THE REAL JACI VELESQUEZ Jaci's decision to step into Hollywood and the criticism it has invited. by Jonathan McKee "Mommy, why are we burning Jaci's poster?" "Because Jaci's the devil! As soon as we finish, we're going to burn all her albums just like we did that brood of Jezebel Amy Grant!" Jaci Velesquez, whom you may know from one of her three platinum albums, six Dove Awards, 16 #1 radio hits, or her recent hit "You're my God" off her "Unspoken" album, is taking as much criticism as the Dixie Chicks after the release of the film "Chasing Papi." However, Jaci won't be responding by showing up naked on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. Instead, you'll see her completely dressed, representing Christ with her music, representing a wholesome family image for Pepsi & Dorito's, and impacting Hollywood with her lifestyle. 23 year old Jaci has faced criticism before, but all the "hype" really began when her movie emerged with her playing the role of one of three women who are pursuing a young man named Papi. Unfortunately the film has been chasing Christians away from the box office because of "objectionable" material, including a scene that made the trailers where all three women show up in lingerie or nighties to impress Papi. I thought it would be cool to hear first hand from Jaci about the situation. JONATHAN: Jaci, thanks for taking time to talk with me today- I really appreciate you opening up like this. I think some people would like to hear your heart. JACI: Jonathan, I really appreciate you doing this because, (sigh) you know it's been a hard road going through a lot of the storms that we went through when it came to the movie. JONATHAN: I bet it has been, and I want to hear about that . . . but first, congrats on the Pepsi thing. You're replacing Shakira? JACI: Yeah JONATHAN: Did she get caught drinking Coke or what? JACI: I don't know. But they said they wanted a clean family moral image with ethnicity. JONATHAN: So did you shoot the commercial yet? JACI: We shot the commercial a couple weeks ago and then we shot all the press stuff. JONATHAN: So, being the Pepsi girl, can you get as much Pepsi as you want to drink now? JACI: Yeah. Actually I can. JONATHAN: That would be so cool! JACI: It's pretty bizarre. JONATHAN: You don't look like you drink a lot of Pepsi. Are you sure you're not . . . maybe you should be the Pepsi One girl or something like that? La Chica de Pepsi Uno! JACI: (laughing) Actually, what they have me doing is walking around holding Doritos and Pepsi. JONATHAN: (laughing) Sounds like my kind of work! JACI: I've been eating Doritos my whole life . . . JONATHAN: Now do you have to be careful what soft drink you drink when you're out? JACI: Never can be seen in public drinking Coke. I cannot. I can't even drink Aquafina or anything. JONATHAN: Will you drink Diet Pepsi, Pepsi or what? JACI: I drink either diet Pepsi or Sierra Mist or Pepsi Blue, Pepsi One . . . if a picture came out of me drinking something else, I'd be gone! JONATHAN: Absolutely! Well, the thing that is so cool is that your career has totally taken off. JACI: Yeah, a lot of the opportunities that have come across the table have been because of this movie. Maybeline, Pepsi, the Jeep Cherokee . . . JONATHAN: Do you get a Jeep Cherokee? JACI: No, I wish! JONATHAN: What? You get Pepsi, but no Jeep? JACI: No Jeep. JONATHAN: Do you get as much Maybeline as you want to wear? JACI: Actually yes. JONATHAN: Ah, the perks. Well, as I researched every interview with you, a lot of people were critical of you, some downright cruel. But it didn't look like these people had talked with you? JACI: It's the weirdest thing. If people actually talk to me they usually write positive articles. But if they're just writing about me, they're usually pulling facts from who knows where. JONATHAN: I hear you. Well, when I started reading some of what people were saying, I had two thoughts: 1) Some of these people are pretty judgmental, even cruel, and 2) I would like to hear Jaci's side on some of these issues. For you it must be awkward because you know exactly what's true and what's not. For me and for your fans, we are trying to determine what to believe and what not to believe. JACI: Well, I know some of those things that you read. And- it's funny- I made a promise to my family to NOT read what people were saying on the internet because they (my family) saw things and realized that if I read it I'd be really discouraged. But I see some of it, like the Focus on Family film review and when that one guy (Kevin McCullough) insinuated that my mom was money hungry- trying to make her child a star. JONATHAN: That article was harsh. JACI: Well, he doesn't know me. And the truth is- my opinion about all of that is- say what you want about ME. Because I bargained for that. I mean, I knew that when I came into this and when I chose to do the movie that people were going to say horrible things about me. Because they don't understand me. But just say it about ME. JONATHAN: It must be incredibly complex- incredibly difficult as a Christian trying to decide whether it's worth it getting your foot into Hollywood. Especially knowing that when you, living your life under a microscope, make that choice there will be repercussions. How do you handle hearing that criticism all the time? JACI: You know, it's really painful for me. Because you know- I don't hear any criticism from the world. The world is like, "You're a Christian? Okay- well, do you want to do the Warren Brady show? Do you want to be our spokesperson? Do you want this role?" JONATHAN: I read all your interviews . . . the Latin world and the secular world out there all know that you're a Christian. And when they talk to you- you always end up talking about your faith in God. That's an incredible open door. They think you're an angel. But a lot of Christian's think you're the devil! JACI: That's so true. JONATHAN: I'm not sure where the role of the "Christian critic" is. . . but I figured that if I had questions, I'd ask you myself. JACI: I understand why people have questions. I was in a movie that had nothing to do with God. It was just a corny romance, a film that was actually really clean. But I feel like we (Christians) create our own subculture and we don't ever infiltrate pop culture with the light of the Lord. JONATHAN: Some of your fans are confused though. Because even though the film is clean in the world's mind, it might not be the kind of stuff we want our kids watching. A fan wrote a letter to a friend of mine who does media reviews. And this letter might be a little hard for you to hear- but I think he asks good questions that might be valuable as you make choices in the future. He says: "I hope that Focus on the Family's film review is way off base. . . Jaci's website justifies her presence in the movie by pointing out what a terrific witness she has been to the cast and crew. She also says she consulted with her pastor and family to make sure she was answering her calling. How can a "jiggle" movie be part of her calling? Roger Ebert says it "looks more like a fashion show by Victoria's Secret." He also says Jaci and the other stars of the movie are on display, "in a way that would make your average Maxim reader feel right at home." I've got to do damage control with my kids now. I need to explain the time we spent at a Jaci concert, singing along with "God So Loved the World," and "I Get on My Knees." I've got to talk to them about the stupid decisions we make, and that even people we admire make stupid decisions. I've got to re-review the lyrics on Jaci's albums with them, and talk about how important our words are (and try to minimize Jaci's actions)." - A Fan- How do those questions make you feel? I mean, do you think that in the future, as you look back, you'd do the Patricia role again? Or do you think you should come out and explain it before you do it- because I don't think people are satisfied with the answers they've been hearing on your fan site, etc. JACI: It was a really hard choice. But you know what? Parents have to decide their convictions and what the convictions of their families are. I can't be the one to decide for their convictions. I have to act on my convictions and I have no problem with what ended up happening in the movie. Because I felt like it ended up being a good story, it ended up being a story of, "I learned my lesson." JONATHAN: Everybody who reads this is going to take the one sentence you said about you "having no problem with what ended up happening in the movie" and they're going to come back and say, "She came out of a door wearing lingerie! Are you saying that's okay?" JACI: My opinion is . . . I was playing a role! That wasn't me. I'm a Christian and I don't date a guy that looks like that. And when I fall in love in my next movie- I'm not really in love with that guy, I'm in love with my real love in my real life. I'm able to enter this world as a light and hopefully I can change these people that are key people in this industry and then . . . hopefully I can be the actress that does the "Sweet Home Alabama's," the romantic or fun little movies that you want to watch with your families. JONATHAN: And right now you're trying to just get your foot into Hollywood? JACI: Exactly. I have no right to ask them to change everything for me. They'd be like, "Who are you? We can get someone else to play that role." Yes, it does hurt my feelings that people have to do damage control because of a choice I've made, but the truth is, if this is the wrong choice by some standards, why did God give me a peace about it. I don't question God's will in my life, I just sometimes question whether it was the easiest way or not. But see, this is the problem. I have no problem watching films like "Legally Blonde," and "Sweet Home Alabama." How hypocritical is it of us to say it's okay to sit down and watch it but we're not allowed to act in it because we're Christians. JONATHAN: So you feel that some people are saying, "How could she play in 'Chasing Papi?' By the way- did you get our tickets to 'Matrix Reloaded?'" JACI: Exactly. But then if a Christian plays that part- it's "OH MY GOSH!" Yet we have no problems sitting down and watching it. The reason I know this is because I DO HAVE a problem sitting down watching that "Goldmember" movie or "American Pie" . . . I didn't even see that movie because I would have a problem watching that. JONATHAN: But don't you think that line exists of roles you would and would not take? JACI: Definitely. JONATHAN: And that line exists somewhere between Polyanna (Wow, I'm really dating myself) and "American Pie?" JACI: (Laughing) Yes. Do you remember that film "Just Married" with Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy? JONATHAN: I missed that one. JACI: Well, I turned down the role of the girl that leads him away from Brittany Murphy. This girl meets him at a bar and leads him away . . . I turned down that role because I felt, you know, I just can't picture myself doing that. JONATHAN: Well how do you go about deciding what roles to take? Because on one hand you're saying, "I can't tell Hollywood that," but on the other hand if they offered you the next role in "American Pie III," you're saying, "I can't do that!" Where do you draw the line? Where does it become NOT worth getting your foot into Hollywood? JACI: It becomes not worth it when I'm compromising my personal convictions. JONATHAN: Well how does this happen, because obviously, hopefully, you wouldn't show up at your real fiancé's house wearing lingerie, when you're not married yet. So how can you say- "well that's a role I could play, but yet I can't play a role where I'm naked or . . ." how do you decide that line? JACI: I think that I have to say, "I'm playing a role- this is pretend." And what is the end result of this role going to be. And if the end result is me ending up in bed with somebody, then that's not good. But if I'm playing a role where I'm madly in love with this person and we end up almost doing something where I would have regretted it later, but there's redemption in the end, then that's something else. Because the character is learning a lesson. In "American Pie" you're not learning lessons. It's just crude humor. I want to be part of films where you learn a lesson. Even if I'm playing the role of a girl who gets pregnant when 16, who later realizes, "Wow, that was really dumb. I could have ruined my whole life." And then she becomes someone who ends up working with teenage kids and helps them through the same problems because of the problems she had to go through to get to that place. JONATHAN: That sounds like a good film. JACI: Do you know what I mean? I want roles that have redemption. JONATHAN: So, your saying this role (in "Chasing Papi") wasn't the perfect role that you would have chosen, but at the same time, you feel it was a foot into Hollywood and, for you, it wasn't crossing the line. JACI: Exactly. It was a door that got opened. And now I'm getting tons of opportunities. I've got meetings all week with an incredible studio that is opening doors. And then you can work your way up to that place where you can say, "I'm not going to do this! Change this!" But until then I've got to decide, "What can I feel comfortable going to sleep with at night?" "What can I be comfortable with my pastor watching with his family?" JONATHAN: And that's a tough call to make. And I think it's easy for us outside the situation to look back at the film in 20/20 and say, "I wouldn't have done that!" and then start shelling you with criticism publically. But we all have our opinions and we definitely do not all agree. I mean, my oldest daughter is 7 and, you know, I wouldn't bring her to "Chasing Papi." JACI: And that's your call. The film is PG. That's parental guidance suggested. JONATHAN: Well, I think we as leaders are called to be above reproach. Does it mean that you try to please everybody all the time? No, that's not the answer. Because that's impossible. But does it mean that there are fans, teenagers, kids that are out there watching me and that's important? Yes. I can't help to think of something Marshall Shelly from "Christianity Today" said to me as we were talking about this conversation that you and I were going to have. He had a theory about this- he wondered if people were confused because what you (and other cross-over artists) have been giving the public up till now is very different from what you're trying to sell now. You're trying to mix two incompatible elements. You made a name as "a worship leader," one who turns audiences' thoughts Godward. You portray yourself as authentic and transparent in your devotion to God. Now that you show up as a Christian working in the secular entertainment industry. That's a noble calling too (despite what Falwell says), but blending the two roles publicly is like mixing salt and incense. Those are two very different functions. JACI: I can see that. JONATHAN: One is "sacred" and "holy" and "set apart"--the impression given is "You can see right through me and all I want you to see is Jesus." The other role is "acting." "I play a different role in different situations." In that role you're not transparent anymore, you're just putting on a show. Hopefully using discernment in the roles you choose, and being good at what you do so you're a credible voice for Christ. So when people see you now they might be confused. Which is the real Jaci? Is she the worshipful singer now, or is that just another acting role she assumes for a while, like the lingerie-clad Patrica? Do you think it is possible to do "authentic" and "actress" at the same time? Or do you need to make a switch? JACI: You know what. I'm telling you. It would just be so much easier if I just stayed in the walls of the church. And even though I get criticism even when I'm just doing Christian music, at least it would be easier and no one would have any of THESE questions, right? But I want them to see that we're not weird, we're not condemning, we're not legalistic. I'm not going to condemn them, I'm not going to be legalistic. I'm just wanna love them and show them that when they have one of those days of just wondering and longing and going, "Why do I feel lonely in this world?" that there's God and that they have hope because there's love and hope in Jesus Christ every second of the day. My calling is very simple and very evident. He has called me into two different kinds of worlds. A world of glamour and spotlights with so much darkness. This world includes the Latin music world, a world where women almost have to show their body to get any respect. JONATHAN: It's an unavoidably sexually charged atmosphere. JACI: Definitely. That's just the way it is. And then he's also called me into the world of singing Christian music. I can't even imagine singing pop music. JONATHAN: Everyone predicted you would go pop next. The Christian critics are saying, "She's going to crossover." But then you come out with the album "Unspoken" which is a very Christian, worshipful, very real album where you are vulnerable and honest about your need for God in your life. The very fact that you came out with this album says a lot. It shows where your passion still is. And that's why I personally wondered if you were rethinking the acting thing. Because I think it's hard to do both. I think it's hard to be the worship leader and then turn around and say, "Now it's time to play Patricia" or whoever. JACI: I have a couple more roles coming up that I'm trying to decide whether they're okay. And my whole battle is, I'll be honest with you, I'm not sure I want to act anymore because I have people like that Kevin McCullough bashing my family. He talked about my mother like she's some adulteress. People just know what happened when my parents broke up. She was NOT in the wrong. JONATHAN: This is the same Kevin McCullough that said "But when the industry's No. 1 icon of all time (Amy Grant) leaves a wake of destruction of two families to justify her own illicit emotional realities, it's not surprising that rising stars are beginning to say to themselves, 'hey, I can do what I want and nobody will say boo about it.'" (newsmax.com, April 24, 2003) Of course Kevin is saying "boo." You know when I first read this article I thought, "that was unfair." But I think your fans also felt, "I hope this isn't true." Because some of the things he said made me wonder. Like for instance. He ripped on your stand for abstinence saying that it was the "strangest promotion of abstinence I've ever heard." Was he there to see you that day? JACI: I don't remember meeting him. I don't even know who he is. I can't believe that he even went on to question my sexuality. JONATHAN: Well, he said that when you appeared you were asked about abstinence. He said, "Her answer was strange, convoluted and confusing." Then he quotes you. "Well, you should save yourself for marriage," she stated, "but God does forgive you if you mess up." Then Kevin says, "WHAT? That's the strangest promotion of abstinence I've ever heard." Jaci, what was your abstinence message that day. JACI: My abstinence message is always the same thing. That I believe in sexual abstinence because I believe God has called us away from sexual immorality. I mean, it's not easy in this day and age. Let's face it. I mean, in my relationships I've been in, it's not easy to NOT have sex. Let's be honest. JONATHAN: Yeah it's very difficult. JACI: My message is always, "So wait until you're married." And he didn't finish quoting me because what I always say is, "But if you have messed up know that God forgives because God is full of Grace. But from this day forward you can save yourself." JONATHAN: He made it sound as if you gave a very watered down message, leaving a way out for students. Grace is an essential part of an abstinence presentation. Ask Pam Stenzel. JACI: You know, my whole thing with that is, I'm still a virgin. And it's totally by the grace of God. I've always dated Christians, I've always dated people that know where I stand as a True Love Waits sex person. JONATHAN: Your virginity speaks loudly to a lot of young people today. Jaci, thanks so much for having this conversation. JACI: Thank you Jonathan. JONATHAN: I know that you're just in a tough, tough situation living your life under a microscope. And you've got some stuff to think about here. You're a leader, you know you're being watched and it's not an easy situation. You've got to make this decision between opportunities to represent God in a dark world, and "where can I walk and not cross the line." I don't envy your situation. It's a tough one. But I appreciate you talking with me and sharing your heart with us. JACI: Well thank you. I really appreciate you. You've got a good, good head on your shoulders and I trust your opinions. You seem very open minded but yet very aware of God's word. I respect that because it gets very frustrating to be constantly involved with people that can't see past their own front door. JONATHAN: I appreciate that. Thank you. Let's both keep this stuff in prayer. JACI: Thanks Jonathan, I will. JONATHAN'S FINAL THOUGHTS Whether we like it or not, Jaci's Hollywood roles, her Pepsi deal, her Maybeline deal, and her influence in the Latin market are putting her in the presence of more people in the world. These people are getting to know Jaci and are saying "What's different about Jaci?" My prayer is that as she rubs shoulders with people around her in the next few years, people won't see Jaci, people will see God in Jaci. Then they will say, "Hey that's what I would like to be. Jaci's got something." Her co-stars will come up to her between takes and say, "What is it that I see in you that's different?" and she'll be able to live I Peter 3:15 which is, "Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks the reason for the hope that's within you." What so many of us forget is, "How is anyone ever going to ask that question of me if they don't see the hope that's within me?" The encouraging thing I've been seeing in Jaci is that everywhere, especially in the Latin industry, they're asking, "What is different about this girl Jaci- there's something there." And they end up asking about her hope and she has a chance to talk about Jesus. That is what makes her presence in the world a good thing. It doesn't mean throw out discernment, but it means it's an open door to good conversation with people in Hollywood and people in the world that so desperately need Jesus. Even if we don't agree with every one of her choices, we should continue to pray for her as she makes these tough situations in her near future. And we should continue to pray about the decisions WE make daily, the movies we watch, the stuff we allow into our lives. And most of all, we should pray that people see "the hope" within us. God Bless, Jonathan McKe

source: Jonathan McKee, The Source For Youth Ministry tags: Discernment, Evangelism, Culture