Waiting for that one big break was a frustrating experience. But when it came, Jamaican reggae fusion recording artist Tessanne Chin seized the opportunity and instantly transformed a fledgling career into global stardom last year.
Though happily married and making a decent living working in the private sector, Chin yearned to capitalize on her musical talent.
“I was working and making a living which is wonderful, but I wanted more than that,” she told Share while in Toronto last week for the University of the West Indies Toronto benefit gala where she was recognized with a Luminary Award. “I wanted to make it in the music business in a big way and for me that means Grammy, MTV and Billboard awards.”
A meeting with friend and mentor Orville “Shaggy” Burrell at his home two years ago was a game-changer.
“He knew where my heart was,” she said. “We had worked together previously and he kind of knew that I had the potential and just needed an outlet. While dancehall is king in Jamaica, we have amazing people doing other genres of music.”
During their conversation, Shaggy suggested Chin should audition for The Voice, an American reality television singing competition broadcast on NBC.
“When he told me this was my opportunity, I was scared,” Chin, who started performing at age six, said. “In fact, my lawyer had previously approached me with the idea, but I was not sure of myself. I am not an American and I was not sure how people would react to me. After the meeting with Shaggy, I spoke to my family and we decided I didn’t have anything to lose. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I have made in my life.”
Opting for American singer/songwriter Adam Levine as her coach, Chin became the first non-American to win the competition. Her Bridge Over Troubled Water semi-final round performance last December 10 was number one on the iTunes chart and she became the first and only contestant to achieve the top chart position at the end of an applicable voting window last season.
Just minutes before the semi-final round rehearsal, Chin was alerted that a friend had passed away.
“I am not going to go further into what happened than to say there was a loss,” she said. “The words for that song took on a completely different meaning…I love the people at The Voice because they didn’t capitalize on that moment of grief. They were very compassionate.”
The day after being crowned, Chin received a surprise phone call while doing an interview on Access Hollywood Live.
“It was Mr. (Jimmy) Cliff,” she said. “He just has this wonderful way of talking. He said, ‘Tessanne, I told you you were the voice and remember to water your garden’. He didn’t have to say anything else because I knew what that means.”
Chin was a backup singer for Cliff for nearly three years.
“I learned a lot from him,” she said. “He taught me the importance of bringing your ‘A’ game every night and giving everything you have when you are on stage. His work ethic is unbelievable. I was really looking forward to meeting him because I have not seen him in person for quite a while. We just keep missing each other.”
Cliff was unable to attend the gala because of a scheduling conflict.
This was Chin’s first visit to Canada even though her husband of three years – Michael Cuffe Jr. – was born in the Greater Toronto Area.
“Coming here for the first time to be honoured by the University of the West Indies is quite an honour,” said Chin who performed her single, Tumbling Down, at last January’s Rose Bowl parade. “When you look at the accomplishments of the other honourees, I ask myself why I am here. I am however extremely honoured.”
The 28-year-old performing artist returns to Toronto next month for a May 17 performance at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.
“I will provide those attending the show with an experience,” she said. “I will create a moment with them. For me, that will not only be doing the songs I did on The Voice that they probably love, but also some stuff that I have done before. I may also drop one or two things so I am looking forward to that show.”
Winning The Voice competition has been rewarding in many ways for Chin.
Last month, she performed alongside Aretha Franklin, Melissa Etheridge, Ariana Grande, Patti LaBelle, Janelle Monae and Jill Scott at The White House for U.S. president Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.
She sang Donna Summer’s Last Dance and then joined Scott, Etheridge, LaBelle, Monae and Grande for a tribute to Tina Turner.
“Performing at the White House was wicked,” she said. “It was such an awesome experience to be in that place and to be in the presence of some of my ‘sheroes’. It was just a wonderful experience to be around these amazing women. I am a big fan of the Obamas and I had the opportunity to take photos with them. What a night.”
Music has surrounded Chin for most of her life. Her parents performed in a band and her older sister Tami Chynn is a singer. Her cousin, Jay Hall, is a vocalist and guitarist with a British band and his brother is a vocalist with a ska-fusion act.
Chin spent four years in England attending high school before returning to Jamaica at age 16.
“Living in a new country was a complete culture shock for me,” said Chin who was the Caribbean Journal’s 2013 Artist of the Year. “I missed home. But looking back, I can appreciate what England did for me in terms of the lessons it taught me. My mother didn’t want us to just see one way of life. It was there that I gained an appreciation for different kinds of music. It was a very important and necessary part of my development.”
As she moves forward capitalizing on her recent success, Chin understands that she’s a hot commodity and there will be an incessant demand for her time.
“That’s why I have family and that’s where they come in,” she said. “I would love to say yes to everything. At the same time, that’s the quickest way to get burned out, to be over-exposed and to lose love for what you are doing. We are going to be selective about what we do. However, I am very grateful for opportunities that lie ahead. We don’t take those things for granted.”
Chin is expected to release her major label debut album later next month.