Fans of Jesaiah Baer – just “Jesaiah” to the world – are excited by the recent release of her new single, WILDFIRE, and are clamoring for the video due next month. After that comes another single, “How to Fix A Broken Heart”, which she describes as being a little more emotional.
“Wildfire is like a Pocahontas meets John Smith love story in a gypsy wonderland paradise kind-of thing. We recorded both songs around the same time. Albums aren’t a big thing anymore. So many artists use iTunes and Spotify – it’s all about singles. In the pop alternative industry, people are so impatient. They want instant satisfaction – getting whatever they want at that very moment.”
Jesaiah turned 19 on Friday, May 28. Two years ago she bolted on the scene through American Idol, Season 12. Making it past the preliminaries, Jesaiah headed for Long Beach where Round 1 was held onboard the Queen Mary. Seventeen seconds into her song – the ship’s fire alarm went off. Maybe a fire drill, maybe the performance was too hot to handle. “You were on fire!” said Ryan Seacrest. (Click below on the photo to watch the skirmish.) When the ‘All Clear’ sounded, the panel returned to hear Jesaiah’s audition, an appropriately-timed song by Kimbra – Settle Down.
“I loved it within seconds of you starting.” – Keith Urban
“You are really-really talented for sixteen. That’s a tough song to sing.”– Randy Jackson
“I actually liked what you did a lot.” – Mariah Carey
“I thought you had a very mature confidence. The voice was really defined. That’s very shocking for me.” – Nicki Minaj
The vote was unanimous: YES!
My introduction to Jesaiah came about when she was twelve. An audition was coming up at her school, she needed some vocal coaching. Her mother found me on the internet. They would be coming to San Francisco from Hollister. How’s the parking situation in the Castro District – in the heart of the most popular neighborhood in the world – on a probably sunny Saturday?
“Grab the first space you find!”
Luck was with all of us that day. Jesaiah arrives on time with her parents, Cary and Cecilia. OK, Jesaiah, sing a scale for me. Her voice is strong, the sound is mature. As with almost every twelve-year-old who needs to sing and craves an audience – breath control is usually at the core of whatever needs to be fixed to better impress the judges. Listen, Jesaiah – do this, do that. Again, please. That’s better. Now do this when you do that. Sing. Yes!!! And it continued along like that until her audition song was almost ready. At some point, the four of us started talking about names. Cecilia mentioned her maiden name was Samaniego. I then launched into my lifelong obsession with legendary silent film star Ramón Novarro, born Jose Ramón Gil Samaniego. Surprise! Ramón Novarro is Family. Jesaiah’s great grandfather’s brother is the father of Ramón Novarro. For Jesaiah, he’s Uncle Ramón.
“I love his song, ‘Into My Heart’. During the scene [In Gay Madrid (MGM, 1930)], he is singing behind a bush while another man is pretending to sing the song. It’s a really funny scene. He’s a great singer. I was amazed, because his main passion was music. He came from Mexico when he was fifteen to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. But he found fulfillment in acting. I find it really interesting that he stuck with his music no matter what.”
The annual San Francisco Silent Film Festival is currently celebrating its 20th Anniversary at the Castro Theatre. The closing night feature on Monday night, June 1 will be M.G.M.‘s first major spectacle, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, starring Ramón Novarro and Francis X. Bushman. Prior to the screening, film historian Kevin Brownlow will join film preservationist Serge Bromberg onstage to talk about the film and the many silent screen stars whom Brownlow interviewed throughout his life. The subject of Ramón Novarro’s gay identity in Hollywood and his brutal murder in 1968 will probably be a part of that exchange.
“Ramón Novarro made such a huge name for himself. He had that romantic Latin lover look that became so popular. You have Rudolph Valentino and my uncle. They were the two main guys who really made a big impact with that Latin lover fad. He was such a sexual idol. He had so many lovers, even when he was an older man. But he was always alone – he felt so conflicted with his passion and his religion. There were times when he wanted to be a priest, even after he became famous. And it all led him into alcoholism later in life. It’s amazing to know how much history my uncle has here. I drive past his house on Laurel Canyon all the time – the house where he lived when that terrible thing happened. I go there just to get a sense of what he was about, where he walked. I know that sounds kind of weird.”
“Not to me,” I responded. “I understand completely how much your famous uncle impacted my life. When I was a kid, growing up in San Francisco, MGM’s package of classic films was released to KGO-TV, Channel 7. I became addicted to them. Ramón Novarro co-starred with my favorite leading ladies at MGM – Norma Shearer and Jeanette MacDonald. Now I watch his films on the Turner Classic Movie Channel. His story is unique. I’ve even visited his grave site. My life’s experience would have been miserable without screen idols such as Ramón Novarro.”
“I definitely agree with you.”
Jesaiah has teamed with music mogul Don Grierson (former Senior Vice President of A&R for Epic, Capitol and EMI Records) and producer Chris Garcia (Katy Perry, Lana Del Rey, Colbie Caillat, Demi Lovato) to produce her new singles.
“I’m getting a lot of auditions for voice-overs, Nickelodeon pilots, Cartoon Network pilots. I just got a callback for Bratz – you know, the dolls. I have a role in a horror-spoof movie that will begin shooting by the end of the year. I play this Gothic girl who is in a cubicle with this woman, a telemarketer, whose uncle is haunting her. It’s called, Honeybee. I honestly have to give a lot of credit to my mom. Every crazy thing she suggested to do was about connecting to amazing people, influential people, whole-hearted people. Everyone has an agenda – that’s what you have to be cautious about. We eventually met Don Grierson who connected us with Chris Garcia who is a producer for many good artists. That led us to our film people who do a lot of reality TV shows and films, then they connected us to this amazing cinematographer for the music video. It’s like a huge tree.”
“The first six months of being here were scary. Los Angeles is a big town. I come from a small town – a town where people know everyone – to a town of strangers and transients. I got depressed the first couple of months just trying to figure out my way and what I needed to do to partake in this L.A. mentality. It was hard at first. But you know what? Through the process of making mistakes and trying to figure everything out – I created this amazing team and have a lot of people who believe in me. Even though I’ve just come here! It was a little tough at first, but it was all worth it. It’s a gamble. You’re gambling your life here. But it’s a good gamble. It’s an adrenalin rush. You can’t be scared of asking someone to help you get connected. The only thing they can say is – no.”
Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ screens at the Castro Theatre on Monday, June 1. The total experience will be as close as any of us will ever get to the film’s premiere in New York, December 30, 1925.
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