Two years ago, Jessie Chris became the youngest person to ever perform at the CMA Festival. Since that time, the rising star has proven the importance of persistence in your career, an effort that got her connected with Disney, among others.
Chris recently appeared on the Today Show after becoming the first country artist to be named Elvis Duran’s “Artist of the Month.” She sang her single “Burn” on the morning show. It is a song she co-wrote with producer David Spencer.
Perhaps even more notable than her firsts, original songs, and collaborations is Jessie Chris’s desire to use her fame to help others. The 20-year-old continues to prove the importance of giving back, as she explained in an interview.
One-on-One with Jessie Chris
Marcia Frost: When did you start playing music?
Jessie Chris: I started playing the guitar when I was 10 years old. What sparked that was that my brother got an electric guitar for Christmas. He got a "learn to play guitar" DVD. He gave it a shot and it didn’t really stick with him, but I thought it looked really cool.
I didn’t want his electric guitar, I wanted my own acoustic guitar, so I got my first guitar and started taking lessons.
How did you get interested in country music while growing up in Massachusetts?
Chris: My teacher gave me homework to listen to Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. I had to learn those songs in my lessons. I knew nothing about country music before that, but when I was exposed to that through my lessons, I fell in love with it and it stuck with me.
How did it feel to be the youngest performer at the CMAs (Country Music Awards)?
Chris: That was really cool. That was my first gig ever in Nashville and that was just four days after I graduated from high school. I was really excited and nervous all at the same time, but it was such a cool experience, and an honor to have done that.
Was that your first trip to Nashville?
Chris: No, I had been to Nashville several times before to write and record music, but I never performed in Nashville before that.
You sang with Billy Ray Cyrus during that award show.
Chris: I did! We got to sing “Achy Breaky Heart” together and that was really fun.
I grew up watching him on Hannah Montana when I was a little girl. It was so amazing to meet him in person and find out he is such a nice and genuine person in real life. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Have you met Miley (Cyrus)?
Chris: No, but he talked about her a lot. He would go up to any girl around my age and say, "You know my daughter? Miley, was that little girl!"
You’ve opened for a lot of country stars, including Luke Bryan. Have you had a chance to sing with him?
Chris: I did not. Opening for him was really cool. I did get to sing with Jeff Timmons from 98 Degrees. That’s from the pop world, but that’s really cool too. That was my first celebrity collaboration.
Who is on your bucket list to perform with?
Chris: Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts.
How did you get involved with Radio Disney?
Chris: For a while, my manager and I had been banging at the door like, "Notice me!" I was sending them emails about my music. Finally, we got their attention and they felt like it was a good fit.
It’s led to so many awesome opportunities. I got to walk down my first red carpet at the Radio Disney Awards and I got to record the “Human Race” song, a charity song with artists like LoCash, Kelsea Ballerini, Lauren Alaina, and Scotty McCreery. They were all on that song too with me.
Working with Radio Disney has just opened so many doors (over the last year).
Tell me about the Choose Kindness campaign and why it is so important to you?
Chris: The Choose Kindness campaign is actually a really personal topic for me because, growing up in Massachusetts and wanting to be a country artist, I got made fun of a lot. Kids weren’t really nice to me in school about it.
To be able to go out there and spread the message of kindness and being careful of what you say, not being afraid to be different, but also not making fun of others for being different. It’s just so important to me because I had a really hard time in school growing up.
You’ve done some work with the Sylvania Corporation too on something serious. Tell me about that.
Chris: Sylvania partnered with the Be the Light campaign and I’m working with them [both]. They’re all about random acts of kindness. I thought it’s cool because it ties into my other campaign, Choose Kindness.
It’s about being a light in people’s lives. One thing that they do I think is super cool is make care packages for homeless people. They’re filled with blankets, bottled water, snacks, and other things they might need. They will go out and hand them out to people on the street.
I think, in the world we live in today, we need more random acts of kindness. It’s really cool to be partnered with them.
What about your time with Wounded Warriors?
Chris: That’s right. When I was in school, I was actually made fun of so bad that I didn’t want to go on my class school trip to Washington, DC. I never went. The first time I went to Washington, DC, I got to perform for the Wounded Warriors. For me, that was cooler than a class trip because I got to actually sit down with people — some of whom weren’t much older than me. There was a guy close to my age who only had one leg.
It was just really eye opening to see firsthand the sacrifice these men and women make for us. It was just amazing to be able to thank them for giving people like me the freedom to chase their dreams. So that was really special.
What’s coming up for you?
Chris: Coming up I’ve got a lot of stops on our radio tour, so hopefully I’ll get to meet you in person very soon! We’re taking off a couple weeks in August, then starting back up the end of August and going through September.
For more about Jessie Chris and her tour, visit her official website, or follow her: @JessieChrisMusic on Instagram or @TheJessieChris on Twitter.