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Jesse J: "I was hiding behind this weird mask"

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"I felt I was covering up too much of myself. I was hiding behind this weird mask."

Jesse J tells Alan Corr why she no longer wants to be a cartoon character, why her fellow judge on The Voice UK Danny O’Donoghue really is that soppy in real life, and why her big sisters will always be her role models

Jesse J is casting her mind back to the summer of 1992. She is four years old and she is in a caravan park in Cornwall with her family when she sees a woman up on stage in a big tent singing her heart out. Four-year-old Jessica Ellen Cornish is transfixed . . .

“There’s a video of me of that day watching that woman sing I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston,” says Miss J all these years later on the phone from her rehearsal rooms somewhere in her native London.

“I am in awe of her and you can see that from watching the video. It’s moments like that when you become who you are. I used to watch videos of Whitney and be just WOWWWW. She’s so amazing, the way she dressed . . . The Bodyguard is one of my favourite films. I just look up to her a lot.”

Give me the Dolly Parton version any time but this was the formative moment, the exact epiphany that began Jessica Ellen’s voyage (no X Factor baloney about journeys here) to become Jesse J, the platinum blonde shouty gal pop star with the big gob and the bigger heart.

Jesse J graduated from the BRIT School class of 2006 alongside Adele and Leona Lewis and success came quickly. Now after seven top ten hits, a big selling debut and a profile-rising judging stint on BBC talent show The Voice, she is back with her second album Alive, a record that is partly about proving that is more than a platinum blonde shouty gal pop star with the big gob and bigger heart.

“I was nervous about the reaction to the album because the first album is about ‘Why are you here?’ but the second is, ‘Why should you stay here?’” she says. It’s a good line and it seems to come from the heart because despite of her big, brassy bravado Jesse J does feel vulnerable.

As we speak, she’s readying costumes for her tour which took her to Belfast and Dublin last week: “There’s tassels being sewn onto skirts, there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of colourful clothes in front of me right now and I can hear my band running around getting ready. It’s MAAAAADDD!”

Like a one-woman Spice Girls, Jesse J is still in yer face but she reveals her vulnerable side on Alive. For a start, despite those costume and hair style changes, she says she no longer wants to be a cartoon character.

“When I look back I can’t see me. I felt there was a point where I was becoming Jesse J instead of being myself. It was all Jesse J make-up and then when I was off work and wearing normal make-up people would say you look nice but no one ever said that when I was being myself at work.

“I was basically listening to a lot of people around me who had an opinion on what I was wearing, how my hair was and I wasn’t taking control of it. I didn’t feel at home and I would think oh yeah, I’ll listen out for what they have to say. There was a few moments on the first series of The Voice and a couple of red carpets and I look back and think, what? What? I don’t wanna look like that. I felt I was covering up too much of myself. I was hiding behind this weird mask.”

Jesse says her favourite song on her new album is Daydreamin’ and it's so eighties is should come with a pair of pink pedal pushers and a Rubik’s Cube. She calls it her Prince meets Whitney moment. “I always had a loud voice,” she says. “When I was nine I auditioned to Annie and just didn’t get in because I was too loud and Whitney was loud and she had a strong voice and it gave me a chance to be confident and comfortable with the voice I had.”

She gives it sparkley socks but far the most emotional song on the album is I Miss Her and it does not call for Jesse’ impressive pipes. Instead it is a quiet, sad meditation about a loved one is ill. I wonder if the person in question has heard the song.

“Emmmm, ah no because she wouldn’t understand that it’s about her. I Miss Her is the song I didn’t want to talk about and of course has ended up as the song everyone asks me about. I never wrote the song thinking it was going to be on the album. I wrote it for myself and out of respect I won’t ever name the person who it is about because of my family and everyone else who is involved. It’s a song that everybody can relate to.

“Many people have somebody in their lives who becomes sick, who loses themselves even though physically they’re still there. That’s what the song is about – somebody is suffering from an illness which means that they are not there like they used to be. It’s very emotional song but I’m happy that I put it on the album and I’m happy that people can see that I’m as vulnerable as anybody else.”

Stepping down from her judging role on The Voice (Kylie MInogue is set to take her place) means that she can concentrate more on her own career than trying to coach wannabes to 15 seconds of fame before inevitable oblivion. But forget about all that. All I want to know is this – is her fellow judge Danny O’Donoghue of The Script really that soppy in real life?

“Hahaha yes he is. He is very emotional. Danny is one of the nicest guys that I’ve ever met. He’s very in touch with his emotions and that’s a really nice quality to have. He really cares, genuinely cares. Myself and him are the most emotional, I think we got very emotionally involved with our contestants.

"I’ve spent hours of my time at The Voice trying to be a big sister, trying to be a mate as well as just a coach because sometimes it’s just overwhelming being on television and being in the media. There’s very few people you can relate to with that. you don’t know until you’ve lived it, you don’t know until you’ve opened up a newspaper and seen something negative about yourself that’s not true.”

Speaking of big sisters, you have two who are five and seven years older than you. Do you still see them in the big sister role?

“I look up to them hugely , I always have. My family are like my best friends. I got my two sisters and my mum and dad and I’m very lucky that I have just a close network of rocks that are very close to and always there for me. And they’re very normal people.

"This is all as weird to them as it is to me. we laugh at it, we laugh about it - `when did this happen again?’ It’s so exciting, it’s never normal, it’s fun we always laugh. They’re amazing, so good and so understanding that sometimes I just need to come over have dinner and not even talk about work. It’s boring talking about yourself all the time.”

Alive is out now

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