by Jason Sheeler
Jason Kennedy, E! News anchor (and Hollywood Bible-study leader!), is leading the way.
Two nights before the Grammys, I step inside a Beverly Hills hotel and file into a ballroom filled with more than 600 of Hollywood's photogenic finest: actors from my favorite TV shows, singers and songwriters of hit pop songs, models, talent agents, and, this being Los Angeles, lots of really hot people who only look famous. They are all here because Jason Kennedy invited them.
Tequila shots? No ma'am, not for E! News anchor Jason Kennedy.
"It's Grammy weekend! Who's here to party?" the 32-year-old cohost of E! News and E! News Weekendbellows into a microphone. Lantern-jawed and Equinoxed, Kennedy gives the crowd a big smile, baring his white-picket-fence teeth. "You know, I was wondering if you guys were going to be at some fancy club tonight," he confesses, looking at his unscuffed Converse Chucks. "Or here with me praising God."
That's right: Kennedy's gathering was not a thumping, Hennessy-soaked bash but a Bible study—and it's one of the hottest tickets in town. When the group started a little more than a year ago, it was just a circle of about 10 people in Kennedy's Hollywood Hills living room. As word spread, the numbers grew, and it became a weekly, standing-room-only event whose guests have reportedly included Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, and Justin Bieber. (Kennedy asked Glamour not to reveal who was there when I attended.)
Kennedy hands the mike to pastor Judah Smith, a rising figure in contemporary ministry and a Hollywood regular, and sits down next to his girlfriend, fashion blogger Lauren Scruggs. (She's the former model who suffered severe injuries after walking into a plane propeller two years ago—and who wrote a memoir, Still LoLo, about her recovery.) Smith is one dope man of God: Wearing ripped black jeans, a leather T-shirt, aviator glasses, and a beanie, he looks more like a French DJ than a preacher. He starts sermonizing about the constant "positioning" in L.A. to get ahead and how to cope when confronted with pornography. (Answer: Pray hard.) The crowd affirms, "Right, right!" after nearly every word.
"This is where I come to survive Hollywood," Kennedy whispers to me. "Being here reminds me of who I want to be—just a better man." He glances at Scruggs and says, "It makes me a better boyfriend too."
Look at men in Hollywood and across the country and you'll see something has changed: Bad boys are over. Today's hottest actors are devoted dads like Channing Tatum, avowedly sober leading men like Bradley Cooper, or just plain nice guys like Breaking Bad's Aaron Paul, the actor who actually greets the tourist van that parks in front of his house. Total dick moves like posting an ex-girlfriend's sex tape online are starting to feel as dated as The Situation's abs. The message is clear: The most bankable, most wanted stars are good boys.
"I gue-e-ess I'm nice," Kennedy tells me after Bible study ends. His way of speaking—goofy yet authoritative, confessional yet cautious—is the lingua franca of legendary good guys like Tom Hanks. "And you know, when I sit down to interview the biggest actors in Hollywood, the true A-list guys like Matt Damon or a George Clooney"—he pauses to heymangoodgood a singer who's passing by—"the most successful ones seem to be the nicest. I've met a lot of famous people, and douchebags out here are a dime a dozen. But those guys, they understand that being nice pays off. And I think that's starting to spread."
Jane Buckingham, founder of trend-forecasting firm Trendera, believes the nice-guy movement is taking hold outside Hollywood too. "It's time for the good boy," she says. "Anytime society is in certain turmoil—recession, terrorism, earthquakes, and hurricanes—we look for stability in every aspect of our lives. Who wants a bad boy when the world is going crazy?"
For a long time, though, bad boys seemed like the only option, Buckingham says. There was Jude Law (caught with the nanny), Hugh Grant (caught with the prostitute), and, more recently, John Mayer (caught with, well, everyone). More alarmingly, "there are the Chris Browns, the guys who haven't treated women the way they should," she adds. "On the other end of the spectrum, it was about Zach Galifianakis and Seth Rogen characters—unemployed and not standing up for themselves, let alone women."
But these good boys, "they're the kind of guys women want to date now," Buckingham says. "It's partly why there have been so many superhero movies—we want the guy who will get a decent job, get married, not be that doofus paying for strippers. Look at Justin Timberlake, how he said Jessica Biel taught him how to load the dishwasher. Look at how Jay-Z dotes on Beyoncé. Sure, there isn't a Superman out there, but it would be nice to have a super guy."
And Buckingham, who's made a career out of studying generational shifts, sees young women demanding better behavior. As women, "we have our act together, so we want men to be as strong as we are," she says. "We're tired of the bad behavior, the men who cheat, the guys who go out and get drunk all the time—we want guys to feel stable and strong. If we get the flu, we want them to be there for us. We want guys who make our lives better, not guys who are going to make our lives more chaotic."
Even Hollywood is growing tired of bad boys, says Variety co-editor-in-chief Cynthia Littleton, who's covered the industry for 20 years. These days, she says, the men getting the jobs are the ones grown-up enough to work. "You can only be hungover so many mornings," she says with a laugh. "You can't keep a set waiting at 9:00 A.M., because the studio loses money. So guys like Bradley Cooper, Neil Patrick Harris—they get hired because they are known to want to work. They haven't let their lifestyle get in the way. They don't keep people waiting, and they know everyone's name, down to the gaffers and the boom mike guy."
As the crowd at the hotel thins out, Scruggs, who is moving from Dallas to Los Angeles to be closer to Kennedy, tells me about their first date—and why he was different from the guys she was with before. "Jason went on a hike with me and my mom," she says. "And I guess any guy who will do that—especially since my mom is a marriage counselor—well, that says a lot." Scruggs and Kennedy share the same faith, and the 25-year-old Texan likes how comfortable she feels around his friends. "When we all go out, I just think about the girls that I can fix up with them. And a lot of times I'm the only girl there, and they are all so respectful and polite." She sees me notice her prosthetic hand, a result of her accident. "I have to say, Jason's helped me feel beautiful again," she says. "This was a big insecurity for me. And really, it's like he doesn't even see my insecurities."
Kennedy walks up and puts his arm around Scruggs. He's got to get home—early workout the next day. "I'll admit it, being a so-called good boy has paid off for me," he says. "I've got my dream job. And I've found my dream girl."
Kennedy has been chasing those dreams for a while. As a middle schooler, he built a mock anchor desk in his South Florida home and took cabs to crime scenes, his camcorder in hand for the nightly "newscast" he'd air to his parents.
When he first moved to Hollywood to pursue a broadcast career, he folded T-shirts at Diesel, babysat for his manager, and dreamed of being Matt Lauer. But he didn't feel at home. "It was a lonely first year," Kennedy tells me the next morning at breakfast. "I had a hard time fitting in to the 2:00 A.M. party scene. I wanted to succeed, but I didn't want to sacrifice the kind of man I wanted to be." So he adopted a work-hard-play-nice mantra and formed a tight circle of like-minded agents, producers, models, and actors. "My friends all have the same values. And they call me out if I start getting too Hollywood," he says. Nights out are typically bowling or dinner parties. His crew even practices some good-boy evangelism on Sunset Boulevard: "When we're hanging out and we see some guy revving his Porsche or rolling in with three girlfriends, it's 'HGLT.'" He smirks. "Hate Guys Like That."
How real is Kennedy's clean-cut cred? He doesn't drink too much, because he doesn't want to regret anything. He doesn't smoke. He calls his dad his idol. And L.A.'s strip clubs, he says, are "not my scene." (His IV-drug use? Weekly B12 infusions.) But he's still one of the biggest entertainment journalists in town (he's a contributor to the Today show on top of his E! gig), and his iPhone constantly chimes with updates of the day's headlines he will read later on E! News Weekend. On the day I visit, those headlines include Teen Mom scandals (Chelsea's baby-daddy!), Khloé Kardashian's wild single life (hanging with Lil Twist!), and Katy Perry's prayers (big boobs!).
Many of these stories feature women behaving badly, but Kennedy doesn't think men should follow suit. "Whether it's Miley Cyrus, Ke$ha, or Lady Gaga, when they do outrageous things, they seem to get more famous," Kennedy says. "When Miley did the VMAs, I was like, 'Man, what's going to happen to her after this?' And now she's on top. I don't think that necessarily works for guys." I ask about Bieber, who is making headlines that very day with an alleged $75,000 trip to a strip club. "Yeah...if you look at guys who are trying to be, say, outrageous—I don't think Justin Bieber is trying to be outrageous, but he's going through a struggle—[the antics] don't seem to help them," says Kennedy. "I don't think it pays off being the jerk anymore. Women, at least in my life, are getting tired of that. You can't get away with that stuff today. Everyone's paparazzi, and everyone's on Twitter."
So what was his last bad-boy moment? "The last time I was an a-hole," Kennedy tells me—he also doesn't curse—"was probably when I first started at E! eight years ago. I was in Miami, and we couldn't get into this club. Everyone wants to get in somewhere. The door guy was being really rude. And I may or may not have said under my breath, 'You know, E! is on the air in 120 countries.' "
Perhaps a little douche-y, but back-talking a bouncer is no DWI conviction or caught-on-TMZ meltdown. Yet Kennedy seems genuinely horrified. The memory of that moment, he says, "mortifies me. Oh, and I didn't get in." To this day his coanchor, Catt Sadler, who was with him that night, will still sometimes lean over during commercial breaks and whisper, "You know, we're on the air in 120 countries."
In those early days it was harder for him to blaze his own trail than it is now. "When I was first on the air, E! was sending me to, like, the Playboy Mansion all the time," he says. "I went there for a luncheon celebrating Playmate of the Year—a lunch—and there were poster-size naked pictures of this girl everywhere. And she was there with her parents and her brother. It was not for me." Eventually, as he became the interviewer of choice for stars like Julia Roberts, Kennedy worked his way off the beat.
And now he can stand up for his values. Later that day I listen in at a news meeting, where Kennedy reads over the evening show's script with his coworkers and tells the producers he won't say tit on the air. "That's just disrespectful to women," he says earnestly. "And my mom's going to be watching!"
I believed he cared, but the exchange did make me wonder: Is his good-boy thing too much? I ask Kennedy whether he's at all concerned that his churchgoing, Boy Scout image could actually ding him professionally. Is he ever worried he'll seem uncool (a quality known to be almost radioactive in Hollywood) or, even worse, self-righteous? Ultimately, Anne Hathaway's sweetness begat Hatha-hate. Does he fear his do-good dogma could backfire, the way it did for Tim Tebow? "Not at all," he says without hesitation. "Never entered my mind. I've never heard someone say, 'He's too nice. I don't want to be around him.' I mean, look at Tom Hanks. He's like the male Oprah. Everybody loves Tom. He's still going strong. Then think about reality shows, like Jon Gosselin or whatever, think of the Jersey Shore days and that craziness on TV. People were fascinated by it. But I think we have moved on to a new era."
And with that, Kennedy kicks back some Vitamin D pills ("for energy, man"), walks out of his office, and heads to yet another meeting. A muted television hanging from the ceiling is playing Keeping Up With the Kardashians reruns, and star Scott Disick is ranting. The subtitles spell out, "Hey Bruce, maybe we should go get an X-ray on our balls."
Kennedy shrugs at the TV. "Look, I'm no role model," he says. "But guys need better influences today. And girls—if I've learned anything—want good guys." He stops and furrows his brow. "What if we could get people to talk about guys for doing the right thing, for being gentlemen?" Which is, after all, why people are talking about him.
Jamie has been in FILM since 1994, and is a full time minister of Jesus Christ to the FILM INDUSTRY