Louisiana’s loss is Houston’s gain, as this year’s Pride SuperStar is Shreveport’s own Jasmine Branch, whose stage name is “JassyB.”
Branch moved to Baytown in March, just a few weeks before auditions to field 12 finalists for the 2018 Pride SuperStar competition at Rich’s, where Branch was crowned the winner on June 14.
She arrived here on the wings of love.
“My partner brought me here,” Branch explains. “Throughout the competition, she pushed me. She motivated me. She was my support system.”
At the competition’s grand finale, each of the three finalists sang two songs. Branch performed “Masterpiece” by Jessie J and “Can’t Give Up Now” by the gospel duo Mary Mary’s 2000. When Elise Zamora was announced as second runner-up, that left Branch standing with Mark Winburn.
Branch held both competitors in high esteem. “Elise is so genuine. She is very sweet and very caring. She made sure everybody was doing okay. Mark Winburn, wow! When I first heard him, I thought, ‘You can sing like that?’ He was my duet partner for duets week. We sang Sam Smith’s ‘Stay with Me.’”
In all seven weeks of competition, contestants had to master challenging themes, explains judge Jeremy Fain, a Houston relocation specialist, secretary of Pride Houston, Inc., and a former college music professor. Other judges in the American Idol-style competition were Michael Walsh and Ernie Manouse.
The performers began the competition by introducing themselves in song. Branch, for example, chose “Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara.
“You should know you’re beautiful just the way you are,” Branch sang. “And you don’t have to change a thing; the world could change its heart.”
Caressing those lyrics, Branch thought of her father, who was murdered by two strangers in a senseless act three years ago in San Diego. “I’m just like him,” she says.
Her father’s murder, along with her stepmother’s death from liver cancer eight months prior, “humbled me,” says Branch. “It taught me to never take anything for granted again.”
Branch, now 29, was living in Chicago with a partner who was both mentally and physically abusive. She returned a year or so ago to Shreveport, where she was her high school’s go-to girl for singing the national anthem.
“Football games, ring-ding ceremonies, ROTC ceremonies: any time they needed someone to sing the national anthem, it was always me,” she says. “I sang at many weddings and funerals. You can ask anybody there about me, and they will say, ‘She’s the girl that sings.’”
Branch was “emotionally bruised” following her breakup when she began corresponding on Facebook with Jay Bergeron, a Baytown native who works in the area’s chemical plants. “I hated myself. I didn’t pursue singing; I didn’t pursue anything. Jay helped build back my self-esteem.”
Three times during their yearlong courtship on Facebook, Branch visited Bergeron in Baytown. The more they got to know each other, the more alike they seemed to be.
“We eat the same things. We are both kid-less. We are identical,” says Branch, who currently works as a Kroger cashier in Baytown. However, her sights are now set on a singing career.
During the competition’s divas week, Branch says, “I sang ‘Halo’ by Beyoncé, and that is when I felt like I had a vocal range and capacity and greatness. I felt like I pulled everybody into the song, including the judges. I thought, ‘I might just win this.’”
Branch planned to reprise “Halo” at last month’s Houston Pride Festival that was held downtown in Hermann Square. That opportunity to showcase her talent is a prize she won in the Pride SuperStar competition, along with $1,000, recording time, and a seat at the front end of Houston’s ruby-anniversary Pride parade.
This month, Branch will jet to Dallas in hopes of winning an opportunity to compete on The Voice, the Emmy Award-winning singing competition on NBC. She hopes to mirror the success of Christina Wells, the 2016 Pride SuperStar, who recently won a standing ovation from the audience and all four judges on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
“I love that girl,” Branch says of the guest judge at this year’s competition. “She really built up my confidence by showing that you can be good enough, even if you’re not the prettiest, skinniest person ever.”
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.