Serenity Jones wins FBISF Youth Songwriters Showcase
16 year-old writes songs that are “spooky, fun & entertaining”
By Fran Thompson
At 16 years old, Serenity Jones has already built a resume that would do parents Cameron and Jane proud. And that was way before she won the recent Frank Brown Songwriters Fest Youth Showcase at Lulu’s.
The talented teen tested into the Pensacola State College Charter Academy and will earn both an associate college degree and a high school diploma next May. She was the top player on the tennis team (her dad is a teaching pro) and was a first chair trombonist in the jazz band and in the marching band at her previous school, Escambia. She wrote her first song for a county wide student competition when she was at Baily Middle School and took second place. She sang solo in the Escambia High School Jazz Band and school choir, and she just learned she will be a soloist in her Charter Academy choir/band.
That is quite a resume for someone who began writing songs when she was 12 or 13 almost by accident. “I never really tried to write songs or anything. Random licks and melodies just come to me all the time,’’ she said. “My mind is going in different directions all the time, and part of that is writing spooky songs, I guess. I asked the judges and they also came to that concensus. My music doesn’t really fit into one genre.’’
FBISF selects youth songwriters for its annual showcase online and the finals are presented before an audience of students from surrounding schools.
The contest judges were Karen Reynolds, director of the program for the past 20 years, and fellow instructors Perry Bonck, Cody Johnson and Doug Drake.
Reynolds said contestants’ scores were based on songwriting skill, musical skill, stage presence, understanding their instrument/gear and overall performance.
“Serenity was composed and has excellent writing and performing skills,’’ Reynolds said. “She scored higher in just about all categories. Her ability to capture and hold the attention of the audience was impressive for someone so young.”
Serenity said she has written 15 to 20 songs and has almost that many “floating around’’ in her head. Most often, she comes up with fun melodies andß her lyrics together.
“I don’t really work at it,’’ she said. “I just come up with random ideas with my guitar or ukulele and I write them down and record them on my phone.’’
Although obviously an accomplished musician and athlete, Serenity said she is self taught on guitar and just strums what works with the song.
“I do aspire to get much better on guitar,’’ she said. “That was one of the critiques that Karen had. She said I need to get better at guitar, and I plan to get better.’’
Her song that won judges over in the competition, “Beige Covered Quicksand,’’ is an absurd conglomeration of ideas about working really hard but feeling like you are never going to get anywhere, she said.
“My mom was in the Air Force and I always thought that is what I would do, but after hearing me sing “White Christmas’’ in the school choir in the eighth grade Christmas concert, she said to me ‘this is what you need to do,’’’ Serenity said.
“It’s a tough career. I have apprehension. There’s lots of competition, but that’s OK.’’
Serenity said she enjoys the spotlight on stage, and although this was the first completion where she has played her own songs in front of judges, she was not nervous.
“The judges said I won with my banter. I am good at saying random things and getting people to laugh,’’ she said.
“I didn’t expect to win. Everybody around me was amazing. One of the girls had already put out a record. I wasn’t confident I was going to win,’’ she added. “I just went in saying I am going to do my best. The others were all great and I enjoyed listening to them. I really was just happy to be there regardless. Getting to perform original music anywhere is great whether you win or not.’’
Serenity said she was also happy to meet the students who came to LuLu’s for the competition. “There were kids all around me saying they liked my music afterwards. I made a bunch of friends,’’ she said.
She also made additional friends while attending the FBISF’s first ever youth songwriters workshop, a seminar the program director hopes to continue.
“We feel as if we are making a true difference in the lives of students, whether they pursue music or not,’’ Reynolds said.
Serenity has friends that are going to record and produce eight of her songs for a college senior thesis project. But she said she would rather tour to create a revenue stream than go to college to study music.
“There would not be a need (for college),’’ she said. “You can find all the info you need on the internet, if you look for it. It’s not that I don’t think it would be helpful. It’s just not for me. I think my time would be better spent marketing myself and working the business side of it.’’
The showcase win earned her a cash scholarship from the FBISF Foundation, a spot as a featured artist in next year’s fest and production of a single with release/distribution assistance from Reynolds. The single will be recorded, produced, and mastered through an all-student effort via a music technology program at Gulf Shores High School.
“Serenity strikes me as the type of individual who will take every bit of information she receives and use it to the very best of her ability to follow her dreams,’’ said Reynolds. “It’s going to be exciting to watch as her career develop. Every year I am impressed by the young writers level of talent and skill.
“What primarily improves each year is the diversity of the artists. The different skills and genres.”
Serenity plays open mic at The Front Porch in Lillian and Gallery Night in Downtown Pensacola and she has friends that are going to record and produce eight of her songs for a college senior thesis project. She expects those songs to be available on the usual platforms within one year. (Her Instagram account is serenityjonesmusic.)
Meanwhile, she is going to follow her own muse, which already includes a preference for Bing Crosby and Etta James rather than the classic rock her parents weened her on.
“I know what I do is not everybody’s cup of tea,’’ she said. “But it helped me win the songwriters competition.’’