Monday, June 23, 2014

Montana Esco: Learning to Live Each Day As A Thank You

by Cyrus Webb

Looking at him at face value there is no earthly reason why Montana Esco should be alive.*

In the past two years the 25 year old Mississippi native has endured situations that would have been the end of many, but the fact that he is still here is a testament that his existence has a meaning we can all learn from.

I was first introduced to Esco through social media, and over the past couple of years I have seen him use his challenges in life to inspire others and show them what is possible. He's quick to tell you that he's not perfect, but he is work in progress that has a lot to share.

Esco became a father at 16, something that was a wake up for him in many ways. "It slowed me down for sure," he says. "I was living the life of a grown-up at 16." Instead of running from it, though, he told me it taught him a lesson. "Becoming a father so young gave me a sense of responsibility," he says. Now the father of 5 children, Esco says he wants his children to know that he learned from his mistakes and never gave up---and neither should they.

Kicked out of Madison Central in Madison, MS just months before graduating, Esco says that where he is from has a great deal to do with the person he has become. "80% of the people I grew up with are either dead or in jail," he told me. "Seeing my peers made me want to do things different." That proved to be easier said than done.

Like all of us, Esco was not always so open to listening to his conscience and the voice of God that his mother had told him about. In April 2012 he was given a wake up call that put him in a situation where he couldn't help but to pay attention. At the age of 23 his body betrayed him, shutting down and landing him on is back literally helpless in a hospital room. "I needed to slow down," he told  me, "and I think that was God's way of letting me know I had to do it now before it was too late." Little by little he was able to get his strength back and begin living his life again. "God sends things our way to test our faith," Esco says. "He definitely got my attention."

It seemed as though things were looking up for Montana Esco when 2013 came in, however, just days into the new year he was awaken out of his sleep into a situation that almost ended his life.

In what was an apparent burglary,  Esco startled intruders in his home and was shot numerous times, left for dead. Surviving that situation was the beginning of a new chapter for the young man. "After that I had no doubt that God was real," he told me. "He left me here for a reason. I think God has a plan for me, and I want to use the opportunity he has given me to help get other people's attention."

As has been his custom Montana took to social media with his story, even sharing pictures of his injuries. Thousands shared his testimony. "The response has been overwhelming," he told me. " People told me that my story changed their lives." After the shooting he was thinking about retaliating against those involved but the situation taught him another way. "I feel blessed just to still be here," he says. "I decided to let God handle the situation. I just have to work on me."

Montana has begun speaking to groups about his story, and plans to visit schools in the near future with the message that you can't give up on life. He is also working on an outline of a book that he hopes will also inspire others to see life as something precious. His message is clear: "You don't want to take a day for granted. You never know what's going to happen. Learn from every incident and try not to repeat your mistakes."

To stay in touch with Montana Esco follow him on Twitter at You can also email him at or call him at 1.747.777.ESCO (3726).

*     Montana Esco will be giving an exclusive update to his story to Conversations LIVE host Cyrus Webb Sunday, June 29, 2014 @ 6p.m. et (5p.m. ct/3p.m. pt). Listen in at 347.426.3645 or

Friday, June 20, 2014

Actor Tyler Lepley: Working Hard at Success Everyday

by Cyrus Webb

He may have only been in the industry a few years, but already actor Tyler Lepley is making his mark on television and the hearts of fans everywhere. As Benny Young on the hit drama The Haves and the Have Nots, we have seen him realize a dream of being a business owner, the nightmare of being accused of a crime you didn't commi and then almost killed in a hit-and-run incident that no one seemed to know how it would turn out. Through it all Tyler allows us to not just see a character but a part of himself as well.

I asked him about the experience and the response to the show. "The first thing that comes to mind is when I stepped on set," Tyler told me. "I've only been acting for about a year and a half, and it was like nothing I have ever seen before. Everyone checked their egos at the door when we were running lines and as we filmed the show that bond was solidified. The whole thing has been a blessing. It's one thing to be able to put something together and another to get the love from the fans." Those with The Haves and the Have Nots are getting both.

Tyler told me that the character Benny has been easy to relate to, but so have other characters as well. "I've seen people who don't have a lot find peace and happiness, and I've seen people who have money who are very unhappy." He says these are issues that are going on in life everyday.

This experience has an actor began in an unlikely way. "I had failed NFL dreams," Tyler says. He was naturally gifted at football but that wasn't enough. It came so easy to him that he admits he failed to work at it. "Sometimes your gift is your curse." After football Tyler went into personal training which led him to  modeling and acting. What was different this time? "I thought about the football dream and why I didn't succeed," he told me "The truth was I didn't work at it. I wasn't going to make that mistake again." As he began booking the first things in his new career he made sure to work very hard, even though it was something he was gifted at. "Everything happens for a reason," he says. "It's up to us to figure out that reason."

One of the things viewers of The Haves and the Have Nots have gotten to enjoy is Tyler's character Benny's interaction with his sister Candace (played by Tika Sumpter). "It's crazy to watch her be that snake and then come home and see that she does love someone," he told me. "Sometime the things about someone who is rebellious is it's a way to protect themselves. "A lot of it is a wall," he says. "It's a shield." At the end of the day, though, with Candace and Benny it's all going to go back to love. "When you see characters act like that you're able to dive into that creation. It's a big privilege."

When I began watching the show their were two things that struck me about the character Benny: the power of the dream and the issue of faith. "Benny wanted to be able to have that towing service," Tyler explained. He could relate to the feeling behind that. "It's such a realistic dream. Growing up I wanted to be someone who could provide for his family. I have to there for my family. It's one thing to chase a dream and another to realize what a dream takes." The journey is not always easy. "When you are going towards a dream sometimes you have to go through the dark to get to the light." Tyler says it is fun to play that dream and to remember that sometimes hard times have to come in order to realize your dream.

The next thing we discussed was Benny and faith. It's obvious from the very first episode of Season One that he doesn't share the excitement his mother Hannah (played by Crystal Fox)  has when it comes to God. Tyler explains it this way: "I'm a God-fearing person, but it took for me to get a little older in order to realize what that means. A lot of times when things aren't going well for you it's easy to look up at the sky and curse and ask God why me. When you're going through those trails and tribulations you get to understand what is on the over side of that darkness. For Benny the chips seem to be stacked against him. He's trying to find that path. It's hard for him to find that faith with everything going on. I can say that Benny now is Tyler Lepley four or five years ago."

As we wrapped up our conversation I was curious as to how Tyler was able to stay true to himself in the face of success. "First of all it's all about staying grounded," he answered. "That means keeping my relationship with the Lord and the friends around me. You should always keep in mind that what got you to this point is what you should stick to. I'm not just soaking up the limelight. I'm still growing and auditioning. I have to remember who Tyler Lepley was before all of this. I know that just as quickly as it was given to me it can be taken away."

Stay in touch with Tyler Lepley on Twitter at Tweet using the hashtag #HavesandHaveNots.

Actor Gavin Houston: Claiming Persistence Over Resistance

by Cyrus Webb

Through the show The Haves and the Have Nots Tyler Perry has created a cast of characters that know what it's like to be one thing in the public and another in their everyday lives---and we can't seem to get enough of it! Since the show debuted in 2013 Tuesday nights have not been the same, and actor Gavin Houston who is bringing to life Jeffrey Harrington couldn't agree more. From episode one millions have been captivated by the show, and Jeffrey's seemingly perfect house of cards as been shaken. Season One ended with his speaking his truth to his parents and himself. Now in Season Three he is walking in that truth and seeing where it takes him.

Gavin talked about the show's success, it's cast and the experience in this conversation.

"There really is something that everyone can relate to. The things that the individual characters are going through are so much like the issues of our fans. I couldn't have imagined all the things we covered: politics, things going on with the family, sexuality...this whole season is so packed with so many story-lines going on that anybody can find something for them. We all have stories to tell. The show really explores who truly has and who truly have not. It's been really interesting to watch it unfold and get more in-depth. It really shows that all that glitters is not gold."

"In my childhood I created story-lines for my toys. I used to love performing and putting on a show when I was little. I come from a family where my mom and sister used to model, so I kind of fell into it. My first job was on the Cosby Show. Since then I knew this is what I wanted to do. "

"Persistence overcomes resistance. I feel like you have to realize and remember it's a craft. The business side can muddy up the arts side. You have to have a love for it. There's down-times when you're not working and you have to hold on to the belief. I don't hope it works out. It has to work out. You can't leave it. There's no time limit. You have to keep growing."

"I think one of the main things I had to do is keep making discoveries about this character. He comes with a lot of pressure, pressure that parents can put on you. So much of who we are can be related back to what we got in our childhood growing up. I try to identify with the soul of the character. Jeffrey has so many different things and layers to play.

"I love this responsibility to bring the character to life.  Alot of it is about promoting acceptance. One of the biggest things is acceptance from your own parents.  Jeffrey shows the extremes that people will go to in order to find love is what makes it a great story. What he's going to do and how it ends is going to blow people away."

"Tika is such a talented actress. Her character Candace sees through people. She's that straight line where all of us are kind of looping around and putting on this little facade of who we want others to think we are. She is the truth and calls people out on what's real. She's blunt. She's honest. She's fearless."

Regardless of whether or not Jeffrey finds the courage to walk in his own truth or not it's obvious that Gavin Houston is moving full steam ahead in doing what he loves. As he says "Persistence overcome resistance" and as long as we push forward success is sure to be ours.

Stay in touch with Gavin Houston at and use the hashtag #HavesandHaveNots.

Actress Jaclyn Betham: Sharing What It's Like to Live Your Dream

by Cyrus Webb

When Tyler Perry's THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS debuted on the Oprah Winfrey Network on Tues. May 28th with over 1 million viewers tuning in I wasn't surprised. Not only is he an amazing storyteller, but I think we all knew that OWN's first scripted series was going to have something that audiences of all backgrounds could appreciate---and we haven't been disappointed yet.

My first interview with the cast of the show was with actress Jaclyn Betham who plays Amanda Cryer. Though I have never talked with her before I was familiar with her work from the film QUIET with actress Susan Graham. I knew that she was someone to watch, and in her new role she is definitely not disappointing.

The first question I asked her was about the show's response. "I was really excited," she told me. "When you shoot a pilot of a brand new series you're kind of scared. You don't know how it's going to do. When  we found out it the response it felt good. You want people to watch your work. When they do you're super excited."

When I brought up the appeal of the cast and the show, Jaclyn agreed with the universal message. "I think that everyone sees themselves in one of the characters," she explained. "With Mr. Perry there is always a message, something you can relate to. I think that was a great process to be a part of, too. With each episode there 's a greater message at the end of the day. What more can an actor want!"

Jaclyn told me that this is exactly the path she wanted for herself. "I had this dream that I was working so hard for. Once all of that pays off you sit back and say 'This is happening.' For me I had to embrace it. It's so clear to me that your dreams can come true if you have the dedication and the drive to push for your dreams. You just have to make it work."

Part of what  has made this journey an amazing on is the cast on the new series. "I've heard horror stories about working with casts on show," Jaclyn told me. "I'm so happy that is not the case with us. We are all very close. It's like a second family. I think that's why we can be so nasty to each other on camera, because we are so close. I couldn't be luckier to be a part of this cast."

Bringing Amanda Cryer to life was a lot of fun for Jaclyn because of her complexities in life. "I think for her she's never made a decision in her life. Amanda has been crying out for attention and wanting to be her own person for so long that finally she's like 'Listen to me.'" Ironically the character that many have grown to love to hate to love Candace (played by Tika Sumpter) gives her the strength to try to stand up for herself.

From season to season of The Haves and the Have Nots we have gotten a glimpse into Amanda Cryer's life, and through her portrayal of that character more of the world has gotten to know Jaclyn Betham.

When I asked her what was it like to interact with her fans since the show began Jaclyn says at first it was "kind of a weird process," especially adding the world of Twitter to her routine. "I was really into Instagram before the show," she explained. "Now I'm kind of getting used to responding to the fans. People are interested in what I'm passionate about, and I'm happy to talk about it."

At the close of Season One we saw Jaclyn not only deal with being assaulted but (thanks to help from Candace) also finding her voice and courage to stand up to our mother. Now in Season Three we see her not just taking control but showing signs of losing control as well. What is next for the youngest of the Cryers? We'll just have to tune in to find out.

Jaclyn's advice those who see themselves in Amanda is this: Realize your truth. "I  think that honesty is so important. Living in your truth is essential. You'll never be happy if you don't."

Stay in touch with Jaclyn Betham at and make sure to use the hashtag #havesandhavenots.

Actress Renee Lawless:Sharing What It Means to 'Have'

by Cyrus Webb

She may have become known to many through her work on stage, but 2013 has solidified actress Renee Lawless as one of the unforgettable stars of the runaway hit The Haves and the Have Nots.

In the first 10 minutes of the first episode we saw her character Katheryn Cryer as the strong matriarch of her family, however, the show has also revealed another side of the woman whose cutting retorts and strength masks a world of hurt and pain. Millions have made the show must-see television and Renee couldn't be happier.

I asked about her thoughts of the first episode. Her answer? "This is going to be a hit, and I'm a part of it." Renee went on to tell me that they expected high numbers on the first one and as we have continued to grow that's what has really been more overwhelming. The drama is groundbreaking as the Oprah Winfrey Network's first scripted drama and the first of three projects created by Tyler Perry that appear on the channel. The importance of the moment is not lost. "Not too many people get to be at the start of something great," Renee said to me.

Renee Lawless' place in the spotlight is something that has been in the works for quite some time. "Even as a young child I was singing the loudest in church plays," she told me. "I always dreamed of being a movie star." When she began in theater, it just felt right to her. "This is my home," she said of the experience. "This is where I want to be." She knew in high school that no matter where she went that performing would be a part of her life. "I've been on stage many years, but my ultimate goal was always TV and eventually film." The Haves and the Have Nots has made that dream come true. She said that to not only have achieved her ultimate goal of being a series regular and a star of a series is an experience she is loving.

It was really intriguing to talk with Renee about how she has brought Katheryn to life. "I knew all these layers before you all did," she told me. "With any new television drama everyone is brought in in the middle. It's up to the characters to bring you in. The one thing that I love about Katheryn is that she's a very multi-layered person, it's like peeling back layers of an onion. She's like a hollow oak tree: outside she's a strong pillar of strength but on the inside she's rotting and hollow. What her husband and children and life have given her has made her a very lonely person. It's basically what it means to have and to have not."

Renee then gave an example that I think resonates with everyone. "Even though she's worth 50 million dollars she's a woman who's over a certain age, who doesn't like getting old, who is dealing with cancer and problems with her kids. Not many can relate to being worth 50 million dollars, but 50 million people can relate to what she's going through. She in many ways is one of the most relatable characters because she has all of these layers. She's just like me."

Though things are going well for Renee and she is doing what she loves, it hasn't happened without a real commitment to her craft. "I worked very hard and long and got many more rejections than I've had successes," she told me. "I do this because I love it, not for the award or the paycheck that it affords me." Speaking of the world that actors live in she adds: "Our career is very unsure. If you're just doing it for the fame and glory you're not going to go very far or last." Her next words are great reminders for all of us with a dream. "You have to love what you do in order to truly be successful at it."

May those words resonate with us as we identify our passion in life and vow to pursue it.

Renee's website is and you can follow her online at

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Award-winning author Jewel Kats Inspires New Archie Character Harper

by Cyrus Webb

If you don't believe that dreams can come true you definitely need to be introduced to Toronto native and award-winning author Jewel Kats. I was introduced to the author and disability advocate through Victor R. Volkman, the founder of Loving Healing Press and the publisher of several of her titles. Katz was involved in a car accident as a child that changed her life, but didn't take away her desire to change the world.

After reading a few of her titles I had the opportunity to interview her for Conversations LIVE, and it was an inspiring discussion that led me to this theme: nothing is impossible when you live life without impossibilities.

Today additional proof of that has shown itself for the inspiring author as she is now celebrating another milestone: inspiring a character for Archie Comics named Harper!

Archie #656 available Wednesday, June 18th among other places on Google Play introduces Harper (cousin to socialite Veronica Lodge), to Riverdale and readers around the world. Her arrival marks the first time a character with a disability has been featured in the popular series. Like the author who inspired her, Harper does have a disability, but it does not define her.

"I never think of you as a girl with a disability," Veronica says to Harper in the new issue. Harper's response? "My disability is a part of me! I wouldn't change it in a flash. I love my disability because it makes me think outside the box!"

Thinking outside the box is EXACTLY why Jewel Kats has been able to achieve all that she has.

She told me that it's been an amazing experience to have individuals read her work and get the messages she has included. "That's exactly what I wanted to do," she says.

She told me she didn't know she wanted to be a writer until her twenties, and after some changes in her personal life it was a conversation with her mother that set things in motion. "My mom asked what I wanted to do with my life," she recalls. "I told her I wanted to write books for children." The rest, as they say, is history.

Since then she has written books like Reena's Bollywood Dream: A Story about Sexual Abuse,  Cinderella's Magical Wheelchair: An Empowering Fairy Tale and Teddy Bear Princess: A Story About Sharing and Caring: all of which are entertaining, yet provide important lessons for readers of all ages.

Thanks to the internet, Jewel is able to reach individuals around the world, something that she doesn't take lightly. "You never think you can touch people through a keyboard and your thoughts," she told me. "It's so humbling to know you are making a difference through your words."

That difference she is making also comes from her personal love of the craft. "Writing is a burning desire," Jewel explained. "I can't go a day without writing. I'm constantly flooded with ideas. Writing is in my blood. It's what I do...What I want to do."

One of the ways the author and advocate is sharing her gift is through the new book inspired by her own life. DitzAbled Princess: A Comical Diary Inspired by Real Life shows you a woman who is not only a fighter but an individual that knows how NOT to take herself too seriously. What a great lesson for all of us.

Because she has done so much I asked Jewel what advice she has for others when it comes to pursuing their goals and dreams. "We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow," she said, "so you have to make the most of today. Keep trying. Look inside yourself.  If you have a dream then follow it."

Make sure to stay in touch with everything Jewel at her website Get the new issue of Archie featuring the character Harper on Google Play here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

MUSIC REVIEW: Ricky Dillard & New G – Amazing

Media personality Cyrus Webb is new contributor for the popular website!

Read his review of Ricky Dillard & New G's new album AMAZING here: MUSIC REVIEW: Ricky Dillard & New G – Amazing

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Gospel Blue MIC Top 20 Singles for June 2014

“One on One” by Zacardi Cortez tops the June 2014 edition of the Gospel Blue MIC Top 20 Singles Chart for a 3rd month. “Beautiful Day” by Jamie “I Can Only Imagine” by Tamela Man and “My Hope Is In Glory” by Ethan Kent and “I Can Make It” by Bryan Popin complete the Top 5.

Debuting this month are the singles “
Say What God Said“ by Jevon Brock & Kingdom Citizens and “Your Destiny” by Kevin Levar & One Sound. “While “A Friend Unfailing “by Stellar Award Winning Phillip Carter & SOV, “l, “Our God” by Micah Stampley, “God Is” by Patrick Dobson “Open the Sky” by Lamar Campbell & Spirit of Praise, “Lead Me” by Monica Lisa Stevenson  and Shy Da Gifted’s“Hey” help round out the Top 20.

Lastly, the nominations for the 2014 Gospel Blue MIC Achievement Awards are a month away; to view the full lists go to . This year’s awards will be held on July 11, 2014 @ The Mount in Chesapeake, Virginia during the 5th Annual Independent Gospel Artist Conference.

The Gospel Blue M.I.C. Radio Association was set up to form a reputable chart designed for internet and terrestrial radio stations to bring the best in Indie Gospel Music. Participating stations are asked to render its Top 20 Playlist on the 25th of each month. This date ensures that an accurate and timely chart is produced on the second Tuesday of each month.

Gospel Blue M.I.C. Top 20 List for June 2014

1. One on One - Zacardi Cortez

2. Beautiful Day - Jamie Grace

3. I Can Only Imagine – Tamela Man

4. My Hope is in Glory - Ethan Kent

5. I Can Make It - Bryan Popin

6. Follow Thee - James Murphy

7. Until I Pass Out - Uncle Reese

8. Nobody – Alex Holt & Free Worship

9. Our God – Micah Stampley

10. This Praise Is For You - Claude Deuce

11. God Is - Patrick Dobson

12. A Friend Unfailing - Phillip Carter & SOV T

13. Lead Me - Monica Lisa Stevenson

14. I Can’t Live Without You - Derek Dunn

15. Your Destiny – Kevin Levar & One Sound

16. Better – Jessica Reedy

17. Hey - Shy Da Gifted

18. Here Comes Jesus – Darnell Moore

Say What God Said - Jevon Brock & Kingdom Citizens

20. Open the Sky - Lamar Campbell & Spirit of Praise

For more information about the list and awards, email Steve Swann at

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Introducing the "My Life As A Dad" Gift Pack Giveaway

To celebrate the launch of "My Life as a Dad," (a new weekly Web series that showcases celebrity fathers sharing their personal fatherhood experiences and parenting tips), Daddy & Co. is offering a Father's Day giveaway of their Celeb Daddy Gift Pack valued at $162!

"My Life as a Dad" features interviews with stars like actor/comedian Tom Arnold, "Dancing with the Stars" winner J.R. Martinez, "NCIS Los Angeles" actor Eric Christian Olsen, "Witchblade" actor Will Yun Lee and many more.

"My Life As A Dad" (MLAAD) is the first show of its kind to delve into the lives of celebrity and professional athlete dads and highlights their journey to daddy hood. The show features personal interviews, kid jam sessions and games, along with advice, discovery and emotional messages direct from celebrity and professional athletes that you know. MLAAD gets their answers to important questions, such as how they feel about being a dad, their parenting philosophies, how they balance their family life with their professional life and, in some cases, how they relate their unique upbringing to being a dad today. You’ll find out what their favorite activity to engage with their child is, their best piece of parenting advice and even their first thought following their child’s birth.

The contest runs from now until Father's Day - June 15, 2014. Find out how to enter here:

Daddy & Co. sells gifts for dads of all ages and stages, including a new dad "Daddy Swag" gift set, a Chef Daddy apron, a Most Valuable Daddy T-shirt and a Just Fore Daddy golf kit. The company features many other items in all price ranges, often emblazoned with "I'm the Daddy." Discover more here:

Listen to Daddy & Co. founder Robert Nickell discuss the idea for the company and the giveaway on Conversations LIVE'S "Cyrus Webb Presents" here: