Before the next qualifying episode for the American Song Contest I got to sit down with singer-songwriter Justin Jesso of Illinois! Together we discussed how Michael Bolton helped him get noticed by production, what life is like when he’s not on stage, and revealed his family’s connection to Al Capone. Learn all that and more in our interview below!
Hello there Justin, thank you for taking some time out of our day and preparations to interview with us! Why don’t you introduce yourself to our readers before we get started?
Hi! My name is Justin Jesso. I started my career as a songwriter writing for artists like the Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, Maluma, DJ’s like Kygo and Armin Van Buuren, and fellow contestant Michael Bolton (co wrote the song he is singing on the show), before releasing music on my own which has allowed me to tour the world. That journey has led me to ASC!
Wonderful thank you! And of course, you are part of the inaugural cast of the American Song Contest, representing the great state of Illinois! How does it feel to be part of the cast and represent your home state?
I am so excited and honored.
For those who might not be familiar with Illinois or have never visited before, what are some of your favorite things about the state?
I was raised in the suburbs of Chicago and growing up there was instrumental in becoming the person I am today. My favorite thing about my state is the values that growing up in Illinois instills in you. Midwesterner’s are brought up to be kind, treat others how they want to be treated, and are deeply caring about their friends, family and all others in their lives. Also, we got the best deep dish pizza 🙂
When did you first realize that you had a passion for music and performing? At what point did it transition into a full-time career for you?
I was the kid who always went for the plastic microphone over the toy football. My career started out as a songwriter, always wanting to pull a Bruno Mars or John legend or Julia Michaels and sing my own songs after writing hits for others. Then I wrote a song called Stargazing and a now good friend of mine, Kygo, decided to keep my voice on the record. That jump-started my career as an artist and after that I was finally able to release my own music and have people actually listen.
Earlier you mentioned that you’ve written songs for many big-name artists like Ricky Martin, Cazzi Opeia (whom our Eurovision fans will recognize), and the Backstreet Boys. Are there any artists out there that you’d love to write a song for one day?
Bruno mars would be a dream. Ariana grande. Dua lipa. Stevie wonder. Or that amazing talent no one has discovered yet!
What is something our readers might be surprised to learn about you? Like something that isn’t posted on your social media or on the internet?
That I’m a total homebody. I think my social media account makes it look like I’m always singing in clubs or on big stages. I don’t post as much when I’m home and I rarely go out if I’m not performing ha! I love ordering in and hanging with my dog Elvis.
Okay here’s my hardest question – if you were told that you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what album would you choose and why?
Songs in the key of life by Stevie wonder. It’s just doing the most ha. Stevie is one of my favorites and I always find myself going back to this album… even though It doesn’t have all my fav songs from him on it, if I had to choose, I’d choose this one.
Let’s move over and talk about the American Song Contest again. How did you first learn about the contest and what motivated you to submit an entry when the portal opened?
Michael Bolton was how I found out. He wanted to use the song we wrote together “Beautiful World” on the show and was kind enough to pass my name along to the producers/casting who reached out. I am honored to have been chosen to represent Illinois!
And I know that your song won’t be released until the day of the show, but could you tell us a bit about how the song was written? Was it made specifically for ASC or was it planned for something completely different?
It wasn’t originally written for ASC, but was a new song of mine that I happened to be working on right around the time we started thinking about ASC. I was in a relationship that was getting more and more difficult, but I still loved this person, and at the same time the world was still in the grips of a pandemic. I feel now more than ever we all just need a lifeline. Something to hold on to that can get us through these difficult times. That is what this song is about.
What if anything have you learned about yourself as an artist throughout your journey with the American Song Contest?
I never really thought about how my state shaped me as an artist. It’s been fun and informative to draw parallels from my past about what I do and how I do it, and see how influences that have informed me, are informed by my state and it’s rich history of blues and hip hop. On one hand you have Earth Wind and Fire who I listened to a lot growing up, and on the other you have Kanye west. My whole family has been in Illinois for years, back to my great grandfather (the original Jesso) who used to play piano in bars for a famous Chicago gangster named Al Capone.
For our readers who want to connect with you ahead of or after the contest, where can they find you and your music?
Everywhere music is found! Spotify, apple, YouTube etc. Please go take a listen! I just put out a new single called 400 trillion 🙂
Alright, one last question for you – is there a final message you’d like to share with our readers?
I’m so grateful to be a part of American song contest and to be able to make music and live my dreams every day. I hope my songs connect with you and get you through tough times and are the soundtrack to your best days. Whether it’s breakups, sad days, pandemics, weddings, or car rides with the windows down — I hope you get up and dance. Go vote for meee! 😉 Thank you!
Well Justin, I want to thank you again for your time and we wish you the best of luck in the American Song Contest moving forward!
Remember #YOU can catch Justin Jesso on an upcoming episode of the American Song Contest Monday nights at 8 PM Eastern/7 PM Central. #YOU can also jump into the ASC discussions on social media @ESCUnited, on our discord, or on our forum page!