Hull musician Jessika-Mae Bennett secures place at prestigious Brit School
A teenager from east Hull has secured a coveted place at the Brit School. Katy Forrester talks to Jessika-Mae Bennett
SHE will be following in the footsteps of superstar Adele and the late, great Amy Winehouse.
Teenager Jessika-Mae-Mae Bennett screamed with excitement when she read her acceptance letter for the Brit School in London.
The academy for performing arts and media counts a number of famous recording artists among its alumni, including Jessie J, Leona Lewis and Kate Nash.
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Jessika-Mae, 17, said: "I ran down the stairs when the letter came through and only read the words 'Congratulations'. I was so excited, I started crying."
Jessika-Mae, of east Hull, already has a lot of singing experience, having been helping out from the age of 12 at her mother's drama, dance and music club Urban Arts at St Mark's Church near her home.
Jessika-Mae's mum, Tracy Noon, was singing Etta James's emotional song At Last when her daughter joined in and the room fell silent.
Tracy said: "I thought: 'Well, I'll be quiet then'. All of the volunteers started crying and we all realised what a talent Jessika-Mae had.
"After that, she became part of the first Urban Arts group and worked with local children.
"A lot of the younger kids look up to her and think if she can achieve so much, so can they."
A former Malet Lambert School pupil, Jessika-Mae also has grades in trumpet and saxophone and now attends Wilberforce College, where she studies sociology and performance studies.
Jessika-Mae said: "I never fully thought about music as a career until I started at Wilberforce. "Since then, I've started to learn how to play the drums and joined a band called the Propellers. We played to 200 people at The Lamp in Hull recently and I sing and play drums.
"It's quite difficult but I love the buzz on stage. There's nothing I feel more comfortable doing than performing in front of others."
With kids knocking on her door asking her mum for singing lessons, music is in Jessika-Mae's blood. Her dad, Glenn, who has been in bands for most of his life, also jams with his daughter.
Having gained a reputation for her musical flair in Hull, Jessika-Mae decided it was time for something bigger.
She said: "About a year ago, I thought about applying for the Brit School but I was too late.
"This year, I filled out a form to be a late student and when I got an audition, I couldn't believe it. I was asked to look at what musical events older people would enjoy and to present my ideas at the school."
Jessika-Mae set off to meet some pensioners at a social group at St Mark's Church.
"It was a difficult task and I had no idea what to expect," she said. "When I spoke to the elderly people, they all said they wanted an X Factor style competition for them to take part in.
"I also wrote a fictional script called the Hip Factor about an elderly woman who broke her hip while auditioning."
Mum Tracy, 41, who went with her to the audition, said: "I couldn't see what else they would want from someone auditioning. Although I'm biased because she's my daughter and I think she's amazing, I don't give her an easy ride. I am critical but I help her.
"When she first mentioned the Brit School, I thought it would be a good opportunity.
"Obviously, I wanted her to get a place but if she was turned away, it would help her to deal with rejection. There are a lot of knock-backs in the music industry."
Luckily, Tracy did not have to console her daughter as she flew through the audition process and will start her two-year course in community theatre and performing arts in September.
"It's amazing how many stars have been to the Brit School," Jessika-Mae said. "I loved Amy Winehouse and Adele is very soulful.
"I could see myself becoming a blues or jazz singer. I also listen to a lot of old music by Etta James and Aretha Franklin.
"The standard of talent at the Brit School blew me away. Studying there will open up so many doors for me. I can't wait to get started.
"When I found out students get to go to the Brit Awards every year, I was so excited."
Although Jessika-Mae will be leaving behind her friends at Wilberforce College and boyfriend Isaac Barnes, she is ready for a new challenge and will come back to Hull to see them as often as she can.
Isaac, 16, said: "We'll be on Skype a lot and on the phone every night but I'm so proud of her. I know how talented she is and I'm supporting her all the way."
Jayne Dawson, head of performing arts at Wilberforce College, said: "Jessika-Mae is a confident performer with the talent of a professional. I wish her every success in her future at the Brit School and beyond."