When Jessie Hillel was a three-year-old growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, she would be taken to a creche by her parents, Rabi Hillel and Sigy Susan George, both IT professionals. On the way, the family would listen to music on the car radio. Sometimes, a CD of Jim Reeves would be played. One day, Jessie suddenly sang a Reeves song, Waiting for a train, from beginning to end. That surprised her parents. They realised that their daughter had a natural talent, and arranged for music lessons when she turned five.
Jessie, 12 recently performance in Kochi, where she belted out a Tina Turner song, River Deep Mountain High, as well as I Dreamed A Dream from the musical, Les Miserables.
The turning point for the singer came when she decided to take part in the popular ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent’show in 2012. “I had to wait three hours in the pouring rain to audition for the event, because there was such a long queue,” says Jessie, whose audition song was Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Initially, there were over 5000 participants, but thanks to Jessie’s unmistakable talent, she went past, round after round, even though she was the youngest participant, at 10 years of age. Eventually, she reached the final, where, she became the runner-up through a mass SMS voting. “People said that when they listened to me sing, they found it difficult to think I am a child. They told me my voice is so strong,” she adds.
Julie, 17, sister of Jessie, who is a talented pianist, says, “Jessie is able to sing classical songs. Nowadays, children rarely sing them. So, maybe, that worked in Jessie’s favour.” And this child prodigy has notched up some notable achievements. She won several awards at the World Championship of Performing Arts in Los Angeles, has performed at the New Zealand Parliament, and represented the country at the International Children’s Concert in China. Thanks to her ‘New Zealand’s Got Talent’ performance, Sony New Zealand signed Jessie to bring out a record of classical songs. The album, With Love, was released in April last year and reached No 2 in The New Zealand Top 20 chart and No 3 in the New Zealand Top 40 (World Albums). Incidentally, it is also available in India on I-Tunes.
When she is not singing, Jessie is listening to a lot of music. “I like Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, and Beyonce,” she says. “I also listen to Chitra and Yesudas.” After a full day’s study, as a Class 7 student, in Wellington, Jessie comes home and practises for more than an hour. “When I am singing, I feel truly alive,” she says. “It is a gift from God. In fact, I am lucky to have found my talent and passion at such a young age.”
Julie has some advice for her sibling. She says, “I tell Jessie that she should be humble and down-to-earth. She should keep thanking her parents, because she is what she is because of them.”
With her audition song 'Pie Jesu' by Andrew Lloyd Webber, she stormed through 5000 participants at 'New Zealand's Got Talent', 2012, to eventually become the runner-up.
Her album, 'With Love', released last year reached No. 2 in The New Zealand Top 20 chart and No 3 in the New Zealand Top 40 (World Albums).
Favourites on the loop
Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Yesudas and Chithra.