According to Billboard:
Jamaican singer Tessanne Chin sang landmark songs associated with the Beatles and Whitney Houston for her final performance on “The Voice” and walked away with the season five crown.
New Jersey teenager Jacquie Lee came in second, journeyman musician Will Champlin was third in the voting.
Chin, who has worked with Jimmy Cliff, Third World and Ky-mani Marley, clearly clicked with audiences on her version of the Houston hit “I Have Nothing,” which sat at No. 1 on the iTunes singles chart for hours. “Let It Be,” which she sang with her coach Adam Levine, was also in the top three during the voting period.
Although Jamaicans were not allowed to vote in the competition, she had huge support from her home country, with fans filling the streets to cheer her on during the live finale:
— Jonathan III aka (@DiggzWorld) December 18, 2013
I know it’s still early and maybe they’re there and I just didn’t see them, but I have to be honest… I was half-expecting a slew of racist tweets after I heard that Tessanne had won. I mean, isn’t that what people just do nowadays whenever anyone of Asian ancestry does anything notable? (See Kenichi Eniba, Nina Davuluri, PSY).
The good news (for now) is that the tweets about Tessanne’s win have been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. I hopehope that it’s because her talent shines through, but perhaps it’s also because people don’t know what to make of her race– by her looks and name she is of Asian/Chinese descent, but then her accent gives her away as Jamaican. With no “easy” Pearl Harbor or terrorist slurs to make… well, what’s the racist slur for a Chinese-Jamaican, anyway? (Just in case, I checked the slur “chink” and 5 hours after the reveal, only saw 2 tweets with this reference.)
Well, actually, Tessanne isn’t even (just) Chinese-Jamaican, as she is multi-racial:
Tessanne’s father comes from Jamaica’s strong Chinese-Jamaican community – one of the largest Chinese populations in the Caribbean, numbering in the tens of thousands. Her mother has both African and European ancestors. [full story]
Jamaica is a diverse place, but that isn’t to say that she hasn’t already overcome issues of race in Jamaica. Jamaican novelist Colin Channer gives a bit of context in the WSJ, saying:
To some Americans, Tessanne may be seen as a Jamaican, or a Jamaican with some Chinese ancestry and other ethnic links. In Jamaica, some people who view the world through a racial prism see her as a “browning”–a lighter skinned Jamaican whose color translates crudely into class privilege.
Popular music in Jamaica is one of the few spheres dominated by the black majority, downtown people. So uptown “brownings” in Jamaica have a complicated station in the local reggae/dancehall scene. Perhaps because of this those who’ve been successful like Tessanne, Sean Paul, Shaggy and Junior Gong, have had to work through suspicion, insults, slights.
What the world saw on stage last night, and has seen for the last three months, is a brilliant, diligent singer, who has served a tough apprenticeship in one of the most competitive music industries in the world. She’s come through trenches dug by machismo. She has sung reggae, dancehall and commercial pop as if all of them are her birthrights. And they are. She has amazed all who’ve heard her, shamed all who’ve judged her background and graciously ignored those who’d like to make her some unclassifiable extra-ethnic exotic for their own needs and reasons.
In a Jamaica Observer article from 2006, Tessanne and her sister singer Tami Chynn were interviewed about their music and they referenced their race:
Tami’s path over the last year has led her to a name change of sorts; she now prefers to spell her last name ‘Chynn’.
“I just wanted my name to represent how I’m feeling, dynamic and different,” she said adding that she thought her last name was like that “.boring Chin weh everybody have pon dem face”.
She said too that, people now accuse her of trying to run away from her Asian features. This, she said is absurd since, ‘chynn’ is pronounced the same way. Tessanne agreed and said that, in the future she might also opt for her sister’s preferred spelling.
Ever the jokers, the girls mentioned that when they were younger they thought their dad was famous “because everybody called him Mr Chin”. Back then, they didn’t know that most Jamaicans referred to Chinese people as Mr Chin.
Maybe it’s a good thing that people don’t seem to be pondering her race too much and are focused on Tessanne’s talent. Or maybe it’s good that this show is about “the voice” and not declaring “America’s talent.”
But I’m sick of talking about her race. Just consider me a fan of Tessanne Chin.