Dec11

Is the Church the Next Frontier for Reality TV?

TLC’s The Sisterhood (of First Ladies) Gears Up For Prime Time

Think The Real Housewives of Atlanta—the men, the fashion, the drama. Now, just add the church.
So begins People Magazine’s exclusive sneak peak of what is expected to be one of the most controversial new reality TV shows set to debut in January, “The Sisterhood.”

The show, set in Atlanta, delves into the public and personal lives of a group of preachers’ wives as they assist in their husbands’ ministries, and address their own real life dramas behind the scenes. And for this group of women that includes their sex lives, vanity, non-traditional ways and somewhat colored pasts, all of which TLC hopes will make for “sin-sational” television and ratings.

Don’t expect to see any of Atlanta’s mega church first ladies—including Taffi Dollar, Nina Bronner, and Sandra Stanley, though some of them were believed to have been approached. Instead the cast is made up of new faces. There’s Christina Murray (Pastor Anthony Murray, Oasis Family Life Church in Dallas, Georgia), DeLana Rutherford (Pastor Myles Rutherford, Worship With Wonders Church), Ivy Couch (Pastor Mark Couch, Emmanuel Tabernacle), Pastor Dominique Scott (Good Life Church) and Tara Lewis (Pastor Brian Lewis, Phenomenal Life Today), none of whom fit the traditional first lady mode.

One look at Lewis and you’d never know she was a first lady let alone a pastor. A self-described fitness queen, Lewis says her style of dress is in sync with her love for working out.

“I don’t fit the traditional perception of a pastor or the hat-wearing first lady,” the 41-year-old Dallas, TX native has said. “I am modest, but I do wear fitted clothes. I eat right and work out too hard to have to cover up.”

But don’t let her buff physique fool you. She can go toe-to-toe on Bible scripture; is fired up over the word of God; and practices what she preaches—having met her husband at a gym in Venice before she led him to Christ.

To that end the mother of three—and co-pastor with her husband Brian of the Phenomenal Life Today TV show—authored a book titled Fit, Fine and Fabulous: Seven Godly Principles to Live Fit.

Delana Rutherford co-pastors Worship With Wonders Church along with her husband, Myles and is the sister of gospel singer Wess Morgan. Non-traditional as well, she has rock star good looks and has been known to sport a nose ring on occasion.

Then there is former singer, Ivy Couch, whose husband Mark —the founder and overseer of Emmanuel Tabernacle Church— gifts her with a pair of handcuffs in the sneak preview; and Christina Murray who along with her husband, Anthony have established a blossoming mega-ministry just outside Atlanta in Dallas, Georgia. She’s Latina and he’s African American, giving way to the church’s multicultural following.

Rounding out the cast is Dominique Scott, dubbed “Pastor D,” whose flamboyance may just make her “the Nene of the bunch,” In the sneak preview, she points out to the ladies the house where she once smoked her first crack pipe. She and her husband, Brian “aka Pastor B,” co-pastor the Good Life Church International online.

“I believe everyone on this show was chosen by God for a reason and if anybody tells you that there aren’t a lot of things that factor into the decision to do this, they are lying,” said cast member Brian Lewis.

“The intensity from the trailer and the clips is going to compel people to watch, but when they see Jesus, that’s going to get people to come to Christ. I really believe it, just as I believe there’s a million pastors in America that would love to change positions with us right now today.”

It was only a matter of time before reality TV infiltrated the church community after successful test runs with shows like The Mary Mary Show. Love it or hate it, unscripted television has forever altered the entertainment landscape. Be it The Real Housewives of Atlanta, Biggest Loser, The Apprentice or Basketball Wives, America is tuning in. Reality TV consistently captures the largest percentage of the audience watching the top 10 broadcast programs. In the 2007-2008 season, reality programming captured 77 percent of the total audience viewing those top 10 programs.

At least five “First Lady” or preacher’s wives projects were being shopped over the last year including Ladies in the Pulpit, featuring ordained evangelist Beverly Broadus-Green, the mother of Snoop Dogg.

In Los Angeles, singer, blogger, ordained minister and first lady Myesha Chaney— who co-hosted a weekly radio talk show with her husband—Real Life with Pastor Wayne and Myesha Chaney on KJLH 102.3 FM— is one of four women who signed on to do a reality TV pilot for Lifetime Television keying in on the lives of women whose husbands are involved in the ministry in Los Angeles.

Chaney joined Rinnita Thompson, wife of Pastor Xavier Thompson (Southern Missionary Baptist Church), Yvette Williams, wife of Pastor C. Dennis Williams (formerly Brookins Community AME Church and now Dallas’) and Leslie Young, wife of Youth Pastor Jonathan Young (Church of God Pentecostal) in the cast for the pilot.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to allow people to peer into the lives of us preachers wives,” said Chaney. “It is a world that many people may not know about but would find rather interesting and engaging as preachers’ wives juggle the expectations of others, church responsibilities, community activism, personal spirituality and the daily pressures of maintaining a household.’

Though involved with two other reality show concepts, Pastor Wayne Chaney had reservations about his wife’s involvement.
“Like anything else, it’s not the reality show that’s the challenge. It’s the medium. It depends on who has control of the content. There have to be people within the process that value the voice and concerns of the religious community.”

Producers of the show had originally sought the involvement of Pastor Beverly “Bam” Crawford, senior pastor of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International, the largest church in the state to be led by a black woman.

“I think that with the right producer, it could be a great opportunity,” Crawford said. “My concern was mainly that God has given pastors a voice. And what I wasn’t willing to do was to release the control of my word, thoughts opinions, nor compromise my relationship with my congregants.

“It’s very rare to find a producer with integrity towards the church. Without that, reality TV is dangerous. It’s putting way too much control in the hands and minds of people who don’t respect God and the relationship the pastor has.

“I definitely had some concerns of what message was being sent and communicated,” said Pastor Xavier Thompson, whose wife, Rinnita was also involved.

“The picture secular Hollywood wanted them to portray was of them being at each other throats which makes for juicy TV but not church relations so there were definitely moments where I held my breath in discussing the activity of the day as it relates to the other first ladies involved. I didn’t want my wife to sell her soul at the expense of an hour of fame, but yet years of embarrassment.

“I believe the church and pastors and their respective families are already under enough scrutiny without reality TV and to involve herself with my blessings was cause for guarded concern.”

Adds Chaney, “There’s great possibility in utilizing that medium. But it can go horribly wrong if you don’t have the right people in place.

Within 24 hours of People.com airing their exclusive preview of  “The Sisterhood”, people were already vilifying the women, one of whom discusses where she smoked her first crack pipe and another, whose husband presents her with a pair of handcuffs, talks about their healthy sex lives.

Posting as coming from “a true first lady,” one online commenter wrote, “This is going to be such a joke and glory to God will be nowhere to be found. If they thought they were doing this show to let Christ shine...They got it backwards, their star is bigger than Christ's. This show will be the tag line for much ridicule in the world. I just cannot understand how a Christian would sign up for this crap, let alone a preacher's wife.”

“Truly we are in the end days,” wrote someone, who added: “Saints please pray.”

Not all of the comments, however, were bad.

“As a first lady and a pastor I'm looking forward to seeing this,” wrote one reader. “I like when people keep it real! I have tattoos. I argue with people at times. I work my Godly sexy and it is a hard position!”

And from another who viewed the preview, came this: “That clip did what it was suppose to do. Get your attention! The naysayers will be among the first to watch the show. Stop being hypocritical! You don't have to defend God. He can do it Himself.”

Fact is, “sin-sational TV” isn’t the aim of all of the reality shows targeting the church community.

Last year, Joel Osteen, whose Houston-based Lakewood Church is the nation’s largest church congregation, signed an agreement with Mark Burnett (Survivor, The Apprentice) to develop a reality television show based on the church’s outreach to communities in need.

“Sort of like Extreme Home Makeover, Osteen told reporters, adding “When I think of reality shows, I think of cameras following you, doing nothing. We don’t want to do just a reality show. We want to do something that inspires people and makes them better. It’s not only entertaining and fun, but leaves some kind of message.”

Marvin Sapp is featured in a reality show focusing on raising his family as a single dad. KnockTV recently launched Surrender the Secret, telling the real-life abortion stories of five women and their healing journey using an eight-session Bible study. And BYUtv’s “The District” chronicles the gospel-filled adventures of eight real-life Mormon missionaries.
Holly Davis Carter of Releve Entertainment believes that reality and TV can mix if standards are held.

“What we can’t do,” said Carter, “is to make unscripted television the way we’ve seen it. If we do it that way, we perpetuate the images and messages that we, as a body, are supposed to be against.

“When it works, reality TV provides the opportunity to give some level of transparency to point people to the truth. It gives us another platform to speak, but we’ve got to speak correctly and not get caught up in the foolishness out there.”

Davis who has a producer credit on a reality show that is currently airing, has two Christian-themed reality shows in the works, one of which involves a high profile pastor and first lady.

“Reality TV can be just as beneficial as it can be detrimental. It’s all in what you project and how you project it. At the end of the day, we’re still believers and people are mocking us. If we don’t set the tone, we may as well blend in,” said Davis.

“You can’t just have yes people around you. People will look at your life and turn against your ministry. Even with the one we’re working on now, that one is a little more risky because it’s a true docu-series. Again, there has to be a barometer— someone who says you’re crossing the line. This is not good for your ministry…your look. There are times when I find myself having to say ‘let’s not do this.’

What it boils down to for those like Crawford is integrity.

“It’s a shame that we [the church] succumb to this kind of entertainment when we are a viable segment of the populace. We’re not utilizing the power of the airwaves as we could be doing,” said Crawford.

“On the one hand we, as ministries, spend a lot of money on air time to get our messages out to the community, but we can’t start allowing producers, film companies and cable networks—whose bottom line is dollars—to have access to our lives and churches and exploit that.

“The sad thing is that everyone wants to be star and some are willing to sacrifice their integrity, their loyalty and even their allegiance to God in the process. Whether or not that is the case with this project or those that come after it, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

The Sisterhood’s Brian & Tara Lewis

One hour after having met with True Entertainment president Stephen Weinstock in their Atlanta home, Weinstock turned to Tara and Brian Lewis and said he knew that they were the ones. All that was left to do was to figure how to capture what he saw in them on TV.

Having recently relocated to Atlanta from Los Angeles, they too, saw the opportunity as the perfect fit.

“You know when it’s God,” says Brian. “Even when the characters, some of these people I don’t like how they handle themselves, but in the end I realize whatever the devil meant for evil, God meant for good. It’s like my wife being attack for her stand pushed us into our next level of destiny.

“Jesus had to be crucified before he was resurrected. It’s just a part of the process.”

With that Lewis says he’s “ready for the tough questions,” though readily admits that “seeing people smear us right off the bat is hurtful. But,” adds the father of three, “it’s not so hurtful that I can’t shake it off. I know who I am in Christ.”

Admittedly, the reality TV process gave him pause.

“We know that reality shows have made it based on sensationalism. So we, all of us, especially the men, we have been stressed. I have a lot to lose here. We as pastors and preachers are imperfect people preaching a perfect gospel.

As to wife Tara, an ordained minister and certified fitness instructor with her Momfit line of fitness apparel, there were no reservations.

“I had been told by our manager, who told us about the show, that I should be on television and anybody who knows me knows that I speak the truth with boldness. I’m convicted. I know who I am in Christ and I’m not afraid to say it so I didn’t have a problem being on television.”

It is an unshakeable reality for Lewis, who witnesses to people most everywhere she goes and on Saturdays serves as host, along with her husband, of the Phenomenal Life Today TV show on a local Atlanta station.

She wasn’t the least bit concerned about the people or the situations she was put into.

The couple began pastoring in Los Angeles as the founders/overseers of All Nations Church before relaunching the church on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills as the Feel Your Faith Church, and view the show as groundbreaking television for the body of Christ and the world.

Observes Brian, “What makes a successful reality program is conflict. You’ve got to have good and evil. The show is multi-dimensional. You have a good looking cast. You have a good story line and you have substance. The substance is Christ.”

Notes Tara, “I’m sure that some of the women on the show are going to be stepping back and taking a look at themselves before season two.

In the meantime, Tara hopes that from this God will open the doors for even greater opportunities to share His word.

Dec10

Hollywood Buzz: Jennifer Hudson To Appear On NBC’s ‘Smash’

Academy Award winning actress and “American Idol” veteran Jennifer Hudson will star in multiple episodes of the second season of the musical drama “Smash” as a Broadway diva.

During an interview Hudson, who says she is a fan of the show, admitted she was nervous to take on the role. “It’s just the perfect opportunity,” she said. “It’s going to be challenging, and I’m a little bit intimidated to play this big Broadway star. But it’s going to be a great experience.”With an Oscar, a Golden Globe and a Grammy to her name, perhaps Hudson’s television debut will win the Dreamgirls staran Emmy. The re-vamped new season of “Smash” premieres on NBC Feb. 5 at 9pm.

Omar Gooding Talks Competing for Roles

Child actor Omar Gooding was everywhere in the ‘90s. With hit shows such as “Wild And Crazy Kids,” “Hanging With Mr. Cooper,” “Smart Guy,”  and with his stellar performance in the film Baby Boy, Gooding proved his versatility as an actor. And then we saw less and less of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s younger brother.

“For a while it was easy and then it got tough. There were a lot of roles for everybody when I first started and then it just got real thin,” said Gooding.

“That’s when it got tough, when all the rappers were taking my roles.],” he laughed.

To be fair, the 36-year-old has worked steadily since “Smart Guy” wrapped, but his recent work has been limited to guest appearances on “Single Ladies,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” and “Miami Medical.”

“Major studios aren’t doing a whole lot of movies or TV shows and lot of people are sticking with their [same] guys. So to get yourself out there you have to start going independent, read more scripts and get yourself out there so people know you’re still alive.”

This month, Gooding stars in the comedy Christmas In Compton and will be coming back soon for a second season of Bounce TV’s original comedy, “Family Time,”  and has also been working behind the scenes.

“The whole goal is to ultimately produce my own movies as well as writing and directing. And eventually putting out a producing company so all the writers have someplace to come to.”
One thing is for sure, we’re glad Gooding is here to stay.

Lenny Kravitz Cast As Marvin Gaye In Upcoming Biopic

Rock star Lenny Kravitz, who was last seen on screen playing small roles in Hunger Games and Precious, has snagged a major role as Marvin Gaye in a film about the legendary musician’s career.

The film will focus on the late R&B singer’s last three years, while he lived in London, battled alcoholism, returned to Los Angeles only to be shot to death in his bedroom by his father.

Briefly, a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic, “Memphis,” which was shelved, is now reportedly back on track. The script depicts Dr. King's final days as he struggled to organize a protest march on behalf of striking Black municipal sanitation workers in Memphis, TN, the site where he was assassinated.…HBO announced that a documentary about Beyonce will premiere Feb. 16, 2013. Beyonce is directing the film, which will include footage she shot herself... “Basketball Wives” season five is a go with Evelyn Lozada, Shaunie O’Neal and more shooting in Miami...Finally, Mike Tyson has launched a children’s charity, “Mike Tyson Cares Foundation,” which serves kids from broken homes.

Nov28

Entertainment

paula patton

Baggage Claim

Paula Patton, Octavia Spencer, Lala Anthony and Derek Luke are set to star in Baggage Claim, a novel written by David E. Talbert about a flight attendant (Patton) determined to find a fiancée for her younger sister’s engagement party.

Djimon Hounsou, Jill Scott, Taye Diggs and R&B artist Trey Songz are also set to star in the FoxSearchlight romantic comedy directed by Talbert, which is scheduled to start filming in Los Angeles this month.

Celebrity Apprentice All Stars

This season’s Celebrity Apprentice will have it’s first ever all-stars session which will bring back contestants from the first five seasons of the popular reality show.
Entertainment Weekly reported Dennis Rodman, Claudia Jordan, LaToya Jackson and Omarosa “don’t stand a chance.”
But rapper Lil’ Jon did a pretty good last time and could be the light at the end of the tunnel for the African-American chance at winning Celebrity Apprentice. Noticeably missing? NeNe Leakes.

Saving ‘The Soul Man’

With TV Land not yet having made a final decision as to whether or not it will renew the sitcom, The Soul Man, Cedric The Entertainer has decided to become proactive, taking to the airwaves and churches to urge that fans and supporters petition the powers that be to bring the show back. The letter below was posted on his Facebook page as a sample template. The comedian urged they email it to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for the greatest impact:

“Dear TV Land (re: The Soul Man): We love “The Soul Man”! We are writing to you in hopes that our letter of support will encourage you to bring “The Soul Man” back to TV Land for another season. After watching the debut of “The Soul Man” in June, we have become regular viewers fans of that show and the TV Land network enjoying so much of your other programming such as “Hot in Cleveland” as well as the classic shows. It’s so refreshing to do “one-stop-shopping” at your network for quality family programming. Please hear our voices and bring “The Soul Man” back to TV Land! Thank you for your kind consideration. Sincerely, Fan Name”

Critical Co-founder

BET co-founder, Sheila Johnsons announced at a conference that she is not happy with the way things have gone at the network ever since her ex husband Bob Johnson retired in 2005.

“I think we squandered a really important cable network, when it really could have been the voice of Black America. We’re losing our voice as a race as a result,” she ranted. “I’m really worried about what our young people are watching. There are so many young people who are using the television as a babysitter. We have parents who are not being parents and not monitoring what their children are watching.”

…Briefly, 16-time Grammy award winner, Beyonce is slated to perform at the halftime show of the Superbowl on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The 31-year-old sang the National Anthem at the 2004 Superbowl in her hometown of Houston… Mike Epps will play Richard Pryor in a upcoming Nina Simone biopic… Finally, Morris Chestnut landed a new role on “Nurse Jackie” as a new trauma doctor, a former Army medic who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

mary-maryCedric The Entertainer, Tamela Mann, Among Special Guests At First Ladies High Tea

This year marked a milestone for L.A. Focus as the newspaper celebrated 15 years of the Annual First Ladies High Tea. Held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on Saturday, October 13, the tea attracted over 800 women—including over 50 first ladies; community figures (Larry Elder, Senator Curren Price and Los Angeles mayoral candidate Wendy Greuel); celebrities—(“Hollywood Exes” star Sheree Fletcher, The Bold and the Beautiful soap opera actress

Alley Mills and Simone Smith, wife of Ll Cool J); and church leaders—including Bishop Kenneth C. Ulmer of Faithful Central Bible Church.

Hosted by gospel great, first lady Yolanda Adams, with special guest announcer Cedric The Entertainer, the afternoon affair honored and showed gratitude to women and first ladies who have served their communities and churches throughout the year.

The show also boasted three hours of non-stop entertainment featuring performances by accomplished vocalist Kathy Taylor Brown, acclaimed actress and Dove-award winner, Tamela Mann, gospel singer Brenda Nichols and a glamourous runway fashion show featuring The Yolanda Adams Collection.

Groundbreaking duo Mary Mary were honored with the Spirit Award, which was presented by first lady Myesha Chaney of Antioch Church of Long Beach and Pastor Michael Fisher of Greater Zion Baptist Church.

And the High Tea continued tradition with a essay-writing contest themed “Respecting Ourselves And Each Other,” sponsored by Walmart, Wells Fargo and Toyota.

Nov28

Entertainment

kevin hart

Real Husbands of Hollywood

BET has signed a deal to bring Kevin Hart’s sketch Real Husbands of Hollywood into a comedy series. The improv comedy show mixed with scripted material will air 10 episodes and debut in 2013. 

Hart, JB SMoove and Nick Cannon (married to Mariah Carey) will star in the series with Robin Thicke (husband of Paula Patton), Boris Kodjoe (husband of Nicole Ari Parker) and Duane Martin (married to Tisha Campbell-Martin) playing fictionalized characters of themselves. 

The comedy was first seen at the 2010 BET Awards where Hart was joined by Nick Cannon, Nelly and Bobby Brown to make fun of reality shows such as ­Basketball Wives, Love & Hip-Hop and The Real Houswives of Atlanta.

Celebrating the King of Pop

ABC has acquired the television rights to Spike Lee’s upcoming Michael Jackson documentary, the network announced.  

“Bad25” is a documentary focusing the late king of pop’s creative vision during the making of “Bad,” the follow-up to his groundbreaking “Thriller.” 

It is one of two major projects attached to the 25th anniversary of the 1987 hit-filled album. “This will be a very special Thanksgiving for all families to enjoy the genius of Michael Jackson,” Lee said in a statement. “Big thanks to ABC for allowing people to witness the making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album.” 

Lee teamed with Jackson’s estate and Legacy/Epic Records to search their archives for never-before-seen footage, including some shot by Jackson himself. The director also conducted interviews with some of Jackson’s confidants, choreographers, musicians and collaborators, including Martin Scorsese, Mariah Carey, Sheryl Crow, L.A. Reid and Kanye West. “Bad,” the third and final album collaboration between Jackson and Quincy Jones, made history with five consecutive No. 1 singles. 

To commemorate the anniversary, his estate, in collaboration with Epic/Legacy Recordings, will reissue the disc -- the first re-release of an album from Jackson's catalog since his 2009 death. The album will hit stores Sept. 18.

Seeing More of Cee Lo Green

NBC has given singer Cee Lo Green the okay to develop a family sitcom. Green will develop, produce and star in his own scripted and unscripted projects; and is said to be working on a multi-camera comedy loosely based on his own life, showing his troubles balancing his home life and career as a producer and recording artist…Briefly, 'The Houstons: On Our Own' will debut October 24 on Lifetime which will chronicle the struggles since Whitney Houston’s death in 14 episodes…. Basketball player Matt Barnes and longtime girlfriend Gloria Govan have officially wed. The two went for a getaway in Las Vegas where the two got hitched. 

tanya kerseyTanya Kersey’s HBF Festival A Place To Be Discovered

The Hollywood Black Film Festival is a great place to discover and be discovered, according to founder and executive Tanya Kersey.

“I try to stay away from the films that everybody’s talking about,” says Kersey. “It means a lot more for us to choose films that are not studio films—the smaller, independent films with great talent in them that wouldn’t have a chance otherwise. That makes us a different film festival.” 

The Hollywood Career Strategist emphasizes the opportunities presented at HBFF

“The success of the film festival really is in terms of the filmmakers screened there,” says Kersey, “for them to have the opportunity to find an agent, get a distribution deal, to create buzz and to do it in an environment with the people you want to be in business with.”

With a mind for struggling filmmakers, the HBFF offers workshops and panels that can be purchased individually at $30. 

“That sets us apart,” says Kersey. “A lot of festivals don’t do that. They have one package and it’s $750 dollars and that’s that. There are two arguments for that. You can keep it high and make people step up, or you can keep it low and actually serve.”

During her fifteen years running an African American trade paper, Kersey formed relationships with Hollywood’s movers and shakers. The HBFF is her opportunity to utilize those connections for the benefit of black independent filmmakers.

Since the first festival “it was immediately plugged into Hollywood.” So too, was its mission of including a diversity of black films.

Kersey wants HBFF audiences to see that, “[black filmmakers] don’t create just the few films you see released by the studios. We do horror films. We do adult love stories. There are other things that we do. “It’s really important to us that audiences can enjoy seeing other images of themselves.”

RaveReviews

Steel-MagnoliasSteel Magnolias

A remake starring Queen Latifah and Phylicia Rashad about a group of Louisiana women who  come together at a local salon. The story explores the importance of friendship in the face of life's tragedies. On Lifetime on October 7.

middle-of-nowhereMiddle of Nowhere

Rudy drops out of med school in order to focus on her husband's well being after he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process. Starring David Oyelowo and Omari Hardwick. In theaters October 12.

 

 

 

alex crossAlex Cross 

After detective Alex Cross is told that a family member has been murdered, he vows to track down the killer. He soon discovers she was not his first victim. Starring Tyler Perry, Giancarlo Esposito and Cicely Tyson. In Theaters October 19.

 

 

 

cloud atlasCloud Atlas 

An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution. In theaters October 26.

Nov28

Kirk Franklin Breaks New Ground With The Kings Men Tour

kings menMulti-platinum selling gospel artist Kirk Franklin is once again about to break new ground. Not that groundbreaking is new to the Grammy winning artist who also happens to be the biggest selling gospel artist of all time.

But now for the first time in history, Franklin is partnering with one of the largest tour promoters in the world, Live Nation, to present “The King’s Men” tour. Kicking off this month, the tour will feature four of gospel music’s biggest names—Franklin, Marvin Sapp, Israel Houghton and Donnie McClurkin, collectively known as "The King's Men" —taking to the stage together in the most ambitious gospel tour since “Hopeville.”

“In the Gospel world, this is Springsteen, McCartney, Prince and Elton hitting the road together,” said Kevin Morrow, Senior Vice President of Touring at Live Nation. “It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for music fans.”

Collectively, Sapp, Houghton, Franklin and McClurkin have taken home more than 100 Grammy, Dove, Stellar BET, Soul Train, NAACP and American Music Award trophies and have sold out concerts all over the world.

“The opportunity to partner with Live Nation is a great honor and responsibility,” Franklin said. “The genre of gospel music having this kind of massive marketing support is monumental, and the talent on this tour makes it a must-see event! I’m very proud of this relationship and I expect it to be a new groundbreaking platform for inspirational entertainment.”

“What makes ‘The Kings Men’ tour so special,” said Marvin Sapp, “is that there are four individuals at the top of their game who get the chance to share the opportunity to minister and be on stage together. Our goal is to take gospel to the next level because of our partnership with Live Nation. This platform will give people the opportunity to see us in a whole other light.”

Franklin is the first to admit that a lot is riding on his success this time around.

"This tour is an extension of all our sacrifice and hard work and its success will continue to open up those doors for other gospel artists."

With their investment of somewhere between $6 and $7 million when it’s all said and done, Live Nation is banking on that.

It was Franklin who approached Live Nation with the idea.

“I was introduced to Kevin Morrow by someone who works at Live Nation. I told him my ideas and visions, the things I thought would be successful and the things that don’t work. I told him that there were a lot of great people in gospel and that it could survive in a format outside of the walls.

To solidify the relationship, Franklin invited Morrow to the Stellar Awards.

“You ought to come to this event so you can smell it, taste it and really see what it is,” Franklin told Morrow.

"I saw how amazing the emotional side of gospel is. I had forgotten how unbelievably great the singers are in gospel," Morrow told the Associated Press. “I went back and told everyone else at Live Nation that we need to get in business with them."

"The hope is that the tour does so well that the demand for it continues to grow," said Houghton, who’s racked up two gold albums, six Dove Awards, two Stellar Awards, a Soul Train Award and four Grammy Awards while also serving as a worship leader at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston. "If we play it right, it's going to be a game changer."

Indeed, Morrow has said that the tour could lead to additional cities for the King's Men, as Live Nation also is looking to promote gospel tours through House of Blues venues for up-and-coming artists in the genre. That, of course, depends on how well the King's Men Tour does.

With a depressed economy, even a star-studded line up is no guarantee. Add to that the enduring partnership gospel has forged with today’s increasing mega church venues that regularly showcase its artists—and superstars— on Sunday mornings as part of church services.

The latter, perhaps, will be Franklin’s biggest challenge.

“We have a dynamic with this type of music that no other style of music has. It’s the Sunday morning church challenge. Sunday, you can see Marvin at a church service for free. You can see Donnie somewhere preach for free. You can see Israel at a Joyce Meyer event and then to turn around and charge people $40 to $50 to see us.”

Franklin understands how it can seem unfair for the church community to have to pay to watch people they can see for free.

“The challenge is that we don’t get to control the price of the venue,” says the host and executive-producer of the gospel talent show Sunday’s Best, the highest-rated gospel program in BET’s history.

Franklin continues, “We can’t control the gas in the tour bus. We can’t control what it costs to have a good lighting package. That’s the challenge—to really put something together for the people that you hope they will enjoy, but still with the understanding that there’s a business model in Live Nation and all these companies have to make money.”

The mission is hardly impossible given Franklin’s track record in this arena.

As with most every aspect of gospel music, Franklin has been an innovator when it comes to gospel touring— instrumental in the success of three of the top five selling gospel tours dating back to 1997 with “The Tour Of Life.”

Al Wash, one of the nation’s top black concert promoters who partnered with Franklin for the ’97 tour, recalls:

“Kirk was tapping a large group of people who just wasn’t in the churches and I thought maybe we could take this music to them. I didn’t pay him (Franklin) anything to do the first tour. He took a gamble like I was gambling and it paid off for the two of us.”

With gross receipts of $7 million, “The Tour of Life” became gospel’s most successful tour to date.

Then in 2002 Franklin made history again, along side Yolanda Adams and Donnie McClurkin, with the “Hopeville” Tour.

Featuring three of gospel’s four (at the time) platinum selling artists, “Hopeville” became the most successful tour in the history of the gospel music, outselling even some of the secular tours of the day and generating an increased interest in gospel touring. It was so successful that in 2004, they had a two-month revival tour.

“I felt that if gospel music had a platform. That if we could find a thin line between performance presentation and ministry, that people would come,” Franklin says of the 88-city tour.

“That was a very interesting machine,” he explains, “because you had three gospel artists and at the same time it was unique because Donnie had a platinum album, Yolanda had a platinum album and I was coming from a catalog of crossover songs.”

The 16 cities for “The Kings Men” tour were chosen based on market research with regards to sales and popularity of the four artists who were called together by Franklin.

Though gospel is a relatively small industry giving Franklin the opportunity to have toured with “almost everybody,” this is his first time touring with Marvin Sapp. A history maker in his own right, Sapp’s seventh album, Here I Am was the all-time highest charting gospel album in Billboard history, debuting at Number 2 on the Billboard 200 chart.

“Marvin’s ministry and his career is smoking hot,” says Franklin. “It made great business sense to try to get one of the great names in the genre right now to go out on the road with us.

“Israel was somebody that I saw live,” he continues. “He was such a great communicator. He has a great body of work and such a diverse audience. We knew he would be really great. And Donnie is just a staple. You just can’t say enough about his incredible gift and ministry.”

Donnie McClurkin was the first Franklin approached while they were on the set of BET’s Sunday Best.

“The thing about Kirk is he doesn’t even know his own pull. He was concerned as to whether we would want to do it or not,” said the platinum selling artist turned pastor who has yielded such classic hits as “Stand”, “Speak To My Heart” and “We Fall Down”, earning three Grammy awards, two Soul Train awards and ten Stellar awards.

The four headliners seem to share the same enthusiasm.

“Every one of us possesses, if you will, greatness in our right as it pertains to successes in the music business and gospel so it’s not going to be a normal gospel production,” says Sapp, who insists that the special effects and lighting will be a sight to see.

And let’s not forget the hodge-podge of talent.

“I’m going to sing on some of Donnie’s songs. He will sing on some of mine,” Sapp continues. “The same with Kirk and Israel. It will be gumbo of sorts.”

McClurkin agrees, “It’s kind of landmark to have the four of us on stage together because it’s going to be so absolutely creative.

“It’s the anointing of the Lord and songs of the kingdom and it’s men really loving God and each other. The one thing I can say about the four of us is that fame is not a situation. Our job is service and we love serving the people of God and the kingdom.”

“It’s something we’re trying to bring to a community that don’t get to see this music, this genre in this particular light,” says Franklin. “And I’m always trying to figure out ways of getting my community excited so that the powers that be can see that there are people who really want it.”

Promoter Al Wash— who saw gospel account for at least 60% of his business at one time— believes that if anyone can pull off a gospel tour of this magnitude, Franklin can, while also understanding the pressure the superstar will be under to see that it works.

“He’s the only one who could headline a tour of that magnitude and it’s a great line up. It could be one that rivals “The Tour of Life” and “Hopeville”, but I don’t know that the chemistry is there with white folks promoting it.”

Acknowledging Franklin as a genius on the stage, Wash worries that he may fall short on the promotion end.

Pointing out some of the challenges “The King’s Men” Tour faces, “the ticket price—$75–100 for a weekday show, the venues they’re playing, the night of the week [bible study night in some cities],” Wash says these guys have their work cut out for them.

But make no mistake, Wash is rooting for them.

“I would love for black people to come out and support it, not just because it would open the doors for me to come out and do another major gospel tour,” says Wash.

“The community should support it because it will be a great show and I’m going to buy a ticket to show my support.”

“Most gospel artists don’t tour. They do spot dates,” says Sapp. “We don’t have promoters out there willing to take the risk of investing into a tour. This is our chance. This is our time to promote the King's music to another level. We need the gospel music fanbase to show up.”

“There’s always fear,” Franklin concedes. “Gospel music has so many things fighting against it that you hope and pray that there is still an audience that will embrace the production value and all the labor that goes on behind the scenes.

But ultimately, what the audience takes from the experience.

“We are putting together a show, a production,” says Franklin. “I really try to make sure people feel they got something that’s really worth their money. This is definitely going to be an event.”

Nov28

Entertainment Joy Bryant

joy bryantJoy Bryant Nabs Lead Role

Parenthood’s Joy Bryant has won the female lead role in the currently untitled Screen Gem’s romantic comedy film remake of the hit movie About Last Night—reprising the role originated by Demi Moore. Bryant will star as Michael Ealy’s love interest—in the role originated by Rob Lowe. Kevin Hart will play the John Belushi role and Regina Hall, in the Elizabeth Perkins role. Based on David Mamet’s 1974 play “Sexual Perversity In Chicago” about a couple who start a romantic affair despite their friends’ disapproval, it is reported that the remake will actually be closer to the stage production than the 80′s movie was, the film however, is to take place in Los Angeles.

The 1989 film Steel Magnolias, starring Sally Fields and Julia Roberts is also getting a contemporary remake with an all-black cast. Lifetime is developing the movie based on the hit film set in Louisiana which explores the bond among a group of six women in the present day. Queen Latifah has signed on for the lead role and is joined by Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashard, Jill Scott and Rashad’s daughter, Condola Rashad. The feature will debut later this year.

Michael Strahan Joins Live With Kelly Ripa

After months of speculation and 59 rotating guest hosts, Kelly Ripa and ABC have officially selected former NFL player Michael Strahan as her new co-host to permanently sit in Regis Philibin’s seat, according to Smart Money. (An official announcement from the show will be September 4). The affable Strahan has the potential to bring new viewers and attract a male audience to the largely female audience talk show.

Currently, Strahan, 40, is the host of “Fox NFL Sunday” and is expected to remain as an analyst, which airs from Los Angeles.

Usher Held In Contempt During Court Battle

The child custody battle between Usher and Tameka Foster is getting more heated as the R&B star has been found in “willful contempt” for violating sections of their 2009 divorce settlement agreement.

Usher has been ordered to reinstate a Saks Fifth Avenue account used by Tameka Foster—who claims she needs the special access card to do her job as a stylist.

The pair is back in court just two weeks after Tameka’s son Kile Glover’s tragic passing from a jet skiing accident. The court has taken sides with Tameka on at least a few grievances, including forcing him to pay $1,300 for a nanny bill.

"I did not file this custody case (January 2011) and was content with the ‘joint custody’ arrangement that we share. Most importantly, nor do I wish to appear in court while I am mourning the loss of my son," Tameka wrote to Global Grind. "But I do not want to delay thus prolong these proceedings either; I'd rather continue this arduous process hoping it will help move me through this most difficult period in my life.”

From Reality TV To Scripted

Up and coming rapper Diggy Simmons has landed his own show on BET. The 17-year-old son of Joseph Simmons (a.k.a Rev. Run) will star in the two-hour original comedy which is to be directed by husband and wife duo, Mara Brock Akil and Samil Akil—the director behind the Sparkle remake. Also slated to star, Teyana Taylor and Eddie Murphy’s daughter Bria.

The Untitled Diggy Simmons Project described as an Entourage-like film, is based on Diggy’s life as a blogger as he makes his way to the top…Briefly, Lauryn Hill has not only been charged with failure to pay $1.8 million in back taxes, she also failed to pay $440,000 in taxes to the State of New Jersey. Hill is scheduled for sentencing in November.

the words thThe Words

A thriller starring Bradley Cooper and Zoe Saldana, a writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man's work. In theaters September 7.

unconditional thUnconditional

A woman's idyllic life is shattered when her husband is killed in a senseless act of violence. As she prepares to take matters into her own hands, two unexpected encounters begin to change everything. Starring Michael Ealy. In theaters September 21.

end of watch thEnd Of Watch

Two young officers from the LAPD come upon a startling discovery snd are marked for death after confiscating a small cache of money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel, during a routine traffic stop. In Theaters September 21.

wont back down thWon't Back Down

Two determined mothers look to transform their children's failing inner city school. Facing a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, they risk everything to make a difference in the education of their children. Starring Viola Davis. In

First Ladies High Tea
November will mark the 20th Anniversary of our Annual First Ladies High Tea, honoring the contributions of female leaders and women of faith to the Los Angeles community. For more information, visit www.firstladieshightea.com
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