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By the time I discover the hot new pop star, I'm usually buying their "Greatest Hits" album from the $1.99 cut-out bin. It may be a money saver, but it doesn’t buy me any pop-culture cred. So given I'm a gal whose collection of vinyl is still in heavy rotation, it's no surprise that when I got assigned a story about Jasmine Villegas, I had no idea who she was.
But while I might not be ahead of the curve on Jasmine V, as she's known to her fans, the Jasminators, I could very well be breaking my record as the TODAY staff's musical fuddy-duddy. This stunning and talented 19-year-old became a hero to many of her fans when she went public with a painful secret.
Despite her young age, Jasmine's a bit of an old pro, acting since she was 10. A year later, she was discovered in an old-fashioned kismet sort of way that will make a great scene in her biopic someday:
Walking down a street with her brother, she was overheard belting out a tune by someone in the "industry." Today she has about 1.7 million Twitter followers and 85 million clicks on her 189 YouTube videos. She's starred as "The Girl" opposite Bieber in "Baby," the all-time No. 2 video on YouTube, and she opened for him on one of his tours. Oh, and she's pretty enough to do promotional work for Cover Girl ... and young enough to snarf down her favorite Starbursts and wear outfits that I could only fit my left thigh in. Plus, her songs are infectiously catchy as her personality.
Basically, she's just the kind of person I really want to hate: young, pretty, talented and fun. But I just couldn't. Why? Because she's just a delight: self-effacing, smart and appropriately silly for her age, with a maturity that may have come from the worst thing in her life: an abusive boyfriend.
The video for Jasmine's song "Didn't Mean It," about her abusive relationship, spiked calls to a domestic abuse hotline. An up-and-coming pop star is truly making a difference.
I even forgive Jasmine for infecting me with a dreaded earworm after we shot her at a recording session. All I could hum for a week was the song she sang during a recording session we went to: "I got a question for you, please don't lie to meeeeeeeee."
That recording session was an eye-opener for me. First, the setup: It was in the producer's house, in a back room that was just a little bit bigger than my office. Her "team" was a trio of laid-back guys: songwriter Adonis and producers Sham and Mozart. Really, those are their names. But just when I wanted to roll my eyes, I found out that Adonis Shropshire wrote "Trap," the song Jasmine was recording, in less than two hours. I can't even write a thank-you note that fast.
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He also has three Grammys and has worked with J-Lo, P-Diddy, Beyonce, Chris Brown, Mariah Carey and about 10 other people I'm too old to have even heard of, like Usher. OK, I know who he is, but, until "The Voice," I thought Usher was just the person who took my ticket to see Mozart -- Mozart the dead composer with the big opus, not the guy who was running Jasmine's sound board.
This Mozart's house was a total guy pad: Hollywood Hills, pool table in the living room, no fancy gadgets in the kitchen, just a roll of paper towels. But it's totally aspirational in its location. From the terrace you can see Maroon Five frontman Adam Levine's palatial estate. The Hollywood sign is just off in the distance.
Jasmine and I went out to the terrace. "I'd like to have something like that someday," Jasmine told me wistfully. Then we both snapped a bunch of pictures and belted out Alicia Keys' "This Girl Is on Fire." OK, Jasmine belted.
One thing's for sure: Jasmine is the real deal. No Auto-Tune needed. (As for me, as Randy Jackson would say: "A little pitchy, dog.")
Perhaps I've lost some of my journalistic perspective, but I'm really hoping Jasmine makes it. It'd be kind of nice to actually know a pop star who'd make me look cool with my friend's tween kids. Until then, I'll be catching her on Spotify and Pandora. Name-dropping a little.
Of course, that's after I have a couple of quick duets with Janis Ian spinning on my turntable.