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Home » Simone Denny: The Power of No! Be the Superstar! at TEDxStMaryCSSchool (Transcript)

Simone Denny: The Power of No! Be the Superstar! at TEDxStMaryCSSchool (Transcript)

Simone Denny – Canadian singer
Initially, as a kid, my interests were visual art, fashion design, and music was cultural, because my parents are from the Caribbean, they’re Guyanese. And so, it was in our home, every day, every week. Varied styles of music.

I also sang in the school choir in Catholic school, in grade school, and in high school. But if you had told me all those years ago that I’d go on to win Juno Awards and MuchMusic Awards, I would have laughed. Music was not my focus, nor my passion, nor my direction. It wasn’t until my grade school put on a talent show, and I wanted to be involved. And truthfully, when I stood on that stage, I didn’t know if I had actual vocal talent. I just wanted to be on the stage and contribute to my school.

By the time I finished singing, I got a standing ovation. And by the time I walked off that stage, music had found me and changed me forever. After that, anything that I could do to be in front of a crowd, I was there.

Flash forward a few years later, I went to Humber College for music, where I met some of Toronto’s most amazing musicians, and I immersed myself in the music community. Then I started to take this recording artist thing seriously, and I said, “You know, R&B is hot. I’m going to be an R&B singer.” Unfortunately for me, every other girl in Toronto wanted to be an R&B singer as well. A little bit challenging. I was told by one producer that no, I didn’t have the right look and the right image, and that no, I’d never be on TV, and that no, I’d never sign a recording contract or have any sort of success ever.

Then, I joined a girl group, an R&B girl group, and was told that I was too powerful vocally, and that I shouldn’t consider myself a lead vocalist, and I should be content to stay in the background and be a background vocalist. No way. It wasn’t going to happen. I was so incredibly frustrated, but despite my frustration, I went on to demo music for different producers in Toronto.

One producer referred me to a then DJ radio personality that was looking for a powerful voice to sing on one of his tracks for his album. I figured, “Why not? I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ll try it.” That first session was a series of, “Scream here! Hold the note here! Growl here!” And I was like, “What? What? Where?” I had no clue. But that first session earned me my first Juno nomination in the dance music category. Thank you! You can clap! Thank you.

BKS was the group. It then disbanded, and that same DJ came to me and said, “We’re starting a new group. It’s called Love Inc. And I want you to be the female vocalist.” All I can tell you is I dove into dance music. Where it was, I was. I’d listen to it all day, every day. And the naysayers followed, “Simone, are you crazy? Dance music? Really? Why? Why are you doing this? You need to get back to R&B.”

Then, all my female vocalist friends were like, “Simone, really? Guess what Simone’s singing now?” So, I’m going to tell you this: Love Inc.’s “You’re a Superstar” went on to explode onto the Canadian dance scene. It not only was a hit in Canada, it was a hit internationally: Top 5 in the UK, across Europe, and into Australia. And as for my look and my image, our music was everywhere. Our video was everywhere. And we ended up winning the coveted MuchMusic Dance Music of The Year Award. Thank you. Thank you.

Attaining that success was everything to me. At this point, all the noes had elevated me to this success. I reached my goal through another path. Our music was everywhere: Radio, TV, video, fashion television. I was on tour across Canada, branching into the US and Europe. I was so incredibly happy in that success. I had succeeded in doing what I dreamed of. The music found me, and I found myself. I was at a place where all the obstacles, all the noes, everything, all the skills I had learned had led me to a spot where I was unique, I was free to be myself, I was the only woman of color, at that time, on the Canadian dance scene, doing music and dance music, and attaining that much success, because I took a chance, stayed strong, stayed focused, and dared to do something different. Thank you.

“No”, in the dictionary, is defined as “something forbidding or rejecting something specified.” However, for me, it was the very thing that fueled me and propelled me forward. It’s such a powerful word that continued to help me pursue my dreams and inspire me, and be open to new opportunities, and live a life with no limits. As an artist, I get told no every single day. And I see it as a wall: Either I’m going to go around it, I’m going to go over it, I’ll go under it, or I’m going through it, but I will reach my goal.

I’ve also had to say no to things that just weren’t right for me, like conditions that were just not Simone. I had to know my value. I had to walk away and maintain my integrity, walking away from big deals, a lot of money, tours, songs. I say to you: Don’t settle for less. Know your value. When you’re faced with adversity, it requires character, a strong belief in yourself. “No” comes from others’ place of fear, from their negative experiences. In turn, they use their fear to define you. The best advice I can give you is to be true to yourself.

Now, some of you will reach success on your chosen path easily. Others will take the scenic route like I did: You’ll have peaks and you’ll have valleys, and sometimes you’re going to have to decide which road to take. But I say to you: Be open, take as many opportunities and as many directions as you can; even, at times, the unconventional ones. This life we’re living is a journey. Yet, most of us tend to live our lives in absolutes. We want to fit in, we want to be safe, be part of the crowd. We want to achieve our life’s goals with the least amount of resistance. And ideally, that would be awesome!

Because of this: We all tend to take the safe route. No one wants to live outside the box. We play it safe. I say to you: Don’t let society’s limits put limits on your aspirations. You must know when to step away from the crowd and be an individual.

Now, as I look back on my career, and even to this day, I’ve never allowed the cultural narrative to define me. Black girl, hip-hop, and R&B. Yes, I love those styles of music, and I’ve sung them, my vocal training was operatic, but my biggest success was dance music. And recently, I just finished a retro rock album. I’ve sung on soul projects, I’ve sung on funk projects. Pop projects, metal projects . I allow no one to define me personally or professionally. I define myself.

I want to leave a quote with you that my parents drummed into my head when I was your age. Like, I mean, every time they felt I was slipping from the standard or blending into the mainstream, the plaque came out. It says, “If you follow the crowd, you will likely get no further than the crowd. If you walk alone, you’re likely to end up in places no one has ever been before. Being an achiever is not without its difficulties, for peculiarity breeds contempt. The unfortunate thing about being ahead of your time is that when everybody realizes you were right, they will say it was obvious to them all along. You have two choices in life: You can dissolve into the mainstream, or you can choose to become an achiever and be distinct. To be distinct, you must be different. To be different, you can only be what you can be.”

Another quote that I want to leave with you is — I read this and it said, “Happiness is a personal decision.” But I say success is a personal decision. Don’t ever relinquish the success to which you are entitled to the emotions, opinions, or negative input of others. Be the superstar, because you are the superstar. Get out there and live. Go for your goals, be open to opportunity, but be true to yourself. Do you? Thank you.

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