As an eight-year-old, Jasmin Walia’s three favourite words were: lights, camera, action. “I used to grab any prop I found around the house and imitate television stars,” recalls the British-Indian singer, who made a rocking singing debut in Bollywood with the viral song Bom Diggy in Sonu ke Titu ki Sweety. Whenever her mother played ballads at their home in Essex, the UK, the little girl would wear her puffy tutu skirt and swirl around like she was in some fairyland. The memory comes to a standstill and, she comes back to real time. “I don’t think I was a shy girl; I always loved and still love performing in front of people. Though I knew I wanted to be an artist, I never thought of making it big in Bollywood,” the 29-year-old tells Smart Life.
It was during a family evening in their living room that her father realised that singing and acting were more than just a fancy idea for his daughter—it was her passion. “I sang ‘Over the rainbow’ composed by Harold Arlen every Saturday during our family time. My favourite line in the song—dreams really do come true—was something I held on to. One evening, my father, who, for a fact, cannot sing, said I should pursue the art. He signed me up for some vocal training and before I knew it, I started taking part in solo singing competitions at school. Those lessons still come in handy,” she says.
At the age of 10, she started attending theatre school. “I used to love listening to Indian music and watching Bollywood movies. This was one of the ways that I connected to my culture,” she says. Despite the fact that there is no musical background whatsoever in her family, Jasmin’s parents were always supportive of what she wanted to do. “My parents are just lovely human beings; I am very blessed that way,” she says. “My father would patiently drive me around for different auditions in different parts of the country and encourage me if things didn’t work out. He would keep telling me to push forward and not look back. This is a life lesson that I would never forget.”
In 2010, Jasmin got her break with the British television series—The Only Way Is Essex (TOWIE). Part soap opera, part reality show, the series covered the lives, loves and scandals of a group of real-life Essex boys and girls. She was taken as an extra but got promoted to a full cast member in 2012.
“Suddenly, I felt like I literally opened up my private life for the whole world to see; all eyes were on me,” says Jasmin. “It was both overwhelming and exciting. People in the UK started to identify me as the TOWIE girl.” But, our star has had her share of racist abuse on social media. She was sent vile messages by online trolls. “It was ridiculous and I was extremely upset but I never retaliated. This is all part of being in the limelight,” she says.
According to her, the entertainment industry is not always a happy place. “There was this incident once, when a co-actor was drunk and she physically attacked me outside the scene,” recalls Jasmin. “This had a big impact on me. I learnt that people can do anything to feel superior than the other person. Some upcoming stars want quick fame and they are ready to pull down anyone who is a threat.”
But this was nothing compared to the knockback she got in the sets of The X Factor in the UK in 2014. Jasmin kept the whole thing low-key but the video of her audition caught the attention of her TOWIE fans. Her costars even spoke about it in one of the episodes. Simon Cowell, famous for his blunt and controversial comments, said she hasn’t got a great singing voice.. “You look great, you’re a nice girl but honestly the vocals are just all over the place,” he said after Jasmin sang ‘Rather be’ by Clean Bandit. “Getting turned down on The X Factor was a devastating experience for me. It was my lowest point and it took me a while to move on. But I did and I am glad I came up from that low point,” she says.
According to Jasmin, auditioning for the X-factor was the biggest mistake she made and she regrets every bit of it. “They made me wait for about 10 hours before I got on stage. So, the whole day I was just going through the songs and by the time I got on stage I was tired and very nervous. I was made to sing five songs but they showed only one in the video. People were laughing; the pressure was massive. But again, I can’t blame all these external factors; maybe, it wasn’t my day or maybe it wasn’t my best,” she says.
But spring was not far behind—Jasmin was voted one of Britain’s sexiest Asian stars, along with One Direction’s ex-member Zayn Malik in December 2014 in the poll by UK-based Eastern Eye magazine. “It came as a surprise but it happened just at the right time—not too early nor too late,” she says.
Jasmin then got cast in another television show called Desi Rascals, streamed by Sky One from July to September 2015. The show also featured her then-boyfriend Ross Worswick. It gave her the opportunity to explore her cultural roots while still maintaining all her glitz and glamour. The series delved into the lives of a group of West Londoners in their quest to achieve their dreams through all their challenges. “TOWIE was fun and spontaneous but Desi Rascals was a bit more structured. I felt it covered deeper issues and challenges that people go through. It was definitely an interesting experience,” she says.
After the series, Jasmin appeared in the theatre show Aladdin at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre, alongside Michelle Collins. She played the role of princess Jasmine in the show. “I enjoyed theatre as a child but never thought I’d get to do it later. It was very exciting singing and acting live in front of thousands of people,” she says. It also helped her to understand that she wasn’t ready to give up on singing yet.So, she decided to take up a project with singer Zack Knight, who was at that time working on his album Dum Dee Dum. “I was not going to let what Simon Cowell said bog me down. Since I was turned down on an international platform, the pressure to perform was even more. Every step I took in the music industry was a major gamble. But I am glad I did my debut singing with Zack,” Jasmin says.
Like every other T-series video, this one also gathered humongous views on YouTube. The catchy music and rendering sure did get attention but Jasmin’s auto-tuned voice massacred the character of the sing-along ditty. Nonetheless, the upbeat music was a hit with listeners but it wasn’t good enough for Jasmin to make her mark in the industry. “A lot of people sent mean tweets about the autotune. But when Zack and I were making this song, we felt the robotic tone gave us the desired club feel that we were looking for. We know the level of autotune we used for the track and both Zack and I were extremely happy with the product,” she says.
Many people also commented on Jasmin’s pumped up lips and skinny figure in the video. “People had a problem that I looked too skinny and had queries regarding my lips. Growing up, I have always been a skinny girl and I tend to lose weight when I get stressed out. My lips—100 per cent natural. I haven’t done anything to it. But if I were to change one of my body parts, that would be my ears,” she says.
Not long after her debut, the song Bom Diggy happened, and it changed her life. The music video got over a million views in five days. It was also number one on the Indian pop charts for several weeks. This made her one of the most wanted newbies in the music arena. “I thoroughly enjoyed working on this song and I was sure people would like it, too. We spent a lot of time and effort working on it. Making a track is a lot of hard work. A three-minute song takes over three months of work. I think it is more challenging than acting,” she says. But her acting was also a big hit—the video of her robbing a bank along with Zack Knight definitely got a lot of attention. “A fun concept is what we had in mind. We wanted to go for a wanted or armed robbery feel. Beyonce and Jay Z’s Bonnie and Clyde ’03 video inspired me a lot. Though this song was supposed to be a love song, when we were in the studio, we decided to increase the tempo of it; it went from a love song to a club song,” she says.
Despite the fact that her parents used to speak Punjabi at home, she was not fluent in it. “I had to pick up some Punjabi before working on the song. The accent really matters when it comes to singing. I wouldn’t say it was difficult but it definitely wasn’t easy,” she says.
But the hard work paid off. The song was a regular at discos, parties and pubs. Even Nick Jonas loved it. As a matter of fact, Bollywood was surprised when Jasmin performed for Nick and Priyanka Chopra’s wedding.
Interestingly, of all the reality TV stars who have attempted to launch music careers, Jasmin is arguably one of the most successful. Her recent ‘pop-partish’ single Mañana is doing quite well with over one million views on YouTube in a span of two weeks. “Mañana is a song I created with a hint of Spanish vibes as I like to change it up with every song I release and make it a little different. Mañana means tomorrow in Spanish. So, in the hook chorus, I am singing about how I am not interested in this person so he can call me tomorrow because I am going to have some fun and forget about him. It could also be main ne aana which means ‘I won’t come’ in Punjabi. The song is all about current love affairs and relationships,” she says.
Though the singer is known for her upbeat songs, she also likes ballads. “In the end it is not about how fast or how slow the song is; it is all about writing the perfect song and making sure people connect to it,” she says. According to Jasmin, there is a shortage of mainstream ethnic artists. “I really don’t know many British-Asian singers apart from Zack and Jay Sean. I think it is about time more singers come up,” she says.
Jasmin does not want to be just another British-Indian singer, she wants to be a role model to young girls. She feels that girls, not just in India, but also abroad are apprehensive to come out of their comfort zone and do something radical. “I want to make young girls realise that they can make their dreams come true. Most people fear failure and that fear stops them from pursuing their passion. But failure is only for a season; then the season changes. But one needs to patiently persevere till the next season. If I had made a decision to quit after The X Factor, then Bom Diggy would not have happened. It is important to use all the failures as a manure to grow stronger and produce fruit,” she says.
Although she is back in the UK now, the singer says she will be visiting India more frequently. “I have a couple of exciting projects coming up but I can’t talk about it. For now, you can call me Mañana,” she says. Did someone say, the perfect cliffhanger?
Breakfast: Usually it is scrambled eggs and some kale with a splash of lemon juice. Sometimes, I have salmon in the morning.
Lunch: It is different every day. But mostly, I go for a chicken salad or roasted chicken with some vegetables. I also consume carbohydrates like pasta with a lot of sauce or some bread during this time of the day.
Snack: I prefer a trail mix of different nuts or some fruits.
Dinner: I eat Indian food. Bread with some curry, or fish and vegetables.
Pre-workout: I have a small snack.
I have a little chicken or scrambled eggs for energy. But usually I don’t eat a lot before workout because
I feel nauseous later.
Post-workout: I have some potatoes, fish or chicken.
Intra-workout: I only drink water.
I don’t prefer electrolytes.
At a glance
The meanest thing that you’ve ever said to someone.
I think it would be... you’re a horrible human being. I have
no right to judge someone as good or bad.
A nickname that annoys you.
I hate it when people call me ‘Jazz’.
A bizarre habit.
I love having plain pasta with salt and vinegar.
KFC. I love chicken.
What do you do when you’re feeling blue?
I just eat a lot of sushi with loads of soya sauce.
If not a singer…
I think I’d want to be a stylist or do anything related to fashion.
I love going thrift shopping and dressing up.
An Indian artist you look up to?
There are so many wonderful composers and artists in the industry. When I hear some melodies, I get goose bumps. Shreya Ghoshal is wow. I love Vishal and Shekhar too. I would like to
collaborate with them some day.
A movie you have watched over and over again?
Titanic! I have watched it one hundred million times; I know all the lines by heart.
One thing you would like to change about yourself?
Personality-wise, I would like to stop worrying, and my looks—it would be my ears. My ears are too big and I am scared to do any sort of plastic surgery. I get very emotional when I talk about them.
A to-do in your bucket list?
I want to visit Tokyo!
One thing you hate?
I hate it when people have ego.
Best career advice you have taken or given?
It is something my dad kept telling me—never give up. Even when it feels like your whole world is crashing down and you can’t go any further, don’t stop; keep pushing forward. The music industry is very tough. There can be times when people tell you to stop or abandon your dreams, but you need to stay positive and good things will always happen.
What is your favourite colour?
It used to be purple but now it is turquoise. I don’t know why.
A quote that has inspired you.
Always be the best that you could be.
One thing you regret?
Going on The X Factor.