughs out loud).  Every day that I’m doing what I love, being onstage, receiving love from strangers. Most recently, getting mistaken by the paparazzi for Diana Ross in Beverly Hills – that was surreal. They got a tip there was a black woman with big hair buying groceries. I laughed about it. I loved her growing up and she told me she was a fan of mine when I met her some years ago – that was a moment! Being followed on Twitter by Depeche Mode – totally awesome. Erykah Badu telling me how I was an inspiration…there are so many…I’m grateful for the journey and still having a blast on my own terms, soul and enthusiasm intact.

The super stylish video for 1989’s “Real Love” was directed by the famous film director David Fincher.  What was it like collaborating with David?

Awesome. I told him I wanted to do a fashion video come to life – put me on the runway! He nailed it. It’s cool to know you collaborated with someone before everyone else discovered their brilliance. The thing about me that some miss is although I was a dancer, my videos weren’t built around that. No one could copy me. It was more about the style, attitude, giving face to the camera…mixed in with some freestyle…but nothing choreographed. I’ll have my Kanye moment and say to this day – few videos touch mine from that period. I laugh and say ‘You beta work Ms. Jody” and  I mean, “Still a Thrill” in Paris, France…no black girls were giving that…and still not…it’s like Grace Jones doesn’t get the props she deserves as a trailblazer and neither do I…but it’s cool because it’s not really about that…the people that know – know.

Back then, “your look” was unique in that you mixed vintage and street styles with high fashion. And let’s not forget those signature large hoop earnings. How did you develop your sense of style?

I think I’m still unique – there’s only one Jody Watley, (laughs). I’ve just always wanted to be authentic – be myself and that how I stood out especially at that time. I didn’t want to be another run of the mill R&B singer. Pushing the fashion envelope not the sex envelope was my thing – attitude and style. My first influences were my parents – both very flamboyant yet chic. My mom was the first woman I saw wear dolman sleeves when I was little and I remember it vividly. My Mom always had Vogue and Harper’s in the house..so fashion was in my bones. At one time I also wanted to be a designer. But I’ve been blessed to be able to be my own stylist, designer, etc..writer, business owner – I told my Mom at 5 I was going to have my own modeling school. It’s not a modeling school, but I run my own business.  So to everyone, I say dream big and keep adding dreams and goals and going after them.

What I love about your video “Friends” is that it takes place in an all-inclusive club – straight, gay, and transgender people, of all races, body shapes. What made you want to project this imagery?

Again – just wanting to be authentic. The type of club I would go to all types of people serving and living in the music. My label at the time was very concerned about having drag queens, (underground NYC icon Connie Girl), a transgender (RIP Codie Ravioli) and all of the various real people that were assembled. I fought for the collaboration. I never liked hiring models to portray a role – give me the real thing. My friend Tyrone Procter who appeared in my “Still A Thrill” video helped me coordinate it – filmed in New York by first time video director Jim Sonzero. I think it was a quietly ground-breaking video – it was about acceptance and all people partying together, b–boys, hip hop (Eric B & Rakim) invited their crew. As well I was wearing Gaultier couture…that I personally flew to Paris to get after seeing the runway wrap up on Style Elsa Klensh! No stylist, that’s what also separated me from others.

While it’s important to reflect on our past, let’s talk about the evolution of your music. You have done everything from R&B, Pop, Dance to Jazz. Do you have a favorite?

No – I love it all and the fact that I’ve never been hung up on making hit records. I realized I’m a true artist in that I’m willing to venture off of the expected path creatively and always do what makes me happy and fulfilled. There is no failure in trying and going for it. I’m proud of the continued diversity of my work after all of these decades and those that continue to follow know that…others never evolved with me. That’s common, and I understand that aspect as well. I’d like to mention recent collaborations with Dam-Funk, I’m a guest vocalist on his new collection “Invite The Light” on a song called “Virtuous Progression.” As well French Horn Rebellion’s “Dancing Out” and “Cold Enough” which is a fresh take on 80’s synth pop – lighthearted and fun. I’m also on the new Teddy Pendergrass “Duets of Love and Soul” re-imagining some of his greatest hits. I recorded a song with Groove Armada as well, though that project didn’t end up coming out. We hope to do something together in the future.

Speaking of evolving sounds, on “Midnight Lounge” (2001) you dove into electro-pop. How did you arrive there?

I was inspired by the underground music scene starting with 4hero’s ‘Two Pages’ from the UK…seeing how formulaic and corporate pop/r&b was becoming..I didn’t want to be chained to that and ‘Midnight Lounge’  was a product of that. It’s probably my best critically received record…which was cool. 

By the way, I first heard “Midnight Lounge” on one of my first visits to LA – I purchased it at Virgin and played it in my friend’s car. Later on, while in a parking garage, there was a small earth quake! I never experienced one, it was scary but we turned on the car and continued listening. I felt at ease – true story!

Awesome! It’s a very chill record and one of my best as a full length – and good vibes so I’m glad it put you at ease! If people don’t know it – I hope they continue to discover it.

Last year, you returned to the dance floor with the EP “Paradise” and the lead single “Nightlife” – The music sounds current yet classic Jody Watley. Is that what you set out for?

Yes – finding a way to bring my love of dance / electronica the best of it, with classic disco soul which is where I began as an artist – how to make it work. I love it. ‘Sanctuary’ is one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written and recorded and that says a lot because all of my songs are so special to me…early on no one realized I was a songwriter as well…writers always want to make women in music someones ingenue – and I’ve never been that. With the craziness, violence, and hatred so prevalent today – ‘Sanctuary’ has taken new meaning for me…in the midst of encouraging others to be fabulous (whatever that might mean to someone) and living life ‘today’, get out of the rut one might be in..inner Paradise…it’s in the music…how you feel within – loving yourself…creating an environment of love…it begins at home…within you and us all – and where we go after a long day, a trying day….a safe place for our children to those who have them…for ourselves, in our relationships and so on.

‘PARADISE’ will be re-released through Spectra Music Group with new artwork, track listing and a previously unavailable song, so it’s temporarily unavailable digitally now.

You have influenced many pop stars of the day but is there anyone on the pop scene or elsewhere who inspires you?

Thank you for the acknowledgement. There are more underground artists I’ve gravitated to like Little Dragon, Foreign Exchange, Bonobo, Andreya Trias, Erykah Badu is also really awesome to me – though not a pop star, she’s always intriguing and doing her own thing. I respect that “damn what people think” attitude – that’s what being an artist is. I think FK-Twigs is cool, outside the box which the UK allows more so than here in the States. It’s too bad we can’t have an American singer / artist like Adele get that global support.  A similar artist trying to get signed here to do the same style would struggle to get support. People tell me all the time Solange Knowles reminds them of my early solo years which is cool. In the commercial pop realm, I like Rihanna and have bought her records – if I were still doing commercial pop/r&b I would love to duet with her – the video would be hot – fashion fabulousness – she does high low style very well and always changes it up visually as well as her music. I love that…my niece who just turned 21 and a few others said especially the imagery for her new record and a few others seemed to be inspired by Jody Watley.

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I see my influence a lot.  Even if the artists don’t know where it came from, their stylists do. It’s especially cool to see all of the artists get featured in fashion magazines, and cover features..that door was opened a little wider by me…with early features in Harper’s Bazaar, RollingStone, Vogue.  When I did first-of-their-kind celebrity ad campaigns like GAP,  I had to fly myself to the sessions because the label was like who cares about fashion magazines and ads for jeans? What does that have to do with selling records?  I think they found out!  I pitched a fashion line back then that was met with a collective of blank stares. So, to the girls today I say – the time caught up, so YES, do it, do it all.  So many opportunities are now available if you’re smart or have savvy people working with you. You don’t even need big hit records anymore – just a lot of blog coverage, who are you dating or sleeping with that’s famous, who’s beefing, who’s making the most money, who got married and how much he’s worth…those are the things that grab attention most times now. Celebrity stuff…and the gatekeepers of the industry decide whose turn it is.  But that’s another story!

I’m inspired by life, art, the sky…real people just doing their thing.  A lot of things people take for granted, a flower in bloom, the sound of laughter, a banging house record. I’ve taken up coloring again, adult coloring I guess it’s called. It’s therapeutic!  I’m currently working on an art deco fashion book. I love to cook and I’m also inspired by that.

What’s up next for Jody Watley?

I became the trademark owner for Shalamar.  Shalamar was always a place for new talent to emerge, so that’s what I’m doing with Shalamar Reloaded today.  The male lead Nate Smith has his own style and Rosero McCoy is a renowned choreographer.  They’re both the full package –  singers and dancers who look good and fit into the now. We’ll be building something new and not just pimping the past. I never want to do what I’ve already done. This was unexpected…but life brings things to us we weren’t looking for – but it feels perfect. You have to be open to the guiding hand of the universe. Maybe because in high school I never got to hang with the hot boys – and now I do at this stage in my life. Thank you universe! But like I said – most of all they are fun to be around – we laugh a lot and genuinely enjoy each other onstage and off. What a gift that is.

1442268235Jody with Shalamar Reloaded’s Nate Smith (left) and Rosero McCoy (right). 

The video for our current single ‘SlowDance’, directed by new film talent Damien Sandoval – it’s so beautiful, cinematic and modern. On the fashion front, I’m featuring vintage Junya Watanabe denim and vintage Gaultier.  I continue to make new goals and plans, and of course in life we never know what unexpected opportunities may present themselves.  Stay tuned! One of these days my memoir will make a great movie.

Lastly, what advice would you offer for those who want to break into the business?

Living life for me continues to mean being grateful, enthusiastic, and challenging myself to continue to get better as a human being, artist, writer, entrepreneur and hopefully as an inspiration to others to believe in yourself. Damn the critics, haters, wannabes and naysayers!

I say do you and carry on.  I’m an example of defying the odds. I feel like I’m never the girl everyone is cheering for, but everyone watches just the same. Maybe some are waiting for me to fail, even after decades in this business. I’m still here being my own sort of fabulous. It’s still not for everyone because I’m never status quo and never fitting a formula. This is always my message to others.  Do you! Live your life, laugh and love.

Talent isn’t enough – damn a sense of entitlement or instant gratification – work hard and be distinct from others. Go get it, be smart and keep growing. Learn the business – and most of all enjoy the journey, revise, rethink…whatever, just don’t get stuck. Also don’t give a f— what people think, as long as you’re not doing something abusive, violent or harming others. There will always be lessons, joys, hardships and triumphs.  As long as I’m here there will always be more to do – new goals, new dreams, new mountains to climb. It’s called being alive!

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Photo by: Albert Sanchez

Official Jody Watley:
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