- The Magazine
When it comes to Tyler Henry, you have a choice.
You can either choose to believe that he’s able to communicate with the so-called spirit world, or you can choose to believe that it’s all an elaborate trick, one based on cold readings and prior research.
Whatever you believe, there’s no denying the gay clairvoyant, whose hit series Hollywood Medium with Tyler Henry is now in the midst of its third season on E!, fully believes in his own abilities.
Television is littered with shows on the paranormal, and critics are especially quick to point out that mediums, in particular, prey on the vulnerabilities of others. It’s why they’re often called “grief vampires.” The world of psychics is a huge market, its customers often looking for hope, comfort, and signs that there is something beyond this mortal coil.
Unlike other television mediums, 22-year-old Henry has latched onto a profitable niche: celebrities. Even if you don’t believe a moment of his readings, it’s hard not to watch with fascination how various stars react to news that a dead brother may not have committed suicide, a deceased parent is remorseful over gambling transgressions, or a passed loved one just wants to say one final goodbye. There’s even a twist: Henry doesn’t know ahead of time who he’s going to do a reading for, an aspect the show’s executive producer, Michael Corbett, forcefully backs up.
“The one thing we are absolute sticklers on is we are very secretive,” says Corbett. “We never let Tyler know who he’s going to read. It’s never written down anywhere. Even though people claim he ‘googled’ the celebrity, it’s not possible because he doesn’t know who he’s going to read until he opens the door. That’s the reality.”
Prior to developing the show, Corbett had an encounter with Henry that opened his mind. He had met him at a party and, for fun, hired him to do a reading. “I tested him,” says Corbett. “I gave him some objects of some friends of mine, and one by one he told me exactly how that person died and exactly what was going on with them at the time of their death…. I was shocked. I mean, I gave him a name — just a first name of someone and an object — and he just went on and told me every detail. I thought to myself, this kid’s the real deal. From there I thought, I want to create a show with this kid.”
Celebrities seem eager to buy into the Tyler Henry phenomenon, and the show has attracted the stars as varied as RuPaul, LaToya Jackson, Taye Diggs, Margaret Cho, David and Rosanna Arquette, Jim Parsons, Selma Blair, Tituss Burgess, and even Olympian Gus Kenworthy. While the readings are edited down from about an hour to 15 minutes, to fit the show’s time constraints, the celebrity reactions come through loud and clear.
“It’s really fascinating to see the range of reactions, because some are very emotional, and others will just be very stoic,” says Henry during the course of an hour-long phone conversation. “I’ve found that shock has a lot of different reactions. Some people burst into tears, other people just kind of stay silent and sit there and process. They really have to think about it.”
If Henry has a built-in wariness of the press, it’s not outwardly evident. He’s bright, chipper, infinitely personable, and instinctively charismatic. Plus, he’s nice. Genuinely so. You instantly see why so many people are taken with the reedy, handsome blonde who bears a striking resemblance to a young Macaulay Culkin — “He’s the nicest kid you’d want to meet,” says Corbett — but it’s impossible, upon reflection, to not wonder if Henry is being fully genuine with his answers. It’s one thing to say you’re getting messages from entities in another realm. It’s another thing to offer hard proof. And, apart from noting that the only way a person can truly believe in what he does is to undergo one of his readings, Henry has no scientific evidence of his abilities.
Still, he seems unfazed over the vitriol and criticism he gets from cynics (Queerty has been especially brutal, labeling him a “scam artist”), preferring it to roll off his back.
“I respect that everybody inherently is allowed to believe what they want,” he says. “I think if you’re really secure in who you are, you don’t waiver when other people are upset at who you are or what they perceive you as being.
“It’s a very controversial career,” he continues. “But I really just don’t focus on having to defend myself. I don’t even really feel like I actively defend myself. I feel like I just share my experience — and what I do and what I know — and that’s that…. I just try to be as honest and forthright with my experiences as I can, and people can do with that what they will.”
METRO WEEKLY: In most interviews, I’ll start with, “When did you first come out?” But my first question to you instead is when did you first realize that you were able to connect with those who have passed away?
TYLER HENRY: This all started for me when I was ten years old. I grew up in a pretty conservative Christian household in a pretty small town. One night I went to bed and woke up shortly before midnight and felt this memory of my grandmother’s passing. It felt like a knowingness, it was as if I was just recollecting an event that already happened. But it didn’t make any sense because when I had gone to bed, my grandmother was alive.
I went to explain this to my mom — I was very upset — and as I was explaining, her phone rang. It was the news that my grandmother had just died. That was really the catalyst that set my life on this path. From there, one thing led to another and eventually I started doing readings.
MW: Prior to that, you had not felt anything like this?
HENRY: Not anything as evident as that premonition. I had little experiences here and there as a child, but that experience really opened the floodgates and information started coming through, a lot.
As time went on, from the ages of 10 to 13, at school, I would walk the P.E. track. And for some reason, when I was walking the track, that was always when I would pick up on information. One day, I looked over at a kid and said, “Do you have an uncle named Sal, or Salvador?” He said, “Yes, I do, how did you know that?” It ended up being this kid’s uncle. It basically just happened like that. I would be able to interact with people and just recollect information there was no way I could have possibly known. These little intuitive hunches would come through, and it just happened increasingly as I got older.
MW: Is it something you actively worked on, like exercised or developed?
HENRY: Eventually. When I made it a career at the age of 16, I really put it into practice. I had to really dive in and see the capabilities of the ability. But from the ages of 10 to 16, it was just more something that would happen to me.
MW: When did you come out as gay?
HENRY: I never actually quite had a coming out. I was always gay. My family always had some form of an inclination one way or another. It was many conversations, and it was something that I always had. It was always a part of me. If anything, I think coming out of the psychic closet was more the dramatic aspect of my life.
MW: It was more difficult telling people you were psychic?
HENRY: I would say so. Religious opposition from very early on was probably the most challenging. And there were other gay kids in my town, but there weren’t any other mediums, so when it came to being ridiculed, I was a target.
MW: You were bullied?
HENRY: I was, but it really had more to do with the medium side of things. Word of mouth spread about what I was able to do, and what I was able to share. While many people embraced it, a lot of people were really upset by it from a religious perspective in my little town. They even went so far as having a prayer circle done for me when I was 10 years old. When I heard about it, I was absolutely devastated, because at 10 years old, you’re still a child, you’re still trying to figure out who you are, and you hear of this group trying to save my soul.
MW: Were you raised religious?
HENRY: I was. My extended family was more religious than my immediate, but I did go to church. We were Presbyterian, so we were a little bit more open-minded than some of the other denominations. But there was definitely some stigma.
MW: I take it communicating with the dead is frowned upon in most religions?
HENRY: Yeah. There are verses in the Bible, typically not in the most positive of lights. But it’s important to understand the historical context of the bible, of course. With gay people, the same thing applies. The terms that they used back then are not necessarily applicable to our lifestyle in this day and age. What a medium was in biblical times was very different from what a modern day medium is.
MW: Is there a difference between a medium and a psychic?
HENRY: I would say so, but it is kind of semantics. Being a medium is a psychic ability. However, psychics, and the word psychic, tend to have a connotation of being able to tell the future. I just consider a psychic ability to be a spiritual ability. I’m primarily a medium, so my job is really more focused with connecting people with loved ones and relaying impressions and feelings from their energy. That’s the essence of what I do.
MW: Why don’t we all have this ability?
HENRY: I think we do. I think we all have an intuition. If you look at the word intuition — inner-tuition — it means inner knowledge. I think most people shut their intuition down. There’s so many times in our lives where we kick ourselves because we don’t go with our gut. I think everyone can relate to that in some way. But I think it’s something that requires practice to refine. In my life, I’ve really had to make a conscious decision to be able to tune in and focus and be present. That’s how I’m able to pick up on a lot of these subtleties that come through in readings, because I’m just super present and I’m able to put my own thoughts and feelings and emotions to the side.
MW: How do psychics and mediums evaluate one another to distinguish between being gifted versus being fake? I’m thinking of the psychic hotlines out there.
HENRY: Validation is really the defining factor. In my readings, I put a heavy emphasis on validation, which means bringing forward information — specifically, detailed information — that is private and can be verified from the client as making sense in the context of the person coming through. But I really liken what I do to be a practice, much like how a doctor is a practitioner. I really take my work seriously. I think that in the same way you wouldn’t call a 1-800 number to get your heart checked, you probably shouldn’t call a 1-800 number to get a psychic reading.
I’ve had a lot of experiences with psychics, mediums, self-proclaimed and legitimate, and I’ve had over 200 readings personally, and have been able to see when a person is valid and when a person is just guessing, or being general, or being vague, or reading from a script. They shouldn’t have to ask a million questions. They should be able to bring forward details and specifics with some degree of knowingness. My goal as a medium is really just to redefine what people think of when they think of a medium, because it’s really about the validation and getting the specifics. That maintains the integrity of the experience.
MW: Why do you think people use your services?
HENRY: Everyone comes with a different reason. I have found through my work that fundamentally everybody is looking for a lot of the same thing. Typically, that revolves around closure, clarity, insights — or some derivative of the three.
MW: Let’s talk about your show, Hollywood Medium. The setup is relatively simple. You go from reading to reading, and yet within the readings themselves, there is variance in terms of the way people emotionally respond. Some respond with a tremendous outpouring of emotion. Some seem to visibly hold back. Yet all seem to get something out of the experience. Now, you’re not a psychologist, but there’s clearly psychology behind what you do. Do you see yourself as someone who helps shepherd people through grief?
HENRY: I would say readings aren’t a cure for grief, but they can help provide the necessary validation that our loved ones are still around and connected to us in some way. My hope is that when I do a reading, it helps initiate a dialogue with the client about what they’re going through and how they’re feeling, and that, in and of itself, can really help a person go through their path of grief, and hopefully be inspired to go to the professional means of seeing a therapist and getting that help and consultation. My goal is really just to make sure that with every person I meet, I leave them better than I found them.
MW: Is there a difference between how celebrities on the show react and your everyday, non-celebrity clients?
HENRY: As far as reactions go, no. I guess celebrities can be a bit more guarded, understandably, as they’re public figures, and it is a very private thing, and you never know what’s going to come out. But one of the beautiful things of the show is that it really shows the universality of human emotion — everybody is looking for the same thing. Regardless of a person’s lifestyle or recognizability, we all are going to experience loss. We’re all going to have the same questions. That’s an all-encompassing thing. It’s really interesting to see it first-hand.
MW: What happens if during a reading for the show nothing comes?
HENRY: I’ve never had nothing come. Thankfully. Thankfully, thankfully. I’ve done over 164 readings for the show, and every single time something has came through. It may not be necessarily what the client was anticipating. It could be someone connected to someone the client brought with them and is in the other room, but something tends to always come through when I start tuning into the energy of my surroundings. My job is really just to kind of stick to the message and do my job, and deliver it as eloquently as I can.
MW: Do messages come to you randomly that you can’t control?
HENRY: I have no control at all. When I do a reading, it really is on the terms of whatever’s coming through. I’m not making these messages up, they’re coming from a different source, so I have to basically just be aware of the stream of information. Sometimes that stream is really strong. Other times that stream is not as strong and I have to work with whatever type of a communicator I’m working with.
MW: But walking down the street in New York City, for instance, with thousands of people around you, would you get bombarded by stray messages? Do the psychic floodgates burst open?
HENRY: Definitely. I do try to consciously turn it on and off as best I can, but it is very difficult. I’ve been to New York probably over ten times, and it’s still difficult every single time because I’m not used to living in such a high concentrated area. I grew up in a very rural, small town, and even where I live now is actually in a rural area. So when I am in high concentrations of groups of people, it can get very intense. I may not necessarily be having all of these people’s loved ones coming through, but people do carry an inherent energy that is unique to them and their personality, and what they’re going through in that moment. So when I’m in a crowd, I do get pulls in certain directions. I’ll get stimulus feelings and it can be very overwhelming.
MW: How do you cope with that?
HENRY: I consciously try to navigate it as best I can. There have been times where I’ve shared impressions that have come through randomly in public. One instance, there was a woman in a supermarket. I came up to her — I was in my teens — and I had this vision of this older man coming through, and he was choking. I kept hearing, “I love you. I love you. I love you.” I stopped this woman and I explained that I was a medium and that I had a message for her. I said, “For some reason, he’s just having me say I love you, and he’s showing me his throat and that he was choking right before he passed.” She said her father died of throat cancer and was trying to get his last words out, but he wasn’t able to communicate them before he passed. When he came through, he validated that he was just trying to tell her that he loved her one last time.
This was in a supermarket. And this woman broke down crying on aisle five, and I was just left thinking about the fact that this can have a massive impact on people’s lives, and there’s a time and a place to do it. I really prefer that people reach out to me for readings, versus just doing it randomly.
MW: Are there spirits or entities that scare you?
MW: No? Most Hollywood horror films are based on spirits that are not friendly. They’re evil. Rarely do you get a super-friendly ghost.
HENRY: There are a lot of misconceptions, ironically from Hollywood, about mediums and spirituality and the afterlife and all that. If anything, I’ve found that my experiences with the other side and everything that’s came through has been comforting and has given me a deeper understanding of my life and my life purpose, and all of our purpose. I have not have any major, major experiences in recent memory of anything really frightening, evil, or anything along those lines.
MW: But there are evil people out there — bad people who do bad things. They die. Don’t they carry whatever made them bad in this world forward?
HENRY: I believe it gets processed. I’ve done over 1,000 readings, and so I’ve had people of all different lifestyles and behavioral types come through. A lot of people come through who may have not been the best, or did certain things to hurt other people. Every single person that’s come through has acknowledged that upon transitioning, they process something called the ego. The ego is a belief that I’ve really defined as the belief systems that we dictate our lives by — the beliefs that we accept about ourselves, our place in the world, our perception of others. When we transition, we realize that we are so much more than our beliefs and our opinions and our thoughts. This allows people a big picture perspective, which can give people a greater understanding and come forward and take accountability.
Like with my reading with RuPaul. His father passed away, and his father never was able in life to take accountability for being a gambling addict. But on the other side, his dad knew of the impact that his addiction had on his family, and it was something he was never able to take accountability for when he was here. Because he saw that from where he was now at — his widened perspective — he was able to heal not only his process and his soul, but also help lend that forgiveness and opportunity for RuPaul. It’s pretty profound.
I think if anything, accountability is a really big message that comes through. People understand the ripple effect and how they made others feel. In our lives, it’s sometimes easy for us to get wrapped up in our own heads, in our own consciousness, and in our own perceptions, and when we take ourselves out of that, we see that our lives are lived through other people, and have a ripple effect, their actions. So it’s a big thing.
MW: Do dead people watch us? Are they around us all the time?
HENRY: That’s a tricky question, because I think it gets in the conversation of physicality and we as human beings are in one place at one time. The awareness of a soul, I think, is over my head. I think it’s over all our heads, and it’s very complex. But what I have seen is that clearly, when I sit across from people, I’m able to relay information that happens to be connected to them. So I believe that our loved ones are connected to our energy, to our existence in some way. I don’t believe that they’re watching us shower or necessarily always around in a physical sense, but I definitely have seen that they have an awareness of what we do after they pass away.
MW: But they’re not watching when we’re engaged in, shall we say, intimate business?
HENRY: [Laughs.] Oh man. Good question. I have not ever had that really come through, except for one instance. I did a reading for Tituss Burgess. His grandmother came through and basically acknowledged that he had had a spiritual experience where he thought he saw her in the room at an intimate time. I don’t feel like his grandmother was obviously around all the time in that context, but it was just an instance that he noticed, and she came through and validated it.
MW: Do the spirits judge us? Do they have opinions about what’s going on in the world?
HENRY: I think when they process their ego, they realize the unimportance of having these strong convictions, because these are things that are important — political opinions, and personal opinions — in a physical sense, in a physical world. When we transition, I think our priorities change. I find that even the most judgemental people in life, they come through with a greater awareness of the purpose of their life served and how it impacted those around them. They really see that.
MW: But they’re not tangibly active in this world?
HENRY: I would say that obviously, yes, in a physical sense, we as physical human beings have a lot more of an ability to connect in this realm than they do to this realm. I do think they still have a connection to us, but where they go is an entirely different place. It’s an entirely different realm,, it’s an existence that I really think is impossible for us, as human beings, to understand. I liken it to trying to explain arithmetic to a cockroach, in a sense that a cockroach isn’t going to understand arithmetic in the same way we, as human beings, are able to understand the magnitude of the afterlife and existence of the whole in the universe. I really think it’s above our heads.
MW: I imagine that you’re probably always on the defensive. There are a lot of skeptics, and there are a lot of people who say you’re a fraud. How do you deal with the negativity thrown at you?
HENRY: It really doesn’t bother me. It might sound kind of bizarre to think that I would not be upset by criticism, but I know every single day that the work that I do is real. The clients that I read, and the people I’m able to help and heal, see that validation, and they know it. For me, I know that I can only help the people that I can help. I understand that what I do is not for everyone. And I don’t force what I do on others. I wish that that respect was mutual, and I wish that those who didn’t approve of what I do were more understanding and open-minded, but I also realize that there’s seven billion people in this world. Out of that seven billion, there are people who are going to be cynical about anything and everything, and especially being a public figure in any form of context.
MW: I watched a YouTube video that pretty much debunked everything you do by putting forth plausible explanations. What would you say to the person who thinks they’ve got it all figured out, that there is no possible way that you are doing this, and this is all just an elaborate illusion?
HENRY: I would say look at the readings. I’ve done over 1,000 — 164 that have aired — and I think they speak for themselves. I think that it’s a bit of a stretch to say that specific information can be deduced from body language in the extent that I’ve been able to bring forward specific information. Celebrities know of the public details that are out there about them because of the interviews they do. The celebrities are the first people to know what’s on Google. They’re the first people to Google themselves. And so these people know when they sit across from me what’s coming through and the specifics that they’ve never shared with anyone. Unless you’re in that seat, it’s really impossible to fully understand the magnitude of the experience. But it certainly doesn’t warrant being judgemental of it.
MW: If you really can talk to dead people, wouldn’t that be the ultimate scientific discovery? To the best of my knowledge, you haven’t sat down with scientists and said, “Look, I’m channeling dead people here. This is something. This is pointing to the fact that we don’t just die. We go somewhere.”
HENRY: Well, I’ve just never been asked, to be honest. I’ve never had an authentic scientist or scientific foundation come forward and ask to sit down in a way with me that was in any way open-minded or understanding. If anything, I think those who are more scientific are often times discouraging of psychics and mediums. But those are not the people who are interested in actually sitting us down in a lab and seeing any form of authenticity and what may or may not come of it. They’re simply there to criticize. I absolutely hope to be able to in some form quantify what I’m able to do in a scientific way. But it requires someone who’s going to have an understanding of how this works in some capacity — or at least be open to understanding.
I think science is often times trying to gauge and quantify things in a physical sense, and it’s very hard to apply those standards to non-physical things. That’s obviously the big challenge and where one would have to have a conversation with a scientist to really be able to figure out how do we quantify things that are not physical?
MW: Has this ability changed the way you view death?
HENRY: Absolutely. Absolutely. I think more than anything, it’s changed how I live my life. It’s changed what I’ve chosen to focus on, what’s important and what’s not. We’re all going to die some day. For me, it’s really helped provide a sense of comfort knowing that there is something more. I think it’s just really important to know what makes us unique, and know that that’s our superpower. If we can stick to what makes us unique, and be ourselves unapologetically, that can really change the world and inspire people to be themselves as well. I think there’s a power in that.
MW: So you don’t fear death?
HENRY: I would say, yeah, I don’t fear death. But I don’t want to go anywhere. I’m still going to try to live for as long as I can.
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