Jennifer Smestad grew up listening to a homestyle mix of 90s country, from Garth Brooks to Faith Hill to Shania Twain. She has been entertaining crowds since she was three years old and often shared the stage with her big sister in a singing and dancing group. Despite her obvious talent and drive to perform, she encountered challenges early on that nearly derailed her ambitions. “When I was 10-years-old, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, OCD, and social anxiety. It was so severe, I would drop out of a lot of my recitals because I was so afraid to go sing, let alone even be in public.”
Faith and family were the anchors that helped her through that tumultuous period in her life. “My family was so supportive. Without them, it would have been much harder. When one person is diagnosed with that, it’s like the whole family is diagnosed. Their support, the power of prayer, and my acupuncture specialist, Dr. Jing Liu, made a world of difference. It changed my life.”
Gilbert, Arizona native. Country music venues like Last Exit Live, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, The Rebel Lounge, Old Town Tavern, and Roosters Country are nearby your hometown. If you were to plan an Arizona dream tour, which venues will you be playing at?
Surprisingly I haven’t been to many of these venues, but from what venues I do know, the dream would be to play at Ak-Chin Pavilion, Gila River Arena, Talking Stick Resort Arena, Country Thunder, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Crescent Ballroom, Orpheum Theatre, Chandler Center for the Arts, and Pepsi Amphitheater!
“It got so hard I even had thoughts of taking my own life after not wanting to go out in public.” Tourette Syndrome. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Social Anxiety. Five years after the diagnosis at age 10, you were cured with the use of acupuncture and herbs. Read that music has also been medicine for your toughest times. If you were to create a playlist to help others, which songs would be on it?
There is no known cure to Tourette Syndrome and OCD, but it can get significantly better. For me, the acupuncture and herbs changed my life and drastically decreased all of my symptoms, and I am so grateful for that! Music has healing powers, too. I have a huge list of songs I would include on a playlist to help others!! Some include “The Dance” by Garth Brooks, “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, “I Still Talk to Jesus” by LANY, “Day One” by Carly Pearce, “Here As In Heaven” by Elevation Worship, “Nothing Else” by Cody Carnes, “Even If” by MercyMe, “Stop This Train” by John Mayer, “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, “So Small” by Carrie Underwood, “I Could Use a Love Song” by Maren Morris, “Shower the People” by James Taylor, and “Letter to Me” by Brad Paisley. And I’ve got plenty of more!!
“I’m inspired by overcoming my fears.” Pageants. Named Miss Maricopa in 2012. The following year, you represented Arizona in the Miss America Competition. It was on that national stage that you spoke about Tourette Syndrome Awareness and Advocacy. What resources are available for children to overcome the challenges of the neurodevelopment disorder?
I highly recommend trying out acupuncture and herbs! My acupuncture doctor is phenomenal. Her name is Dr. Jing Liu of Eastern Medicine Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. I would also suggest staying physically active every day, as it can decrease symptoms, as well as maintain a healthy diet full of healthy nutrients. Too many sugars and processed foods can affect the mind and these type of disorders negatively. If the child is willing, I think it’s important to see a counselor/therapist and be under the care of a psychologist and/or psychiatrist who specializes in neurodevelopment disorders. I didn’t want anything to do with counseling when I was a kid, but I’m all about it now as an adult! I definitely wish I would’ve been willing to talk through my challenges with a counselor at a younger age.
Faith. Family. Moving to Nashville in 2016, to pursue your musical dreams as a singer/songwriter, with ‘nothing but a Bible and clear vision.’ What are some of the inspirational Bible verses that have helped strengthen your connection to God?
I went to a private Christian school from 4th to 8th grade, and our school verse was Isaiah 40:31. It has remained one of my favorites to this day!
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31
2 Corinthians 4:16–18 is also one of my go-to’s, as it reminds me that momentary struggles are temporary and they actually build strength. This verse shifts my mind to have an eternal perspective instead of a worldly perspective. I quoted this verse as the student speaker at my college graduation.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16–18
“Find Me Here,” co-written with Robert Ricotta, shares a message for those dealing with infertility, miscarriages, and infant loss. The song was written after your sister miscarried twins. How did you start the songwriting process?
It took me seven months before I felt brave enough to write this song, but I always knew I had to do it at some point. Even if it was just for my own personal healing or to give as a gift to my sister. I never expected to record it, but after writing it, I felt called to release the song into the world. It took a very special person to write this song with and I’m glad it was Robert. I mentioned to him that I wanted to write a song about what my sister and family were going through, but it was too painful for me to write by myself and I was scared. He offered to help me write it, and God was with us during the write that day. The chorus poured out to Rob on his way to the write, so when he showed up he already had the chorus written, and it was perfect. We finished the verses together and made a few tweaks in an hour and fifteen minutes. This was unintentionally a few days before Mother’s Day, so we quickly recorded a demo and gave it to my sister as a Mother’s Day gift.
The lyrics of “Half The Man,” tell how high your dad has set the bar for your future partner. Co-written with Josh Matheny and Erik Halbig, what was it like when you played the song the first time for your dad?
I wrote “Half the Man” in May of 2019 and wanted to professionally record it so I could give it to my dad as a Father’s Day gift in June 2019, but I was too impatient and texted the day-of work-tape to him that had plenty of mess-ups. I didn’t get to see his reaction in person, but he really loved it, and still loves it, of course! He tells me that he feels honored and proud. I’m glad he got to be a part of the entire process, seeing how the song grew from an unconfident phone recording to the first mix in the studio to the final product!
You had fans share a special memory with their own dads. Can you share one with your dad?
There are so many special memories I have with my dad! Some of my favorites include riding on the back of his motorcycle with him and practicing softball in our backyard or at the park. He has always been present, fun, and supportive.
“JOY is experiencing, understanding, and accepting the love of God.” JOY, your word for 2021, can be difficult to attain. What would your message be for others feeling disconnected through the pandemic?
To me, there’s a huge difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is determined by your situation, but joy is deep within. We can experience joy even when we’re upset or going through a tough season. I have joy because I have Jesus. We were never promised an easy life, but we were promised the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, humility, and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). I don’t always do a great job at pulling myself out of negative spiral, but I’m always restored and filled up by Jesus and joy.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
“So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.”
“At the beginning of 2020, I set a big goal to sign a publishing deal within a year. I can’t believe it’s a year later and it’s actually happening! I’m so grateful to Barry [Weiss}, Jenna [Andrews], and TwentySeven [Music Publishing] for believing in me and taking a chance on me.” How does a publishing deal work for an artist?
Good question… haha! I am still learning every day. Publishing is the songwriting side of the music business, so for me that means being in rooms with other incredible songwriters to help me write the best songs possible! It’s also a goal of mine to get some cuts from other artists, as well!
“I can’t believe I let you string me along like that.” “Can’t Have Mine” is about someone who can’t make up their mind about you, and you’ve realized you deserve better than this. What inspired the co-write with Shelby Darrall and Noby Sidez?
We wrote this song based off of personal experiences. Shelby came into the write with the idea, “you took your time, now you can’t have mine”, which was inspired by something she was going through. It was easy for me to personally relate and remember that I felt this way in previous relationships, too. We poured all of those real emotions and experiences into this song and the lyrics and melodies came to us pretty naturally and quickly.
What trends do you see for the music industry for the rest of 2021 and into next year?
I think the fans have a big say when it comes to picking songs they want their favorite artists to release. Social media has allowed artists and songwriters to share snippets of their songs, and the listeners speak up when they hear a song they want recorded. I think this is a popular trend that will continue.