Sunday, March 15, 2009


Season 7 American Idol contestant Kristy Lee Cook was always a favorite of mine on the show from the moment she sang one of the best renditions of “Amazing Grace” I’ve ever heard. Following her time on Idol, Kristy released the album “Why Wait” and recently started a foundation to help her other passion in life besides music: horses. Kristy joined me recently on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to discuss the foundation, her time on Idol, and how she is able to deal with the ups and downs that come her way in life. Here’s an excerpt:

TR: You recently started the Kristy Lee Horse Heaven Foundation so tell me about that and what you hope to accomplish.

Kristy Lee Cook: I just started a foundation for rescuing horses – neglected, off-the-track, abused horses. We rehabilitate them, show them, ride them and get them good homes. We also have a program for kids who can’t afford horses of their own. It allows them to come out and play with the horses and ride. We’re really excited about it.

TR: How did you develop your love of horses?

Kristy Lee Cook: I think it started when I was two years old. My Dad put me up on a big thoroughbred up at Longacres in Washington when they had a racetrack up there. Ever since I sat on that horse, I’ve always wanted one.

TR: You said one of the goals of the foundation is to work with at-risk youth and kids to expose them to the horses. Have you ever seen any difference, either in your own experiences or with other people, of how these kids change from working with the horses?

Kristy Lee Cook: Yeah, horses are proven to be therapeutic. There are kids with a lot of health issues and stuff and – I don’t know what it is about horses but they just seem to have that healing comfort about them. I know that a lot of people who are troubled, if they rehabilitate a horse, a lot of times it makes them look at themselves – and it rehabilitates them as well as rehabilitating the horse…(Horses) can understand you. They can feel if you’re hurt and upset and happy. They can read all that so I think it’s a comfort knowing you have something that understands you…I’ve had a couple of horses that have pretty much saved my life. When it comes down to protecting their owner, they really do their best. I know they say dog is man’s best friend but horses are my best friend.

TR: You’re working through the foundation. I also read that you were passing out Christmas gifts to needy families on Christmas day. How did those seeds of giving back get planted in your life? Did your family ever face hard times and need help themselves?

Kristy Lee Cook: Oh yeah. Still to this day, my family doesn’t have a lot of money. I remember being poor a lot of times and growing up without anything. I’ve had those experiences and my Dad had a hard life growing up. Nothing's ever really come easy to our family so I definitely understand. And I was raised in a good home. We’re a very giving family and we like to do what we can to help others.

TR: Kristy, when you were on American Idol you faced some challenging times. You were sick for several weeks. You had to endure some, what I thought, were unfair critiques from the judges. When you’re dealing with that kind of stuff, what got you through it mentally, emotionally, spiritually?

Kristy Lee Cook: It definitely was God helping me get through. That was a hard, hard thing to do and God made it easier for me. Everything happens for a reason and this is all part of His plan so no matter how hard it is, you’ve just got to keep going.

TR: Did the friendships you formed on the show also help you deal with what was going on?

Kristy Lee Cook: Yeah, you get really close to a lot of people on the show because they’re all you have. It becomes a brother-sister kind of relationship. You’re away from your family and you’re away from your friends and all your loved ones…but everyone else on the show is going through the same thing, and they’re there for you. Brooke and I were really close and we were always there for each other.

TR: When you were let go from the show, did it depress you for a while or did it start a fire in your belly to go on and do great things?

Kristy Lee Cook: It’s never been easy for me in the music business and it still is not easy. I believe that if a door opens, I’m going to walk through it. If it closes, I believe another one will open. I’m just taking all the steps God is wanting me to take, and hopefully it’ll pan out in the end.

(To hear more about Kristy's time on American Idol, the reaction she got to her singing "God Bless the U.S.A., and the making of her album "Why Wait," download the full "Christopher Closeup" podcast at

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Jessica Rey found success as the White Power Ranger on the popular kids show “Disney’s Power Rangers: Wild Force.” Though she continues her acting work, she’s also started traveling around the country to give talks about chastity and modesty. She presents the topics in a way that’s appealing for youth who want to be in touch with popular culture, but also want to transform it into something better. Jessica recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to talk about her work. Here are some excerpts:

TR: Your recent focus has been on giving talks to young people about chastity and modesty. What made you start doing that?

Jessica Rey: I despise public speaking, and I know it’s so strange because I’m an actress. But there’s a difference. When you’re acting, it’s somebody else’s words and you’re playing another character. But when you give talks, it’s you yourself…so it is quite frightening. I didn’t want to do it. A lot of my priest friends kept asking me to do it, and I kept saying, “No, no.”

One day my friends went to this Christmas party and I was sick. At the Christmas party, they had these saint’s cards. They have them upside down and they pick one, and you’re supposed to pray to that saint for the rest of the year. I couldn’t go to the party so my friend said, “I’ll get you a card.” So she got me one, she gets home, and I say, “Who’d I get?” She looked at it and it was St. Bernardine of Siena – and I had no idea who that was at the time. I went and looked him up on the Internet and he’s the patron saint of public speaking (laughs). So I said, “Fine God, fine!” and I gave in and started doing it.

TR: Did those topics interest you throughout your life or did you learn about them the hard way by doing the opposite for a while?

Jessica Rey: I wasn’t doing the opposite to an extreme but I definitely didn’t understand fully chastity and definitely not modesty, especially having been in Hollywood for a while. I had a stylist who would dress me in these crazy outfits and I would walk down the red carpet thinking I was all that. I really wasn’t (laughs). So thankfully I learned about it fully before I really got into some bad stuff. But I grew up Catholic and always kind of knew. I just didn’t fully understand it. I learned about it from some people that I met in Hollywood. We actually had a group called “Holywood” and we would do a lot of formation, lots of different talks, Theology of the Body type stuff. So that’s how I fully learned about it.

TR: How do you make the concepts of chastity and modesty appealing to young people when you’ve got so many cultural forces promoting the opposite?

Jessica Rey: I think it’s really important that the people who give these talks are themselves younger and…they’re hipper and with the times. You know, (kids are) not really going to listen to it if it’s from their parents. Most kids don’t, sadly, so it does help that I’m younger, it helps that I’ve been on TV and kids think that’s really cool…And it’s crazy because I was just a Power Ranger (laughs)! I’m not an a-list celebrity that has been in a ton of blockbuster films. But they still think it’s cool that someone in Hollywood is living this life.

TR: One commenter said about one of your talks, “Jessica was very effective with young people because she doesn’t back down from tough content or the truth they need to hear.” Do you think parents or even the church water down the truth too much sometimes?

Jessica Rey: Oh yeah (laughs). It’s hard for parents especially if they themselves aren’t living a life of chastity…and then they’re trying to push this down their kids’ throats – and the kids are thinking, “Why should I do this? You’re not.” And other times parents are just kind of embarrassed to talk about it. I would say the same thing about church. Especially in say, my confirmation classes, I never learned about this stuff…Now I go out and give these talks, I’ll go into these confirmation classes because the confirmation teachers don’t want to talk about it. It’s embarrassing, it’s difficult so they would much rather bring someone else in.

TR: So what should churches be doing better to reach out to young people?

Jessica Rey: My friends and I are actually starting – and I know that these exist throughout the country – but we’re going to be starting up some fashion shows here in Southern California. And the fashion show again is this cool thing that the girls want to be a part of. But it’s (also) going to be six weeks of formation on what it means to be a woman, how a man should treat you, we’re going to talk about courtship, modesty and dress, and just all of (those things) they’re not really getting.

TR: Even the way you’re talking about it now, you’re gearing it a lot towards girls. I remember a female friend of mine once complaining that whenever she hears talk about chastity, it’s generally geared toward women and making it their responsibility. She was annoyed that the guys were essentially let off the hook. So what’s your take? Do you let my gender off the hook?

Jessica Rey: Oh no (laughs), I don’t. I talk with priests about this all the time but there is a crisis in manhood…I have a ton of single girlfriends who are drop-dead gorgeous, they’re well-formed Catholics, smart, intelligent, funny women who are like Betty Crocker (laughs). They would make great wives, great mothers – and there are no men. And (these girls) are not going to settle…So there definitely is a crisis in manhood. I heard about something called The Kingsmen. It’s a group that goes around and they really try to ingrain in these men’s heads that there is a crisis and they need to step up to the plate. I mean, I have a lot of guy friends who are older…They’re not discerning religious life and they’re not discerning marriage. They’re just happy as they are. And I think that’s a problem.

(To hear Jessica Rey discuss her own road to marriage, why she thinks her husband is destined for sainthood, and why she’s created a new swimwear line for women who prefer modest dress, download the podcast at

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Since 1998, Nan Kelley’s talent, charm, and sunny personality have made her a fixture on television - first as a host on the Nashville Network, and in more recent years, as the host of Opry Live and other shows on the GAC network. But in 2008, Nan’s optimistic spirit faced its greatest challenge when she was diagnosed with cancer – specifically, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Nan recently joined me on “Christopher Closeup” (full podcast here) to discuss what happened. Here are some excerpts:
Tony Rossi: In 2008, you had an experience that a lot of people have. Everything seemed to be going well in your life and your career. Then the unexpected hit. You were diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. How did you first discover you had cancer?

Nan Kelley: I was hosting a fundraising event, and I put my hand up on my neck while talking to people and I felt this lump. I thought for a moment, “That seems weird.” The next day I showed it to my husband and he said, ‘That doesn’t feel right.’ So we were at the doctors by noon that day. We had a diagnosis within a week that it was indeed Hodgkins. We had a biopsy surgery and they verified that. When you get a cancer diagnosis, it’s earthshaking. But the blessing for me and my family was that the type of cancer that I had is curable. Not every cancer has that hope.

TR: You’re talking about blessings, and you’ve described your faith as your core. So when you heard the diagnosis of cancer, did you have a ‘Why me, Lord’ moment?

Nan Kelley: I didn’t. Something you don’t know that we haven’t really made public – Three weeks after I finished my radiation, my husband Charlie, who’s 40 years old, was diagnosed with colon cancer. A husband and a wife who within six months had back-to-back cancer diagnoses is amazing. He had ten inches of his colon removed. There is no cancer anywhere else. That is great that we both had a very positive prognosis. So to come back around to your question – I never once asked ‘Why me, God?’ because I think of the words to a Crabbe family song that said, “He never said the road would be easy, but He said He would be there with you always.”

TR: Chemotherapy is a rough road so what gave you the strength to endure that whole thing? Was it family, friends, faith, all of the above?

Nan Kelley: All of the above, definitely…The biggest thing for me as a person on television - I chose to share it with the audience. My husband, after we got the diagnosis, said to me, “Nan, you have an opportunity here to take what is a hard road and to share it with people. By sharing, you open up both ways and maybe you could help someone. If your journey is very public – and the person at home, theirs is very private and they’re feeling the same things you’re feeling – maybe there’s a channel of health and hope there.” So that’s why I shared it with the TV audience. In doing that, I thought, ‘Perhaps I can be a help.’ But honestly, the help came back to me. It blessed me because (there was an) outpouring from the people that watch our network and that emailed & sent cards – months later the cards are still in my room covering up everything! To know that so many people are praying for you…that is healing.

TR: Nan, you mentioned before that you and Charlie were going through this at the same time. I think it’s pretty common for couples who’ve been married a number of years to start taking each other for granted. Did this experience of cancer together give you both a deeper appreciation for your marriage and relationship?

Nan Kelley: Very, very much… You know, Charlie shaved my head for me when I was losing my hair. It comes out in weird patches and spurts, and it’s frustrating because you have no control over it. So finally I said, “Charlie, I want you to shave my head today.” And Charlie ran into the bathroom and got the scissors and said, “Okay, let’s go!” So we went out to the backyard in broad daylight. I’m crying and it’s emotional. But you have to cut the hair first, you can’t just start shaving. So he starts giving me these haircuts – and he’s no haircutter, trust me (laughs). And he said, “Oh look, a little bob. Look how adorable you are.” And I was like, “Thank you” through tears. Then he goes and gives me this punk, rock-and-roll, messed-up do and he goes, “Oh look at this, that’s funny!” I look in the mirror and go, “That’s pretty wild looking!” Then we get to the shaving part, and by that point I’m laughing. He turned it from tears to laughter. And my head is bald at the end and he says, “Look how beautiful you are.” I don’t know if there will be a more bonding moment in our marriage than that one because he took me from what is trauma for a woman – to lose your hair – to, “Okay, my husband thinks I’m beautiful and he did this for me.” There will never be a more bonding moment than that one.

(To download the full “Christopher Closeup” interview with Nan Kelley, visit