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M897 Artist Spotlight: June 2016

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JENA IRENE ASCIUTTO

The Reality of Real Artistry

Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn

Jena Irene AsciuttoNineteen-year-old Farmington Hills firecracker Jena Irene Asciutto set out on a mission to make honest music. What she ended up doing was becoming runner-up on season 13 of American Idol, signing to a Detroit record label and continually proving that girls can rock. Hard.

While the musical roots have long been there, there have been many roads taken during this young lady’s already-impressive-career.

“I’ve been interested in music pretty much my whole life, she said. “Music was like my extracurricular activity in school. After that, it kind of just evolved into me taking it more seriously and I started writing probably when I was about 11. When I started to learn how to play the piano and sing at the same time, that’s when I really started to take it seriously.”

Writing original music led to joining a band in her early teens. Asciutto spoke about her introduction into recording and collaborating.

“We started off as kind of like a punk rock cover band. I loved Paramore, and all that good stuff, like Hey Monday,” she said. “I started learning their repertoire and then started writing with them (her band mates), so we came out with a couple EP’s that we recorded in Royal Oak at a studio called Rust Belt Studios.”

“That was my first experience with recording and was just great to collaborate with other people instead of just writing myself. It gave me a little bit more confidence.”

Auditioning for American Idol at 17 led Asciutto onto a crash-course of the exhausting music biz, while her emotional journey was broadcast to millions of Americans on network television.

“Idol happened, which was pretty unexpected to be honest,” she said. “I was 17 when that happened and I turned 18 when we did the tour after that.”

Asciutto auditioned with Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep," and went through to Hollywood to perform for America’s votes with a unique rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep,” on the keys, The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black,” and Coldplay’s “The Scientist.” While she admits she didn’t mind missing school, it was a stressful, whirlwind of a time filming the show. Her breakout performance on the show arguably was her original song on the piano."

While she admits she didn’t mind missing school, it was a stressful, whirlwind of a time filming the show.

Her breakout performance on the show was arguably was her original song on the piano.

Jena Irene Asciutto“I performed my song what was called “Unbreakable Me” then, but now it’s just known as “Unbreakable” and that is also on my EP,” she said.

Looking back at one of the fondest moments from the show, Asciutto said it’s still a surprise that she was able to do that in the first place.

“Actually, that was a shock to me,” she said.” It was the last day of Hollywood week … and by this point I was so friggin’ exhausted, I just wanted to go home and sleep for 5 years.”

Once the list of possible performance songs were distributed, Asciutto didn’t recognize any of them, and she decided to take a leap of faith.

“There was an option where we could play an original piece if we wanted to,” she recalled. “I played it (“Unbreakable”) for Rickey Minor and the band, and they said ‘if you feel it, if you wanna do it, that’s totally fine, but it’s kind of just a risk because you have the band at your advantage and if you don’t use them, that’s basically your only chance.’”

“I went against the whole band and just performed it on my own and it got good reviews, so I’m so happy.”

After finishing runner-up on the hit talent show, Asciutto began visiting record labels and felt intimidated and out-of-place at big offices. That led to her signing to a Detroit-based label, Original 1265 Recordings a year-and-a-half ago.

“After the American Idol tour ended, me and my mom were invited to a couple major labels and independent labels off of Warner in NY and LA. They just didn’t compare to the way that I connected with my managers when I met them in Detroit,” she said.

“A lot of the major labels are a bit more intimidating than the approach my managers took. And for somebody like me, just fresh off of Idol, freshly 18, it was a big deal. It was very nerve wracking, I felt very nervous in those big buildings with all the men in business suits.”

“I just felt like songwriting and artist development weren't necessarily a big priority for them, and that’s a huge priority for me because I want to have a sustainable career. I don’t want to be just a one hit wonder,” she said.

While she’s thankful for her ‘TV-time,’ the self-taught musician notes it was important to re-group after the show.

“American Idol was an awesome thing,” she said, “but that was a stage in my musical career and this is the stage I’m in now. I do want to make this clear: American Idol is a reality TV show ultimately. It’s a singing competition, but it doesn’t breed songwriters, there’s no artist development.”

Jena Irene Asciutto“There’s definitely a difference between artist development in the performance aspect and songwriting process and in the last year, I’ve definitely honed in on the songwriting process.”

Continuing to mold her artistry, Asciutto is studying online classes at the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME) to get a degree in creative songwriting.

Her latest EP, Innocence, released April 22, is part of the Cold Fame album to be released next year. The name of the EP focuses on the general storyline of the album, delving into deep topics and emotional tales. Cold Fame is about all of the factors- good, the bad and the ugly that come with fame.

Stories that she was initially hesitant to tell.

“I kind of had to do a little bit of; I don’t want to say unlearning, but just veering away from some of the points that I learned on American Idol. Just because I felt like I had to filter out some of my personality because it was a family-oriented show,” she said.

“Now I’m literally only responsible for myself, and I get to put out any message and any kind of music that I want to put out. It took me a while to figure out what that sounded like and what the message was, but any message that I put out is going to be extremely honest and I don’t think there’s going to be any other way.”

People are continuing to take note, Asciutto was included on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart, for up and coming artists. Another career highlight was playing her first official LA show at The Hotel Café.

“I feel like that’s just a highlight in itself, because there are so many artists that have played there before they’ve actually blown up and gone main stream.”

The next goal for this go-getter female rocker is to get on a national tour, along with a second EP and a new music video release.

In the mean time, you can catch Jena rocking out to fellow front woman Jax Anderson of fellow Michigan music group, Flint Eastwood or performing at one of her own gigs.

Jena will be performing on June 18th at PJ Lager House in Detroit before venturing off on a NY and Boston tour July 15-19.

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