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SXSW: LA songstress Jessica Childress looks for her next big break

The infamous van that Jessica will be driving down to Austin in.
Jacob Margolis
The infamous van that Jessica will be driving down to Austin in.
Jacob Margolis

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Since it started in 1986, SXSW has been one of the premier places for bands to make a name for themselves because of the number of people attending from the press and the music industry.

In fact, you may have heard of bands like The White Stripes or Bon Iver, or artists like Janelle Monae, all of their career big breaks came about because of buzz drummed up by SXSW.

That’s what LA artist Jessica Childress is hoping for, but like thousands of others that’ll be going to SXSW, artist Jessica Childress is hoping for her big break. Actually it would be her second big break

Because she already competed on NBC's singing show "The Voice."

The show is similar to others like "American Idol," where the goal is to be the last contestant standing. The audience loved her rendition of the Bruno Mars song, "Marry You," but she didn't last for that long, getting eliminated after a few rounds.

"You go into it knowing that there's an end date. Like only one person can win and the odds are not in your favor," said Childress.

By the time she was finished with the show, even though millions of people had heard her voice, she still didn't have a record deal by the end of it all. She'd already quit her PR job to pursue singing.

So she worked something out with Phil Jaurigui, the owner of Swing House Studios in Hollywood. He offered to help her produce an EP. So, Jessica got to work with a songwriter.

“We sat down and we wrote the song I quit, which is kind of autobiographical about quitting my job and saying you know what, I'm done checking boxes," said Childress. "I'm done doing the things I feel like I'm supposed to do. I quit that life and I'm going to do that life that I want to live."

The album did alright and since then, she’s sold out some shows and gotten some buzz online, but Jessica wants something much bigger. So, she's headed to SXSW in a crappy bronze band van.

The van looks exactly how you think it would. Beaten up with seats pulled out to fit in instruments. Sometimes it doesn't start, and she'll be sleeping in it. On top of that, the budget that Jessica and her band have to live on is a bit tight.

"So, we have $100, and we have to feed all these people and what do we have left? How hungry are you really? Like do we need to stop or can we like stretch till dinner?" said Childress. 

This whole thing is a very romantic story: The broken down van, the struggling artist with the beautiful voice who quit her job to pursue her passion, but now it’s time for a reality check.

What’s the likelihood that anything good — a record deal, getting signed by a label — will come out of a music conference where more than two thousand bands are playing?

To find out, I turned to Clive Davis , the chief creative officer at Sony music. He’s got five Grammys, he’s in the rock and roll hall of fame and he says there's definitely a possibility of something good happening for her.

“My first signing was Janis Joplin who I found as a member of Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Monterey festival," said Davis. "So can it happen? The answer that I would have is definitely yes.“

But Shirley Halperin, music editor for The Hollywood Reporter and Take Two regular has been going to the festival for a while now and while she thinks there's a remote possibility that Jessica could blow up some day, she doesn't expect it to happen at SXSW.

"The odds of her becoming the biggest thing ever coming out of South by Southwest are kind of slim. She already had a huge stage with "The Voice," said Halperin. "But what is likely is that she will go down to Austin and she would get in front of people who maybe didn't watch "The Voice," but still have the influence to get her on the radio. To get her music to other other people."

That's what Jessica is hoping for. If she gets noticed by people like music supervisors or record execs, or if she's able to grow her fan base, that can elevate her to a whole new level. Even though she's only one of thousands of people trying to catch the attention of those important people, she's staying optimistic about the whole situation.

"If you are willing to do that grimy grungy sort of sleeping in the van and stick with it, I feel like that commitment will pay dividends in the long run. That is what I tell myself and that is what I choose to believe," said Childress. "If I don't tell myself that I'm like crouched in a corner like crying and crouched in a corner questioning every life choice I've ever made."

It’s the same sentiment uttered over and over again by many struggling musician. Stick with it you'll make it. And maybe that’s because for the lucky few it works out, but we'll have to wait and see if it pans out for Jessica. Her first performance of the week is today at 3PM at the Swing House Studios Showcase.