Trophy is just the beginning for Edmonton Juno winner

Quanteisha Benjamin had a mouth full of mashed potatoes when her name was announced as the winner of R&B Recording of the Year at the Juno Awards Gala Dinner in Toronto on March 26.

She didn’t expect to win. The first thing the 18-year-old Edmonton singer said to the crowd of Canada’s top music industry people was, “Man, I didn’t even have time to ask my mom if I had anything in my teeth.” (She didn’t; no chives on the mashed potatoes). And her parting shot was to point out that didn’t actually have a record company or a personal manager at that moment, “So if you’re interested, call me.”

Talk about a well-placed pitch. Her phone’s been ringing off the hook ever since (and tweeting off wherever tweets hang). As Benjamin accepted her trophy, she became the youngest Juno winner ever to come from Edmonton. We’re not even going to bother to check that fact – so few Juno winners come from Edmonton as it is. It’s a simple matter of geography and demographics. There are simply a lot more people and bigger music scenes in other cities – such as Toronto.

That she’s getting out of Edmonton as soon as possible is really the only thing she says she’s sure of at the moment. Our loss, sadly, but it’s for the best. Maybe if she were a country singer or a metal chick. But Edmonton has such a small R&B scene that most serious practitioners don’t have enough to do – so they leave, which ironically keeps the scene small. And while it’s been said that the Internet has allowed creative people to do what they want from ANYWHERE, “that’s not really how it is,” Benjamin says. Human contact is critical to success in the music business, and so is being immersed in a big-city music scene with all its industry opportunities and close proximity to many like-minded musicians. Yes, Toronto is the obvious place to go for a young R&B singer from Edmonton.

Remember that Benjamin didn’t just win the “best new artist” trophy (there’s a dark truth behind the old joke that this is the “kiss of death award”). No, her song was chosen by a panel of learned R&B music experts from among the top Canadian R&B tracks made in 2010. This award is strictly about the quality of the music, not how many records were sold. Benjamin even beat out Keshia Chanté, whose videos Benjamin used to watch when she was little.

Needless to say, “I was surprised when I won.”

Her winning song, Stars, is one of those empowering “follow your dreams” sort of anthems that would’ve been a perfect Canadian Idol single (oh, if only that show were still on the air). The dream in question is clear enough: she wants to be a star – and nothing’s going to stand in her way. After winning the Bounce 91.7’s Bounce Showdown Talent Search in 2008, Benjamin says she got some grief from the kids at Ross Sheppard High School – “nothing major, just people talking, but it still was hard to deal with,” she recalls. She poured her emotions into writing Stars, which is co-written by Rupert Gayle, who has in fact written songs for Canadian Idol contestants. Sample lyric: “This is what I want. No, I’ll never quit, won’t give up, so don’t try to convince me. Ain’t backin’ down, no, nothing’s going to stop me.” And so on, over a groovy dance beat.

Benjamin calls her new Juno award the “biggest musical achievement of my life.” Let’s hope that the MUSIC she ends up making will be the biggest musical achievement of her life – not the awards she’s going to get for it. The Juno could be the first of many trophies to come. This is only the beginning.