Editorial intern Johanna Gretschel got a chance to interview Jewel when she stopped by New Orleans on Monday, Oct. 29. Johanna shares her experience here:
Multi-platinum singer-songwriter Jewel is small – "armpit height," in her words – with a youthful sheen of perfectly straightened dirty-blonde hair and glowing skin that belie the mother of one's 38 years. The bustle of the press room halts when she enters – not because she's a diva, not because her dominant personality commands the utmost attention, but rather the opposite.
The media's gabby whirring slows its spin cycle to allow breathing room for folk's favorite princess, here tonight at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center as the spokesperson for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons' National Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day to play a benefit concert for breast cancer survivors and members of the community. Demure, she shakes hands, smiles through closed lips, and, as she sits under the unforgiving glare of the video camera, asks an assistant for her sweater back so she can hide her legs.
Sweating in the hot seat underneath unflattering overhead lights and the gaze of fellow press pass holders, I can't imagine that this cool creature in front of me feels as awkward as I do. For now she is all business, snapping out sound bites as if her mind's eye were a teleprompter.
Seven out of 10, that’s a statistic we want to fix.*
One in eight women is affected by breast cancer in their lifetime.
I'm very passionate about being an advocate for women's health.
I am second in line to speak with her – though my ten minutes with fame feels like ninety seconds. Jewel waits patiently as I scribble doggedly; she smiles, nods, picks up the beat when I lose my train of thought and patiently saves her next breath for when I look back up at her, flustered, nodding – go on.
She recalls her first trip to New Orleans a while ago as "sweaty." As an unproven Atlantic Records rookie, Jewel camped out in a swampy motel she cannot recall the name of, while her professional team slept in the swanky silks of the Four Seasons, or somewhere equally bougey. This trip has treated her better. Evening performances left her the entire day to tour the French Quarter and River Walk for the first time with her 1-year-old son.
With my 10 minutes up, Jewel agrees for an impromptu personal photo op. We're ushered in front of a hot pink breast cancer backdrop; standing shoulder-to-shoulder, I wonder if I should get buddy-buddy and put my arm around her, but decide against it.
Moment over, I stumble out of the press room, unsure what kind of impression – if any – I left. Concert tickets in hand, I gather my plus-one and get ready to relive my angsty middle school years.
Jewel begins with an a cappella rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and as she moves through her biggest '90s hits, the soaring heights of that amazing voice keep the entire room entranced. It's gritty, raw. The contours of her face and body seep with the emotion of the lyrics that are still so potent for the Alaskan native, dozens of years and paychecks removed from living out of a van with no health insurance before her big break. She eagerly fills the audience in on the details of her back story between songs, insisting that the original recording of "Who Will Save Your Soul" makes her sound like Kermit the Frog.
And from 200 feet away, she somehow becomes a more vivid person than when we brushed shoulders. Though, when she starts describing her squeamishness about being constantly manhandled by strangers, my choice to keep my hands to myself during our photo op seems like a good call.
"I think that, because I'm an entertainer, people assume that I'm outgoing and are usually surprised to find out that I'm really shy," she says in between songs. "I'm shy enough so that when I see the ads for social anxiety medicine on TV, it looks pretty good. Except for the names – the new Sonata, is that a car name or a sleeping pill?"
She is real, she is funny, she is making herself vulnerable – all you plastic surgeons must be checking out this schnoz right now – before this audience of breast cancer survivors and supporters, to whom vulnerability is life.
Maybe it's all just part of the act, but Jewel got at least one new fan last night.
*Seven out of 10 women eligible for breast reconstruction surgery are not informed of their health coverage options, according to the ASPS. The organization currently supports the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act to reverse this trend.