Saturday night telly, it has to be said, is the home of the bland. The lightest of light entertainment, dodgy quiz shows, and music competitions which seem to think that music starts and stops with anything written by Gary Barlow. But recently, BBC One offered a diamond in the rough. Something that had everyone around the country sitting up and taking notice. The Voice has always been better than The X Factor for the simple reason that the focus is on the singing, not the singer. The clue is in the name. If you’ve been watching The Voice this year, we’ve got two words for you. Jordan Gray.
Jordan grew up in Tilbury and has had a passion for singing, writing and performing music for over a decade. Until The Voice, Jordan performed – as a man – under the stage name Tall Dark Friend. Then in 2014, she announced her decision to transition live on stage at the Essex Entertainment Awards. Since then she hasn’t looked back.
Last year Jordan decided to apply for The Voice, and if you watched the show you’ll know that Jordan initially failed to impress the judges, with none of them turning those famous chairs around. But a talent like Jordan’s can’t be silenced. Wild card! Thank goodness then for Paloma Faith who sees in Jordan what 6 million other people clocked from the start. A star.
Jordan is hotly tipped to win the show, but whether she does or not, her star is in the ascendence. Whatever happens, Jordan is here to stay. And very soon she’ll be back in Manchester to appear at The Sparkle Awards. We were lucky enough to find a space in Jordan’s busy diary and asked her about her journey so far…
So, you’ve been tipped to win The Voice. Do you feel like you are under more pressure than other contestants because of the media coverage you’ve had?
Actually less pressure. I didn’t get a turn at the Blinds so I came back into the show counting my lucky stars. I’m an underdog. A curly Transgender underdog.
Your experience on The Voice has been an unusual one – from no judges turning around to being chosen as a wild card by Paloma. Can you tell us what that experience has been like?
Nothing about my career has ever been A-to-B. More like A-to-Z-to-Q-%-to-? Falling at the first hurdle was devastating. I haven’t cried that much since I broke up with my first girlfriend at 14. And so it was hard getting emotionally invested for the first few days when they called me back. But then the Battles came and now the Knockouts. Now I feel a part of the Voice 2016 family.
Your fantastic performance of This Woman’s Work has been viewed close to half a million times on YouTube. What’s been the reaction online, and how are you handling it?
The support has been overwhelmingly positive. And I think that’s because it wasn’t a “battle”. #TeamPaloma really are pacifists. Theo and I decided to work on a “duet” instead of going for each others’ throats and we worked so damn hard together. The views are a wonderful consolation for that.
What support and advice have you received from Paloma?
Paloma is a fountain of advice! Even what seems like fun banter with her turns into life-changing advice after a little while. She told me early on not to worry about gender when I sang. That’s how I got through “This Woman’s Work”. She is also a strong advocate for sincerity, integrity and authenticity. The most noticeable advice I think she gave me was “Don’t let the ladies in hair and makeup touch your hair”. Hence my “goth-fro” on the show.
I love it.
What’s been the reaction of your family and close friends to your reception on The Voice?
A little jarring. But for true friends and family, it feels like the most natural thing in the world. They always believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. So this reaction to my work is what we’ve all been working for these past
And what’s been the reaction from the trans community?
Trans people are as diverse a community as anybody else. So I can’t speak for every Trans person just like I can’t speak for every curly-haired goth. But from the beautiful letters and posts I read, the Trans community, and the LGBT at large, are enjoying following and being a part of my story on the Voice. And that’s true: we are all in this together.
How are you handling being recognised in the street?
I’d say it’s a 1-in-10 thing, and it’s really sweet. It makes talking to strangers much easier for me. I used to be very shy.
If you were to win The Voice, how would you like your career to develop? What kind of material would you like to record and perform?
I’ve been a solo artist for 10 years under the stage name Tall Dark Friend. I’d like to see my back catalogue get it’s ‘day in musical court’ and, moving forward, I want to innovate. It’s our responsibility as artists in the public eye to give people something new. Not to spoon-feed people stuff they’ve already heard.
That said – a cover covered creatively is a million times better than an original song written to tick boxes.
You’ll be at The Sparkle Awards this year. Are you looking forward to the event?
Sparkle is the highlight of my social and professional calendar. The crew behind the scenes make me feel like a princess every year. And it’s where I met my girlfriend.
Who are your heroes within the trans community?
Laverne Cox does amazing work. There’s a local guy to me called Ren Stedman. Great artist. Paris Lees is a gem. Truth be told, there’s probably a tonne that I just never knew were Trans. Because it’s their work that inspires me, not their gender presentation.
Representation of trans people on the media has increased so much over the last couple of years. Do you feel any pressure to be a ‘spokesperson’ or ‘role model’ for the trans community?
I love that I have this responsibility. It makes you want to be a better person, a better artist, a better example of a human being. It’s a honour to be asked to speak on behalf of a disenfranchised group of people. The pressure is on. But I am so ready for it. We have this amazing window to affect positive social change. I’m well into that.
What advice would you give to a young person dealing with issues of gender identity? What made you strong?
Doing your research. Knowing who you are changes the landscape of the world around you. I’m not going to tell you what you are because I’ve been on TV. Your parents probably know you better than you know yourself at times. But that doesn’t mean they get to decide who you are either. People change. Only you know who you are and the power you have inside is remarkable.
What was the turning point for you in deciding to be open about your gender reassignment?
I came out live on stage at the Essex Entertainment Awards (I was wearing a cat suit… like, literally, a Halloween cat costume) and I just decided then and there that if I can’t come out to my home county, then what’s the point? I think many people reach a point where being miserable for the rest of your life is a scarier thought that coming out. And then it gets so much easier.
When did you realise you wanted to be a singer/performer?
I always sang. Like most full-timers I was crooning in my cot.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Michael Jackson, Jeff Buckley, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Bjork, Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, David Gray. Mostly men, mostly dead. RIP.
Is there a song that’s particularly close to your heart? Can you tell us why?
My favourite recording of all time is Jeff Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. It speaks to me as an atheist that a skinny white man can stand up and get an entire stadium to chant the word “Hallelujah”. Without agenda. Without dogma. Just beautiful. It made me serious about wanting to be an artist.
On your Facebook page you describe yourself as a ‘Pokemon Master’- do we detect a little bit of geek?
I. Love. Pokémon. Seriously… I spend about 40% of my day wondering what the world would be like if Pokémon was real. I fantasize about waking up after my breast augmentation surgery into a world of Pokémon. That’d be the best day ever: Pokémon and new boobs.
The Voice is currently showing on Saturday nights on BBC One..