We Spoke to Jessie J on Winning a Chinese Reality TV Show

By Bridget O'Donnell, August 31, 2018

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“I genuinely didn’t think I was going to win,” Jessie J says when she’s asked about her unprecedented victory on the Chinese talent show Singer earlier this year. “I don’t think it’s sunken in yet.”

The British pop star has just finished a whirlwind three-month stint in Changsha for the filming of Singer, a Hunan TV reality competition featuring established singers similar to the X Factor

Jessie J was one of the first foreign contestants on the hit talent show, performing alongside some of the biggest artists in China, including Taiwan singers Sam Lee and Angela Chang, as well as Beijing rocker Wang Feng.

“It felt like being on a really cool version of the Hunger Games,” Jessie J tells That’s in an interview one week after the April finale. “Everything [in Changsha] felt really epic. It’s like nowhere else I’ve ever been.”

"It felt like being on a really cool version of the Hunger Games."

After turning heads back at home for competing on the show, the 30-year-old platinum pop star and former judge of The Voice ended up winning the contest with nearly half of the audience vote. Her heartfelt rendition of Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ earned her top marks in the finale, which hundreds of millions of viewers tuned in to watch. That night, she became the first foreign singer to take the crown.

“It was amazing for me to be on the other side, to not be the coach but to be the person that was competing,” Jessie J says of her appearance on the show. “It taught me a lot about how I’ve been with contestants on The Voice in the UK and Australia, and how I could improve as a coach and contestant. I genuinely feel like I got to know myself more in the process. I’ve definitely improved as a singer.”

Jessie J performing 'I Will Always Love You' on Singer. Outside of China? Watch on Youtube here.

Throughout the season, Jessie J wowed audiences with her on-point vocals and bubbly, down-to-earth personality. During the 13-week stint, she sang some of her own hits (including ‘Domino’ and ‘Flashlight’) in addition to covering a broad repertoire of classics, which eventually led to her sensational triumph. Having never finished outside of the top three over the course of the show, Jessie J also set a record by winning five rounds, with three wins in a row early on in the competition. 

“Every week the show was like a festival,” she says of the environment backstage and with her fellow contestants. “Because everyone on the show was already established, it was more like a celebration of talent.”

Despite the language barriers, Jessie J took a crack at performing in Chinese during one episode, in which she sang the end of Prince’s smash hit ‘Purple Rain’ entirely in Mandarin.

During our interview, she gives us a rendition — and her pronunciation is surprisingly good.

“I have no idea what I just said,” she jokes.

Jessie J singing 'Purple Rain' in Mandarin. Outside of China? Watch on Youtube here.

Acclaimed for mixing her soulful vocals with elements of R&B, pop and hip-hop, the London-born singer first catapulted to fame in 2010 with her debut single ‘Do it Like a Dude,’ followed by her 2011 chart-topping debut album, Who You Are. A series of other hit songs followed, including ‘Price Tag,’ ‘Domino’ and ‘Bang Bang’ with Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj. At the same time, she’s picked up several awards and nominations and has performed at festivals worldwide.

Jessie J had already accumulated a sizeable fanbase in China before she joined Singer as a contestant, thanks to the overnight success of her first album. Previous tours have seen her make stops in China, and she even made a guest appearance at last year’s Alibaba Singles Day e-commerce gala (singing ‘Price Tag,’ of all hits).

Jessie J performing 'Price Tag' at the 2017 Singles Day Gala. Outside of China? Watch on Youtube here.

“I am a contestant in this industry, and we’re always competing,” she says, reflecting on her eight-year-long career. “[Singer] was just putting a few of us in a bubble on a TV show. But everyone in this industry is fighting to stay relevant and to re-establish themselves and to create more.”

Jessie J returns to China this August and September for her R.O.S.E. World Tour, with confirmed dates for 10 cities in China so far, including Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Tianjin. The concert will see her perform songs from her fourth studio album of the same name. Released in May, shortly after her Singer bid, the album sees her veer away from the ‘power pop’ of her previous work and take a bold new direction towards old school R&B and hip-hop. The album was released in four parts — R (Realisations), O (Obsessions), S (Sex) and E (Empowerment). Working with producers DJ Camper and Kuk Harrell, Jessie J co-wrote the album, which includes the singles ‘Real Deal,’ ‘Think About That,’ ‘Not My Ex’ and ‘Queen.’  

Jessie J
Image via AEG

“I can’t wait [for the tour],” she says, visibly giddy at the prospect of performing more than one song at a time for a Chinese audience. “I love being here, around new energy and new culture and just a completely different way of life to anything I’ve ever [experienced]. I have a whole new understanding of the world, I really do.”

[Cover image via AEG]

Beijing: Sep 6, 7.30pm, RMB380-1,280. Cadillac Arena, see event listing, buy tickets.
Shenzhen: Sep 12, 8.30pm, RMB380-1,280. Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, see event listing, buy tickets.
Tianjin: Sep 16, 7.30pm, RMB380-1,280. Tianjin People's Gymnasium, see event listing, buy tickets.
Shanghai: Sep 18, 8pm, RMB380-1,280. Mercedes-Benz Arena, see event listing, buy tickets.

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