Newfound fame, but she still has to do dishes

Jessica "J" Benson, of Severn, is newest member of 3LW trio

April 22, 2003|By Miesha Iman Lowery | Miesha Iman Lowery,SUN STAFF

Jessica "J" Benson has big dreams for a music business career that she says will one day include running her own record company. For now, though, she'll settle for this label: newest member of the R&B group 3LW.

Benson, 15, of Severn, has been shuttling back and forth to New York and New Jersey since winning a December audition, getting her feet wet in stardom while the folks at home remain firmly on cloud nine.

"She would always say, `I'm gonna be famous and on TV one day,' " says her mother, Kay Benson.

"Her father would do shift work when she was younger and we spent a lot of time together at night. She would grab the remote [as a make-believe microphone] and perform all over the house. A lot of the talent she has now was already there at age 4."

Still, it took a gentle nudge from family to get the young singer to the tryouts.

The trio 3LW, short for 3 Little Women and known for hits such as "No More (Baby Im'a Do Right)" and "Playas Gon' Play," had become a duo in August, when Naturi Naughton left because of conflict with the group's other founding members, Kiely Williams and Adrienne Bailon.

Auditions were quickly arranged nationwide for a replacement, with the closest two in New York and Washington. Thousands of young singers turned out. Kay Benson heard too late about the New York tryouts but wasn't about to let her daughter miss the D.C. auditions.

From there, it was up to Jessica.

"It made me so nervous, [Williams and Bailon] were sitting right there in your face," Jessica says of the December audition, in which tryouts were asked to sing and perform a dance routine. "I didn't think I would actually get it, out of all the girls that tried out," she says.

Because auditions started late, she never got a chance to dance, but her performance of "Neva Get Enuf" from 3LW's latest album, A Girl Can Mack, and a rendition of "I Love the Lord" clearly made an impression.

The group members later invited Benson to spend a day with them, including a get-to-know-you lunch at Charlie Brown's Steakhouse in New Jersey.

"It was fun and weird. Everyone was looking at us and I felt famous already," Jessica says. And in February, she joined the group.

"I cried for like three weeks," says her mother. "It was almost like it was destiny, so for this to happen it's really weird." That was the easy part for Jessica Benson, who says she is quickly learning that being a member of 3LW is hard work.

"You don't get a break. I commute to New Jersey almost every two days," she says.

She also has a lot of catching up to do, learning the vocals and choreography for group engagements.

But it's all just part of the dream that began when she was a toddler, continuing through church and Meade Senior High School choirs, singing at weddings and talent shows (she was a finalist at an Apollo Kids Talent Search held at Security Square Mall in 2000).

"I'm getting a lot of love from [those who have e-mailed] the Web site, and it's not as bad as I thought it would be," says Jessica. "I'm going to bring a different style, flavor and personality to the group."

Benson's first performance with the group was during the Big East Conference when 3LW sang the national anthem before a basketball game. Since then the group has appeared on Live With Regis and Kelly and at the Soul Train Music Awards.

"The best experience so far was getting to meet all of the other artists and celebrities [including Mariah Carey, a personal favorite], and especially the Grammy party," she says.

But it isn't all glamour and glitz.

"They lead stricter lives than what the public would believe," says Kay Benson.

Members of 3LW are not allowed to go anywhere without their manager, who is Kiely Williams' mother, and at many high-profile parties, they pose for pictures, mingle and make early exits.

Jessica says she remains focused on learning the music business, her home schooling and hanging out with her old friends when she finds a break in her schedule.

"She has been my best friend for so long. I always knew she was going to be somebody," says Laly Fernandez. "When I first heard her sing, I was blown away. I never really heard anyone sing like that before."

Kay Benson says her family has no immediate plans to move to L.A. or New Jersey, and adds that she doesn't expect her daughter to forget where she came from.

"She will be washing the dishes and doing her chores like she always has. She will always just be Jessica to me."

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