• Stephanie O’Hanley

DDO singer-songwriter aims to be heard in CBC Searchlight contest


You have until April 20 to vote for Dollard des Ormeaux singer-songwriter Jewelle McKenzie in the first round of CBC Searchlight 2016

For singer-songwriter Jewelle McKenzie, a Dollard des Ormeaux resident who used to live in Vaudreuil-Dorion, taking part in this year’s CBC Searchlight competition is all about exposure.

“I’m asking people to vote for me,” said McKenzie, whose passion for singing started before she was five years old. “I’d love to win. But I also want the exposure. I want people to know that I exist.”

This year CBC Searchlight features more than 1700 entries from musicians from across Canada. A combination of votes from the public and choices by CBC Music judges determines who makes the first round and ultimately gets a chance to be one of four regional finalists competing on national television for the contest’s grand prize — $50,000 worth of prizes plus exposure on national TV and radio. Voting to choose regional semi-finalists closes on April 20 and you can cast your vote for McKenzie online at www.cbcmusicsearchlight.ca.

The video for her song entry, Shout It (I’m Coming Out), is a live performance she did in 2008 for an International Women’s Day edition of the Télé-Quebec TV show Belle et Bum.

The upbeat song is about a woman reclaiming her life and self-confidence. “The lyrics were kind of ‘I can’t stop. I’m coming out’,” said McKenzie. “‘You think I don’t have what it takes, I’m going to show you.’ That was my attitude.”

At first she wasn’t crazy about the song’s melody, which existed before she wrote the lyrics.

“I wrote that song under duress,” said McKenzie, who’s been singing professionally for over 15 years, doing pop songs and performing at corporate gigs worldwide.

“I was writing songs and people in the industry were saying ‘well, your songs aren’t commercial enough, they’re not this enough and they’re not that enough’ so I just got mad and I decided okay, I’m going to write this song,” she said.

“When we canvassed people of different ages... in terms of what songs they like, that was the song everybody liked,” said McKenzie, who uses a digital music distribution service to sell her music on sites such as Apple iTunes and Spotify.

Recently a woman in Australia sent McKenzie an email asking if her 10-year-old daughter could use the song for her tap dance recital. “She wanted to know what the lyrics were just to make sure they were age-appropriate. I sent her the lyrics and asked her ‘Where did you find this song?’ She said (her daughter) found it on Spotify. It was kind of nice.”

The song appears on her new album, Ain’t It Good.

McKenzie said the music producers she met told her to change her sound and be a copycat of existing pop singers. They said, “Oh, you sound just like Beyoncé, that is what (we) want you to sound like.

“I’m writing songs that touch me,” she told producers. “They weren’t interested in hearing that so I was just doing my own thing. That why I did it myself, I produced it myself, I paid for it myself.