David Muir isn’t a big television watcher. Nor does the Sunrise resident have a lot of tolerance for reality TV shows.
But when Muir, a photographer, learned that fellow Jamaican Tessanne Chin had made it into the top eight on NBC’s reality talent competition, The Voice, he swung into action.
“I started dialing from my wife’s phone, my children’s phone,” said Muir, who also used all 10 phone lines inside his South Florida photography business and various email addresses, while rallying his employees to do the same in favor of the 28-year-old songstress. “I started getting everybody on board.”
“The key was rallying not just the phone calls from your numbers, but getting others to dial,” he said.
Last week, Muir’s efforts and that of countless other Jamaicans, at home and abroad, paid off: Chin became the newest voice of the reality TV singing competition, winning a recording contract and returning to Jamaica Friday night to the kind of reception that’s usually reserved for the country’s Olympic gold athletes.
“It’s an out-of-body experience,” Chin said after she was crowned the winner, and crowds at a four-way intersection in Jamaica’s Half Way Tree neighborhood erupted into frenzied screams and uproar similar to when sprinter Usain Bolt captured gold at the 2008 Olympics.
Chin’s victory, which was propelled by an entire island that couldn’t even legitimately vote during the public voting, has become a case study in people power, and the power of social media in a region where Internet connectivity is bridging the divide.
“It was a tremendous outpouring of love,” said Marcia Forbes, a Jamaica-based social media expert, “with so many others who responded to the calls by way of #TeamTessanne Parties, tweet ups and more.
“Tess on The Voice provided a wonderful opportunity for Jamaicans to rally around, even when she sang international songs,” Forbes added.
What ultimately became akin to a grassroots political campaign that unfolded in the blogosphere, began organically on Twitter and Facebook as word quickly spread there was a Jamaican singer on an American prime time singing competition.
“I had never heard of the show, never watched it,” said Deika Morrison, a media consultant and former Jamaican senator, who had guests walk out of an event she was hosting to see Chin’s powerhouse performance during the televised blind audition, and celebrity judges later battle to mentor her after quickly spinning their chairs around after her performance.
Soon, Morrison and other Jamaicans met up for Twitter parties during the Voice’s live playoffs. #TeamTessanne, which was started by a handful of Chin’s friends, soon had a global following as Morrison and others employed the kind of guerrilla marketing techniques usually reserved for political campaigns.
On the island, clubs and pubs held watch parties. Reggae Sumfest, the popular festival, used its network to help garner votes. The Jamaica Gleaner, one of the largest dailies, devoted headlines and updates on Tessanne fever with publisher Christopher Barnes even getting in on the Tweeting act.
“We told people, ‘She can’t win unless you vote,” said Morrison. “Call your family and friends, email them.”
“Apparently there is like a massive drop in international calls since she won,” Morrison said, laughing. “The good thing is all of a sudden, everybody had a reason to connect.”
In the U.S., Jamaicans in Florida, New York, Los Angeles and Texas were equally tasked, like Morrison, to get out the vote. This included downloading on iTunes for $1.29 Chin’s renditions of songs like Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water, which topped the chart.
“Whenever there is something positive or of some urgency that a majority of people believe in and feel that there will be a positive result, they are very focused on making a contribution in their own way to the effort,” said Miami attorney Marlon Hill, who was in charge of Florida’s crowds.
Hill, a former Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board Member for the Southeast United States, said Chin’s win shows Jamaicans’ ability to rally on behalf of something they are passionate about.
“This same passion can be used for other important issues like immigration in the U.S. or toward improving education or social conditions in Jamaica,” he said.
Observers say Chin, who belted out flawless performances week after week that left coach Maroon 5 lead singer Adam Levine speechless, managed to do something that was unprecedented.
“She was like an ambassador for Jamaica,” said Muir. “It wasn’t that she was singing reggae or because she was genuinely from Jamaica...She didn’t try to change or be different. She was herself and that came through with every song and that was powerful.”
Indeed, while the show’s host often butchered her first name, Chin remained gracious as she spoke in her heavily Jamaican-accented English.
“When she said ‘This was my bread and butter … that really resonated with everybody,’ ” Muir said of Chin’s response to her singing abilities, which has been partly shaped by having toured with Jimmy Cliff.
Jamaican reggae singer, Shaggy, who has known Chin for over a dozen years, said her appearance did wonders for Jamaica’s brand and the country’s internationally recognized but struggling reggae music.
“When you think $250,000 for 30 seconds of TV ads, and she was pretty much banging it out for Jamaica on every performance,” Shaggy told the Miami Herald, “that shows we are a force to be reckoned with.”
“She is an amazing talent. As far as her singing, she’s one of the best,” he said.
It was Shaggy who encouraged Chin to audition for The Voice. And while he said he couldn’t have scripted the ending any better, there is still that question of why he thought an artist from Jamaica, no matter how powerful her vocals, could win a reality competition when her biggest fans couldn’t vote?
“They couldn’t vote but they found ways,” Shaggy said of his fellow Jamaicans on the island. “It was a great platform for the world to see her and just witness her vast talent, and it worked out as planned.