n January, the nation was introduced to Jess Lamb via her American Idol audition in Kansas City, Mo. Her performance of “Ain’t No Sunshine” quickly won over the judges and gained the Cincinnati singer/songwriter a great deal of fans. While her journey on American Idol was short, Lamb has been spending her post-Idol time productively and is poised to take the next step in her musical career on May 30 with the release of her first official single, “Memories.”
Lamb’s Idol performances showed America what many Cincinnati music fans already knew — that Lamb’s small frame houses a powerful and emotive voice. This, coupled with her intense and passionate work on the piano, made an immediate impression on the judges. But the road to Kansas City and beyond was more involved than just walking on stage and belting out a Bill Withers tune. In fact, it started weeks before, at the American Idol bus tour in Columbus, Ohio.
“The executive producers go to various cities and host huge, big sing-offs,” Lamb says. “There’s a panel of three and there’s just rows of people singing. You sing for like 20 seconds, some people longer, some people shorter. If you make it through, you fill out your paperwork and they tell you about the next step.”
After the bus tour, she was invited to the Kansas City auditions, where she sang for a second set of producers before finally reaching the celebrity judges. When Lamb finally entered the room, her nervousness was apparent, but when she sat behind the piano it all melted away as she started to sing. Getting to jam afterward with one of her biggest inspirations, Harry Connick Jr., was just icing on the cake.
“To me, that moment of being able to share my talent and play with someone that made me want to learn piano, it was so surreal. I can’t believe it,” she says.
“Hollywood Week” followed the auditions, where Lamb was again shown onscreen performing “All About That Bass” before she was unceremoniously cut from the show. But she hasn’t taken the cut as an excuse to stop working. In fact, her career has hit the fast lane since her time on Idol ended. Lamb’s week is full of concerts, recording time, Idol recaps for local news outlets, community outreach and much more. In some ways, she views her early exit from the show as a blessing in disguise.
“I’ve been able to immediately get to work with how I should get myself out there, really, especially now that I have a brand to sell,” she says. I never thought of myself as a brand until this.”
Lamb’s post-Idol life has undergone many changes. One that took a major shift was her day job. While Lamb is a nightlife staple who can be seen performing in bars and venues across the Tristate, she is also a teacher during the day. After Idol, she cut back the time she spends teaching, down to once a week. But she continues to teach to maintain a bit of balance in her life, even if the scales have tipped as of late.
“I love education. But my choice comes down to this: I’ve put so much into music and I’ve been supported by so many people that have put a lot into helping me do this that I have to do it all the way, focus on it 100 percent,” Lamb says. “Education is not my main focus. But I imagine that I’ll eventually teach full time or do something more time consuming involving education. But for right now, it’s all about the music.”
Her greater focus on her music career recently culminated in a trip to New York to re-record one of her originals with superstar producer David Sisko. Sisko has worked with the likes of Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child and American Idol alum Kelly Clarkson. But for all of Sisko’s accolades, Lamb wasn’t initially keen on teaming up with him. Originally, she planned on crafting each of her releases in Cincinnati and wasn’t impressed with Sisko’s first mix of “Memories.” But after sending him a batch of bands she liked, he sent her another mix and won her over.
“He sold himself to me because I didn’t know him … but it wasn’t until he impressed me that I wanted to take that step,” Lamb says.
The result of their team-up is a track that stays true to the original’s dark, sultry ambience, tactfully accompanied by Sisko’s artfully placed Pop hooks. The vocals are unmistakably Lamb’s, but they have been layered to give the song a cinematic quality.
Even her first single is indicative of Lamb’s insistence on maintaining her independent artist status. She shelled out $2,000 of her own money to own her master, something that many of her peers wouldn’t or couldn’t do if put in the same position. But for Lamb, keeping control of her output is of utmost concern. She doesn’t want to rely on a label; she’d rather work hard to preserve her musical integrity.
“For me it’s not so much about the label, it’s about the autonomy of my music, my look and the people that I get to create my music with,” she says.
It is this trait that sets Lamb apart from the myriad other Idol participants. She has taken the time to make sure her career is on a path of her choosing. Rather than hop into a label contract that would restrict her creative output, she took great pains to ensure her accomplishments were tied directly back to her and her chosen collaborators.
Rather than using American Idol as a catapult to fame, she’s used it as ladder. It took several months to reach this point, but Lamb has worked long and hard to make sure that her music career will be more than just “Memories.”
For upcoming live dates and more on JESS LAMB, visit jesslamb.com.