There is something extraordinary about Jahmene Douglas. It’s not just his soul skimming voice that reaches from the very core of him to cause tingles in your heart. The beautiful voice comes from a beautiful soul. His eyes have an angelic sparkle. He walks into a room and he shivers with goodness.
When he first hit The X Factor screens last year there was a quietness about him, he seemed shy. But it wasn’t long before we realised that the former Asda shelf stacker was not so much shy as quietly strong.
‘I know I seem shy, but singing was always my therapy, my outlet, my release. It was how I could be just me. First of all it would be singing to Whitney Houston, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley. Just singing at the top of my voice. It’s a way of zoning out and making you strong. The singing became my sanctuary’
At first, Jahmene seemed young for his age. Talk to him though, and he seems incredibly wise for a 22-year-old, and incredibly pure. He carries no bitterness or resentment for anyone.
We realised he’d been through something terrible but he never used his story to get votes. His success came from his stunning voice and his gorgeous interpretation of songs and his clear direction as a modern gospel singer. He made every song his own.
His first album Love Never Fails is a collection of songs that he has made jahmazing and flavoured with his own soul. Just hearing it you almost don’t have to ask which singer has influenced him most. ‘It would have to be Whitney Houston. Her interpretations were always incredible. She knew when to make it big and she knew when to make it small. I also love Stevie Wonder and Luther Vandross.’
Jahmene has always related to great voices because his own great voice was always his creative outlet. ‘For some time I was home schooled. I would always draw, and write poetry. I enjoyed whatever I could do to be creative but singing was my thing, it kept me calm.’
He grew up with a violent father who beat up and tortured his mother and Jahmene himself endured terror. Because he loved to sing his father forbade him from making a noise. Inflicting abuse on a weekly basis, but that was nothing compared to what he did to his mother. ‘She is the strongest woman I know. When I saw her beaten and bruised I would try to comfort her, plait her hair and get her bandages and tell her it would be okay.’
Because of this, Jahmene is very passionate about the injustice done to victims of violence and is an ambassador for Women’s Aid. He intends to donate profits from his first single to the charity as he feels it is a great injustice that his father served only six years of what was meant to be a much longer sentence.
‘I was doing a lot of singing in church. I was never getting paid for it, I just like to sing because that’s what I like to do for people; see people uplifted by the power of music.’
Jahmene had been singing in local bands. He was in one called Shades during college which performed acoustic rock. It was where he first showcased his amazing vocal range. He then went on to work in Asda.
‘Asda was a phase of learning and growing. It built me up on the social side of things because you had to talk to people. At home I’m a bubbly person and once you know me I’m calm, comfortable, confident. But I had spent such a lot of my life hiding. Asda helped me and in The X Factor final Asda got on board and we raised over £10,000 through merchandise for Women’s Aid.’
Fortunately during his Asda phase he had posted a couple of videos on YouTube which local Swindon band Colour The Atlas admired and showed to their manager who suggested managing him through X Factor. Initially Jahmene was wary that his faith and the Saturday night talent competition would work together:
‘Could I trust this man? I was helped getting audition clothes and that kind of thing. I eventually came around and soon learned that my manager’s a blessing. But I am a soul gospel singer and X Factor is a pop competition and I didn’t want to be put in a box. I couldn’t allow myself to deny my faith. Another blessing was to have Nicole Scherzinger as a mentor as she is a very spiritual person. Her grandfather is a pastor and she would pray with me before I went on. She still texts me scriptures to encourage me.’
He turned down performing a few songs that were suggested during the live shows, but other songs he made his own, making them shimmer with spirituality. ‘To me when you are in church you see people being uplifted. That’s the power music has and that’s what I like to do. Music can be your sanctuary.’ Jahmene’s role as ambassador for the charity Women’s Aid is part of this too ‘One in three women are abused, whether that’s verbally or being beaten. Of course I would like my music to help fight that. Music changed me. It helped pick me up.’
Jahmene wanted to see if he could use the platform of The X Factor and make it work for him. Did being on The X Factor change him?
‘I felt it did give me confidence. The fact that you have so many layers of yourself and with each stage you peel one off and become more yourself. I felt that it helped me step forward as a young man and break the taboo of domestic violence. It’s not easy for people to come forward and say I am a victim so I am stepping forward for those who can’t.‘
And lastly, what do you wish to accomplish with your music? ‘I think my calling is the ministry of music. I hope to inspire people.’