KARACHI: Tasha Jessen this month became the first singer from Pakistan to be chosen to compete in the American singing competition ‘The Voice’ after her successful debut at the ‘Blind Auditions’ stage of the contest.
Jessen, originally named Sitaaish Ayub, grew up in Pakistan’s Faisalabad city where she described herself as the only Christian girl in her all-Muslim class. According to widely published media reports, Jessen left Pakistan with her family when she was 12 to escape religious persecution and immigrated to Thailand and onwards to Ontario, Canada. The 21-year-old finally moved to the US a few years ago where she currently lives with her husband, also a singer and guitarist, in Colorado Springs. Her family is still based in Canada.
Jessen’s performance of Leon Bridges’ ‘River’ at the Blind Auditions of Season 23 of The Voice moved the judges, including Chance the Rapper, country superstar Blake Shelton and former One Direction member Niall Horan, who all turned their chairs during her soulful rendition.
Jessen will next appear during battle rounds, which begin March 27. The show airs at 7pm Mondays and 8pm Tuesdays on NBC.
“I was the first Pakistani to ever go on that stage and that was a big thing on its own, and that was a really proud moment for me, for my country,” Jessen told Arab News in a Zoom interview from Colorado Springs on Thursday.
“I really hope that everybody watching at home and everybody in Pakistan is really proud as well because it’s a big deal for all of us.”
Recalling her journey to The Voice, Jessen said she searched online on how to audition for the show and then did a virtual audition after which she heard back "pretty quickly."
“All of a sudden, I was in LA” she said. “I was standing on stage and I was shaky because I couldn’t believe I was standing there with all these big celebrities talking to me. It was a really fast journey. Like, I blinked and it happened. It took me months and months to prepare and get ready and now it is all done.”
“Your voice is hard to define,” Blake Shelton, who Jessen chose as her coach on The Voice, said after her audition. “Which is the best thing you could have going for you … Tasha looks like a star. Nobody else sounds like Tasha, and she’s on Team Blake.”
Growing up, music was always “the most important part of life” for Jessen. Most of the members of her immediate family are recording artists and musicians and she recalled nights throughout her childhood spent singing with her mother and siblings while her father played the harmonium. She also participated in almost every competition at the Beaconhouse International School System in Faisalabad where she used to study when she lived in Pakistan.
Jessen dropped out after high school and never went to college, which she said really disappointed her mother who wanted her to pursue medicine.
“I did a lot of gigs and did a lot of worship [groups] in church and stuff like that,” Jessen said, speaking about her journey after dropping out of school. “And so, it’s always just been music and sports, to be honest.”
Jessen put music on hold when she moved to the US in September 2021 to spend time with her husband and try to find a job, which she did, as a showings agent for a property management company.
But seeing The Voice was a “wake-up call,” she said, and propelled her back into the world of music.
Today, Jessen says she has overcome all her fears: “Being a woman and then a Pakistani woman and then having a completely different faith [Christian] as well.”
“I just had to be where the music was, it’s all that carried me through,” she said.
And indeed, music did get her through it all:
“When I actually made it onto the stage [of The Voice], it was just this picture of, okay, if I can do it, if a little brown Pakistani girl can do it, then anybody can do it.”
Looking forward, Jessen said she was writing songs with her husband and hoped to release an album and go on tour one day.
“The goal is to someday … spread the same love that we have for music with everybody else, share a bit of our story with everybody else,” Jessen said. “That’s the ultimate goal.”