CENTER STAGE: What’s In a Name? Kristoff St. John Discusses

John Paschal/JPI Studios

When it comes to titles, “The Young and the Restless’” Kristoff St. John (Neil Winters) is no stranger. He’s been called a heartthrob, an Emmy nominee, an Emmy winner, and even the “Denzel of Daytime.” The latter of which actually makes the New York native kind of blush! “That’s just a moniker for having staying power and lasting power in this medium,” he says with modesty of the Denzel Washington comparison. “I’m one of the longest running African American males on daytime, so I think that statement is more in honor of that.”

Aaron Montgomery/JPI Studios
Aaron Montgomery/JPI Studios

Fans don’t necessarily agree, having gone wild for the actor the minute he walked into Genoa City back in 1991 — a stint that was originally supposed to be short and was unexpectedly extended beyond St. John’s  belief. “I got that call from the man himself upstairs, Mr. [William] Bell Sr., [show creator], and I met with him two weeks prior, and he had simply given my four episodes, and said, ‘We’ll see how your character Neil does with this character Drucilla [Victoria Rowell],’ And I said, ‘Oh, ok, I’m honored.’ And he said, ‘Do you know who that character is?’ And I said, ‘I’ve been watching!’ And I had been. And I said, ‘She’s hot!’ That’s all I did. ‘Thank you. She’s hot.’ And so that call came, and I’ll never forget, he said, ‘Well Kristoff, you’re doing a great job. How would you like a three-year contract? How would you like to stick around the next three years?” And I just about had the biggest lump in my throat, and I managed to spit out, ‘I’m honored, I’d love to Mr. Bell. I’d love to. Thank you for this chance.’ And those four episodes turned into three years, which turned into 22 years.”

That means nearly a quarter of a century has passed since St. John stepped into the shoes of Neil. But he doesn’t let those passing years fog the memory of his first days on the show. “The first week of my life on the ‘Young and the Restless’ was just such a happy go lucky [time]; I was full of confidence — brimming with confidence — and I wanted to be taken seriously,” he recalls. “These people here were just so good at what they were doing. They were number one in all departments. The writing was just stellar, and that was Bill Bell Sr. The lighting was different than what I was used to — they had sort of a movie lighting. The producing was top notch, and so I just felt like I really wanted to add to it and be accepted.”

The hard work paid off, and the price is being stuck with a nickname likening him to one of the most successful Hollywood stars of today. “Part of me wants to laugh, and part of me is honored when I hear, ‘Man, you the Denzel of daytime,’” the actor says with a smile. “But don’t get it twisted: If my man Shemar [Moore, ex-Malcolm Winters] was still around, they’d be calling him the Denzel of daytime, so I’m good.”