Tri-State Native Returns To The Stage January 10
20-year-old Season 14 American Idol stand-out JAX releases her debut EP “Funny,” a six-song collection of pop leaning-tunes on January 27 but before that release, the East Brunswick, NJ native plays a show January 10 at New York’s Bar 9.
She sings about darkness, fame and opportunity on her EP, themes that reflect the cold truth of being a recent cancer survivor, and something JAX uses as her superpower to share her story, empower others and achieve her own personal triumphs including running in the New York City Marathon, not to mention singing the National Anthem at an NHL game in November. JAX currently lives in LA, though she mostly lives out of a suitcase and hopes to reside in the East Village one day.
With her jazzy vocal inflection, the versatile singer and entertainer’s songs can cause a stir whether she’s solo with the piano or letting loose on a rock or dance-pop tune and since the age of 11 the tri-state native has performed at everywhere from New Jersey’s historic Stone Pony to Warped Tour to Bamboozle and Nassau Coliseum. JAX looks ahead to 2017 with optimism, to connecting again with her fans and getting back to the stage. The Idol Season 14 finalist answered 14 questions with NYCMonthly.com to celebrate her new release and upcoming show…
One thing that’s so memorable about you from American Idol is that you don’t hold back. So your new ballad “Stars” is really lovely, written with Hot Chelle Rae member Nash Overstreet. “Hold up your fire, we can burn brighter” is one of the lyrics, and you talk a lot about darkness. Was this a therapeutic song to write and perform having recovered from thyroid cancer?
Yeah, this past year was so crazy for me and when I was in the studio post-surgery, just writing a lot, it was pretty cathartic, and when I got out to LA and hung out with Nash and Sidnie (Tipton), he said why don’t you write about what you’re dealing with right now, and also something that connected to other people’s stories? And to be able to share my story with others, the writing process helped and gave me some sort of an outlet.
You ran the New York City Marathon in November and donated proceeds to Tuesday’s Children. How did you hold up and how did you decide to take on this major feat?
I think my health situation was driving me to train harder. I’m the kind of person that I don’t know how to lose, black or white. The doctors told me I can sing again, let me go sing an opera. The doctors said I can exercise again, I’m going to run a marathon. It’s always been on my bucket list and it was such an incredible feeling crossing the finish line. I just feel great, it was just an amazing experience.
Growing up in East Brunswick, NJ, did you visit New York City often and if so what are memories that stand out to you?
I grew up in New York originally before I moved out to New Jersey. My parents are both from Brooklyn. I was literally there every day. I’ve been working in music since I was about 10. The city is the musical hotspot, that’s where you need to be all the time. I would take the subway at like 12, [my parents] said figure it out, sink or swim, go! Now I really appreciate that ’cause now I can really navigate the world, being transportation-savvy really helped traveling around Europe and London, knowing how to figure out the signs. Area 51 on 51st is a studio I worked out of, I spent a lot of time there a while ago. I work in studios in Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Sour Patch Kids studio, Patch House.
Which of the three American Idol judges left you with career advice that really stuck with you?
I remember Harry (Connick Jr.) was really personal and inspirational and he still reaches out to me, he’s a really good guy. I would say it was probably Harry.
Last somber question – it’s well-known your firefighter father was injured during the September 11 attacks. What has your father’s heroism taught you as a person and how does this translate to your music career?
My dad has always been my #1 inspiration all my life. And also my brother who’s in the Marine Corps. He was injured in a recovery mission, so his lungs were really injured. It was really freaky to my family but also a blessing in disguise because he’s always been my right-hand man and best friend and dad-ager. But my whole life shifted that day too, I am blessed to have my dad every single day. He’s always been the best, he’s so supportive.
In high school you starred in Aladdin and Annie. What Broadway shows have you seen recently that impressed you and what is on your list to check out?
I mean I think naturally Hamilton’s on my list. The Color Purple is on my list. I recently saw Avenue Q for the third time, and it keeps getting funnier.
You memorably performed Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” alongside the great Steven Tyler during the finale of American Idol during your season. When you found out you’d be sharing the stage with Steven how did you react and was this a career highlight for you so far?
That was the natural of all the pair-ups because usually they go through a process. There’s an office downstairs in “Idol” and they draw ideas on a wipe board and I was in Nashville filming with Scott Borchetta who was showing us (finalists) the office and he did this amazing cover of Janis and I was freaking out. Scott Borchetta was there and he said I have to sing this with him at the finale. The cameramen weren’t even ready for that. It was incredible, I was like crying when I came out of the studio.
You approached two Beatles songs “I Want To Hold Your Hand” and “Let It Be” on the show in such a refreshing way. You even have a song called “LSD,” which is probably an homage to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. Have you been a long-time fan of Beatles tunes?
I’m so happy you figured that out. The song’s about a relationship being so toxic and chemical, not that I would know. I don’t know who’s actually going to understand that reference or not. Yeah hardcore, I’m a major Beatles fan. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were by far the best songwriting team of all time with a close second being Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. The coolest thing about the Beatles is how perfect and how magically imperfect they are. The human ear is trained now to hear perfection – but they got in the studio and played it one time through, it’s not auto-tuned and it’s just a masterpiece, and that’s what art is to me, they are perfectly imperfect. Their songs are legendary, they’re icons.
You had a voice coach in New York City, what was it like to come in from the suburbs to the big city as a young person to perfect your vocal skills?
I mean I worked with Don Laurence and that was on the Upper West Side. He’s like Gaga’s coach, he got me through the surgery and everything. I used to go in every week for vocal lessons. I love the city, I love to people watch. I’m not the type of person who can stand in the same place, I can get really bored. I need to be stimulated. If you’re going to be a professional in this business you have to be in New York. I want to live in the East Village.
Your debut EP is called “Funny,” which seems to make a lot of sense, and it’s coming January 27 and you co-wrote all the songs, is that correct?
Most of them, yeah. Actually it’s crazy because most things end up being a co-write. With the coolest people in the world. Everyone I worked with is incredible. My manager hooked me up with some great people. The Mowgli’s did my next single ‘Kickin’ and Screamin’,” with Nash.
As an entertainer, there’s a performance quality, a charisma that stands out with you, aside from your voice and piano skills. Who are some of the artists who have informed some of your stage presence?
Oh man, there’s so much. I always go through a woman power phase. I grew up on Pat Benatar, saw her a few times live, she’s so effortless and crazy. Alanis Morissette. And I love Hayley Williams, she’s a little fire pistol. I’ve seen Paramore many times, she’s like a Rocky Balboa. She was one of my biggest inspirations growing up.
NYCM: Since your EP is called “Funny,” what and who makes you laugh?
Oh my god. You know what’s funny to me, Ali G, Sacha Baron Cohen is the funniest guy in the world. I know every line to Borat.
What do you hope to achieve with your live show when you play Bar Nine on January 10 and on future shows this year?
I want to connect with everyone in the room at that time in that moment. Live performance is my favorite thing. I really just hope to touch somebody in one shape or form and that’s all I can really ask for.
Since it’s the start of a new year, what are you most looking forward to in 2017?
Dude, there’s so much. Right now I just want the EP to come out. I’m excited for people to learn about my 2016 story through my music. I’ve got nothing but love really. Everyone’s been amazing and I’m so grateful of my fans.