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Jermain raises his voice

Jermain Jackman tells Claire Brine why, after winning The Voice UK, he is speaking out to help people reach their potential

You’re just a singer on a TV show. Nothing more. Nothing less

THE revolving chairs are back, with Olly Murs joining Will.i.am, Jennifer Hudson and Sir Tom Jones on the coaching panel of The Voice UK. Last Saturday (6 January) the first contestants to appear on the new series of the ITV competition took to the stage. Facing the backs of the chairs, they sang their audition pieces and hoped that their vocal talent would be enough to convince at least one coach to turn round and choose them. Up for grabs for the series winner is a recording contract.

In 2014 Jermain Jackman won that prize. While he enjoyed some great experiences on the show – including being mentored by the Grammy award-winning musician Will.i.am – he warns the current contestants that there will be ‘hard times’ to contend with.

‘There were days when I felt that I couldn’t carry on with the competition any more,’ he tells me over the phone. ‘The workload was heavy. I was 18 at the time of filming, and I felt as though I had been pushed into the deep end of a swimming pool where I suddenly doubted my ability to swim. I was the youngest person around all these professional performers, some of whom had been singing far longer than I had been alive. Their egos knocked mine out of the ballpark. I felt out of my depth and had to learn quickly to stand my ground.’

Even though nearly four years have passed since Jermain’s win, he finds that people still want to talk to him about the show.

‘A lot of young people say to me that they want to go on The Voice or The X Factor, because all they see is the glitz, glamour, fame and fortune,’ he says. ‘But I always say to them: “If you go on those programmes, be prepared to find out that you’re just a singer on a TV show. Nothing more. Nothing less. That’s all it is.”

‘I also say that if they want to take part in something like that, they need to be emotionally and mentally ready, because if they’re not, it will eat them up and spit them back out.’

One of the key factors that helped Jermain through the competition was his Christian faith. He tried to look for ‘the blessings’ in his experience – and found them at every turn.

‘Meeting new people, performing onstage with a band behind me and seeing the crowd out in front of me – they were the good things,’ he says. ‘Getting positive feedback from people warmed my heart. On the days when we weren’t filming, I’d go back to my home in Hackney to support community events. On one occasion, a young black man who was in a gang came up to me and said: “Jermain, you’ve made me feel that there’s another way in life.” That was one of the best things to happen as a result of my being on The Voice.’

Later, Jermain had a conversation with his granny that also gave him pause for thought.

‘I told her about my chat with the young gang member, and she replied: “Jermain, this programme is about more than just you. This is all much bigger than a TV competition. You are sending out a message that young black people can achieve great things and not just be on the front pages of newspapers as thugs, criminals and drug dealers.”

‘So, despite being consumed with nerves for every week of the competition, I knew I had a point to prove. I had to force my way through all the fear and anxiety, because throughout my life I had heard people say to me that I wouldn’t amount to anything. They’d say: “Jermain, you won’t be able to make it. You’re a young black boy from Hackney, a deprived borough. You won’t be able to make it as a singer. You won’t get anywhere in politics. No one’s ever done it before.” Going on The Voice was my way of taking a stand and showing people that I could – and I would – do this.’

Politics has long been one of Jermain’s interests. Today, when he’s not recording music or performing, he’s studying politics at Leeds University and serving as the chairman of the Fair Futures Commission, a project working to improve the futures of children and young people in the London Borough of Islington. No wonder he’s quick to point out that ‘there’s more to me than just music’.

He says: ‘The thing I’m most happy about is the platform that The Voice created for me. I love music, but I’ve loved being able to use that platform for my politics. I’m all about empowerment, inspiring generations and ensuring that everybody has the ability to reach their full potential.

‘For me, music and politics can exist side by side. Though I’m at university, my music career is still vibrant. I’m recording and plan to release some new songs this year. I also plan to do some small, intimate gigs, letting people know that I’m still here, still got my voice and still singing.

‘As far as politics goes, since I’ve become the chairman of the Fair Futures Commission, I’ve been hearing stories from young people who live in difficult circumstances. Some of them are carers for their parents, a lot of them have grown up in homes where they experience domestic abuse, others are struggling with their identity because they are LGBT. Working with them has opened my eyes to some of the issues people are facing, not just in London but up and down the country too.’

When Jermain spoke to The War Cry after winning The Voice, he revealed that his ultimate goal was to become the first black, singing prime minister. Three years later, he says he is still working towards achieving it.

‘Jeremy Corbyn has known me since I was 12 years old and he wants me to become an MP,’ Jermain reveals. ‘But I don’t think I’m ready for that just yet. I used to be the youth co-ordinator for the Labour Party in Hackney, but I stood down when I did The Voice. Still, Jeremy has said he would like to get me involved in some form of arts and music programme within the Labour Party. And previously I’ve helped him with some of the youth policies for the manifesto.’

While the idea of a singing politician may unnerve some traditional voters, the combination of music and politics makes sense to Jermain.

‘It’s my vision,’ he says. ‘God gave me my vision, and maybe not everyone is meant to understand it. Maybe I can’t even explain it to people, but they just have to wait to see the outcome of it.

‘The reality is, I’m a young black man from Hackney. And lots of young black men from Hackney have opinions on politics, even if they don’t realise it. They see the crime, injustice and poverty in their community, but they just don’t know how to articulate themselves when talking about it.

‘But when they see me, a young black man who is into music, they can relate to that. My music shows them that I’m not just a career politician going “yah, yah, yah” as some politicians do. It shows them that I’m a human being, like them. People often say to me that, in political circles, I’m seen as “human” because I have my music, while in music circles, they consider me as much more than a singer because I’m so passionate about politics.’

Jermain’s political views are shaped by his understanding of Jesus. He explains how his faith has developed over recent years.

‘My faith is the foundation of who I am and how I think, but I don’t tend to use the word “religious” any more. I’d probably use the word “faithful”. I believe in God. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But there are parts of the Bible that don’t really sit comfortably with me, and sometimes I have to overlook those problematic parts because I don’t think it’s helpful to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details.

‘First and foremost, Jesus taught us that we should love our neighbour, that we shouldn’t judge people and that we should help one another. Those are the teachings that are entwined with my political views. I think that some politicians run into problems when they allow their nitty-gritty interpretations of the Bible to become the pillars which overshadow everything else.

‘The way I look at it, faith is about having a personal relationship with God. And that connection leads the individual to interpret the Bible in their own way. The way I interpret the Bible is to see its focus on love and respecting others. Those are the messages I’m taking forward with me to change the world.’

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