Tessanne Chin: The Voice of Jamaica Winning the Heart of America
Tessanne Chin was originally Jamaica’s sweetheart, but now she has captured the heart of all of North America, too. When Chin left her native country in 2013 to audition for Season Five of The Voice, little did she know she would not only return the crowned winner, but also having made history. Chin’s impressive vocal range, charismatic stage presence, and loveable personality carried her through round after round, and eventually made her the first non-American to win The Voice. Chin comes from a musical family and always had aspirations of being a singer, but was never able to reach the level of success that she hoped for in Jamaica. So she made the difficult decision of leaving her beloved country for America, which ultimately resulted in her gaining the international recognition that she desired and deserves.
The Early Years: the musical family
Tessanne Chin was born on September 23, 1985 in Kingston, Jamaica. From an early age, she was surrounded by music and knew it was an important aspect of her life. Chin’s parents were part of a funky Jamaican ska band called The Carnations. Her mother sang and played the trumpet, her father was the drummer, and her aunt played bass. Chin’s father also owned a sound and lighting rental business, so he built a recording studio in their home to help Tessanne and her older sister, Tami, realize their musical dreams. Chin began refining and perfecting her craft as a child. When she was only six years old, she began singing as part of the respected performing arts school, Little People and Teen Players Club. When her mother discovered how passionate Chin was about singing, she enlisted the help of vocal coach and mentor, Lecie Wright. Chin spoke to Caribbean Today about her mother putting her in vocal classes and the admiration she still has for her teacher. “She finally put me in proper training with Ms. Lecie Wright who I credit to this day for giving me the grounds for proper technique and how to use your voice, and how to protect your voice,” she said. “I owe her a lot.”
When Chin was 12, she moved to England. She told Caribbean Today about the hard time she had adjusting to the change when she first arrived there. “It was a very new ground for us [Chin and her sister, Tami] and we were definitely culture shocked, cold shocked and every kind of shocked you can think,” she said. She spent a great deal of time channeling that frustration into the music she wrote. Once Chin finished high school, the first chance she got to leave England, she took it. She moved back to Jamaica and shifted her career into high gear. She toured with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff for three years as a back-up singer. Chin said in an interview with Express that Cliff gave her a start and that those years felt like college for her. “He gave me a chance and I was so green,” she said. “I’d never gone anywhere and he gave me a chance to travel the world and sing and get paid, which was a lotto ticket for me back then and I have such great memories because of him.”
Chin also fronted the rock-reggae band, Mile High. Their fusion of the two genres created an original sound the group could call their own. They performed live as often as possible at places such as Jamaica’s Jazz and Blues Festival at Greenfield Stadium in Trelawny and on television shows like the first 24 hour Jamaican music video station RETV Unplugged. The drummer for Mile High, Andrew Thompson, who knew Chin from when she was a kid, said in an interview with Jamaica’s The Gleaner, “From she was a little child, we all knew she was destined for greatness.” He went on to not only praise her singing ability, but also her gift as a songwriter.
All on Her Own
It was only a matter of time before Chin would have the urge to break out and start a solo career. Her experiences with Mile High and Jimmy Cliff provided her with the confidence, knowledge, and insight she needed to venture out on her own. In 2006, she released her first single, the groovy, rock-infused, “Hideaway.” She discussed with Caribbean Today how people were confused by its genre. “… I love that song because it proves that music transcends barriers, it’s not about Reggae or Rock, it’s about good music and do you like it, it does not have to fit anywhere…” It garnered some radio play in the Caribbean, but she was still struggling to reach the masses. She followed it up with the singles “Black Books” and “Messenger.” In 2009, she collaborated with Shaggy on the sultry dance number, “Never Let Me Go.”
In Between Words
She independently released her debut full-length album, In Between Words, on January 4, 2011. It features a wide variety of styles from dancehall, reggae, to rock throughout the 14 tracks. It also includes a duet with her sister, Tami, on the heartfelt “You and Me.” Chin explained in an interview with the Jamaica Star that creating her first record was a tumultuous but happy experience. “It’s a journey that has caused me to experience every possible emotion that exist but one that I will use to help me on my other journeys,” she said. The album was well received by critics, but Chin’s struggle to reach an international audience continued.
Maybe part of Chin’s success on The Voice comes from the fact that she already had some experience with reality television. Not as a contestant, but, instead, as a judge. She sat as part of the panel of judges on Digicel Rising Stars in 2011. The show was Jamaica’s version of American Idol. It’s likely that even back then Chin knew what it would take to win on a show like The Voice. In an interview Chin did for Digicel Rising Stars, she gave contestants advice that she used herself on The Voice just a few years later. “Believe what it is you’re doing,” she said. “Own the stage. Command the stage. And don’t be afraid to just go out there and be the best you can be because nobody else can be you. I don’t want to see any imitations of other artists. I want to see you as an artist.” It was a coincidental foreshadowing of how she herself would end up winning The Voice.
Chin found a friend in dancehall megastar Shaggy throughout the years of collaborating. He became a mentor to her, often providing her with advice and guidance. When Shaggy launched his record label Ranch Entertainment, he signed Chin and started working more closely with her. Shaggy realized that she needed a larger stage for a talent of her magnitude. He approached her with the idea of auditioning for the American reality television show, The Voice. Shaggy revealed in an interview with the morning show on Hot 93.7 that Chin was not immediately sold on the idea. “She was a little bit hesitant at first – she’s an artist, and she’s established – but the world didn’t know [her], so it would be like [she’s] a new artist to the world,” he said. Luckily he convinced her that it was the next step she needed to take in her career. Chin echoed Shaggy’s words when she explained to Caribbean Today why she auditioned for The Voice. “(Shaggy) came to me with the whole opportunity about The Voice and was like ‘I really think this would be a great platform for you to break out,'” she said. “I was so afraid, I was so afraid to do it, because I did not know how America would receive me, I didn’t know if my Jamaicans would think I was turning my back on them, I didn’t know if I was ready for that, but I really had nothing to lose, I knew I wanted an international career, you know, so God bless Shaggy.” And so, with the kind yet forceful push from Shaggy, she left Jamaica in September 2013 for the United States to audition for Season Five of The Voice.
The Audition: “You gotta get up and try, try, try…”
It was the perfect song choice. The poignant lyrics in P!nk’s “Try” matched Chin’s struggle of years of trying to find the platform that would showcase her musical talent and voice best. Well, she finally found that outlet in The Voice. Only 30 seconds into her blind audition, all four coaches (Christina Aguilera, CeeLo Green, Adam Levine, and Blake Shelton) pushed their buttons and turned around for her. Her passionate performance even got Adam Levine out of his chair to give her a standing ovation. Before any of the coaches could say anything, Levine confidently announced, “You can easily win The Voice this year. I don’t have a doubt in my mind.” All four coaches desperately wanted her on their team, but Chin felt a connection to Levine, and choose to be part of “Team Adam.”
Journey on The Voice
Chin’s limitless voice, exotic appearance, and genuine personality got her through week after week on the show. Throughout the competition, she had Jamaica loudly voicing their support through various mediums such as Facebook and Twitter. Chin stayed true to her roots and even made a point of including her influences in her song choices. She performed No Doubt’s “Underneath It All” with a reggae flare, a touching rendition of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” and even a song by one of her mentors, Jimmy Cliff, the moving “Many Rivers to Cross.” She never tried to play it safe, either. Chin challenged herself by tackling sacred, classic tunes as well. Her semi-final round performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” caused her to become the first and only contestant to hit number one on the iTunes chart, and sent her to the finale. The following and final week of the show, she sang a rousing version of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Once again, she hit the iTunes number one and ultimately beat future pop-star Jacquie Lee and hard-working rocker Will Champlin to be crowned the winner of The Voice.
The audience fell in love not only with her voice, but also with her humble and gracious attitude. She was ecstatic to get the chance to perform with her idol, Celine Dion, during the finale results show. She also got to sing with Adam Levine, for whom she has nothing but kind words. She spoke about her coach in an interview with Zap2It. “He’s the best,” she said. “He has made this whole experience so amazing for me. He’s taken care with everything when it comes to me and he’s invested so much in everything. … He’s awesome. I can’t say it enough, cannot say it enough. I adore him.” The show truly ended up being a life changing experience for Chin and she finally found a way for the whole world to hear her spectacular voice.
Tumbling Down: Life After The Voice
Chin’s life after The Voice has been hectic. Winning the contest meant that she walked away with $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal Republic Records. Her first single “Tumbling Down” penned by OneRepublic’s Ryan Tedder was released immediately following her win. She has also been touring non-stop. In March 2014, she had the honour of performing at the White House in front of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as part of the “In Performance at the White House” series. It was recently announced that Chin would be headlining “The Voice Summer Tour 2014” starting in June. She also debuted her new single “Everything Reminds Me of You” when she returned to The Voice stage during Season Six. Chin announced while there that her new album Count on My Love will be released on June 24. Continuing with creating her unique sound, she told Carson Daly about the different genres on the record. “There’s definitely a mixture,” she said. “There is something on it for everyone.” With both Jamaica and America on her side now, it does not seem like life will be “tumbling down” on Tessanne Chin any time soon.