1:55pm PT by Chris Gardner
'Seatbelt Psychic' Thomas John on New Lifetime Show: "Skeptics are Definitely Welcome"
At just 4 years old, Thomas John played messenger for his grandfather by receiving key information and passing it along to family members. Seems like a fun, even silly game to help teach a toddler how to communicate. But not everyone welcomed these messages with open ears or welcomed a young John with open arms because his grandfather was dead.
It was the first time John — star of Lifetime's new Seatbelt Psychic — recalls knowing that he had a gift for communicating with spirits from beyond the grave even if he didn't feel particularly special at the time. "I didn't realize that this was something that not everybody experienced," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "My parents were not very understanding of this, and reacted with fear and negativity."
John says he finally leaned into it when he was 22 years old, and it has since become a career, one that's soon to be much more high-profile.
John takes on the title Seatbelt Psychic when the reality show debuts on July 11. It's a concept — produced by some standout reality show producers like Zeb Newman (The Late Late Show With James Corden, Carpool Karaoke), Ryan Simpkins (Hell's Kitchen), Sarah Happel (Billion Dollar Buyer), Emma Conway (Drop the Mic), Brie Miranda Bryant (Jersey Couture), and Ben Winston (The Late Late Show With James Corden, Carpool Karaoke) — and it casts John as a rideshare driver who surprises passengers when he attempts to deliver messages from their loved ones.
THR caught up with John to discuss his skeptics, his dream celebrity passenger and what he sees for the future of the show because you definitely saw some lame psychic humor coming, didn't you?
Hi Thomas, congrats on the new show. Do you already know the answers to all the questions? Just kidding — a psychic joke, and not a good one. Who came up with the concept to cast you as a rideshare driver who surprises passengers with your gift?
It's kind of a long story, but I ended up meeting producer Zeb Newman through some mutual friends. He works with Fulwell 73, at The Late Late Show with James Corden. He and I started to have conversations about doing something in the psychic medium space, but doing something fresh and new, he pitched the show idea to me. I thought it was pretty interesting, and we kept discussing ideas. Once Fulwell 73’s Emma Conway and Ben Winston came on board things took off rather quickly and found its shape. At first, I will be honest and say I thought it was totally nuts to even consider doing readings while driving people around, but realized that it could be a way to reach people who would never look for something like this but needed some deep healing.
First things first: How hard is it to drive and deliver messages from the dead at the same time?
Not as hard as you would imagine. To be honest, it's such a natural part of my life — seeing dead people — that I don't even think about it. And actually, it puts me in a relaxing mindset to be driving around. My friends and family like to make fun of my driving, so when they first heard the idea, they were teasing me about it, but it feels like an intimate and safe space.
What is a typical session like for you with your regular clients? I assume you’re seated, too, but not in moving car.
Yes, in my private practice, it's a lot different. People come to see me for 30 or 60 minute sessions. I see all types of people — lawyers, doctors, professionals, creatives, grieving parents. Anyone with loss or questions can have a session. Before they arrive, I do a 30 minute meditation and I start to write down impressions and feelings I get. Then, when they get to the session, we dive right in. I usually start with what I am getting just on my own, and then, the client can ask questions. I know nothing about my clients in advance so the sessions are purely based on the messages that I get from their loved ones and guides.
When did you first realize you had a gift? And when did you know that you wanted to do this for your profession?
When I was 4 years old, I remember seeing my deceased grandfather. He would visit me and give me messages. I didn't realize that this was something that not everybody experienced. My parents were not very understanding of this, and reacted with fear and negativity. When I was 22 years old, I found my spiritual path again and began to connect more with my gift, and I realized there were others like me, and I could use my gift to help so many people.
One of the passengers on the first episode says to you, “I’m going to reach up and punch you,” which is just one example of a wide range of reactions that you get when you surprise people with these readings. Are you used to it by now? What’s the craziest response you’ve ever fielded?
The cool thing about this show is we aren't doing readings for celebrities or people even seeking this type of experience. We had so many people that got in the car and said, "Medium? What is that?" They literally had never heard of a psychic or medium. So there are all types getting in the car — believers, non-believers, people on the fence, skeptics. This leads to all sorts of reactions, but I would say the most common reaction is you can actually see people opening their hearts and minds as a result of what is coming through.
You also change the minds of a few skeptics while you’re driving. What’s your take on skeptics and how much of a responsibility do you feel to change people’s minds?
I don't feel any responsibility per se. To me, my job is not to tell people what to think. I present an experience, and then people can draw their own conclusions. Skeptics and cynics are totally different, and I welcome skeptics. A skeptic is just saying, "I haven't decided yet what I think, I am waiting for information." Skeptics are definitely welcome.
If you could have a celebrity surprise you and jump in the back of your car and do a reading, who would you pick?
Honestly, if I could pick anyone celebrity related, I would probably pick Barbara Rickles so I could channel Don Rickles, because he was my absolute favorite Hollywood person ever. Other person would be RuPaul.
How hard is it to do the readings on demand while the meter is running? What’s your process?
I am always receiving messages from the Other Side. Even before I pick up a rider, I am hearing things or feeling things about that person. I am clairvoyant, clairaudient, and claircognizant, so I feel and sense energy in all different ways. There is a natural flow to what happens, so I am never really thinking about the process.
Did you ever have someone get in the car and you didn’t pick up anything?
There were a few like that, but few and far between.
The episode I watched featured riders from L.A. Is there a city you’d like to drive in and film?
I am game to go anywhere, but I think Las Vegas would be fun just because it's such an intense place.
Where is the strangest place you've ever been in your life when you saw or interacted with spirits?
Not necessarily strange, but I have been to Peru, and the energy is so intense there. I was able to climb Machu Picchu, and the spiritual energy in that place is absolutely amazing. I spent the day there and connected with so many beautiful, intense spirits, many of them very ancient.
You’re working with the same producers for James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” What’s your favorite episode of that show?
So many great moments and episodes — I'm obsessed. Favorite moments include Chris Martin saying he wants to punch an elephant, James riding around wearing the Sia wig, and the entire Sam Smith episode.
Let’s end with some more bad psychic humor: What do you see for the future of this show?
Yes, that's pretty bad. Well, it's hard to read for yourself, but I feel like it's going to have a really bright future. The show is helping people open their hearts and minds, and has the potential to change lives.