With more than 15 years as a professional session/tour/background singer for several major labels including Arista and EMI,  local singer, Jennifer Real, provides hours of entertainment for music lovers and dancers in the Tampa/St. Petersburg region and beyond.

Real has won several awards during her career, including 2016 and 2017 “Best Entertainer of the Year” at the Wave Awards, presented by Watermark. And this year, she released her first single, Give it All.

Her powerful and soulful voice, endearing and authentic personality, and stunning style and stage presence are a handful of reasons that make this local singer a force to be reckoned with.

Lucky for us, OUTCOAST had the chance to “get real” with Jennifer Real earlier this week.

Jennifer Real

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Newburgh, NY, a suburban town 60 miles north of New York City.

Describe your upbringing.

I grew up in a family of musicians. What they lacked in formal education they made up for in talent. I loved to play outside, but before I would go out to play, my father would make me learn songs, like Our Father.

I spent a lot of my childhood out with friends climbing trees and playing sports. I played them all: baseball, basketball, and soccer. I was even on the soccer team and basketball team in Junior High and High School. I did everything I could to be outside.

Favorite Memory:

My favorite times were the concerts in our living room with family and friends. It was a regular thing for us. Afterall, my dad was an opera singer.

Tell us about your educational background.

We moved to Newburgh, NY for my later elementary school and middle school years. I went to North Junior High, followed by Newburgh Free Academy.

In high school, I joined my first chorus group, the gospel choir. My music teacher, Mrs. Bowls, taught me how to sing, use proper mouth structure, practice breath support, and create harmonies. She gave me a free week of lessons to teach me an Italian opera song, Oh Mio Babbino Caro, for the New York State Music Association (NYSMA), which furthered my music education.

As for college, I wanted to go to Potsdam University for music, but my grades weren’t up to par. Instead, I went to Orange County Community College where I took liberal arts and music classes.

Eventually, my interest in formal education courses waned, so I decided to focus, instead, on my music career.

Now I am very interested in history and learning, but so much of what I know I’ve learned through real-life experience and I know I am stronger for it. 

What were you doing before you became a professional singer?

I didn’t start professionally singing until 2001. My first job was a serving job at a diner in New York. I worked for a couple of diners and then moved to Florida with my family where I got a job with Bob’s Boat House in Sarasota.

Jennifer Real
Jennifer Real performs on stage at Pride Fest (Image via Rachel Stevenson)

What pushed you to move full time into your music career?

While working at Bob’s Boat House, they had karaoke with the band Omni. One night, I decided to join the competition and won first place. Sal, the leader of Omni, was impressed and asked me to sing with them at events. I sang a few times per month, which provided me with the funds needed to pay rent.

Who would have thought that a Karaoke opportunity would kick off my career in the music industry?

I worked a few side jobs around the Sarasota area for a while as I pursued my music career. I was also contracted to do jingles and commercials.

I became fairly well known in Sarasota and was noticed by Chameleon, who invited me to come on full time with their band. So, I signed a contract with Florida’s hottest live dance band. I was the lead singer and held that job for a year. Eventually, the full-time schedule and smoky bars wreaked havoc on my voice and I decided that the bar scene wasn’t the best fit for me.

I found wine bars and restaurants that provided a cleaner atmosphere and more enjoyable platform for my talents.

I still sing with Chameleon from time to time, especially around New Year’s Eve. We used to do a New Year’s Eve gig at the Gasparilla Inn Boca on Grande that President George Bush, Jr. attended each year with his wife and lots of security.

During this time, three different friends told me about a talent show titled “Women Taking Care of Music,” hosted by Jean Harper. I won the show and along with it other prizes, including a website which was helpful to my career. I also won a friend in Jean. The competition helped boost my career.

Aside from having an incredible voice, why did you go into music?

I was a singer since I was a little girl. My father was an opera singer. My aunt was a singer. My life was singing. It goes back to the living room concerts. I originally wanted to be an astronaut. The profession of singing grew organically. I never knew I could or would make a living off of singing. I’m blessed to have been given that opportunity.

Why did you choose to branch out on your own as a solo artist as opposed to working with a band?

I just did it. I was frustrated by trying to be in someone else’s band and fit someone else’s mold. When I first started, I attempted to recruit and manage band members on my own. It didn’t work for me. I’m not technically trained, so collaborating with a band was a challenge. Now, when I want to use a band, I use a music director to make sure that the band works effectively with my voice.

I still prefer to perform as a solo artist in small venues and I’ve built an impressive collection of tracks so I can play on my own for a 3-5 hour gig. But for larger events, like corporate functions, galas, and weddings, I enjoy having the band back me to create a bigger experience.

What has been your most exciting professional experience?

Performing on the larger-than-life St. Pete Pride stage surrounded by 50,000+ event attendees was the most exhilarating experience of my life and truly an honor! Also, singing at the Mahaffey Theatre was another memorable moment.

Where do you find purpose?

I find purpose in connecting people to their hearts through sound. I also find purpose in my connection to the Universe and the energy and love that surrounds me and is within.

What are the top five things people should think about when perusing a music career?

  1. Get out there and sing as much as possible. Go to open mic nights. Do what you love to do.
  2. Know that you are one-of-a-kind and you have something to offer your own audience through sound.
  3. Don’t take anything personally. Management changes. Let go of ego. Focus instead on perseverance.
  4. Don’t compare yourself.
  5. Find your inspiration.

How would you describe your music/voice?

Soul….soul all day long!

How do you get involved and/or support your local LGBT community?

I am involved with all of the local LGBT organizations in the area. I also perform at various non-profit and LGBT social events throughout the region. Social connection is so important within the LGBT community. I create a safe and supportive space for people to gather, connect, and relax outside of working hours.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I recently released my newest single, Give It All. It’s now available on iTunes and Spotify.  

Who has been the most influential person in your life?

Each relationship I’ve had has left an impact. I can’t single out one individual. Teachers, Mrs. Bowls, Jean Harper, friends, family members, partners…they’ve all influenced who I am and where I am today.

Share with us the best advice you ever got from someone? 

“Feelings aren’t facts.”

“The best things in life aren’t things.”

And for fun….what’s your favorite movie and why?

My Cousin Vinny. Let’s be honest…Marissa Tomei looks dope in the wallpaper onesie! She also emanates beauty, strength, intelligence, and power.

Check out Jennifer Real’s upcoming event schedule here.

Jennifer Real is available for house parties, corporate functions, galas, weddings, and more! Contact us to book her for your next event.