NEW YORK CITY-What started as an impromptu subway jam session between two New York City musicians, ended as a "big break" for Jessica Latshaw. When a passenger recorded and uploaded the performance to YouTube, titling it "never a dull moment on the nyc subway," he created an instant viral hit with more than a million views in one week.
That moment in the subway in January is what Latshaw describes as "random." One moment she was just another artist in New York City and the next she was an Internet star with a manager, a publicist and requests to appear on local talk shows.
Four months later, Latshaw's career continues to grow. Right now, she says music is her focus-playing gigs and working on recording an album-but, that hasn't always been her concentration. She's an artist in more ways than one.
Early life, the realization of a dream
Latshaw grew up in Landenburg, Pa., on 21 acres of "beautiful, rural land." Some of her earliest memories are of spending time outside, making up songs to perform to her family's farm animals.
"I thought that was a normal thing," Latshaw said. "I didn't even know I was writing music-it was just something very natural for me."
As a child, Latshaw was shy and being a homeschooler didn't help, so her parents forced her into extracurriculars. She chose ballet. She vividly remembers her first performance at eight years old-a little girl wearing lipstick, a child-sized tambourine in hand, and the moment when she fell in love with being on stage, realizing a life-long dream.
Latshaw grew up dancing and started singing and writing her own music in her early teens. For college, she attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and earned a degree in dance performance but says she struggled with balancing a love for both music and dance.
Then she tried musical theater.
The birth and growth of a live performer
The burgeoning artist went on to perform in the Korean Broadway tour of "FAME" as well as a tour in Japan and other shows across the U.S. and Canada. Along the way she continued to write her own music and perform it whenever and wherever she could. Latshaw cherished her moments on stage and the relationship she experienced with an audience.
"Part of the beauty of performing live is that it changes, it's organic," she said. "You don't know exactly what you're going to get. There's just nothing like playing for an audience that's hungry for your music-it's a beautiful thing between you and every person in the room."
Wilmington, Del., radio personality Mark Rogers, WXTW's host for "Hometown Heroes," has watched Latshaw grow as a local musician in the southeastern Pennsylvania area for about two years. He's part of her substantial fan base in the area, watching her perform as a solo artist and in duo performances with another local artist, Shane Paoko, as a group called "The Paper Janes."
Rogers says that he's especially seen Latshaw grow as an entertainer.
"At her CD release show a few weeks ago, I could really see how she continues to get better as a performer," he said. "Her stage presence is very funny and natural and she's really great at interacting with the audience."
Inspiration and the evolution of style
Rogers characterizes Latshaw's music as "unique," a mix of indie singer-songwriter with the ukelele, a pop sensibility, and white girl rapping.
Latshaw pulls inspiration for her unique musical style from a variety of places. She grew up in a family that listened to folk music, and she became fascinated by the concept of an artist communicating a story. Later she fell in love with the beat and vocal melodies in R&B.
"I started listening to people like Alicia Keys, people that sing from every fiber of their being," she said. "It reaches down to their toes and it comes out and by the time you hear it, it's like a wall of sound."
Latshaw's artistic style continued to evolve a few years ago as a consequence of heartbreak.
"It was a really dark time in my life and all I wanted to do was listen to Eminem because he's so raw and there was the rhythm of rapping that excited me and that made me start incorporating rap into my music."
Another significant influence came from recent pop sensation, Adele, whom Latshaw believes has changed the top 40 and pop music scene.
"She's not just talking about 'I'm gonna take your clothes off and let's do it here.' She's talking about real stuff, sad stuff, talking about her heart being broken and it's legitimate exposition that you don't hear in a lot of pop music," Latshaw said.
Authenticity, the deeper side of a musician
Latshaw's attraction to raw honesty in musical inspiration reveals a deeper side to her as a person and points to a very personal aspect of her life-her faith.
Her Christianity is important and something she doesn't separate from the rest of her life, but she doesn't consider herself a culture warrior. Latshaw speaks about friends, people she loves, who come from different backgrounds and differ in worldview. She stresses that her goal is not "to try to change a lot of people."
Instead, her goal is a more subtle incorporation of faith and life.
"I'm just trying to bring positivity and faith and this idea that we are created people for good reason, that there's a God who loves us and that changes the message of our lives," she said.
Along with this philosophy of music, faith and life, Latshaw has become frustrated with musical labels, with the practice of promoting some music and condemning the rest. As a musician and a Christian, she believes it's possible to love God and at the same time appreciate music from all across the board.
"I think there's a place for sacred music in the church, but to call some music Christian and other music not Christian is very black and white, and the world is a lot less black and white than that."
Life and Career Moving forward
Quickly and furiously, Latshaw's career moves forward. Early last week she participated as a model at a CBS reception. Thursday, she had just a few minutes for an interview between a final casting at NBC and a meeting with her publicist before performing at the Grammercy Theater. This week she travels to the U.K. to perform.
Even as her career gets bigger, Latshaw's values push her to promote love and truth and the idea that those things change everything.
"People who feel unloved turn around and do things because they are broken and they're hurting," she said. "People who are loved and understand that they're made because they're loved turn around and create good and beautiful things."
Catherine Rogers is a student at the World Journalism Institute's 2012 New York Convergence Course.