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Danger Love Saint, Part 1: The World of Jessi

Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders Bri, Jessi, and Clair on Danger Love Saint's disc cover for their new single

If you are looking for some “Drive,” look no further than Danger Love Saint. Three third-year Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, Bri, Clair, and Jessi, formed Danger Love Saint, their Nashville based trio, and they have the drive to put their heart and soul into their musical venture, the drive to have maximal fun during this adventure, and “Drive” is also the title of their recently released debut single. Bri, Clair, and Jessi have a collective sum total of coolness that is way, way too much for a single feature story, so today, the focus is on Jessi, who is no stranger the spotlight, on stage or otherwise. Jessi was featured in the MTV documentary series, World of Jenks (check out the episode clicking here) which, though definitely her own story, also shows many common dimensions of the reality of the pro cheerleader experience. Jessi also has an impressive dance resume, including being a finalist on So You Think You Can Dance, amidst scores of other credits. Jessi shared with UltimateCheerleaders how World of Jenks came about, how her time with the Pussycat Dolls started the wheels turning to form Danger Love Saint, how a dance job brought her through the Panama Canal, how to spot an excellent dancer, and how Jessi’s sister turns a traditional Christmas song into comedy gold.

Jessi grew up in Cocoa Beach, Florida, and soon enough was showing the traits that would eventually lead to Danger Love Saint; Jessi loves to put on a show. “When I was four years old, I used to make my whole family come into the living room, and I would put on shows on our fireplace, it was my stage,” recalls Jessi. “I would make my sister sell tickets for the show. I would go to my mom’s closet, and make costumes out of all of her clothes, tie my dad’s ties around as a belt. I was doing that at four years old and I never really stopped. I still love to design costumes, do hair and makeup, choreograph, and perform. It’s just not dancing; I love the whole creative aspect of trying to entertain people.”

Jessi started dance classes when she was young, and although her parents were willing to broaden her activities, it always came back to dance. Jessi remembers, “My parents tried to put me into other things, like Girl Scouts, tee-ball, swimming, and tennis, and I was always saying, ‘Can I just take ballet? I just want to take ballet class.’”


[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NJWz2MpMgKI&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

Danger Love Saint with a very special shout out to all of the Ultimate Cheerleaders

Singing also became one of Jessi’s passions. “I started singing in fourth grade in chorus, and just loved it, loved it,” Jessi says. “I tried out for all-state and all-county, and was in all those kind of choirs. I was in a site reading choir. And I always have a private voice coach, and I was a music major in college. I was always much better naturally at dancing, but I just loved studying music. I played the violin for about five years, and I played viola. I was the orchestra/choir geek all through school. I cheered one year in high school, but definitely more the drama, band, orchestra geeky kid.”

After winning a noted state dance high school competition in Florida, Jessi was chosen to go to New York to the Broadway Dance Center scholarship program and Marymount Manhattan College. But after her first year, September 11th occurred, and Jessi’s family persuaded her to move back home from New York.

Coming home from NYC, Jessi danced on a cruise ship for a year, and was able to see a big chunk of the globe. “I was really lucky,” Jessi says. “I did a world itinerary, so I was able to see Australia, New Zealand, maybe a dozen different countries in Asia, all of the South Pacific islands, San Francisco, Alaska. I went through the Panama Canal, Central America, South America. So I looked at it as a cool opportunity.”

Jessi during the October 23rdTitans game against the Texans

Dancing on the cruise line also showed Jessi a broader scope of performing. “I was only 19,” Jessi explains. “I walked in thinking, I love pop, top 40s, hip hop, all this stuff, and I was way out of my element. They said, ‘You need to calm down, because this is Music Man, Le Mis, and Annie Get Your Gun.’ I was really out of my element, but I loved it.”

Post-cruise year, Jessi returned to the US and majored in music. “Then just kind of on a whim, I auditioned for this show called Wade Robson Project that was on MTV for one season,” Jessi says. “It was for dancers, and I got that and it shot in LA, so I moved out to LA for the summer to shoot that show, and then ended up staying for six more years.”

During that time in Los Angeles, Jessi built up a substantial resume of dance accomplishments, such that if they all were listed, it would break the record for the world’s longest run-on sentence. Besides being one of the finalists on the third season of the So You Think You Can Dance, Jessi has also danced for Christina Aguilera and the Pussycat Dolls Burlesque Revue. Jessi’s connection to the Pussycat Dolls was a key experience that eventually led her to create Danger Love Saint. “I did that for two years, it was the last big job I did in LA,” Jessi recalls about the Pussycat Dolls. “They had a subgroup in Vegas, and then they had the top group, and then they created a new subgroup in LA, and we performed at the Viper Room. And also whenever the top group was requested at certain appearances and they couldn’t, we were the group that went instead. Robin Antin created the Pussycat Dolls, and it was her idea to have groups of Pussycat Dolls everywhere, like a club in New York, a club in Miami, one in Vegas, one in LA, and we were the first group she started.”


As Jessi described during the World of Jenks, dance success did not make up for her personal dissatisfaction with the lifestyle of the West Coast entertainment industry, so she decided to move out of Los Angeles. On why Nashville was her destination, Jessi describes, “I had done both coasts, and I was so over LA, but still wanted to be around the music industry. This is an amazing city; it really has its own personality. I just loved it.”

Prior to moving to Nashville, Jessi had not thought about pro sports dance, but a friend’s Facebook prompted Jessi to try-out for the Titans. Jessi remembers, “I did have one friend that danced in the NBA while I was living in LA, and I used to look at her pictures on her Facebook, and she would always be surrounded by these really pretty girls and looked like she was having so much fun. So I was a little envious, of the friendships and the camaraderie. When I moved to Nashville, I just remembered that girl, and how she always looked like she was having so many friends. I thought, ‘I want a lot of friends!’ It looked like they were always having so much fun. So that was my sole purpose for trying out for Titans, it seemed like a ready-made group of friends,” laughs Jessi.

Jessi turned out to be so right, explaining, “I am sure (among) all the teams in the league, that there are some great lifetime friendships, but I know more specifically for our team, we have a super tightknit group of women. I mean, there is not a bad apple in the bunch. We are all really, really good friends; the best friendships I have probably had in my life. It’s awesome, and that is keeps me coming back is getting to hang out with a bunch of fun people,” Jessi laughs.

Jessi’s rookie season was a busy time of new friends and performing, and after the season, well, things were a little bit too slow for the girl who was planning shows on the living room fireplace stage at age four. Jessi felt the need to put on a show, with her new living room of Nashville, Tennessee. “Danger Love Saint came about during an off-season when I just was bored,” explains Jessi. “It was my rookie year, and it was off-season, and I had no idea of the boredom that would set in after football season was over. I just still had an itch to dance and perform, so I had just finished doing the Pussycat Dolls, and I thought, well, I was a dance captain on the Pussycat Dolls shows, so I know that show like the back of my hand, I could probably put together a very similar show in Nashville.”

Jessi’s experience with the Pussycat Dolls was beyond the dance aspect. “I became the dance captain of that group, so I worked very closely with Robin, the guy that edited all of our music, lighting design, and costume changes, so I figured that I knew their show better than the director does. I could definitely do it. And then it just became executing a show that Robin had a million dollar budget to do hers, and I had like a thousand dollars to try to do something comparable,” laughs Jessi.

Describing the original DLS production in Nashville, Jessi recalls, “That is what it was at first, it was live singing and dancing, and there were eight of us. As we started performing more and more in town, people would come to me and say, ‘Wow, you really have something here, you should pare it down and make it work for Nashville, make it work for Music City. So as the idea became more and more narrowed, it just made sense to have it just be music because of Music City. Clair and Bri were on board and willing to buy into the whole idea from the beginning, which is, in and of itself, can be a hurdle for some people just getting somebody to believe in your idea. So they were on board from the beginning, and they said, ‘Oh fun, let’s see what happens,’ and we have been just truckin’ along. I didn’t know what this possibly could turn into; I didn’t know the intentions that I had for it. I just thought, let’s keep putting one foot in front of the other and see what happens. And what you see now has been the result of that path moving forward.”

Jessi, Clair, and Bri performing during a Danger Love Saint gig

As the group narrowed to a Nashville music act, the group’s name also needed to adapt. “When we were doing more of the dancing in the larger group, the name was DLS. I just wanted something as we were paring it down, I just didn’t want to just use this acronym, it needs to mean something. So we tossed around names over lunch. Picking out a band name is SO hard,” Jessie laughs. “It is! But I was just in my car one day, and I love the word ‘danger,’ and ‘saint’ was probably the last one (that was thought up), and it just kind of popped up. And I thought, ‘That is totally right.’ It represents all of us, and then as we kept working and working for these three voices, and we had a clearer direction. Taking on the persona of each of the words developed, and it just made sense. I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t plan on the chemistry of all of that happening, it just kind of fell into place.’”

So in hindsight, Danger Love Saint grew from, as Jessi laughs, “Out of boredom, out of total boredom. I can’t go very long without performing. I get really, really antsy. So if there is nothing going on, I will create something to do. And that is really what happened. When I got the ball rolling, the ball just kept rolling. Things just kept popping up and people wanted us to perform here and perform there.”

And at about the same time Danger Love Saint was starting to come together, Jessi ended up being the focus of an episode of documentary filmmaker Andrew Jenks’ MTV series, World of Jenks, in the episode entitled “Hail Mary.” The genesis of the episode occurred, as Jessi describes, “Andrew just was trying to take a look at worlds that are highly stereotyped, so he thought that the world of an NFL cheerleader was full of clichés. So I think they searched around the league for the right team, and they settled on the Titans, I think, because they wanted like that very all-American, football feel. I think Dallas seemed like it was too big, too much, and any of the teams on the coasts. He wanted a very all-American perspective of it. So that’s why he chose our team.”

Once the Titans were selected, then the process of selecting the Titans Cheerleader to feature was next. “I think Andrew and Stacie (Kinder, Director of the Titans Cheerleaders) talked back and forth about the kind of girl that he was trying to follow,” recalls Jessi. “So a bunch of us auditioned, and told him about ourselves and our story. Then, by process of elimination, after he talked to all of the girls on our team, thought that maybe I could disprove the stereotype, like he was looking to do. So that is how he kind of decided to do live with me and hang out with me. He had a purpose; he wanted to disprove what people normally think of cheerleaders being like. But I think he thought he was going with somebody like me, because I have a ton of dance training, which people might not think of NFL cheerleaders having dance training. And I had worked on other stuff; it was not like I was using NFL cheerleading to jumpstart a career in the entertainment industry. It was kind of the opposite and backwards, so it was using my experience to prove his point.”

But, although Jessi is as comfortable on stage as anyone can possibly be, her off-stage personality is very different. Jessi explains, “In my personal life, just like my day to day interactions with people, I am actually more reserved and kind of awkward than I am in front of a camera or on stage. I would rather not want the attention on me unless I am doing my job. On camera or on stage, I want all of the camera time, I want to be in the front. But when I am in my personal life, I am totally opposite.”

So what was Jessi’s reaction to finding out she was the subject of a documentary, where the filmmaker would actually live with her for three weeks? “I was happy to be considered, but I was more apprehensive I guess, because I thought, ‘Wait, now what have I gotten myself into?’” Jessi laughs. “He is going to come and live with me for three weeks, and then what? I was just kind of confused, and didn’t know what to expect because it was the first season of the show, and the only thing I had to reference for his work was a documentary that he did about senior citizens, so I didn’t really know. But I am super open, I don’t like having secrets, and I am a pretty open book. So I wasn’t afraid to tell him about myself or try to represent my team well, I was more worried about, ‘Okay, he is going to be in my living room for three weeks, that’s a long time!”

And it was more than just Andrew Jenks, there was a film crew and staff. Jessi remembers, “It wasn’t just him, it was a dozen people. There was one point in the middle of it, while they were setting up another shot, where I finally said, ‘Hey, can I just have a couple of hours? I just want to take a nap by myself, and be at home alone, at least for a few hours.’ Andrew and I were able to get to know each other really well, and we became friends. It wasn’t like we were just working together. He said, ‘Of course, yes, go. I can see that you need just a couple minutes by yourself. Go and come back when you are ready.’”

Was Jessi happy with the final product of the episode? Jessi answers, “Well, it is a strange thing, because in three weeks, we didn’t have any television, we didn’t have radio. We kind of hung out with other people, but it was mostly just he and I, just trying to find things to entertain ourselves and kill time. So the amount of conversation, and the different topics that come up in three weeks, he could have taken the story in a bunch of different directions. Because we talked about so many different things, so I mean from my perspective, I felt like, ‘That is me. That is what we talked about.’ We definitely talked about all that stuff, and that was definitely my opinion. He could have made it political, he could have made it about religion, he could have taken it in a bunch of different directions. So I was really pleased with the story that I think he wanted to tell.”

“I was just more concerned and more terrified about representing an entire league of women,” Jessi continues. “I felt an enormous weight on my shoulders, about the whole thing. I wanted to be open and honest with him, and really show him, that these aren’t dumb girls. These are people’s daughters, these are people’s wives, and they deserve a lot more respect than they get, and I felt an enormous weight to try and impress that upon him. I think it came across but it took a lot of convincing, because he came in as any 25 year-old guy would, expecting a lot of T & A, and I said, ‘Oh no no no no.’ It is more Q & A (laughs) and I just wanted to impart to him that these are some really great women, and I hope that he would think of me as one of them, and let me show him why we don’t get near enough respect.”

Jessi’s friends were also happy with the results. “They were happy that I made us look good, specifically the Tennessee Titans Cheerleaders, and that was a huge goal of mine. That was always in the back of my mind. That it wasn’t just me on camera right now; it is 24 other girls. And their parents are watching, and their husbands are watching. What if Coach Fisher is watching? I just really wanted to do justice for our organization.”

As it was time for the episode to premiere on MTV, Jessi had the chance to see the results, but was conflicted because watching herself is also a bit outside of Jessi’s comfort zone. “I like working on a project and I get excited about doing it at the time, but once it is over for me, then it is done,” explains Jessi. “I don’t need to revisit what happened. I was there. I didn’t even watch So You Can Think You Can Dance, before I was on it, I didn’t watch it while I was on it, and I still don’t watch it to this day. In LA, I was recognized a lot out in public, at restaurants, and I was surprised with how many people actually watched So You Can Think You Can Dance. I didn’t really know because I didn’t watch it.”

So for the World of Jenks “Hail Mary” episode, watching the show was something Jessi had to face. “That was hard to watch too, but my friends, like the other girls on my team, they were really, really excited about being on it,” Jessi remembers. “And they kept going back and forth, ‘Should we throw a premiere party?’ I said, ‘No, if I have to watch it, I’d rather just watch it in the privacy of my home, where I can cringe at everything by myself.’ But a couple of my close friends kind of insisted, so I ended up watching it at Clair’s house. There were three of us and they brought food over, and it was this tiny little thing, but even that was more than I wanted.”

Occasionally, the episode will run again in a new region, for example recently in MTV Brazil, and Jessi will still hear new reactions. “I received some feedback from people on Facebook, kind of just random people, not cheerleaders. But just random people writing, ‘Wow, you’re inspiring me to do this, and you inspired me to do that.’ And, ‘I like your story, because you showed me that I don’t have to be stuck in a situation I don’t feel right about, I can do something about it.’ So that made me feel amazing, ‘YES YOU CAN!’” Jessi laughs. “So wherever it has been airing, I will start getting messages from that place, from people that liked it, and that is really cool. That is all I could hope for.”

Recently Jessi performed at the CMA Awards in Nashville during performances by Blake Shelton and Luke Bryan, and that fit her comfort zone more: she could perform and her friends could be there to see it. “It was amazing,” Jessi exclaims. “In LA, because there are so many big projects going on, you don’t really self-promote, because it would just get lost in a sea of ‘well no big deal, you are working on this video, well I am working on this movie.’ Here, it was such a cool feeling for that to be the one big thing that was going on, and everybody was excited to go to the show. And there were people working as seat fillers, there were people I know working as production assistants. The whole community was focused on this one thing for a couple of days, and being a part of it was so cool. My friends were in the audience. I had never any friends come to see me perform because the award shows in LA, people really can’t get tickets to, because there are so many industry people that want to go. So it was really cool.”

Based on her resume, what her teammates say, and what Stacie says, it is clear that Jessi is an exceptional dancer. But give us insight Jessi, what defines a “great dancer”? “I think if myself or anybody else knew the entire answer to that, we could make a lot of money,” Jessi laughs. “A great dancer is a great listener. You want to be somebody that moves to the music. You don’t want the music to be disconnected to your movement. You want to be so engrossed in what is happening on all levels of the song, that you look like music when you are moving. That is why I love learning and studying music, because I want to be a really good listener. I want to hear the drums, the lyrics, the guitar, the strings, and I want to hear everything that is going on. That way, when I am moving to it, it looks like I match the song.”

Jessi and Clair

Secondly, Jessi continues, “Another big element for me is people that are totally fearless. They are not afraid of looking like an idiot, looking silly. They are not afraid of just putting their heart and soul, and dancing crazy. So the best dancers I know are people that are absolutely fearless when they get on stage, when they are dancing in front of people. “

Lastly, Jessi adds, “Somebody that has complete control over their body. I mean, control down to they know the exactly what their pinkie toe is doing at every moment. They know what their eye lashes at every moment are doing. They know their rib cage and their scapula, just every single part of your body, you are aware of and you are in control of. That is what makes a great dancer.”

For this last aspect, training in ballet is a key. “That is definitely more tied to people that have classical training, and taking ballet is a huge part of that because it teaches you the technique of engaging a bunch of different parts of your body at once and being totally aware and feeling exactly, ‘Where is my pinkie right now, and is it engaged?’ So I know exactly what it looks like and what is it doing,” Jessi explains. “And that is not something that you stress so much in gymnastics or in cheerleading, but in dance, especially in ballet, where people really learn the technique of having great control. You become self-aware of every single thing. Your wrist placement, the placement of your belly button, like is your belly pushed out or is it tucked into your spinal cord? Is your tailbone tucked under or is it pressing down? And that’s taking tons of ballet. You learn how to have great control by taking ballet and only ballet.”

Bri and Jessi

So would Jessi ever like to be leading or being choreographer for a pro dance team? Jessi responds, “I don’t know. I am not great with business, but creatively I would love to choose music and choreograph and choose uniforms, and help the girls become better dancers. But there is so much more that goes into running one of these teams than just the dance and the creative aspects of it, and my brain is like just not built for stuff like that (laughs). That’s why Stacie does such an awesome job with our team because she has such a great business mind. So I think if I could partner with someone like her, and I could do the creative aspects, and then they can take care of the logistics, and I think that would be really fun, but it is hard running the whole thing.”

But for now, Jessi has quite a lot on her plate, and that is just how she likes it. This is a key window for Danger Love Saint to promote “Drive” while football and the Titans are still at the forefront in Nashville. Asked if she learned anything in Los Angeles that she imparts on Danger Love Saint today, Jessi responds, “We are just kind of going with it, all we have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Let’s not think about winning a Grammy right now, let’s think about promoting “Drive” as much as we can in the next 60 days. Then after that, let’s make the most of what we can of our off season. The one thing I learned in LA that I try to share with the girls is, that it’s amazing and definitely beneficial to have big dreams. But in order to make the big dreams a reality, you just have to take it one step at a time.”

“I had no idea that we would even be where we are right now,” reflects Jessi regarding Danger Love Saint’s progress so far. “I don’t think we are going to be that type of group that turns into a YouTube sensation. We are definitely trying to do the more conventional route. Our X factor is the Titans Cheerleading team. So we are going to continue to plug away and play the Nashville game, which is to write great songs, perform them live, and then just keep performing around town, and get better. And then instead of trying to post some crazy YouTube video, we are trying to utilize our in-house Titans base of fans, because they already think it is pretty cool that three of their girls are trying to do that. They have all been really supportive and we just want to keep doing that for them, and that is kind of like our X factor. We are trying to play a little of both sides of the fence, kind of the new age way to make it work and the more conventional way of being a live act.”

You can check out Jessi, Clair, and Bri on their website (www.DangerLoveSaintMusic.com), Facebook (www.facebook.com/Dangerlovesaint), and Twitter (www.Twitter.com/DangerLoveSaint). On their website and on YouTube, you can check out their extremely fun promotional videos that Danger Love Saint has done with DefiNet Contact, an Internet marketing company in Nashville that specializes in video for the web, email marketing, social media, and website design. Bri works for them, and Jessi says, “Bri sets all of that up, so we are actually really lucky that we get to go in there and be silly, and have fun. DefiNet Contact has really supported our group. Those videos are awesome. People think they are really cool.”

And speaking of cool, if you check out those videos, you will see a completely cool, relaxed Jessi, who, since she was a youngster until now, never has any stage or camera nerves, whether it is singing or dancing or both. “For some reason, when I am speaking here right now, and I think about getting on stage and singing a song I have written, I have high anxiety,” explains Jessi. “If I am just in my day to day life and I actually think about the enormity of singing in front of people, and trying to look good and sound good and entertain them, it is overwhelming and it is very scary. When I am walking up on stage, I don’t get nervous, I don’t have any anxiety, I don’t know why. If it is happening in the moment, I am fine. I feel like this is me in my element, what God meant me to do. I feel totally relaxed and comfortable.” Jessi laughs, “It’s in my day to day life when I think about it and ponder, ‘What have I gotten myself into?!’”

Rarely, the only problems Jessi has on stage are the result of being a little TOO excited to be there. “I have performed my whole life since I was a kid,” Jessi recalls, “I more just get so excited that I’ll just have like a ‘blonde moment,’ not during the games, knock on wood (Jessi reaches over and knocks on the wall), but I have blanked on stage. Not out of nerves, but just out of sheer excitement. So in that case I will always improvise and do a free style solo or something. I did that once on So You Think You Can Dance and people really liked it.”

So during this holiday season, Danger Love Saint will be promoting their debut single, in addition to their own holiday song. So Jessi, what is your favorite song for the holiday season? Jessi ponders, “My favorite song for the holidays is ‘Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (The Christmas Song)’ because my sister loves to sing that a cappella in the car, full voice.” Does she do a good job? “Oh no,” Jessi responds matter of factly, “Terrible. But I would rather her sing that song one hundred times than listen to that Mariah Carey song that everybody loves. It’s amazing because it is pure comedy.”

So little girl Jessi, who planned shows for her family, whose dance career then took off like a rocket launched near Cocoa Beach, has now emerged as today’s Jessi, and it is like she is riding on a riverboat named Danger Love Saint down Nashville’s Cumberland River, with the Titans and LP Field on one shore, and the lights and sounds of Music City on the other. Moving full steam ahead, as Danger Love Saint entertains fans on both sides of the river, Jessi is just happy to see where this ride takes DLS. “Still to this day, I can’t believe it. I Google a song on iTunes, and I am on iTunes,” Jessi laughs. “That is crazy! I remember staying up until 4 am sewing rhinestones on the costumes myself, and never imagine it would turn into what it has. So every single day, as long as we are moving forward and not moving backward, then I think we are winning.”

A winner under any definition, Jessi’s enthusiasm, positivity, smile, and laugh are as infectious as the melodies you’d hear walking down Broadway, whether in NYC or Nashville. Jessi’s loveliness, grace, and charm are reminiscent of one her idols, an entertainment triple threat. Who is it? Well, you will just have to check out Part 2, where UltimateCheerleaders learns more about Bri, Clair, and Jessi, including their musical influences, their first ever albums, and their feelings of performing at halftime at LP Field.

Thanks SO much to Jessi, Bri, and Clair, as UltimateCheerleaders learns about their Danger Love Saint journey. We appreciate all of their time before and after the October 23rd Titans game in Nashville, and look forward to Part 2! We also thank thank thank Titans Cheerleaders Director Stacie Kinder, and Titans media staff Robbie Bohren and Alex Garmezy for all of their invaluable assistance. Here are some more photos, including photos of Jessi at the October 23rd game. Left click to see the entire photo, then left click on that to see full size.

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