J4 wins 'Singing Family Face Off'
The group from Bluff City, Tenn., wins a record deal with CBS-TV.
By JOE TENNIS | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER | April 06, 2009*** Published: April 2, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
It's official: Family band J4 sang their way to victory Wednesday in the "Singing Family Face Off" on CBS-TV's "The Early Show."
The group from the Bunker Hill section of Bluff City, Tenn., has now won a record deal with the network.
"And it's a little overwhelming and a little surreal," said Mark Smith, the father of singing siblings Jessi, Jedidiah, Josiah and Josephine.
Fifteen-year-old Jessi Smith, in a separate telephone interview from New York City on Wednesday, said, "I really don't know what any of us are going to be doing for awhile."
Rewind just a few weeks, and you'll find there wasn't even a group called J4 at the start of the year.
"It's been so fast, quick and in just a matter of weeks," Mark Smith said. "It's a whirlwind kind of thing. ... We're not overly excited, but we're really proud of the kids."
The band – formed, essentially, to take part in the national contest – takes its name for each of the four Smith children who have a name starting with a J. Jessi, the oldest, plays violin and was named for Jessie, King David's father. Jedidiah, a 13-year-old piano player better known as "Jeddie," took his name from King Solomon's given name. Nine-year-old Josiah plays violin and was named for a king in the Old Testament. Little Josephine, 7, a piano player and cello student, took her name from Joseph, the father of Jesus.
"There's no leader, really," Jessi Smith said. "Mom and Dad are the leaders."
Lori Smith, Mark's wife and the children's mother, came up with the J4 moniker. Mark Smith, the minister of the 180-member Bunker Hill Christian Church, helps manage the band by always scouting for instruments and outfits.
"It takes a lot of shopping for clothes to be on live TV," said Mark Smith, a 1983 graduate of Elizabethton High School.
At the advice of a family friend, 39-year-old Tracy Taylor, of Bluff City, the Smiths got started in the contest when making a video of the children singing an original song, "Real U," written by Lori Smith.
"Jedidiah was the primary arranger," Mark Smith said. "He wrote the musical arrangement for the kids."
But, at first, Mark Smith said, young "Jeddie" wanted to play basketball.
"I had other things planned for that day," Jeddie Smith said Wednesday. "But the rest of my siblings kind of wanted to do it. So I said, "I'll just do it for fun.' "
With their recording complete, and just minutes before a midnight deadline, Lori Smith uploaded the video to a CBS contest site. In all, about 700 videos were submitted to the competition, according to CBS News.
"I don't know what caught their eye, but they chose our kids to be part of the top six," Mark Smith said.
Jeddie Smith figured, "There [were] a bunch of bands that they could have chosen that were a lot better than we were. But we are just happy that they chose us for this competition."
After a surprise visit by "The Early Show" crews at their house a few weeks ago, the Smiths began making a series of weekly visits to New York City studios, as J4 hit the airwaves on "The Early Show." After each performance, fans got to vote for their favorite on the network's Web site.
The band appeared again on TV Wednesday, this time victoriously crooning The Partridge Family's "I Think
I Love You."
For years, the two older children, Jessi and Jeddie, have performed music with their parents, Mark Smith said.
"The two younger ones had never performed with their older siblings until this competition," he said.
But all of the Smith children have learned about music as part of their homeschool education, Mark Smith said.
"They have to practice every day and several times a day. They're used to it. They love it," he said.
The Smith kids, too, dig various sounds.
"They like classical music, Broadway show tunes, classic rock," Mark Smith said. "They don't have a particular kind that they listen to all the time."
Mark Smith credits Taylor's suggestion to audition for the group's success: "We blame her. We keep telling her it's her fault we got this far," he said, laughing.
Taylor, the family friend, said she recognized the talent of the singing Smiths when she met the family two years ago.
And now? She congratulates them on their win.
"They have been very humble about this whole experience," Taylor said. "The way you see them is the way they are."