Asheville’s American Idol contestant is on her way

Asheville’s American Idol contestant is on her way-attachment0

The Jesse Barry sightings were few and far between on Wednesday night’s episode of American Idol. Still, friends and fans of the young songstress sat at Tressa’s Downtown Jazz and Blues nightclub with their eyes glued to the television screen, eager for any sighting of the slight 17-year-old with the outsized voice.

Here’s a fun link to her “Golden Ticket” interview.

The group of about 30 people were treated to the usual Idol fodder: Simon Cowell’s barbs, a string of bad singers peppered with eccentricity (including the 60-something who crooned an original tune about “pants on the ground”) and the occasional true talent.

Barry’s audition wasn’t featured. But the Asheville fans got what they came for when Barry was shown briefly in a show-ending montage. She clutched a golden ticket — a pass to American Idol’s next round.

“From the beginning, Jesse Barry was the epitome of a young, beautiful, talented entertainer who is going to go a long way,” Tressa Thornton said before the episode aired. “I’m ecstatic for her.”

Thornton, who co-owns Tressa’s with her partner Terri Abernethy, said Barry and her band, Skinny Legs and All, have been playing her club for about two years. Tressa’s offers live music six nights a week and only books local and regional talent, said Thornton, so she’s constantly on the watch for new talent. The fact that Barry stood out among thousands of Idol contestants is a nod to Asheville’s strong pool of skilled musicians, Thornton said.

“The whole world should know what great local and regional talent we have here.”

The talent started young with Barry and her bandmates. Barry started performing at age 9. David Cate, the lead guitarist, keyboardist Paul Chelmis, bassist Avi Goldstein and drummer Colin Hanson are all teens. Cate and Chalmis made a brief stop at Tressa’s on Wednesday before heading home to watch the 8 p.m. start of the show.

“Jesse has a wonderful voice that inspires us all,” said Cate, who’s been playing with the band for about 15 months of its three-year life span to date. The band collaborates on songwriting and generally has a ball working and playing together, Cate added.

With a new CD of original material in the final stages of production, the timing couldn’t be better for the blues/funk/sould band. Barry’s appearance on Idol “can’t be anything but good for the band,” said Chalmis. “And I’m so excited for Jesse.”

The excitement over Barry isn’t limited to the younger set. Well-known Asheville blues singer Peggy Ratusz, a musician mastering her craft for some 30 years, said she can’t wait to see Barry go all the way. Ratusz, at the request of Barry’s mom, has been meeting off and on with Barry to offer tips and advice.

“It was obvious that she was a diamond in the rough,” Ratusz said about hearing Barry for the first time. The two worked on Barry’s stage presence and confidence.

“We talked about staying true to the blues and how it’s all about raw authenticity. We talked about feeling the song and putting yourself in the story. We talked songwriting, and about improvising,” Ratusz said.

Barry was a quick study, according to Ratusz, and now that all the hard work’s starting to pay off, Ratusz is ready to sit back and watch young charge reap the rewards.

“We’re all living vicariously through that sweet little girl.”

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

Skinny Legs and All will play Tall Gary’s College Street Pub in downtown Asheville at 7 p.m. on Jan. 16.

Click here to see a photo gallery of Jesse Barry and Skinny Legs and All performing last year at the Orange Peel

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