Ben and Jewel Tankard, of Bravo’s latest hit series Thicker Than Water, are that couple for whom the phrase ‘match made in heaven’ seems to have been invented. Undoubtedly devout, inarguably successful and absolutely endearing, the Tankards welcomed Bravo cameras into their
home palace, and they certainly seem to have struck a chord. Of course, that should come as no surprise. Ben Tankard is, after all, the best selling Gospel Jazz artist in the world. He’s also a former pro basketball player, volunteer pastor, menswear designer, motivational speaker, author, aviation enthusiast and licensed pilot, father, grandfather and husband to boot. Jewel, not to be outdone, is an author, entrepreneur and evangelist who has built a multi-level marketing empire, clothing line and financial services business, all while raising kids and somehow still finding time to volunteer. Whatever critics may say about their unapologetically lavish lifestyle, these Tankards are a power couple on a mission.
Since Thicker Than Water wrapped last week, we can add ‘record-breaking reality star’ to their respective lists of accolades. Their series took home the title for highest-rated non-franchise, non-spinoff freshman season in Bravo history. Recently, I speculated that we’ll likely see Thicker Than Water Season 2, given this kind of ratings success. And, as it turns out, the Tankard family is committed to Bravo for at least SEVEN YEARS! They may call themselves the black Brady Bunch but could they also be Bravo’s answer to E’s long-running reality family: the Kardashians? Time will tell.
I was lucky enough to have the chance to catch up with both Ben and Jewel about what they and the ‘kids’ have been up to since filming wrapped, how they feel about they’re portrayal on the show, and what’s next for the Tankard family. They graciously took time out of their vacation in Key West (where they were celebrating Ben’s 50th–Happy Birthday, Tank!!) to answer a few questions for their Bravo fans:
Congrats, first of all, on the success of Thicker Than Water! As I’m sure you’re aware, the first season was among Bravo’s most successful original programming launches ever. Were you at all surprised it was such a hit?
Ben: Yes! We were excited about the good response but had no idea it would be setting records!
Jewel: I was and I wasn’t surprised. Our family is pretty transparent and authentic, which makes us relatable. I think our imperfections as a family made people realize that their family was not as abnormal as they think.
What have you been up to since Season 1 wrapped filming?
Ben: I’m in “Full” swing on several projects…
A) Working on completing my new Smoothjazz CD “Full Tank – Volume 2 : Benspirations”. The lead out single is already out and on Billboard Jazz Charts. The name of the song is, yep you guessed it: “Thicker Than Water”
B) I am working with designers on my new Full Tank clothing line for fall release.
C) I am working on my book “The Full Tank Life”, which is a self-help book on how to make the best of your life no matter what level you are on.
Jewel: I have been working with all my children making sure everybody is in a healthy place emotionally and also helping them build their business. Making sure they don’t get their identity from Twitter or Facebook but from God. I’ve also started writing for JetMag.com the finance column & started a new show called “where is my money”. I’m kinda like the black Suzie Orman for Pokey & Nem. Lol. My financial services business is doing really well. Helping people get their financial portfolio in order. And starting Millionairess Bookclub for 6 months starting Mar 3,2014–helping women to develop the the courage & strength to start & grow their businesses. Speaking engagements at church and conferences. And I have been working with the domestic violence shelter as well.
So many questions about your kids! How’s Brooklyn’s hair line doing? Are Benji and Shanira still living in the Tankard palace? What’s Cyrene up to? Is she still keeping you on your toes when it comes to boys?
Ben: [Brooklyn is] great, she is expanding and looking at acquiring a retail location. Very proud of her, that girl knows how to get her hustle on! I told her I am so proud of her hair show that she can come to ” TankBank” for investment capital instead of wrestling with banks :)> [Benji and Shanira] have a nice apartment as they are getting adjusted to being newlyweds and saving money to buy their first home, a condo. They are both considering going back to college. Benji is site manager for Jewel’s Dad’s construction company by day and DJ by night. Shanira is a homemaker for now and part time model. “Cye” is all about school right now and graduating. No boys right now (her choice)…. She wants to attend Howard University for communications and is about to launch her nail polish and lipstick line online.
Jewel: Brooklyn’s hair line is doing great. Lots of hard work but she’s up for it. Benji & Shanira have moved out and living around the corner in a cute apartment. Cyrene is being home schooled now. Her modeling and acting has really picked up. She has chosen no boyfriends for now. She’s working on her nail line Cyrene Lovette lacquers. Graduating in June and moving into Howard in August.
Given how things ended up at Benji & Shanira’s wedding, we also need a check-in with Jewel regarding her relationship with her sisters, especially Junice. We know Jewel was over the counseling sessions…have things gotten better or worse since we left off with them?
Ben: Things are a lot better with the 3 J’s. Sisters drive each other nuts but they always land on their feet eventually.
Jewel: I’m a ride or die chick. I love my family and sisters regardless. Now that Junice has said all that she has said I think she feels great. And finding her own path.
As you know, you guys took some heat for being all about the Benjamins this season (pun intended!) Did you anticipate that much backlash about what I’d call your “think wealthy” philosophy and did you feel like your values were accurately portrayed?
Ben: My statement of “I’ve been poor, now I’m rich…and rich is better” went viral and ruffed some feathers :)> However, I have yet to meet someone that actually agrees that “poor is better”. Think about it, people are always trying to get promotions on their jobs, relocate for higher salaries, vote for the candidate that will benefit them the most economically, go back to college to get more education, buy lottery tickets for what reason? To get MORE MONEY. I am just bold and honest enough to SAY what people are actually thinking. After all, I am not trying to force anything on anyone, if prosperity does not do it for you, POVERTY is still available and very easy to achieve. I spent the better part of my childhood hungry, in poverty, and on public assistance. I was not able to help anyone in that state, and NO networks wanted to do a show on my life. Since I have been successful, I have been able to help others (have given away 18 cars), and we partner with 20 charities. THAT makes rich better for me. In the beginning people were mad and/or jealous and thought we were bragging. I think people begin to understand our true hearts as the season progressed.
Jewel: I realized that the money message would be controversial. Didn’t realize how much though. I think once people realized that we are still just people and that we are not defined by our money. Our wealth didn’t come from ministry but from God’s grace and lots of hard work. Once they realized we worked for it , they understood it. And, of course, we talk about much more than money but you don’t always see that.
Given all your other pursuits (see above!), what made you decide to add Reality TV Star and Bravolebrity to your resume?
Ben: I thought it would be a great way to inspire people to dream again. Also, we wanted people to fight for their families. EVERY family has a little bit of ” blend ” in there somewhere:)>
Jewel: We felt like our family was funny and real. And we hoped people would watch and would want to fight for their families again. Hopefully be encouraged to give their family members space and room to grow. Love them right where they are with all their issues.
You filmed with Kandi Burruss this season and did WWHL with Phaedra Parks. Has it been a warm welcome from your new Bravo family and are you guys fans of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and/or other Bravo shows?
Ben: Yes everyone has been so nice and kind and welcomed us to the fold. I love all the Housewives shows, Top Chef, and Million Dollar Listing shows.
Jewel: Bravolebrities have been great. Yes, the other Bravo shows are hilarious.
Ok, now that we’re all caught up, we have to ask: what does the future hold for the Tankard family? Particularly, will we be seeing more of you guys on Bravo? I’m sure Bravo will be making the official announcements but, would you guys be on board for Thicker Than Water Season 2?
Ben: When we signed up with Bravo, The family committed to giving this venture at least 7 good years. We are here for the long haul and we serve Bravo as long as they need us.
Jewel: We are open to doing more.
If so, is there any aspect of your lives you’d like viewers to see more of (or less of) on Season 2?
Ben: The church Pastor thing is Volunteer work and our way of giving back to community. I think many people did not know I was a career musician with 15 gold and 6 Platinum recordings, and some thought our wealth came from the church offerrings. I would love for the viewers to see me in the studio working on my CD and on the road performing one of my live concerts (I do 100 per year). This is my true element.
Jewel: I would like for people to see more of us actually working and what we do career wise as a family and as individuals.