Spreading Joy Through Song
After nearly 13 years as an NC State employee, the last thing Chernelle Jones expected was to become a campus celebrity as the winner of the Wolfpack’s Got Talent competition. But, with impressive singing chops and a heartfelt desire to spread joy — especially during this difficult year — Jones says the opportunity to put her gifts to use couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I’ve been singing this entire time during quarantine, and it’s gotten me through,” she says. “I really hope it helps get someone else through, even if it’s just for five minutes of a little hope and happiness.”
In June, Jones submitted an audition video for the faculty/staff division of Wolfpack’s Got Talent and was selected as a finalist. After winning the most votes online for her beautiful a capella performance, she won the contest in August and gave a special live-streamed concert in September.
Standing alone under the spotlight on stage at Stewart Theatre with only a handful of (physically distanced) people in the auditorium, she sang two of her favorite songs — “Stand Up for Love” by Destiny’s Child and “Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston — to a virtual audience of hundreds that included colleagues, friends and family.
Stephanie Clark, a program coordinator with NC State LIVE, says her team “jumped at the opportunity” to broadcast Jones’ performance, as well as that of the competition’s student winner Gabriel Montague.
“Chernelle is amazing,” Clark says. “There’s so much talent at this university, we were so happy to partner with NC State Wellness and Recreation, PackTV and the Union Activities Board to shine a light on these incredible artists.”
Read on to learn more about Jones, her journey and her steadfast belief in the power of music.
What made you want to enter the Wolfpack’s Got Talent competition?
I found out about it on the last day before they stopped accepting videos. A friend and former colleague, Latoya Giles in the Wilson College of Textiles, forwarded me the email and encouraged me to audition. And I figured it wouldn’t hurt. Never did I realize it would turn into this.
How did you choose your songs?
I really wanted to perform songs that engulf everything that’s going on right now and could bring out a little hope and happiness during this trying time. When I submitted my video, we had George Floyd’s death, and of course, COVID, and just so much going on. To me, music is universal. No matter what you believe in, what you practice or not, music is something that really connects people from all races, religions, even ages. So one of the first songs I chose was “Stand Up for Love” by Destiny’s Child. The words are just perfect. It’s amazing. Because at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
How long have you been singing?
My family is a musical family. My grandmother and her sisters and brothers all sang in gospel groups, my mother and my sisters know how to sing, and my uncle, who has passed away, was one of the key people who influenced me to sing. And so I grew up listening to choir practice on Saturday mornings. I realized at the age of 9 that I actually could sing. It’s kind of a funny story. Growing up, Mariah Carey was my idol. She has a voice like no other, and her “Music Box” album was the first CD that I ever purchased with my own allowance money. I would play it from beginning to end. It was just one of those albums that was just perfect — each song. And my friend had one of those little cassette tape players with a microphone. She encouraged me to sing into it. And we played it back and I thought, “Wow, I actually can sing.”
I was kind of shy about it for a long time. I sang in the gospel choir at church, then I started taking chorus as an elective in middle school. From there, I sang in the chorus at Millbrook High School here in Raleigh. My teacher told me that I should audition for the honors chorus. And I remember thinking to myself that I’m not honors chorus material, but I sang “I Still Believe” by Mariah Carey and made it in. She’s gotten me through a lot of auditions.
My family relocated when I was in 11th grade to Columbus, Georgia, and I sang in the honors and all-state choruses at William H. Spencer High School. I did the national anthem at a lot of basketball games, and I sang a solo during my 2002 graduation, which was “Hero” by Mariah Carey. It was at the Columbus Civic Center, which is humongous. My grandmother still plays the tape all the time.
Did you ever consider pursuing a professional singing career?
In high school, I had a group of friends who were all really great singers and we decided to do some recording. But we didn’t realize the rules and regulations involved, and the group decided to use our music in the background vocals for their song and left us behind. I knew at that moment that I didn’t want to do this professionally. But it didn’t stop me from singing.
Why do you love it so much?
From middle school chorus to all-state in high school to trying out for American Idol in 2011, singing is something that has gotten me through a lot of tough times and has been my safe haven in life. Honestly, I love making people smile. And so if I do that by singing, especially during these strange times, why not go ahead and do it?
This post was originally published in NC State News.