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Written By: Michael “Hey Mikey” Fanning

Hollywood is here FOREVER! The stages and the names change, but one thing for sure is that Tinsel Town will always be looking for talented and fresh faces. When that face also happens to be tall, dark, and handsome, the look is all the more exciting and tantalizing. Meet Toby Onwumere, a rising star that just so happens to meet the criteria of “tall, dark, and handsome,” and most of all talented!

toby onwumere kai empire

Toby is taking hearts and Fox’s Empire by storm as “Kai,” Jamal Lyon’s (Jussie Smollett) love interest and now fiancé! As Kai, Toby is doing groundbreaking work, as he showcases the life and love of a Black, gay, and HIV positive man against the backdrop of family drama, corporate sabotage, and ignorance. “I feel honored to play him [Kai] and bring his story to the forefront…It’s time to really inform people and push forward with representation and inclusivity, all while delivering a really unforgettable story.”

Toby is a first generation Nigerian-American, hailing from Dayton, Ohio and has always dreamt of being an actor. He counts his parents, Fidelis and Prisca, as being the driving force behind his pursuit of the arts as they allowed and encouraged him to do what he loves. “My parents were traditional, but not in the sense of what they expected me to be…usually when you’re Nigerian you the career paths your parents want for you are pretty narrow, you have to be like a doctor or lawyer, for them to do that is really amazing.” Toby admits he is stoked to be on Empire, revealing he has been a fan of the show since its inception. “Man I love it [Empire] I would be in class and thinking to myself I’m gonna be on that show one day, and here we are [he laughs].”

jussie smollett and toby onwumere empire kai jamal

Empire continues to be a ratings giant with no sign of slowing down in its fifth season. However, in an interesting plot twist the series has flashed forwarded two years into the future and we find that The Lyons are mostly in shambles. Lucious and Cookie continue to fight to win Empire back, Andre is incarcerated for Anika’s death, and Hakeem is unable to perform after a grave injury. Jamal, however, has flourished in his self-imposed exile to London, finding new label and love with Kai. Their relationship stands to be the strongest one we have seen for Jamal as Kai is empathetic, intelligent, and compassionate. Toby admits he and Kai are very similar in those aspects, but fundamentally different in others. “Well for one I’m straight [he laughs] and then I’m way too silly! Kai is more straight-laced and serious. I like to laugh and joke and be goofy.” Kai’s storyline is definitely a serious one as no shows have really shown a relationship like he and Jamal’s. Although the Kai’s HIV status has been a topic on the show, the larger phenomenon of him being with a partner who is negative and on PREP (via whatisprep.org, PrEP means Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, and it’s the use of anti-HIV medications to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected. PrEP is approved by the FDA and has been shown to be safe and effective at preventing HIV infection.”) “The storyline was meant to be more informative than anything else. People still have these notions about HIV/AIDS from the eighties and so many advancements have been made since then…the love between the two of them [Jamal and Kai] shows that everyone deserves love and can be loved. Kai just so happens to be HIV positive, but he really loves Jamal and he’s a great person. That’s what counts here love…The scene when they proposed to each other was really just magical and powerful.  It’s why I’m honored to play this character…this is really encouraging dialogue and I think people just need to be more open minded and educated.”

toby onwumere kai empire

Toby continues to look forward to the rest of this season of Empire and hints he has some pretty amazing projects in the works that he is not ready to share. However, he did reveal his holiday season will be international as he travels to Europe to bring in Christmas and the New Year. If 2019 is any bigger than 2018 was for him then we know he is about to be a household name! He advises aspiring actors to “Really study the craft. Take the classes and remain diligent. If this is what you want stick with it and never give up!” Catch Toby every Wednesday night at 8 PM EST on Fox’s Empire!

Celebrity Interviews

Being “Simone!” STAR’s Brittany O’ Grady (@brittanyogrady) Talks Being Biracial & An LGBT Ally!

With season three of STAR underway, Brittany O’ Grady, who plays the role of Simone Davis, is showcasing all of her talents while unpeeling the many layers of her character. In the last two seasons, fans have witness Grady effortlessly portray the very fragile, complex Simone but Grady says that tapping into her role is no easy feat.

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brittany o' grady star on fox

Written by: Kyree Shockley (@chroniclesofky)

With season three of STAR underway, Brittany O’ Grady, who plays the role of Simone Davis, is showcasing all of her talents while unpeeling the many layers of her character. In the last two seasons, fans have witness Grady effortlessly portray the very fragile, complex Simone but Grady says that tapping into her role is no easy feat.

“She’s evolve so much,” said Grady. “She was supposed to be borderline crazy –very different from who I am but it’s human for us to all change and evolve. Playing her [Simone] is a fun challenge I enjoy.”

Though there are major differences between Simone and Grady’s upbringing, Grady takes the similarities between them and uses it to convey authenticity on the show.

“Despite her negative past, Simone is very sensitive,” Grady said. “People underestimate her but she’s a lot stronger than what people think and I share that in common with her.”

One of the more significant similarities between Grady and Simone is that they’re both biracial. In the early stages of her career, Grady accepted roles playing Latino women but Star is the first opportunity Grady’s had to play herself. With the show success thus far, Grady is looking forward to taking some of her own personal experiences and exploring the possibilities of diving deeper into her character’s racial makeup.

brittany o' grady star on fox

“It’s hard to identify when other people don’t see you as you are,” said Grady. “I grew up in a diverse area but I was picked on. People told me I didn’t’ count as black and was called different racial names throughout my life. Then when I went to college, which is a private, predominately white, Christian university, it felt like I was in Get Out. I was tossed around by people’s perceptions and Simone has been through that as well.”

Even though Simone has experienced many ups and downs throughout the seasons, (the passing of her mother, sexual abuse, placed in foster care, and now a pending divorce), Grady finds Simone’s sassy one-liners to be one of her favorite things about her role.

“Simone is always bringing an edge,” Grady said. “She’s comedic, she’s fun and I like to crack up with the things that she says. It’s fun to have that side of myself show through her.”

Despite the recent turn of events, Grady says fans should expect Simone to move forward and make “a lot of personal wins” this season.

“She’s no longer stuck in her past,” said Grady. “I’m really excited about her tackling things that have more to do with her and not what others have done to her.”

In the spirit of moving forward Grady talked about where she would like to see her character go in the future and how she would like for Simone to grow in the seasons to come. And the two big things Grady would like to tackle are race and sexuality.

“I want to talk more about Simone’s race, how she feels about it and her sexuality because she’s fallen in love with men and women,” said Grady. “ I want to see their [FOX’s] explanation especially to an audience who may not understand it.

With her character possibly being bisexual and having friends a part of the LGBTQ community, Grady wants to bring awareness to the discrimination and issues many bisexual people face. She would like for Simone to express her sexuality without the stereotypical “flip flop/ confused” narrative but in a way that honors those that are affected.

“It’s one of my biggest purposes in life,” Grady said. “As an ally, I want to portray the bisexual experience the best way I can. One of my friends that I’ve had since I was 12, came out to me as trans during the pilot and she told me the first time she saw someone stick up for trans people on TV, it was me and that’s something that I will keep with me for the rest of my life.”

star on fox

At 22, Grady has seen much success and continues to be an inspiration to young actresses, especially those who are biracial and looking to her as role model. Grady’s piece of advice to those aspiring to be where she is: “let what inspires you, inspire you.”

“You don’t have to be put in a box,” said Grady. “The emotions and stories that you tell are way more important than what people want to perceive you as. Your race is who you are and it’s a part of you but it shouldnt let other people define your work or your ability to tell a story.”

In case you wanted to know what other projects Grady has in the works, be on the look out for her movie, Above Suspicion –at true story about an FBI agent who’s assigned to a small town in Kentucky, where he becomes involved with a local woman, leading to scandal. In the meantime, be sure to watch Grady on FOX’s hit show, STAR every Wednesday at 9/8c.

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On The Go! Keepin’ It Real from Michael Yo (@michaelyo)!

What does it take to be the best? That is the question we all want to know. For one NFL player turned media personality the answer rested in opting to be the best version of himself! That man is Michael Yo–media personality, actor, stand-up comedian, and host! Kontrol managed to snag some of his time in an interview that left us inspired and in deep admiration of just who Michael is. “I’m a good guy who’s happened to learn some pretty awesome life lessons along the way…”

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michael yo

Written By: Michael “Hey Mikey” Fanning 

michael yo

What does it take to be the best? That is the question we all want to know. For one college football star turned media personality the answer rested in opting to be the best version of himself! That man is Michael Yo–media personality, actor, stand-up comedian, and host! Kontrol managed to snag some of his time in an interview that left us inspired and in deep admiration of just who Michael is. “I’m a good guy who’s happened to learn some pretty awesome life lessons along the way…”

michael yo

Michael hails from the Great State of Texas, but is far from your traditional American cowboy. First, he is biracial, being of African-American and Korean descent. “When I was younger I was definitely Black and Asian, but people would always see me as Black, and I always identified as Black. I played sports and was athletic so I grew up as an ‘other’ by others’ description. It’s just unfortunate as a minority in America you have to deal with so many stereotypes.” Michael’s cactus roots have blossomed into actualizing his Hollywood dreams. “Man I am blessed to have gotten as far as I have and I definitely owe it to people believing in me, especially my parents. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished, but there’s still so much more I want to do and achieve…Truthfully the grind never stops [he laughs].” Indeed, Mr. Yo is definitely on his hustle and grind with maximum efficiency these days as he is currently doing stand-up comedy in Kansas City, hosts a two-hour show on SIRIUS XM for Entertainment Weekly Radio called The Michael Yo Show, and hosting Bravo’s reality series , Play By Play. “It’s definitely a blessing to be booked [he laughs], but on the real it can be pretty demanding…I think the hardest part is being away from my family, but I know this is how I’m taking care of them so it’s all worth it because they’re worth it.”

michael yo

As aforementioned, family means everything to Michael. In fact he reveals his free time is all about spending time with them. “Downtime is about my wife and son. He’s 19 months old, and I love being a father. I was selfish until I got married and had him. But that’s what it’s all about, them making me into a better man all around.” He goes on to reveal that his personal life may soon be on display as Fox has picked up the pilot to a series surrounding his life! “I’m really excited about the project and I know it’s gonna be something everyone can laugh and relate to.” Yo’s series is a significant step in the right direction towards inclusion, as there are few Asian characters on American television. In fact, the highest grossing romantic comedy of the year, Crazy Rich Asians, was the first predominantly Asian film in nearly twenty years. “I think it’s just time for everyone to be represented on television and in the movies. The world is so beautiful and diverse. Why not be as inclusive as possible?”

michael yo

There is no stopping Michael Yo, or even slowing him down, he is clearly a man on a mission towards even greater heights of success. In fact, his comedy special, Blasian, is critically acclaimed and can be streamed from Amazon, iTunes, and other streaming platforms. Surprisingly he reveals that he was not always so sure of his career and even jealous of others’ success. “I was working at a radio station and my manager at the time heard me talking smack about another worker who got an opportunity I wanted and he pretty much just told me if I worried about my own career half as much as I did everyone else’s I’d be where I wanted to be. I really took that to heart, and since then I’ve been nothing but supportive of everyone around me.” He goes on to advise any newcomers to the entertainment industry to realize that “…no one makes it on their own, and to find that team or network of supportive people to have in your corner. Don’t compete with your friends, you need them, and when one of you wins, then you all win.”

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Young & Winning! Meet Xolo Maridueña (@Xolo_Mariduena)!

Young teen, Xolo Maridueña is making a name for himself in the acting world, and slowly but surely becoming a young star. Xolo is just 17 years old and already the lead for the hit YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai.” He’s been named Latina’s Magazine Hottest Youngest Stars Under 25, and even with all that success, Xolo is a normal teenager that attends a regular HS, and shares the same celebrity crushes as just about every young teen in America.

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xolo mariduena

Young teen, Xolo Maridueña is making a name for himself in the acting world, and slowly but surely becoming a young star. Xolo is just 17 years old and already the lead for the hit YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai.” He’s been named Latina’s Magazine Hottest Youngest Stars Under 25, and even with all that success, Xolo is a normal teenager that attends a regular HS, and shares the same celebrity crushes as just about every young teen in America.

Before starring in the hit show, “Cobra Kai,” he played in the NBC show, “Parenthood” as Victor Braverman, which he explains is his ‘first big break.’ Xolo also discussed how working on that show made him come to a realization that acting was his passion, “At the time, I had never worked with such talented people before in my life, the whole cast are really some of the most professional, astonishing actors I ever met. And working with them, solidified that I want to be an actor, as my career.”

xolo mariduena

Xolo currently plays Miguel Diaz on the “Karate Kid” sequel, “Cobra Kai,” where he’s a sophomore in high school, trying to find himself. Xolo describes his character saying, “He’s struggling with a lot of teen struggles, being a kid going to a new high school…he has to find where he fits in, through Cobra Kai, he really starts to figure what’s important to him.”

Because the show is centered around martial arts, Xolo had to do a lot of preparing for the role. He talked about how a month before filming the show, he would practice every day, which included stretching, choreographing fights, and just learning about martial arts/artists. There were also about 2 or 3 hours of training Xolo had to do a day; Xolo talks a little bit about his struggles in the early stages of training, “My body was telling me to quit because I wasn’t used to this type of exercise or training…my body wasn’t really conditioned to work that way.” But fortunately for us, he didn’t quit because he’s killing it on the show.

With some of the original actors from the original “Karate Kid” starring in the show (Ralph Macchio and William Zabka), and with the huge legacy of “Karate Kid”, Xolo said he definitely felt the pressure to do a great job playing his character, “It definitely was a lot of pressure, but not just because those guys were on there, this is what people have been waiting to see for 30 plus years…the fans are very passionate about “Karate Kid.”

Xolo, who’s Mexican, Cuban, and Ecuadorian expressed how important his Hispanic heritage is to him, “I try hard to represent the Latino culture I’m a part of, not just in a role, but in everyday life, that I’m not only embracing my heritage but actively finding ways to spend time in my communities to come together.” He mentioned how him and other Latinos in entertainment are beneficial to the youth, “In this industry, having representation is the biggest thing, for people of color especially.”

xolo mariduena

Although he’s a young star with his own TV show, Xolo describes himself as a regular teenager, who also attends a regular school, and gives all the props to his parents for keeping him grounded, “My parents helped mold me into the guy I am today, and because of that, I have to thank them… My parents were very admitted about me attending school, it’s not like I’m working everyday throughout the whole year, there’s not really a need to be home schooled.” Xolo also went to prom with one of his friends from school, but young ladies don’t worry…he is still single, but unfortunately, he’s not looking for a relationship right now, he’s focused on his craft. But if he was, it would wishfully be one of his celebrity crushes, Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Amandla Stenberg, or Rihanna.

So, Xolo is currently on summer break from school, and is gearing up for season 2 of “Cobra Kai” and although we have no word on when season 2 will air, he mentioned how he himself isn’t too sure of what the fans can expect. He did say we will learn more about the characters from season 1 and that we will be introduced to some new faces.

Photo Credits

Photographer: Tim Schaeffer at Cellar Door Studios @cellardoorstudios.la

Grooming: Joseph Adivari @adivaribeauty

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