When Seaford-native Jesse Kinch stepped out onto the stage on ABC’s new singing competition “Rising Star” on June 22, the world took notice.
There’s something different about Jesse. At just 20 years old, he brought a lifetime of raw emotion to his performance of “I Put a Spell on You” on the series premiere, earning a standing ovation from an audience that included three music experts: Ludacris, Kesha, and Brad Paisley.
Though those artists represent very different genres of music from Jesse—rap, pop, and country—they responded universally to the phenomenon that is Jesse Kinch. He received the highest audience response of the night, exploding into the hearts of America with his take on old-fashioned rock n’ roll.
Billed as a “complete reinvention of the traditional singing competition,” “Rising Star” is the latest in this genre.
Viewers download an app that allows them to vote in real time to decide who gets to stay in the competition–and who gets booted. Though there are celebrity experts, the only judges are the ones at home. Each show features a live performance from the competitors, who play their own instruments.
Instead of contrived notion of what producers believe will be the nest in pop stardom, individuality is praised here. No one exemplifies that more than Kinch, who takes on classics from the 60s and 70s and invokes them with his own brand of raw talent and understanding. And the audience loves him.
Kinch has demonstrated precociousness when it comes to music since the first time he picked up a guitar at age six and was able to tune it by ear. By seven, he was performing in a NYC rock club. At 10, he competed against adult performers in the Sam Ash Guitar Competition where he finished in third place. By the time he took the stage on “Rising Star,” he’d had a headlining gig at the “Rock for Haiti” concert, appearances on “Good Day New York,” News 12 Long Island, and Channel 55 News, and airplay of his original songs on both WBAB and Q104.3NY behind him.
“First of all, he was born with perfect pitch,” said Fred Guarino, president of Tiki Recording Studio in Glen Cove, who has been working with Kinch since he was 13 years old. “But the big influence on this kid, which is so special, is that his father, who’s a big fan of poetry and music and lyrics– taught Jesse at a very young age. He said to him, ‘Don’t sing this song unless you feel every single lyric. You have to perform the words as if you’re living them. Bleed for those lyrics.’”
You can see that influence when he takes the stage. He doesn’t perform music; it overcomes him in a stunning transformation that gives rise to gooseflesh on the arms of his audience.
“When I get up onstage to sing a song, something happens,” Kinch told the Press during a phone call between rehearsals in Los Angeles. “There’s a change. An emotional change. And it’s like subconsciously I don’t even know that I’m doing it. I’m breaking down this whole song. I know the song so well. It’s like I am the song. “
When his father recognized his son’s penchant for music, he introduced him to his record collection. Whenever Kinch expressed interest in a song, he and his dad would go over the lyrics, breaking down every line, discussing their meaning. Under this kind of tutelage, Kinch developed a love for rock songs of the 60s and 70s, a time, he says, where “there were really no boundaries. It was poetry and music combined. And I think people really put their heart and soul into the music. People really wrote songs that they felt, not just to impress a record company.”
That authenticity that Kinch admires is the hallmark of what makes him an exceptional performer.
Besides having amazing talent with the guitar and a killer voice, there’s an extra element that resonates beyond his musical technique. His deep connection with each song fosters a connection across time and space with those who are lucky enough to hear him. And his fans count among them, Ludacris, Kesha, and Brad Paisley, who could barely contain himself after watching his premiere performance. “I think you gave someone at home a seizure,” he proclaimed. “Are you a lead guitar player, too? I want to see that. We’re gonna get you an amp.”
And you can bet that during the week after that performance, Brad Paisley invited Kinch to jam during his rehearsal, where another surprise awaited him.
“Oh my god,” Kinch burst out. “We went to the Capital Records building in Los Angeles. That’s where I was going to meet all the experts–Ludacris, Brad Paisley, and Kesha. And so I was going to sing my song in front of them and who’s microphone is there in front of me? It’s Frank Sinatra’s microphone. The history behind that microphone–I can’t even believe it.”
He is truly living something he’d never conceived of in his wildest dreams. In fact, singing competitions like Fox’s “American Idol” and NBC’s “The Voice” were never really his cup of tea. But the trajectory of his life changed a few weeks ago when “Rising Star’s” producers, after discovering YouTube videos of his performances, contacted him and urged him to audition for this brand new show.
“The thing that really really got me on board is how the producers of the show, they really respect individuality, which was strikingly awesome to me,” he said. “I’m not singing pop songs, I’m singing rock n roll songs. Songs that I love. “
Guarino, the president of Tiki Recording Studio, finds that to be the most exciting part of Kinch’s adventure.
“I think it makes a statement that it’s really okay to be yourself,” he said. “It’s okay to do what you like as long as it’s from your heart. And if you do it well, people are going to like it, as opposed to commercially calculating what’s popular. Jesse doesn’t operate that way and that’s why I’m proud of him. He stands on his own two feet.”
So what’s next for this Long Islander?
“All I can tell the people on Long Island is keep watching the show. Keep rockin’ and rolling and keep real music alive,” Kinch said. It’s so important to support that genre and thank you for all the love and support. It means the world to me.
“I promise you one thing. Each night I’m up on stage, I’m going to pour my heart and soul out. I’m going to put everything I have into it.”
You can catch Jesse and the rest of the performers on Rising Star on Sundays at 9 p.m. on ABC.