John Tesh doesnt own a six-foot cross.
Even if he did, you wouldnt find him showing it to you. Its not his style.
"I just know my audience well enough, and know enough about the business, that if you jump up and down holding a six-foot cross waving it in the air, youre going to turn off a lot of people," Tesh said in a phone interview from his Los Angeles home.
Over the last several years, John Teshs audience and business have grown increasingly diverseeverything from pop culture voyeurs who watched him as the former co-host of TVs newsmagazine "Entertainment Tonight" to the music community who has come to appreciate his solo piano instrumental albums, even coining the phrase "Teshmusic." Now, his audience includes some of the same people who are buying and listening to Point of Grace (through a deal with Word Distribution, his music is sold in Christian retail stores and heard on Christian music radio stations). This year, he even co-hosted "The 29th Annual Dove Awards," making himself more visible among the Christian community.
In some ways, his past actions have distinguished him as an ambassador of sorts to Christian music and Christianity in general. How does Tesh view his future role? "Im in Hollywood. Because of my experience, I have the potential to be influential by getting better programming on television, like Touched by an Angel and the stuff of PAX TV. I also have the ability, like I did with the Dove Awards, to expose Christian music and the artists to more people."
Its pretty clear that Tesh, while he isnt a Bible-thumping Christian, also isnt afraid to profess his faitha decision he made about four years ago at a Promise Keepers conference in Los Angeles, listening to pastor/speaker Tony Evans.
"It felt as if this guy was looking right at me and there were 80,000 of us," he recalls. "He said, Its not okay to be a closet Christian. Everybody else is coming out of the closet. If youre in the public eye, its your job to come out of the closet. Thats basically what I decided to do."
For a guy living in Hollywood, publicly espousing your spiritual views is not necessarily the "in" thing.
"My wife (actress Connie Sellecca) even said, Do you really want to be so open about your faith? And I said, Yeah, I have to. It was a real temptation to say that if I admit Im a Christian, Im going to scare people into thinking Im too much of a goody-two-shoes. And I was in that and thats a sin. I was thinking, I know what I am. But maybe I shouldnt be too verbal about anything and be a little more mysterious."
The mystery is gone now. While its a given that he would be blatantly overt about his faith in an interview with CCM Magazine, countless interviews with publications like Newsday, People and Entertainment Weekly are riddled with stories about his "sex-free" courtship with Sellecca and his "faith in Jesus Christ."
Still, John Tesh is far from your conservative evangelical, evidenced by a spoof on sexual innuendo he did a couple of months ago on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."
"After cutting out about 20 of the things that were pretty horrible in the script, we did stuff that was funny,""he explains. "My feeling was, Everybody knows who I am. They know Im a Christian, what my beliefs are. You can go on a show like that, poke fun at yourself and be genuine."
He is adament: "Hopefully, therell be somebody who comes along and sees that and says, Gee, Christians arent all that stodgy or stiff.
"Its okay for Christians to push the envelope. It is not okay for Christians to judge other Christians. Thats one of the things I said when somebody interviewed me for the Dove Awards and asked me if I was worried about mispronouncing names on the show. I told her, "Even though I covered the Olympic games and pronounced Svetlana Chorkina, I probably will make a mistake. But if I make a mistake, I would expect that you and the people you deal with to be the first people to forgive me."
For the most part, Tesh has maneuvered the pitfalls and loopholes of the Christian music arena to emerge as one of its newest and proudest discoveries. His most recent album, Grand Passion, is lending credibility to instrumental music as inspirational, a term usually referring to lyrical content when used to describe the Christian music genre.
"I think theres music that even if the lyrics arent overt, that at the right time and with the right song, you can really move people, "he says. "You need to look further than whats happening in the lyrics or whats coming out of someones mouth and look deeper into whos involved with the music. My audience is families. We dont leave until everyone is lifted up. We might not do that with lyrics. It might not be a gospel piece every single night; it might be a piano piece with an 80-piece orchestra, but people get it."
Trained by instructors at New Yorks Julliard School of Music and a former member of the New York Symphonic Orchestra, Tesh says hes a "more classically trained Christian" than he was growing up in Garden City, N.Y. as the son of a Baptist Sunday school minister.
He and his family attend a teaching church of 100 people "where everyone is incredibly accountable and the pastor is my best friend." He notes four milestones that have "rebirthed" him into Christianity: the death of his father, then mother; marring Sellecca, who brought him to his present church; and the birth of the couples daughter, Prima.
"When my dad died, I spent probably two months pretty drunk," he recalls. "When I came out of it, I realized there was more to life than just feeling sorry for myself. From that moment on, I kept my eye on the calendar and realized that we only live to be an average of 76, so there a lot of work to be done. Then we almost lost our daughter when she was born. Its those times, the crisis ones, where youre closest to God, but they also make you realize you shouldnt wait for those times."
It would be fair to say that Tesh, a man of successful careers and honors, is in the process of discovering lifes indelible marks. "Up until the last couple of years, there hasnt been much to me. Its been me just sort of accomplishing things." He admits. "I think about myself on my death bed with only 15 minutes to live. What did I leave behind? Okay, I was a reporter, I covered a bunch of stuff. I sold a bunch of records that will probably fade out in five years. Ive asked myself, Did I leave a child who was properly educated and spirtually guided? Did I leave something thats going to continue to grow?
"I do know that Christianity and belief in Jesus Christ is not a switch that goes on and off. You cant wake up one morning and say, Im a believer, and I give my life to Him. Thats the beginning, but its all about the process and just living each day."