To exemplify success, you must know failure. You have to know what the bottom feels like. You have to know what despondency is. You have to be able to reflect and tell yourself that you will never go to that point in life again. The people that have that understanding of the bottom of the barrel completely understand what strong will, determination, faith, and resilience is. Individuals such as Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Diddy, Christopher Gardner, and Bill Gates among many others understand these things. The newcomer to this list is Christian Keyes.
Most known for his role as Sunny from Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Jail, Christian has become one of Americas latest stars. Nevertheless, the Detroit native had a rough time getting there.
Placed in the foster care system at age 3, Christian has his run with the foster care system in Michigan which he has no problem saying he hopes is much better today. After about five or six placed homes, he spent the 6 years with Mrs. Keyes (the woman that would give him a lot more than her name). By age nine, Christian was tired of the physical abuse received in the home and began to run away often.
“I would sleep on the streets instead of going home because the beatings were really bad, man,” Christian says with a hint of sadness in his voice. “A couple of pops on the behind with a hand or something that’s much different than the broomstick or belt buckle or a bottle, a hammer, or all of the crap we’ve been through a sauce pan getting stalked. That’s not out of love that’s a mental disorder. There’s an expressway of what you don’t cross when you discipline kids.”
Eventually, the marks from the beatings were bad enough that he was able to press charges and get out of the home. After Three years of the struggle to prove the occurrences they finally believed him. “I would run away and would literally steal money to catch a cab to show them the bruises and they would send me back home. It’s like I’m going to go through all of this at nine or ten years old there’s something wrong why would you send me back home.”
Removed from the house and out of harms way, Christian bounced from group home to group home, basically, anyone that would take him in. Not only deprived of a loving home, he was what any child circumstantial to those events would become…angry. “I would act out a little bit and I was acting a fool in school, cutting class getting into fights and all,” he reflects. “I was an angry kid. You can’t beat a kid for years and years and expect them to be ok.”
Knowing that it would take a lot to rehabilitate a kid like Christian and have him turn out to be a decent adult, a family decided to take him in and give him exactly what he needed, love, understanding, and correct discipline. Around age 15, Christian was sent to his final foster family, Gail and Roy Caron. They sat him down, went through the rules and treated him like a family member and not just another kids passing through their home. This is where he met his brother, Cliff Turner. Clif introduced Christian to basketball all over again and he fell in love with the game. Realizing his commitment to the sport, the Caron’s decided to use it as a reward system.
“If my grades were bad or I was skipping school, I couldn’t hoop,” Christian laughs. “I made it up in my mind, damn the jokes if I want to go hoop I need to get up in my studies, I need to get these chores done, and then, I could go to the basketball tournament this weekend.”
Encouraging the turnaround of a once troubled youth, the Caron’s sent him off to college. Knowing what hard work would do for him while recognizing his potential and intelligence, Christian did well. He was still going home to the Caron household for his breaks and was enjoying himself with the family. Working in mysterious ways, God placed, then, his best friend and eventually the link to his family. After opening up about his life and developing a close relationship with him, Christian had a conversation with the friends mother.
“His mom asked me, who I call mom now, ‘Why are you doing that? You can just stay here with us’. I was like ‘nah’ she said ‘get in the car were going to get your stuff’ and she ain’t say stuff,” he laughs. “So now I have a family. I wasn’t legally adopted but I do have a family that I call my family.” New and old family alike, Christian had support, love, and happiness. Finally.
Back around 1998, Christian was approached about doing a fashion show. After finding out that there was some money into it, he said, “sure why not”. As all models know, all it takes is one show. After that show, someone asked him to do another show. Modeling took off and it was paying. After booking shows and a couple of commercials and work around the Detroit area, he started getting into plays.
“I was a little skeptical because I knew I didn’t have that much acting background,” he explains. “So I went into bookstores and started getting every book that they had on acting and started studying because I didn’t want to be that guy that tries hard but really couldn’t act. So I knew that I had to take it seriously.” And taking it seriously is what he did. He was able to land roles in a couple of national tours. One of which that was running in 2004, he bumped into the inconceivable new face of theater, Tyler Perry. “He asked me would I consider doing Madea Goes To Jail and doing the lead and I said ‘hell yeah’,” Christian laughs.
For Christian, the plays were an astounding break as it is for all of Tyler’s casts. He was able to show another side of his abilities to the audience of a play that practically sells out every show. Where other plays had him as just an actor, here he was learning from seasoned actors, actresses, and singers as well as being able to sing at least 2-3 songs a night. However, with Tyler, everything is unpredictable.
“I was singing this woman’s work one day in my dressing room,” he reflects with slight giggles. “He (Tyler) walked pass and he was like ‘sing that again’. So I did and he was like ‘wow man that sounds good you’re singing that in the show tomorrow night’. I was like what I’m not ready. And the next night, I was singing it. I learned so much about being a professional and excepting the circumstances. That was fair of him to put that on me, because it was like either you’re going to man up and do the song or you’re not. The fans loved it so it was a blessing. Just him putting that kind of pressure on me was a good look.”
For anyone that has watched a Tyler Perry production, You know when you are done, you walk away with a possible viewpoint on life that you might have needed a reminder of when walking into the theater. Now, imagine working day in and day out on the same stage as the six-foot-six star Mabel “Madea” Simmons. “Madea is straight knowledge,” Christian says. “Those are jewels and really good pieces of advice and even when I was on stage and he would put out some new stuff every day on stage. So it’s just like wow, did he just say that? It would hit home.”
After a very successful tour of the play, Christian was asked by Tyler to be the next lead in the upcoming play What’s Done In The Dark. Christian accepted with no equivocation and went onto his break. This is where his recording began. There were no more demo’s onto his mini recorder, it was studio time. He had 7-8 months between the shows and for him, that’s all it takes. “I blocked out everything else and kind of stepped back from the acting for a couple of months so that I could focus on the songs,” Christian says. “Once I locked into 13, 14 songs then that was that. So I was like since I have to do this myself, I’m going to take these 13 songs and that’s it and that’s the cut-off. I didn’t want to hear something and be like ‘Yo this one’s better than that’.”
When it comes to his CD, Christian put together something that you can not only rock in your car but play in your bedroom. He decided that he was going to put together something classy. Sexy, but classy. I didn’t name body parts and say I’m going to do this with that and I’m going to put this there.(laughing) I don’t like to make that kind of stuff I like to make is sexy and then you fill in the blanks as the listener you put in the details. I just kind of set the mood for you. My grandmother listens to everything that I make so I can’t have her like, you’re going to kick off your books for what (laughing) and if I answer wrong I might get in trouble.
With every CD comes a video. After making some appearances in videos by Joe, Ashanti, Ledisi, and Kerry Hurston, Christian got with Kirk Kellier and Scott Herbert of 360 Imaging and put together a video (being released on BET this month) that was what he would call “3 times better than what was expected.” Most will remember his role in the Hurston video the most. This was because Christian was a villain, the mean guy, the bastard. Nevertheless, work is work and a role is a role. So after an apology directly to Kerry, the day before filming, Christian went into character.
“I said Girl I’m sorry but what I’m going to do tomorrow,” he laughs. “It was a lot of fun being that mean. It was so far away from me. I’ve never hollered in a girls face and grabbed them all up you know. I’m not going through all of that. I’m not doing that. I don’t treat my girl like that. Well, when I have one but I’m single right now. I don’t like all the arguing and fighting and all.”
With the lack of time that Christian has with his current projects and approaching his dream, he has little space for a relationship especially one that is going to be able to “hold him down through the hard times”. Wanting to focus on his career and relationship with my son and being a dad, the single father of 5-year-old Christian Jr, puts his heart into setting the right paradigm for him. His past allowed him to be a better man and a better father. He is able to deal with his anger in a much better way because of Mrs. Keyes. But if you ask Christian, still having that name is what he wants. When it comes down to it, he earned it.
I’m not mad I like it I’ve earned this name so I’m keeping it. I just know in my spirit that I have some great things coming up for me. I can go through that sleeping on the street as a 10-year-old boy, behind the k-mart and eating out of dumpsters at McDonalds. If I can come through that mess and chase my dreams and be able to work with the phenomenal people that I’ve worked with these days, anybody can. That’s why I don’t mind telling the story because people need to hear it. Yeah, you might go through hell but God will take you as far as you want to go.