Owens was introduced to songwriter Alan when she took his masterclass earlier this year, and he saw something special in her from the start. The same night as her first lesson with Alan, Owens attended his concert at the St. James Studio Theatre in London and was surprised to learn that she'd be performing for the entire crowd on only a moment's notice.
She now returns to the stage — this time with more rehearsal — for Alan's Hippodrome residency this month alongside stars of the West End and Broadway. She opens up to Playbill.com about how depression was taking over her life and how her mother remains the driving force to be a better woman and change the world with her voice. (She also takes us into the rehearsal studio for an exclusive sneak peek at her set!)
Tell me about working with Scott. How did you two meet/get involved?
Jennifer Owens: We met in a workshop he taught at the St. James Studio in London on Wednesday, May 6. My mum bought me a participation ticket for my birthday. The workshop was amazing, like nothing I've ever experienced before or since. We began with some team building and trust exercises. Then we all took turns to work directly with Scott on how to emotionally connect to our lyrics. Scott was unforgivingly handing out tough love through over five hours. I was one of the last participants. I was worried about what he would think and how much tough love I could handle, since I was already in a very fragile state. To my surprise, he didn't interrupt my performance once, applauded when I finished and told me I should be so proud of how connected I was to what I was saying through his lyrics. He also told me, "This world would be missing out on an amazing person and talent if you weren't here."
Take me through that moment of singing "Anything Worth Holding Onto," and can you share a bit of your story?
JO: The evening of the masterclass, Scott was doing a concert with Cynthia Erivo at the St. James Studio. I was at the concert on my own. I was sitting in between two older women and their partners. I watched the whole thing in awe of Cynthia. That woman is incredible and is going to take Broadway by storm.
The whole way through the second act I was clock watching — I had to get back to Victoria Station before my last train left. It got to around 10:55 PM, and I'd told myself, "One last song, then I'm going to have to leave." But then Scott began to speak, and my life changed. I will remember what he said for the rest of my life. "How do I introduce this next song without the person knowing I'm doing it? Where is Jennifer?" I was in total shock. I turned to the woman beside me with my jaw on the floor. She asked if that was me? "Go up." She just lifted me from my chair and pushed me forward. A million thoughts were running through my mind, especially the thought that, "My mum is never going to believe this is happening." I also remember thinking, "I've got a black bra on underneath this cream shirt, there's no way I can take this scarf off." (Hence the reason I'm still wearing my scarf in the YouTube video.) The whole thing was just so surreal. I was so overwhelmed. I could feel my heart in my throat as Scott begun to play the introduction. I kept thinking, "Okay, no one is here to see this. Just do what you did in the masterclass." Once I sung the very first line it all went away — I was instantly calm.
After that surprise performance, my Twitter feed was clogging up with messages from people all over London. It didn't really calm down for a few days. Then the video footage was released and the same happened again, now with people from all over the world. A few months ago, I received an email from Scott Alan's personal assistant asking for my email. That came with a discussion with Scott about doing a night at The Hippodrome residency and then to an official booking for Tuesday, Sept. 15 with Scott.
You said in the introduction that this song helped you come out of a difficult time. How so? How did it resonate with you?
JO: Around August last year, I found myself in a state. I was crying down the phone to my mum every night. I lost all capability to function in day-to-day life, and I had no idea why. Not only was I spiraling deeper into a dark place; I was confused. I would look back at myself in the mirror and see nothing but an unattractive, untalented, pathetic excuse for a person, undeserving of my life. I would tell myself these things all day, every day. There had been many occasions that I'd thought, "If I were to end this all now, this world would be better off." When I first heard "Anything Worth Holding Onto," I was sitting in my back room looking for vocal repertoire. As Cynthia sung each line, it was as if someone had taken all the things in my head, made sense of them and written this song, for me. There had been a teary phone conversation with my mum that fit into every lyric of that song. I knew in that moment that I needed to sing that song, to someone, anyone that would listen. It helped me through.
Depression is a cruel disease. It stops you from functioning normally. Just because I didn't have a scar or scan for proof, that didn't mean I wasn't ill. It became my only way of communicating the way I felt. As though Scott had personally sent this way of connection, in form of lyric and music, directly to me.
What are your hopes and dreams? Do you aspire to be a professional performer? In the West End? Broadway?
JO: Since the age of 14, I have had hopes and dreams to receive affirmation from Scott Alan. But after being asked to join him at The Hippodrome, what more affirmation could I possibly want? West End was where I wanted to be, I thought it was the only way for someone to express emotion — what with popular music being the clinical way it is today. But, working so closely with Scott has shown me that if you simply tell your story, you will capture whoever is there to listen. So I guess I just want to share my story. I want to sing for anyone who will listen. Give my voice to those who need it — just like Scott did for me. Of course, to do this professionally would be a huge bonus.
Tell me about getting the chance to join Scott and his cast for these upcoming concerts. What does it mean to you to be working with such talents?
JO: It's been incredible. I never would have thought that out of all of those millions of people trying to make their way into the industry, it would be me he would see something in. Scott is the reason I fell in love with music. There are performers in his two-week residency at the Hippodrome that I could only dream of having my name next to in advertisement. Of course, there's that worry that I am so unknown [and] people won't respond, but Scott is more than confident that I can do this and I trust him.
Scott told me that you will have your mother as your special guest. Why did you pick her? You must have a special connection with her! Give me a little backstory.
JO: My mum is amazing, and so it was an obvious choice for me to have her join me as my special guest. Ever since my father became ill in 2010 and was placed in residential care, my mum has had to play both mum and dad for almost six years.
During this time, a lot of dark secrets came forth about my father. As you can imagine this made my sister, brother and I closer to my mum. Though the other performers joining Scott for his residency have asked other big West End and TV stars, I chose my mum as my guest because she deserves this. My mum had trained as a performer when she was my age. She had even reached a successful peak in her career but decided to give it all up to have her three children.
She belongs on the stage. Once you hear her, you'll agree. When she left the industry and stopped singing, she robbed the world of an amazing thing. Everyday I strive to be like my mum. If I become only half the woman she is, I'll be happy. And since I know that an experience of this magnitude may never come again, I needed to share this incredible moment with her.
In addition to a special duet, she will also take to the stage to perform a solo and will be "Magic."
Tell me about what you will be doing in the concert.
JO: We have a great set list lined up. Each song has a meaning. I chose the songs in the set really carefully. I made sure each song meant something to me and that I felt a connection before finally settling on my permanent list. I'm sure there will be a tear or two.
Finally, are you anxious/nervous? What are you excited for?
JO: I am nervous. I've never done anything like this before. But I'm rehearsing with Scott via DropBox and email, since we are thousands of miles apart until he gets here this week. I also have my pianist working with me as well. And, my incredible manager, Guy, who has lifted a lot of the anxiety from me. I own him — big time.
Truthfully, I am just excited to be singing with Scott again. It was the most amazing experience, and I can't wait to do it again.