How The Voice changed my life - Ipswich's Jade MayJean on life after reality TV
PUBLISHED: 17:02 30 December 2019 | UPDATED: 12:11 01 January 2020
She was catapulted from an ordinary life in Ipswich to nationwide fame in an instant, with none other than Kylie Minogue as her mentor.
But five years on from the reality television show that changed her life, Jade MayJean says it is not stardom that has given her the most pleasure but using her experiences of showbusiness - the good and the bad - to help young people.
The singer was in her early 20s when she was plucked by scouts at an open mic night at Ipswich's Spread Eagle to appear on the BBC singing contest The Voice.
Her beautiful rendition of Sweet About Me had the judges, including her eventual mentor Kylie Minogue, Spinning Around in the blind auditions - but she just missed out on a spot in the Especially For You singer's top three.
Now 27, Jade has used the exposure on national television to maximum effect, becoming a regular on the gig circuit in Suffolk and beyond - as well as releasing her album, 20Sixty, in 2018.
But as her music career has continued to blossom, so has a second life - helping Ipswich's young people both as a support worker and a facilitator for Girls Where You At?, a weekly Ipswich group designed to help teenage girls believe anything is possible.
Having dedicated her life to performing, she says it is "so fulfilling" to have the chance to make a difference to future generations alongside her music career.
Fame 'never planned'
As a teenager, Jade dreamed of being a musician - but the idea seemed little more than a fantasy.
However everything changed when Jade went on work experience to a hairdressers in Ipswich.
After revealing what she really wanted to do with her life, Jade was challenged to use the salon as a stage - and sing in front of clients to help build her confidence.
Jade admitted it was "scary" - but it turned out to be start of great things, as her self-esteem grew to the point where she was regularly singing at venues across Suffolk.
One evening, scouts from The Voice were so impressed by Jade's performance at the Spread Eagle's open mic night that they invited her to an audition.
Jade said her rise to stardom was "never planned" and that she "went in not expecting anything" - but suddenly found herself progressing week after week, making the live shows.
While the ultimate prize of a recording contract eluded her, her exposure in front of millions of people on national television seemed to mean a star-studded music career was assured.
Yet despite all her talents, success has been far from easy.
'People assume that because you've been on TV, you've made it'
"It was weird afterwards," said Jade, whose Voice contract stopped her releasing any new material for several months afterwards.
"You go from being busy and in the limelight to there not being much afterwards," she added.
"It was a great platform. There was a bit of a period afterwards where you get gigs and people still congratulated me for being on the show.
"It was a great process whilst I was in it, but people assume that because you've been on TV you've made it and you don't need help afterwards."
In hindsight Jade wishes she had already released material ahead of the show, so she had something to promote once The Voice ended.
She believes the contract restricted her ability to make best use of her new-found fame.
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Nevertheless, Jade has found herself much in demand since - this year, for example, she was one of the main acts at Cornhill Christmas lights switch on and regularly performs at venues across Suffolk.
However, promoting her own original material has been more of a challenge.
"It's been a bit hard because I've always wanted to push my original stuff," she said.
"However at the same time, a lot of people want to hear the covers.
"I love music and I love being out there on the stage, doing what I love. However it can be hard to differentiate yourself."
The balance has continuously improved - her first album, 20Sixty, was released in 2018 on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play, and she is currently working on a second album.
'So many kids who lack self-esteem'
About a year after The Voice, Jade was keen to find a fresh challenge alongside performing.
She admitted she "wasn't sure because I had dedicated my life to music" - but completed her training as a support worker to young people at a children's home.
Acting as a learning coach and mentor to the young people, she has never looked back - and around the same time was approached by Ipswich's Future Female Society about facilitating its Girls Where You At? sessions.
Having herself lacked confidence as a teenager, Jade knows only too well the challenges young people in Ipswich face.
"Self-esteem is a massive issue," she said. "There are so many kids who lack self-esteem and confidence.
"They are so pressured. Some young people have never had that push in their life, telling them that they're great and to explore by being creative. They can grow up feeling worthless."
She believes her experience on The Voice, as well as balancing her youth work with regular gigs, helps teenagers to see what someone from Ipswich can achieve with hard work and dedication.
However she says: "I'm realistic and open with young people.
"I say that yes, I've done this and it was part of my life, but it doesn't change the way I am. I'm a normal person who works every day and does all the things ordinary people do."
Young people should 'follow their hearts'
Jade admitted that studying a performing arts course after leaving school did not feel like a 'proper' vocation - but believes music should be actively encouraged in young people.
Indeed, Girls Where You At? Gives young girls aged 13 to 20 access to hi-tech multimedia equipment at The Smokehouse to create their own music and films - opening up a world many thought was out of reach.
"Music is a great way of letting children and young people explore their creativity and display their emotions," she said.
"It gives them a bit of a release. It's quite therapeutic. I just feel that music has so much power.
"I always wanted to do music, but I love the contrast of working with young people. I hope I can inspire other young people to follow those footsteps and not feel too much pressure to do certain things.
"It has worked so well for me and I'm sure it will for other people - as long as they follow their hearts."
The BBC has been contacted for comment.
■ For more information about Jade's singing and for details about her album, visit her website.