Young Kiwi Indian singing sensation Jessie Hillel is taking her success in her stride – and is well-grounded for more bright lights beckoning her.
The diminutive 11-year-old Wellingtonian, who was runner-up in last year’s “New Zealand’s Got Talent” TV show, has just released her debut album “With Love” and hints at more exciting times ahead.
Sony Music, the giant behind the bulk of singing super stars around the world, is also the main backer of Hillel’s singing.
In conversation with Jessie, away from the din of reality TV, you begin to understand what sets her apart from most kids and a good few adults. She is focused and disciplined, and has always dreamed of becoming a singer. So much so that it takes her a moment to answer if not a singer, then what?
“I would choose to play the piano, like my sister who accompanies me sometimes. Or the saxophone,” she says. Even at school, her favorite subjects are music and drama. Reading is the only non-music related activity that features in the conversation. She is a big Harry Potter fan.
For as far back as she can recall, she has been singing. “I remember being driven to the crèche and there was a CD playing of Jim Reeves and I really liked one song… it was track 21. So one day, I just sang it and my parents heard it and encouraged me.” Jessie says. She has been singing ever since she was three.
This year, she turns 12. And if she could invite any five people in the world to her birthday party, all would be singers too: Michael Jackson, Queen, Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Celine Dion.
Hillel was the youngest and the first Indian to reach the final of the reality TV show ‘New Zealand Got Talent’ last year. She didn’t win, but didn’t lose in any way either. “I met a lot of good people and I had a good time,” Jessie says. Of course, getting noticed and the subsequent album deal was a big step closer to achieving the dream. “I had a lot of fun in the studio. We were there for about a week.”
For the last few months Jessie has been practicing the songs on her album list, but the practice regime is no different from any other day before the show or the album deal. Her daily routine involves school and an hour of music practice. “I practice the scales and my favorite songs,” she says.
She got praised on the show and a lot of people began recognizing her afterwards, “My friends in school were like, oh, you’re on TV... that’s cool. But after that, it was quite normal,” she says of life after the show. Perhaps that’s what explains her grounded attitude. She is the second daughter of IT professionals Rabbi Brigu Hillel and Sigy Susan George. Discipline and normalcy define the home atmosphere. The family has been extremely supportive of their talented daughter. Especially important considering Hillel’s tender age.
Competing in the talent show and coping with limelight were not new when Jessie took center stage at NZ’s Got Talent. Previously, she had won the overall championship at the Aim to Fame National Championship of Performing Arts in New Zealand. She participated as the New Zealand team member at the World Championship of Performing Arts at Los Angeles in 2010, considered the Olympics of performing arts and came back with a second place.
I ask her how she handles rejection and what if the alum is not well received. “I would take it positively and just work harder,” she says. There is no sign of jitters, not in her demeanor or tenor. “I’m really excited,” she says, the smile in her voice intact.
Her debut album ‘With Love’ releases on April 26 and features some of her most loved songs as well as a few performed on New Zealand’s Got Talent.
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