It’s a scene that could have come from the millennial version of the Lana Turner story: Hard-working girl meets up with singing buddies at a Manhattan karaoke bar andbelts out a ballad with all her heart. An observer is mesmerized, and shoots video footage on his iPhone. At 3 a.m., he contacts a friend, who happens to be the head of a record label.
And just as Turner was discovered at the Top Hat Café in Hollywood in the 1930s, a generation later, a star is born… The singer, J. Pearl, is the launch artist signed to Simply Delicious, an imprint of long-lived dance label Strictly Rhythm.
J. Pearl’s upcoming release “Must Be A Reason Why” came together after Strictly Rhythm A&R executive Dave Lambert and songwriter/producer Lucas Secon (Pussycat Dolls, Jordin Sparks, Kylie Minogue) went on the hunt for just the right artist to record the four-on-the-floor dance anthem. After a series of demos from various big-name female artists, the label realized its best bet was right under its nose: J. Pearl. She recorded the track with Secon, who then drafted No. 1 U.K. artist Shayne Ward to add a collaborative rap. Secon had already worked with the singer on two cuts for his 2010 album “Obsession.”
The self-empowering, wildly catchy single—which will be released this fall in the U.S. and Europe—calls out, “Must be the reason why I’m king of my castle/I know I gotta take control, I never wanna lean on you/You’re defined by what you own.” J. Pearl notes, “The song has a message that I like putting out there: about owning my life, autonomy and not backing down from what you believe in.”
In March 2011, J. Pearl journeyed to London to perform “Must Be A Reason Why” with Ward—whom she had yet to meet face to face. “We kept trying to find the time to get each other’s vibe, since we were singing this sexy song together. I figured it would at least be good to know his favorite color or something,” she says with a laugh.
Not to worry: Before a sold-out audience of 2,000 at London’s historic Shepherds Bush Empire, she could barely hear herself singing against the enthusiastic screaming. J. Pearl says, “This is a very different kind of song for Shayne,” whose biggest European hits “That’s My Goal” and “No Promises” are ballads. “I think it was a nice surprise for his fans to change things up.” Ward obviously agreed: J. Pearl was invited to join him at a second performance that week in his hometown of Manchester, England.
“Must Be A Reason Why” follows J. Pearl’s debut effort for Simply Delicious, “It’s Getting Physical,” a euphoric, high-energy call to the dancefloor, produced by Roland Clark and Calvin Gaines and remixed by The Wideboys (Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Britney Spears, Black Eyed Peas). The song scorched the top 15 on Fusion Radio’s global internet countdown and reached the top 40 on FMQB’s U.S. Dance Radio Airplay chart.
“Roland and Calvin spent a lot of time talking to me about my life, my interests and past relationships,” J. Pearl says about writing “It’s Getting Physical” for her. “The song points out the fact that I can be nice but naughty, too. It’s sugar and spice, one’s double-sided nature, and I like that dichotomy. Never judge a book by its cover. I’m really girly, but I’m also a huge nerd, into science.”
Indeed, the theme is an ideal fit for J. Pearl’s life story. Despite her burgeoning career in pop music, before Simply Delicious came calling, the cover of her memoir might have been titled “Broadway Chanteuse”… or “Doctor.” She explains, “I started singing in elementary school talent shows, performing everything from ‘Annie’ to songs from ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘My Little Pony.’” In high school, despite the fact that she was already a member of the track team, a friend convinced her to audition for the high school musical: Her pal was shut out, while J. Pearl got a lead role.
Post-high school, at New York’s Columbia University, she weighed her options as a pre-med major concentrating on biology and a member for three years of acclaimed award-winning a cappella group Columbia Clefhangers. “I was convinced to stick with my degree and see what happened after that. Everyone I went to high school with was baffled, but I decided music had to remain a hobby. Singing for a living was just a dream; it just doesn’t happen to real people.”
Add to that the highly disciplined ethic that comes from being raised in a working class family. J. Pearl’s mother is a full-time housekeeper and her dad a New York taxi driver: “My mother is the hardest-working person I know. She’s been with some of these families for years. I grew up with their children who are like my brothers and sisters, while others are like my extended grandparents.”
Her father, meanwhile, always tried to instill in his daughter the importance of academics. She recalls, “He would follow me around the house with the dictionary. When I was 8, he taught me Einstein’s equation, E=mc2. My dad instilled in me the curiosity and drive to succeed at anything I attempted.”
Fast forward to a cold winter night over a year ago, where J. Pearl is singing karaoke at a bar with a band of friends from her college a cappella group. “We were really pretty serious about it,” she says. “When I sang my trademark song, Christina Aguilera’s ‘Hurt,’ I poured my heart out. Two weeks later, I’m sitting in the office with (Strictly Rhythm’s) Michael Finkelstein.” After performing for the label and getting to know one another, “he asked me, ‘Do you want to be a recording artist? I just thought, oh god, is this really happening?”
Now, with first single “It’s Getting Physical” making waves on the dancefloor and the imminence of “Must Be A Reason Why,” J. Pearl’s true calling seems assured. “Music was following me my entire life and I kept walking away from it. Finally, it just caught up to me,” she says. “It’s in my blood. It took me a while to realize that some things are meant to be.”