Gino DePinto, AOL Music
"I'm so New York," the Long Island native proclaims in a metallic party dress as she stands over her keyboard, poised in patent-leather black pumps. The term "old soul" gets thrown around the room -- after Jessica names Babyface as one of her heroes and Brian McKnight as her ultimate dream duet partner -- a label that the teenager accepts with a knowing grin that says "I get that all the time."
For the past six months Jessica has been working on debut EP, which will feature an accompanying video for each song, forming a true story-inspired short film about her semester at New York University's Tisch School of the arts and experiences trying to break into the music industry since being discovered in true 21st century form, posting covers on YouTube.
You were discovered on YouTube. What do you have to say to those who think there are just too many YouTube covers-posting aspiring singers out there?
It is a competitive industry and that's the reality of it, but I think honestly if you just keep at it and stay true to who you are it shows. Don't get discouraged, keep doing what you're doing, work hard and people will notice.
While you were trying to get discovered and posting your music and covers on YouTube, did you receive any negativity or jealousy from your high school peers?
I did feel at some points that I didn't belong. I felt like I was in class, but I wasn't really there and my friends saw it in me and a lot of people took it as I don't care about class, I don't care about being with my friends. I did feel a little on the side of what was going on in high school and that showed to people and they didn't get it, but I do have a great group of friends who everyday I talk to and they really support me. That helped me a lot.
Did that change at all when you went to college at NYU?
It was different. It really was different. I found a group of friends who I really understood, and not necessarily artists. One is a music business major and the other one is a music journalist, and I really found a lot of support. I loved the people I was with.
Finish this sentence: I'll know I've made it when ...
I think about that all the time! Everyday I ask myself 'How do I measure success?' Of course a Grammy! Or being at the VMAs, but you know I was amazed when JoJo took the song I wrote for her album. JoJo was somebody I learned so much from and listening to her and she came to me and said 'I heard your song and I'd love to record it.' Sometimes when you're in the hustle and bustle of everything, you lose sense of how far you've come and to be in this room right now at AOL, from recording songs in my bedroom, is success. It's really exciting.
A lot of young ladies in the industry are automatically expected to be role models for their young female fans, whether they ask for that responsibility or not, just because they're in the public eye. Is that a role you would be comfortable filling?
Definitely. I feel like I've gone through so many phases so far already and I've got a lot to say, beyond music, about peer pressure, about believing in yourself, about being confident in yourself. Everyday, girls like me have complexes, 'I'm too this, I'm not good enough ...' I'd love to help and say what I feel about those issues.
Who are some of your role models?
Adele. Babyface, Ne-Yo. Mariah [Carey], obviously. I think those people are people who believed in themselves. Adele I think really stays true to who she is and wasn't afraid to do something that was outside of the box.
And Babyface? Do people ever say you're an old soul?
Every time. They do! I'm 19 now, but people used to say, 'She's 16 going on 30!' And I love Babyface. I think his singing is amazing and I like his old-school feel.
How do you get the creative juices flowing?
I find that co-writing is actually really fun and honestly for this EP, I've done more co-writing than I've ever done. Curtis Richardson, who wrote Jennifer Lopez's 'All I Have' with LL Cool J, was one cool person I got to work with. And also I just sit at my piano in my basement at home and vibe out, if my mom's not yelling at me 'Jessica, shut up!' [laughs].
So you can get on their nerves, but is your family supportive?
Oh yeah. My sister is an opera singer at Boston University. I barely see her now, but when she's home we sing together and we record together. It's kind of cool, it's R&B and opera together. My mother sings, they love music, but my mother was actually a little bit nervous for me to pursue it as hard as I am. Especially with leaving school, but they're really supportive.
Watch Jessica Ashley Cover Beyonce's 'Best Thing I Never Had'