Yesterday we told you that we were looking forward to having a conversation with Jakub Stepniak, a Polish-born aspiring culture superstar who calls himself Kuba Ka, the ‘God of Pop,’ and who got on our radar when the Church of Scientology spent several months grooming him to be one of its vaunted celebrities.
On Tuesday, Kuba announced on Twitter that he was leaving the church just a week before he was scheduled to celebrate his birthday with an elaborate charity ball at Scientology’s Hollywood Celebrity Center. We spoke with Kuba’s business partner, actress Vikki Lizzi, who told us her attorney was preparing a lawsuit against the Celebrity Centre for backing out of the expensive event, and she filled us in on a lot of background on Kuba and his relationship to the church. We also found a serious Polish media interview with Kuba that helped us fill in some of his early years. (We hope you have at least reviewed yesterday’s story — we think you’ll get more mileage out of today’s piece if you have some familiarity with the background we found on Kuba in yesterday’s article.)
But what we really wanted was a conversation with the God of Pop himself, and last night we got it — two hours with Kuba Ka, his mother Tina Trozzo, as well as his business partners Vikki Lizzi and MJ Powers. Even his uncle, Danny Maghen, took part in our Skype session. (In fact, Uncle Danny was a hoot.)
What we took away is that Kuba Ka is a more serious and thoughtful person than his nightclub antics seem to indicate, and that he is still reeling somewhat from his separation from the Church of Scientology. His business partners, meanwhile, chide him for being too trusting and naive.
Yesterday’s story got a huge reaction, and one of the most common things we heard was, who’s Kuba Ka? But that was one of the things that made the situation so interesting. Why was Scientology spending time grooming an unknown Polish singer for what appeared to be a fairly significant role of some kind? And what did Kuba think he was getting into, and was he really planning to sue, as his partner Vikki Lizzi insisted?
The first thing we noticed was that Kuba turned out to be surprisingly humble for someone who refers to himself unironically as the God of Pop, and he was too polite to interrupt Tina, who kept jumping in to add details from her perspective not only as his mother but also as an attorney who is very protective of her only child.
We got a little more detail from them on Kuba’s background to help fill in a few gaps in the information we had in yesterday’s piece.
Kuba says he was born in 1991 (we still have our doubts, which we’ll explain later), and by just 9 years old, in 2000, the Gdansk youth was becoming known for putting on charity concerts for causes like the welfare of carriage horses and stray animals.
“I felt like a refugee. I was Egyptian-Italian, but I was born in Poland,” he says. “So when I started to perform I really just wanted to help people and make change happen.” But in 2004, his career as Poland’s wunderkind concert promoter ended. He explains that he had been thrilled to feature actress Vanessa Redgrave at a charity event in 2004, but she had used the opportunity to criticize the country’s government for being a major illegal arms supplier. That incensed Poland’s first lady at the time, attorney Jolanta Kwaśniewska, who was a major backer of Kuba’s charity work. She pulled the plug, telling him, “you have no place in show business,” he claims.
And then he added a detail we weren’t aware of — another one of the big celebrities he met while doing his charity work in Poland was the King of Pop.
“When I was a child performer, I met Michael Jackson at a hotel in Poland. He was really a loving and caring person,” he says. And not long after, he got an invitation to come to the United States by Jackson’s team. But his parents couldn’t leave the country, and so he didn’t go at that time. Several years later, in 2007, he made the move to New York, eventually making his way to Los Angeles.
In 2009, Jackson died. Then, in 2010, Jackson’s former manager, Frank DiLeo, signed Kuba, telling him that he would make him a “god” — hence the moniker. (We found a trade publication at the time that put Kuba’s age in 2010 at 24. So the God of Pop is either turning 26 or 31 next week, depending on which source you believe.)
DiLeo died in 2011, and Kuba says he felt cut adrift. And not just emotionally — he needed to find another sponsor, and fast, or he’d have to go back to Poland. He says he was fortunate that Latoya Jackson stepped in to help him out.
In order to help us understand how, a few years later, he would get involved in Scientology, he explains that he was becoming increasingly unhappy with the way young talent was treated in Hollywood. “They were selling me for photo shoots. I felt like a piece of meat,” he says. “They would say, if you won’t undress we’ll send you back home to Poland.”
He says he would hear things about Scientology, that it had a reputation for being drug-free and generally opposed to Hollywood’s seamier side. For two years, he says, he thought about checking it out, but waited until he had a change in his management.
“When I finally went there, I was the happiest person,” he says. And at first, so much about it seemed to resonate with his own personal interests as he was given an “amazing” welcome. “They told me they could help with all of my dreams.” And he describes being treated like royalty right away.
But how, we asked, did they know that he was a celebrity? How did they know to treat him differently than anyone else coming in off the street?
Kuba says that at the time, he was working on a film project with a producer who, one day, took him down to the Hollywood Celebrity Centre. He also mentions that the producer “runs a big magazine in Hollywood,” and he says no more, but his mother blurts out “Daily Variety.”
“He made an appointment at the Celebrity Centre, and when he showed them his business card, we were welcomed very well. And everything was free.”
Wow. That might actually explain quite a bit. The brass at Variety funneling new talent down to the Scientology center? Yowza.
Tina also added that they really didn’t know what they were getting into. “We didn’t know anything about Scientology. We believe in God and positive energy,” she says.
“We weren’t paying them money at first. They were giving us things and inviting us to events. At Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s,” Kuba adds.
We asked if there was someone in particular who had been assigned to be with them, and they say yes, a Celebrity Centre official named Noah Bolduc became their constant companion.
“I was a little bit surprised that Kuba wanted to be part of this church,” Tina says. “But he was no longer a little boy and deserves his freedom. My son’s dreams are bigger than life.”
But as the love-bombing went on, Kuba’s business partners became increasingly suspicious.
“I was suspicious that they were putting so much into him. I thought there had to be an ulterior motive,” says MJ Powers. And Vikki Lizzi, as we explained yesterday, had her own reasons for being wary of Scientology after the experiences of her boyfriend, actor Jeff Conaway, who had died in 2011.
“They wanted to run his career,” MJ says, and asks us why we thought they would have such an interest in him.
“They need someone young,” Vikki pipes up, and we thought she might be right about that. Some of Scientology’s celebrities are getting rather long in the tooth.
“They wanted to groom my stardom,” Kuba says.
We asked about the rest of the group. Were they asked to become involved in Scientology as well?
“Oh yes,” Tina says. “All of us.”
“Yes, but right away, they were telling me that now they were my family, and that I should be disconnecting from people who weren’t involved in Scientology,” Kuba says. “All of that you need to cut out of your life, the Scientologsts were saying. Let us be your family, they said. But I told them, No, I don’t want to cut these people out of my life, let’s work on a compromise.”
“They wanted to control him, but they present it as help,” MJ says.
“They demanded that MJ and I take courses before an event. They wanted us to do the Purification Rundown for $3,000, and they wanted the money that night,” Vikki adds.
“They were upset that we didn’t put down the money that night,” MJ says.
We asked Kuba, were all of his courses free? The books? “I only paid for this thing, ‘Ups and Downs.’ And $2,500 for books. And with that purchase I got an invitation to a race car track,” he says, referring to the introductory course “Overcoming the Ups and Downs in Life.”
But even at only an introductory level, Kuba Ka was getting some pretty amazing treatment and special access. Although he had only first walked into the Celebrity Centre in October or November, by December 17 he got to meet someone most Scientologists never do: church leader David Miscavige.
That night, Scientology held its New Year’s event at the Shrine Auditorium, taping it so it could be shown at Scientology orgs around the world on December 31. And like all big events, it mainly consisted of Miscavige talking on stage for about three hours straight. But afterwards, there was celebrating to pretend the new year was beginning, and Kuba says he was ushered over to meet Miscavige. We asked him what that was like.
“It was the closest thing that came to meeting Michael Jackson,” he says. “I never met someone who was so powerful. It was like meeting an emperor or the Pope.”
Kuba is 6-foot-3. We asked him about the height difference. (Miscavige’s former personal tailor told us the man is only 5-foot-1.) Kuba smiled and nodded, but then said that Miscavige has an “amazing presence.”
“I thought, we can create a new world where everybody will be happy. It was beautiful. That’s how I was feeling that night I first saw David Miscavige.”
Two weeks later, when it was actually New Year’s Eve and the film of the Dec. 17 event was being shown in Scientology orgs around the world, in Los Angeles Scientology was celebrating at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and Kuba once again got to meet Miscavige.
“It was like meeting Michael Jackson or JFK. Only a few people could see him. And the other Scientologists didn’t believe how fast I was invited into that close circle,” Kuba says.
Whatever his talents as a singer and dancer, and his claims to being a “God of Pop,” there does seem to be little question that Scientology and its leader, at least, were treating Kuba in a special way and they seemed to be convinced that he could be useful to the church.
Kuba was convinced of it too, and he was already beginning to idolize Miscavige.
“I asked to see the books by David Miscavige. I very much wanted to read his ideas. But they said no, there were only books by Mr. Hubbard,” he says, and he admits that it surprised him greatly. “What if I wanted to write something about Scientology? What if someone else did? And they said no, that’s not what happens.”
We asked him about what Vikki had told us the previous day, that he had also had a chance to meet John Travolta, but he had been told it would only be in private in a secret room at the Celebrity Centre. Kuba smiled, but said he probably shouldn’t say anything publicly. So we moved on.
Kuba says things started to get a little uncomfortable as his March birthday was approaching and he and his family and friends began planning their big charity event that they wanted to happen at the Celebrity Centre as his big coming out as Scientology’s new star.
Kuba, it turned out, had ideas about how Scientology might make some improvements.
After his courses had first begun, he admits that he was bored. “They gave me this special supervisor who I saw like every other day at the Celebrity Centre. We were going through the books together, and they made this special program just for me. They said I could do it that way and still go through all the levels and go Clear,” he says. “And then, after the charity ball, they wanted me to go to Flag and I would take part in these special ancient rituals. It was very exciting to me.”
At the “Flag Land Base,” in Clearwater, Florida, Scientology maintains its most qualified crew of auditors and supervisors, and it’s the only place were wealthy Scientologists can receive certain upper-level offerings. Kuba liked the idea that he would soon be going there for “ancient rituals.” Meanwhile, MJ was being told it would be good for him to join Scientology’s “Sea Org,” its hardcore inner elite that requires signing a billion-year contract. Both of them, MJ and Kuba, were told that it would be good for them to spend some time at Int Base, Scientology’s secretive international management headquarters near Hemet, California about 90 miles east of Los Angeles, where they could learn much more about what Scientology was really all about.
But as exciting as these suggestions sounded, Kuba says he started telling Bolduc about his own ideas for how Scientology could grow its influence.
“I told him that some of the courses should be free, or people could donate what they wanted, even if it was only a dollar. That’s how you bring in the homeless and other people who are in need,” he says. “And that’s when they started not to like what I was saying. I thought it should be like bringing people to a temple where everyone is welcome. I could see that wasn’t the case, and it was very painful for me. It’s not what I believe in. I want to do things for other people”
Meanwhile, he says, the early honeymoon was over and he was being told about more and more rules that he had to abide by if he wanted to move up Scientology’s ranks.
“I told them I loved their mythology, but I wasn’t really doing this for spiritual reasons. I think they misunderstood that. They wanted access to my bank account and my medical records. They said I needed to trust them.”
“I tried to warn him,” Uncle Danny interjects. “I took one course from them 33 years ago. I knew who they were and I tried to warn Kuba. They’re still sending me fliers 33 years later!”
Kuba says he was becoming more confused about how Scientology did business and seemed so closed off from the outside world. “I said, David Miscavige is such a great person, why do they hide him so much? Why isn’t he writing his own books? I was being told that they couldn’t take me to him to hear my suggestions for changes.”
And as they discussed plans for his big party scheduled for March 28, Kuba said he wanted it to be an event that benefited outside charities, not just Scientology itself. He wanted it to benefit a children’s hospital, for example, and he wanted some of the ill children to attend and see him perform. But the Scientology officials blanched at the suggestion.
“They only wanted the kids to be there for a few minutes,” MJ says. “Like ten minutes. We’re going to fly these kids out for ten minutes. It was ridiculous.”
“The plan for a beautiful marriage started to come apart. We understood very differently what humanitarian efforts were,” Kuba says. In a March 5 announcement, he had said that the event would also benefit Syrian refugees. “I wanted very much for this charity event to bring people in from Islam, refugees, to come and speak with Scientology. I told them they had to be more accepting of outsiders.”
And Kuba had other ideas about how to counter Scientology’s terrible reputation in the media. “I told them, you can’t just reject Leah Remini, you should talk to her. I wanted to invite her to the event.”
Invite Leah Remini? To the Celebrity Centre?
“I said to Noah, please arrange a meeting with David Miscavige so I could give him suggestions for these changes,” he says. And that’s when he started to hear that he was becoming a problem.
“Noah said that Joy Villa had made a report on me, and that she said I was trying to be a Trojan Horse to destroy the church,” he says.
Princess Joy Villa was also an aspiring performer who had been working her way through Scientology for a few years. At some point, she introduced herself to Kuba at the Celebrity Centre and took a selfie with him.
Later, he says he met with Joy and her publicist, and Kuba says he suggested that to expand Scientology’s reach, they should go to Washington DC and try to meet the new president. (“I don’t actually support Trump. I just mean we should try to meet with him because he’s the president. I don’t support anybody. I only support the United Nations and Queen Elizabeth,” Kuba adds with a laugh.) At the time, in January, he says that Joy reacted negatively, saying that she didn’t like Trump.
“I had told her and her publicist that Scientology was too much behind closed gates. Let’s show the love and bring in the media, bring in Leah Remini. And after I told them that, Joy and her publicist told me they couldn’t be around me because I was too controversial and was talking about reaching out to Trump. Then she turned around and supported Trump!”
Kuba thinks his suggestion was the seed that motivated her later to wear a “Make America Great Again” dress to the Grammys, which instantly made her famous with Trump supporters.
As the March party approached, Kuba and Joy were talking about writing a song together that would benefit human rights, he says. And for the charity ball itself, Kuba had talked to Joy about performing one of the songs from his new album with him.
But then he learned from Bolduc that she had submitted a “Knowledge Report” on him. “Joy opened our eyes on who you are, they said.”
“They put him through lie detector tests. It was awful,” Vikki says.
Then, on Monday night, Kuba was summoned to the Celebrity Centre at 11 at night.
“I was very scared. I was shaking,” he says.
“He was a nervous wreck,” Vikki says.
And suddenly, they noticed, things had changed. He was asked not to park in the special spot where he had in the past at the Celebrity Centre. And the security guards, who had previously been very friendly and informal with him were now all business and didn’t look him in the eye.
“Even the guy at the cafe was cold,” Kuba says. “I felt like I was being led to a police station for an investigation.”
“It was very weird,” MJ says. “They knew we were upset about how they had kind of dropped ball on the event.”
And as their meeting began, they noticed that instead of Noah Bolduc, it was being run by a woman they hadn’t met before, Margaret Marmolejo.
After months of planning, Margaret shocked them by saying that such events didn’t take place at the Celebrity Centre, and it was canceled.
“We were talking to them for weeks about the details on the charity ball. And now all of a sudden, she said, we don’t do that here,” Vikki says, scoffing.
“They were worried about too much media and attention,” MJ says. “Kuba had been saying, there’s all this bad press about you, but I want to bring in good press. I asked her, you say we can’t have the party because there’s too much media. But from day one not a thing has changed on our side. We’ve had media involved with Kuba from day one, nothing has changed.”
But something had changed. MJ tells us he thinks that whatever Joy Villa had put into her Knowledge Report had been the difference.
“She put the ideas in their heads that we were spies who wanted to take the church down from the inside,” MJ says. (We sent a message to Joy Villa asking for her to talk to us about Kuba Ka, but she hasn’t responded.)
Kuba says he was devastated by the news that his party would not happen at the Celebrity Centre. “They told me everything was canceled. You can stay a member but we have to change your profile. I had to run for the bathroom and throw up,” he says. He later went to a hospital for treatment — for chronic pain, he says, which flared up because of the shock at the Celebrity Centre.
The next day, Kuba wanted all of his Scientology books out of his apartment. Vikki suggested they take them back to the Celebrity Centre and get the $2,500 he had spent on them refunded. So they sent MJ, who described to us a comical scene, trying to get a check out of the people at the Celebrity Centre. At one point, the security guards told him they were going to call the police on him. They told him the check for the refund was in the mail.
“Vikki thinks we will take them to court,” Kuba says.
“No, that makes no sense,” his mother, an attorney, quickly interjects.
“Could this organization really have no empathy?” Kuba asks us. Both he and Vikki say they have been followed in the last few days — Kuba recognized his stalker, who he had seen working security at the Celebrity Centre. They asked us what Scientology was capable of. Were they in danger?
“I want the church to know that I’m not against them. I want them to grow and change,” Kuba says. “This isn’t about me criticizing Scientology. I am not against Scientology. What I am against is this nightmare I went through there.”
In the meantime, he’ll continue to focus on convincing the world that he really is the next big thing in entertainment. He has a new album coming out, and he showed us some posters featuring him in an upcoming movie — but that he asked us not yet to make public.
He said we could only reveal that the movie is based on a bestselling book about a musician, and that he will be playing the lead character.
And as for Scientology?
“I really do wish them the best.”
Less than three months to go — see you in Denver!
HowdyCon 2017: Denver, June 23-25. Go here to start making your plans.
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Our book, The Unbreakable Miss Lovely: How the Church of Scientology tried to destroy Paulette Cooper, is on sale at Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and audiobook versions. We’ve posted photographs of Paulette and scenes from her life at a separate location. Reader Sookie put together a complete index. More information about the book, and our 2015 book tour, can also be found at the book’s dedicated page.
The Best of the Underground Bunker, 1995-2016 Just starting out here? We’ve picked out the most important stories we’ve covered here at the Undergound Bunker (2012-2016), The Village Voice (2008-2012), New Times Los Angeles (1999-2002) and the Phoenix New Times (1995-1999)
Learn about Scientology with our numerous series with experts…
BLOGGING DIANETICS: We read Scientology’s founding text cover to cover with the help of L.A. attorney and former church member Vance Woodward
UP THE BRIDGE: Claire Headley and Bruce Hines train us as Scientologists
GETTING OUR ETHICS IN: Jefferson Hawkins explains Scientology’s system of justice
SCIENTOLOGY MYTHBUSTING: Historian Jon Atack discusses key Scientology concepts
Other links: Shelly Miscavige, ten years gone | The Lisa McPherson story told in real time | The Cathriona White stories | The Leah Remini ‘Knowledge Reports’ | Hear audio of a Scientology excommunication | Scientology’s little day care of horrors | Whatever happened to Steve Fishman? | Felony charges for Scientology’s drug rehab scam | Why Scientology digs bomb-proof vaults in the desert | PZ Myers reads L. Ron Hubbard’s “A History of Man” | Scientology’s Master Spies | Scientology’s Private Dancer | The mystery of the richest Scientologist and his wayward sons | Scientology’s shocking mistreatment of the mentally ill | Scientology boasts about assistance from Google | The Underground Bunker’s Official Theme Song | The Underground Bunker FAQ
Our Guide to Alex Gibney’s film ‘Going Clear,’ and our pages about its principal figures…
Jason Beghe | Tom DeVocht | Sara Goldberg | Paul Haggis | Mark “Marty” Rathbun | Mike Rinder | Spanky Taylor | Hana Whitfield