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"The next thing you know, we go out and picket at the Fox Theater," Kenny explains. "I invited everybody and their brother, but nobody really showed up. It was basically me and the guys from the band. So I hired some bums for a couple of dollars. I gave 'em the signs [reading "The End of the World Is Coming" and "John Tesh Is an Alien"], white uniforms, red arm bands, and helmets. We blocked the entrance to the door, giving people tin foil, telling them, 'This will stop the Thought Probe Radiation that Tesh releases through his music. '"
The Detroit press hadn't had this much fun covering a protest since the 1967 race riots. Within three days, the event was featured in USA Today. After his brother called, Kenny bought a copy of the paper and, sure enough, found the blurb with pictures of a smiling Tesh next to a shot of E.T.: The Extraterrestrial and a caption reading "Separated at Birth?"
"Then it gets really weird," Kenny says. Twisting a piece of challah, he continues in a classic carnival-barker voice: "It got complicated after that. Very complicated. People would go, 'Why him?' Well, why not him?"
Kenny insists he harbors no ill will for the man. "I had more of a deep hatred for his so-called music," he says. "He's such a perfect target -- the white teeth, the hair, he has the Christmas baby, the perfect wife."
Next, Kenny and his cohorts set about milking maximum mileage from the rapidly ballooning Tesh controversy. "Kenny had a rally at the Shelter in Detroit," remembers Carey Loren, who was a member of the seminal '70s Detroit band Destroy All Monsters. "That's the nightclub featured in [Eminem's] 8 Mile movie. He transformed the whole place into a mad scientist carnival with antigravity boots and a fortuneteller booth and all these UFO noise things. He'd have people coming up on stage to give false testimony. I played a crazy professor. It was a nuts event."
By then, the "John Tesh Is an Alien" message was wending its way through the national media as joke of the month. Already a notorious Tesh-basher, Jay Leno -- or at least his writers -- had a field day. When Tesh appeared on the Rosie O'Donnellshow, she playfully slapped his shoulder. "Sorry, did I hurt you?" she asked. "I know a lot of people are afraid to touch you because of the whole alien controversy." Tesh then recounts the Detroit event: "Like being in a war or something," he says, before quickly steering the conversation from UFOs to his wife, Connie Selleca. He turns to O'Donnell and asks, "Did you and Connie exchange baby stories when you were on the plane?"
A grown man who wants to discuss babies with Rosie O'Donnell? Hel-lo! Alien!!!
Entertainment Tonight ran several segments on NATAS and Tesh's alien secret. Other celebs joined in the fun: Larry King told ET's cameras, "He is an alien. I know John very well. I know his planet."
Billy Crystal chimed in: "I don't know. Something has to explain this whole thing. People are buying the albums!"
But the best publicity came courtesy of a program called Strange Universe. The nationally syndicated show on the WB Network ran two Tesh episodes in late 1996.
The first begins with a solemn narrator: "The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Chicken Little. History is full of truth tellers no one listens to."
Kay Kramer (now Kenny's wife) and John Quigley appear as a pair of "freelance photographers" who were videotaping the protest in front of the Fox Theater. "Thirty minutes after the concert let out, John Tesh came out and my camera just went down," Kay tells the interviewer.
"Like something was interfering with it," Quigley adds ominously.
Actually, the camera's battery died just as Tesh emerged to greet fans and meet the protesters. The final seconds of footage show the robed helmeted protesters dropping their signs and recoiling in terror at the sight of Tesh.
"I was a little skeptical at first," Kay says on Strange Universe. "But I truly believe now he is an alien."
She goes on to explain NATAS' complex mythology, which charged that Tesh was an advance guard, an interplanetary mole sent to do surveillance on Earth for an invading interstellar army known as Echelon. In its literature, NATAS released a "Gray List" of other suspected aliens including Strom Thurmond, Bill Bixby, Karen Carpenter, and Christina Applegate. "Not everyone on the list we are certain about," a chain-smoking Livingstone told Strange Universe. "Tesh, we are basically absolutely 100 percent certain about. Go ahead and laugh, but we take this very, very seriously."
At the end of the program, the show's host offers a telling caveat: "One note: This very well could be a publicity ploy for something called the Mog Stunt Team, a rock group touring the country with a CD and the alien message."
Kenny now admits: "It became a shtick for the band. The band had nothing to do with it at that point, but the records were selling like this," he says, snapping his fingers. "People became so obsessed with it. When we toured, local news would follow us into town. We had to put on our helmets -- we could never be out of uniform. We became the product of something we invented."