By: Sawyer Bennett
It should be no surprise to any of you that “I GOT JAY BYARS FOR THE COVER OF OFF THE RECORD!” I mean, it’s not something I’ve been too quiet about over the last two weeks. And what could be any cooler than getting Jay for the cover? Well…Jay giving me an exclusive interview! Oh, yeah…beyond the heights of cool, I know!
I talked to Jay via phone, sitting up at my law office, while my staff peered through the glass door. They were excited, too! Why? I’m not sure, but it beats the doldrums of practicing law I guess.
First, let me tell you some words to describe Jay. He’s down to earth, humble and sweet. Not what you would expect from a model, right? But Jay Byars is more than just a pretty face. It’s true (and sorry if that embarrasses you, Jay…but your face is quite pretty, hence the reason you are on my book cover!)
Jay hails from Gaffney, South Carolina, an area I am very familiar with since I went to college for two years at Converse, which is just a hop, skip and a jump away from his hometown. Like a true southern man, his accent is endearing. In fact, my own southern accent started getting more of a drawl the more we talked.
After high school, Jay moved to Orlando, Florida to attend the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute and he raced Motocross competitively for eight years.
If you watch this video, it will come as no shock to you that Jay has broken his collarbone in two places, his wrist in two places with tendon and ligament damage requiring surgery and he has two compressed vertebrae at L4 and L5. So when it came time to decide whether to pursue modeling or Motocross, Jay believed he needed to give up the dangerous sport. Plus, it probably ultimately averted his mother having a heart attack as she has seen him take a few gnarly crashes! Here’s a photo Jay shared with me that is frankly incredible. Pretty awesome, right?
Jay eventually left Orlando and moved back home to attend Limestone College where he was active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. They approached Jay to put on Motocross camps for kids which in turn led him to became involved with Impact Sports. This assuaged Jay’s desire to help others. He has been on four mission trips to Brazil, China, Africa and Malaysia to use sports as a bridge to help teach the gospel in these countries. He’s also done volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity and The Boys and Girls Clubs. Always on the lookout for a volunteer opportunity, Jay plans on doing further mission trips and I look forward to hearing more about his great work because volunteerism is so important to me!
What I loved most about talking to Jay was learning about his deep faith in God, a relationship that became very important to him once he moved away from home. While he and his brother attended church with their mom while growing up, it wasn’t until he moved away from home that he realized he had a void in his life. He made a conscious decision to forge a stronger relationship with God and you can tell by talking to him that this is part of what part of makes him the genuine man that he is.
Discovered by a local photographer in South Carolina, Jay concentrated on his modeling career and was ultimately signed with Major Model Management NYC. He has modeled for labels Hugo Boss, Fruit of the Loom, 2(x)ist, Belk, JosABank, Tacori Jewelry, Cadillac and now for Sawyer Bennett!
Jay and I talked about his career. He is quite the traveling man…a nomad so to speak. In 2012, he spent six months out of the year traveling across the U.S. for his modeling work, hitting up the major cities like New York, L.A., Atlanta and Dallas. He is doing more and more commercial work and his ultimate goal is to get into films. He’s taken some improv classes and hopes to make L.A. his home within the next few months. When I asked Jay if he would miss South Carolina, he said he was ready to move on but that “my family is just a plane trip away”. Currently, he keeps a bag of clothes at his mom’s house in South Carolina, and a bag at his dad’s house in Atlanta, and in between, he is very familiar with the couches of his friends’ pads in New York City and L.A.
So let’s talk about fitness! I know all of you have Googled Jay Byars, and once you did, you saw that he’s fairly *ahem* ripped. He started training at a local gym to bulk up for Survivor (we’ll talk about that later) and really clicked with the owner, Olly Pierce. They became best friends and after the show, they partnered up to open Jay Byars Fitness. Jay’s concept was to target a niche market which includes helping women to tone up for pageants and weddings, among other things. Olly pretty much runs the gym because Jay travels so much with his modeling, but he always finds time to devote to this business when he is back home in between his travels.
Now, as much as I loved talking to Jay about his career, I was most excited to talk to him about Survivor, because I’m a huge Survivor-Freak-Of-A-Fan. Next to The Walking Dead, it’s the only thing I watch on TV (besides my beloved Steelers, Penguins and Buckeyes). For those of you who watched Survivor One World, premiering on February 15, 2012, you may remember this was the season that brought you the antics of Colton Cumbie (misunderstood? I don’t know) and Kim Spradlin did some major ass-kicking on behalf of the female gender, winning the title of sole survivor. It was also the season that saw Jay make it to day 25, only to get voted out after he stepped down from an immunity challenge for some chicken wings. I know Jay had been asked about that probably a gazillion times and although we talked about it, what I really wanted to know was what the heck the contestants do out there with all that free time and no books to keep them busy!
Jay told me the twelve to fourteen hours of daylight with nothing to do was definitely the hardest part of the game for him. As a big outdoors person and someone that is constantly on the go, Jay said, “Watching the sun slowly come up and slowly go down, with nothing to do in between but gather firewood was incredibly difficult.” He said you didn’t want to venture out because everybody was talking about everybody else. You are in a constant state of paranoia and while you try to relax, you do nothing but think how things will play out. He said you are constantly over planning, probably over thinking but you really do nothing but “hurry up and wait”.
Going in, Jay had to determine did he want to play the game like Russel Hanz or Tom Westman (who was one of my favorite players and won Survivor: Palau). What he figured out was that once it was all said and done, “Who you are is the way you play. When you’re in that extreme environment, who you are just comes out naturally.” At the end of the day, all Jay could do was be who he was and play the game as hard as he could. Despite his demise, he played fantastically because making it to day 25 in one of the most competitively physical and mental games anywhere is quite an amazing feat.
I had to ask if Jay would go back on Survivor if asked and his one word answer? “Absolutely!”
I ended my interview with a set of fun questions for Jay, some of which my fans wanted me to ask. So here they go, in no particular order:
Do you like to read and who is your favorite author?
Jay was a creative writing major in college, so he jokingly told me that he got burned out on reading for a while. But in all seriousness, one of his favorite authors is also one of mine…C.S. Lewis. This tickled me to no end because at one point, my Amazon author ranking was right below C.S. Lewis. Now I’m sure Jay is adding Sawyer Bennett as one of his favorite authors, since we were ranking buddies in the past!
Regarding Lewis’ writing, Jay said, “You can chew on one of his paragraphs for days.”
Are you dating anyone and what do you look for in a woman?
This one had my cheeks burning but Jay was a good sport. No, he is not dating anyone right now, mainly because his travel schedule isn’t exactly relationship-friendly. And while he admits he works with a lot of beautiful women, and attraction is important, he said, “I would like someone that is down to earth and I would like her to love Jesus. Someone that doesn’t take herself too seriously, who is spontaneous and has a good head on her shoulders. Someone that has a good grasp of who she is and who is comfortable in her own skin. Obviously, I would choose someone I’m physically attracted to, because that’s just nature, but I want someone that is as hot on the inside as she is on the outside.”
Okay, you may sigh now!
This question was from me and I told Jay he couldn’t fool me because I was a southern girl, but I wanted to know what three things make southern men different than any other man in the world?
Jay’s answers were awesome.
First, he said it was hard to escape his southern accent, and I can tell you…Jay has one! But, as a southern girl, I can tell you it is beyond charming!
Second, he said manners are ingrained in southern men. He said, “My dad would always thump me in the back of the head if I failed to say ‘yes ma’am or no ma’am’.” And yes, ladies, he does hold to doors open for you!
Finally, Jay feels like being from the south makes you more rooted in family, which is something I can definitely relate to.
Jay received an A+ on this impromptu test, and bonus points for his dad thumping him on the back of the head. I’ve had my share of those as well when my manners slipped!
Do you have a particular role model and how do they inspire you?
Jay doesn’t have any one particular person he looks to, rather he finds inspiration from a variety of people that he has met in life. He said it could be people he works with in the industry, family members or maybe it is a pastor that has influenced him.
Jay said, “I try to pick qualities and attributes that I admire and figure out how I can apply them in my life.”
This question was awesome and came from a fan. Is this your first book cover and how do you feel to be on the front of a book where thousands of women may ogle you? (Yes, I used the word ‘ogle’ and thankfully Jay laughed at my word choice).
“I was in the middle of a shoot when I got an email about the cover, and I was like wow…how did they find me? I feel extremely blessed and yes, this is my first cover. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait for it to come out.” Jay told me that he is still trying to get used to being in the public eye and that he hopes, “I never get too big for my britches”. (Love that southern saying!)
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
Jay hopes to be doing consistent work in movies although he doesn’t feel he is done with Motocross. He would one day like to be secure enough that he could start an extreme sports camp for kids.
Quick Question and Answer.
Me: “Dogs or Cats?”
Me: *who loves all things that are furry and bark* “Do you have a dog?”
Jay: “Not technically but I’ve claimed one as mine. She’s a Boxer.”
Me: *admiration points for Jay just went up by about a million*
Me: “Health food or junk food?”
Jay: “Health food.” *with no hesitation*
Me: *glad I was munching on kale chips the previous night but guilty I was eyeing the Dunkin’ Donuts that someone brought into the office that morning*
Me: “Action or drama movies?”
Me: “Tuxedo or t-shirt and jeans?”
Jay: “Did you say Speedo?”
Me: *laughing hysterically* “Um…no…Tux-eee-doh!”
Jay: *laughing, thankfully, and not hanging up on me* “Definitely t-shirt and jeans anyday!”
Me: “Baseball cap or beanie?”
Me: “Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter?”
Jay: “That’s a hard one. I hate cold weather.”
Me: “Phillip Sheppard or Brandon Hanz?”
Jay: *no hesitation* “Phillip Sheppard. In fact, I was walking the streets of Santa Monica last week and ran into Phillip and got to meet him.”
Me: “So did we see the real Phillip Sheppard on TV?”
Jay: “No, I don’t believe so. He seemed a lot more normal to me than he did on TV.”
Our interview wrapped up and we said our goodbyes. All I can say is that I am beyond thrilled with the way the cover turned out. When you are reading Off The Record, you will see that I described Linc Caldwell as an exact physical duplicate of Jay. But it’s amazing how eerily similar their personalities are, and you have to remember, I wrote Linc’s character well before I talked to Jay.
What I came away with from this interview is that yes, Jay Byars is more than just a pretty face. He has tremendous depth of character and I expect he will be a shining star in his career. I hope one day I can get him on another cover! Maybe a character who races Motocross?
Take a moment and check out these two organizations that are extremely important to Jay. Impact Sports and the International Justice Mission. I’ve combed both of these sites and their work is amazing!
From the bottom of my heart, thank you, Jay for being my muse, giving me the best possible book cover a girl could want, and for an amazing conversation. If you want to tell Jay how much you liked the cover, you can tweet him @_jaybyars. Or leave a comment at the end and let me know what you think!!!
And now…please enjoy the cover of Off The Record.