“I’m a desert girl. I love sunshine. I was always outside playing outside with my neighbor, with my sister, and swimming,” shares Jennifer Smestad, a Chandler High School graduate, recalling her childhood growing up on the border of Chandler/Gilbert. “[My parents’ house is] on a manmade lake, so I’d go on a boat ride and play games. I just love Arizona, and I just can’t say enough great things about Arizona. I miss Arizona.”
I speak with Smestad from her home in Nashville. She’s returned there after spending two months at home with her parents in Arizona during quarantine. And as much as she loves Arizona and loved being home, Nashville pulls at her singer/songwriter’s heart.
Smestad moved there four years ago to follow her dreams of being a country singer, and now she is taking Nashville by storm.
A Born Singer—Until the Shyness Took Over
Smestad has been singing “pretty much my whole life,” she says. “At 3 years old, my mom put me and my sister in a singing and dancing group. My sister was 5. We sang together a lot growing up, and it really stuck with me.”
She participated in vocal lessons and a few recitals—until she turned 10. That year, she was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Social Anxiety.
“I was so afraid to be in front of anyone, especially because I didn’t want them to find out I was different,” she says. “It was very severe for years.”
Too shy and anxious to be in front of people, she stopped performing—even though she dreamed of one day moving to Nashville and being a country star.
In fact, until partway through high school, no one except her closest friends even knew she could sing.
“I wanted to join student council,” she says. “But to join you had to give a speech to your entire class, which was about 800 people. I wanted it so badly though, and I knew I’d regret it if I wasn’t in student council. So, I switched the lyrics to a popular song at the time and I sang about why I should be in it.”
From that moment on, all of her classmates not only knew that she could sing, but that she had immense talent. And yes, she was chosen to join student council!
Smestad counts her time at Chandler High as a highlight in her life.
“I was an honors student, on student council, and on the cheer team,” she says. “I loved Chandler High School and I can’t say enough good things about it. The teachers are great and the campus is great. I have the best memories.”
Coming Out of Her Shell
In addition to her decision to perform in high school, Smestad tried Chinese acupuncture with Dr. Jing Liu in Scottsdale, as well as herbs, to help her conditions.
“They changed my life,” she says. “I really believe that between that, the support of my family, and my mom, who had a huge prayer group praying for me constantly, it changed my life.”
After high school Smestad attended Grand Canyon University. During that time, she sang the national anthem at Arizona Diamondbacks games and various Spring Training games. She was also on the worship team at her church, and joined a cover band.
“So I was kinda doin’ singing, randomly, everywhere!”
Competing in the Miss America Competition
“So I was singing the national anthem around so I was getting more used to being in public, but still, I promised myself I would never do public speaking in college. And then, my friend was Miss Arizona 2011, and I went to watch her at Miss America to support her. On the way back, I said to my parents and my sister, ‘I think I want to do this.’ They were like, ‘What? What do you mean? You’ve never done a pageant in your life, this is so random!’”
She followed through, competing in a local pageant—and was named first runner-up.
So she competed in another—and again was named first runner-up.
Her next pageant, she won. And nine months after that, she was crowned Miss Arizona.
After winning the Miss Arizona title, she went on to compete in the Miss America Competition in Atlantic City.
Finding the platform she wanted to support throughout pageant life was easy—Tourette syndrome awareness and advocacy.
“I realized that I was actually helping other people, and it was really cool to be able to inspire others, and to give hope to others who are going through the same or similar challenges.”
Launching a Music Career
Soon, Smestad made the move to Nashville.
Although she had begun writing songs at age 10—“looking back, they were hilarious, and awful!”—in Nashville, she tried her hand at co-writing.
“I had never done that before. It’s so different and I actually didn’t even want to be a songwriter when I moved to town, I just wanted to be an artist. I thought I’d just cut other songs that other writer’s wrote,” she shares.
But she tried it out and fell in love with the process.
“It helped me grow and know who I am as an artist.”
In October of 2019, Smestad released a song called “Find Me Here,” about her sister, who had lost twins in a miscarriage.
“I ended up writing and thought I’d just give it to her, but then I felt called to release it,” she shares. “It was a huge passion project for me and one of the most meaningful songs to me.”
She wanted to follow that up with other songs that were also meaningful to her, so in February of 2020, she released “Half The Man,” a song she wrote for her dad.
She uploaded “Half The Man” to TikTok—where it took off.
Smestad quickly found herself fielding offers from record labels, and eventually signed with RECORDS/Sony Music Nashville.
Today, Smestad has emerged as one of Nashville’s most impressive young artists. She’s smart and thoughtful, with a playful, sassy side that quickly endears her to audiences.
She’s busy promoting “Half The Man” (if you watch the video for it you’ll catch clips of her as a child, as well as of her family!), and she’s getting ready for the song to soon played on the radio. She’s also working on songs for her next EP.
“It all happened very quickly. Every now and then I’ll have time to relax and think about [all that’s happened] and I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, what’s happening? I can’t believe this, my dreams are coming true!’ and I’ll randomly freak out over it, in the best way.”