Chasing the pot of gold: Tessanne to the world?

It’s far too early to talk about much else than Tessanne Chin’s victory in NBC’s The Voice. We are entitled to bask a little longer in the warm afterglow of that event, as we move towards Christmas and all of our thoughts of goodwill to all men.

We have much to think about in terms of what opportunities have been opened for this wonderful singer and what opportunities have been opened for this country. We yearn for such opportunities, and they come along rarely, and often without our really having been part of them. With this victory–and it was a contest–many of us can say that we played a part, helped, brought home the prize, etc. by our votes and our purchases of music. That’s a new feel-good aspect. It is really about us, too. We can really say that we carried our hopes on our shoulders. But, now we are likely to be out of the process, at least in such a direct way. Yet, we will want to be part of the continued success that we hope will come.

Already, politicians are looking to hitch their wagons to the ‘Tessanne effect’. That’s natural, and as a country that has based much of its modern development on tourism, we have to see what natural and cultural attractions we have for foreigners to want to come and enjoy. We have a new brand image that is breaking into one of our major markets for foreign travelers. That can build on what people already like about Jamaica.

Some people are also showing concerns–legitimate–about how things will go post-The Voice. That should not be seen as the all-too-common pulling down at which we are very good. Successes are not guaranteed. My karate coach once said that a black belt (expert) is just a white belt (beginner) who never gave up. Can Tessanne’s win be leveraged into a fabulous international career as she wants? There’s no answer that can be given now. However, I mentioned to one of our excellent journalists yesterday that it would be good to recall some of Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments about what was behind many successes. Both of his books, Outliers and The Tipping Point, have salient points, not least his pointing to the so-called ‘10,000 hours’ rule. We know that the adage ‘Success before work? Only in a dictionary’ has much sense. We know that Tessanne has been putting in her hours, so maybe she will get the success that often follows much hard work. Things have a way of being attracted to the right place at the right time. But, we know that leeches and scorpions and snakes and other kinds of predators are always lurking.

Since her win, Tessanne Chin has been on the usual media whirlwind of appearing on TV talk shows and interviews. People are now getting the chance to see and hear the artiste again without focusing on her singing. For many, it may be the first sighting and hearing of this budding star. How will they react? She needs them to be attracted because good words and smiles will not buy her any more ‘bread and butter’. She can build her image as being genuine and humble. Many will seek to present her as otherwise. It’s a competitive world out there, and dog eating dog is the order of the day. Last night, she was on with Jay Leno. This morning, she’s on NBC’s Today. Americans will get a longer look at her for the next few days, and so will the rest of the world through access to cable and satellite broadcasts and the Internet. The clips will be circulated. She’ll go viral, or nearly. Good for her. I wish her and those who will help her build on her success all the very best.

However, we tend to view any questioning of ourselves as ‘betrayal’? Does thinking aloud about Tessanne’s future walk that thin line? Maybe. I get the impression that many people in Jamaica–and elsewhere, for sure–do not understand what it takes to become big successes outside Jamaica, or that being well-regarded in Jamaica translates naturally into accolades and plaudits abroad. We see our national stars succeed once and then think that the celestial stars are the limit and will be reached naturally, as night follows day. The many factors that have to come into play to make things work out well are probably not known or understand. We perhaps think that it’s enough to be popular amongst ourselves. We fail to understand that other countries and cultures see us differently and have to be convinced that we should be in their hearts. We sometimes bridle when people focus on our accents, but that is often all that they can do to place us in their world.

We have stereotypes to overcome. Tessanne fits a certain stereotype for Jamaicans: she’s a singer. But, she is not stereotypical in other ways: she’s married, in her late 20s, and clearly of Chinese descent. The world has managed to put that into a package that they like–so far. But, it’s a real part of her and has to be built upon. How the image managers do that may surprise and annoy us, even divide us. I don’t know how that will be done, but I can imagine some ways. It’s not out of the realm of possibilites that her Chinese characteristics become a major selling point: China means a lot to Jamaica and has an enormous market that is waiting to be entered by any doorway possible. Would Jamaicans feel slighted by that? Tessanne is not reggae, or dance hall. She is not pop. She is not gospel or country. She’s transcending several genres. That’s good and may be bad too. By having no easy bracket she may appeal to many, but she may also fail to get enough traction with any major group of buyers.

It’s all complicated and interesting.

Tessanne’s success will be looked at for what it may teach or tell us about what we do and don’t do to nurture talent. Let’s not forget that in every activity there are many more failures than successes. All I know, without knowing much, is that a lot of sacrifices have had to be made. Grind has been the norm. Nothing comes easy. Are we ready to be like that?