What do Paula Abdul, Michelle Kwan, Tim Shriver, Cheryl Tiegs, Tara Guber, Carter Oosterhouse, Amy Smart, and Rob Light all have in common? They are all close friends of Los Angeles-based Jimmy Demers and, along with numerous other high profile figures in the entertainment industry and beyond, they predict that soon the rest of the world will discover what they’ve known all along.
Demers, who was called “the greatest male vocalist in the world” by pop superstar and former American Idol and X-Factor judge, Paula Abdul, was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. He moved to L.A. in 1984. His first big break came when he was signed by John McClain to Interscope Records and became a member of the R&B/Pop boy band, Truth Inc., in 1992. Throughout the ‘90s he also recorded jingles for prominent clients like AOL, Chevrolet, McDonald’s and the innovative worldwide “Always Coca-Cola” campaign.
Sought out for his backing vocals, Demers has worked with such music luminaries as Cher, Garth Brooks, Dionne Warwick and Patti LaBelle, and alongside music honchos like Diane Warren, David Foster, Giorgio Moroder and Tim Rice.
His debut album, Dream A Little, was produced by Terry Coffey for the Concord Music Group in 2008 and received critical praise. The words and music to several of the songs on Dream A Little were written by Demers’ brother, Donnie, with whom he has collaborated professionally since he was 4 years old.
It was at that time that Donnie, who was born with muscular dystrophy and couldn’t go out to play because he was wheelchair–bound, was given a toy piano, which he taught himself to play. He also began writing songs and enlisted his younger brother, Jimmy, to sing. They have performed together ever since.
The Demers brothers have traveled the world extensively and performed together in the closing ceremonies for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai, China. They also performed in sold-out shows at the Oak Room, Feinstein’s at Lowes Regency in New York City and in 2010 at The Skoll World Forum Awards at The Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, England.
Additionally, Jimmy Demers has been a featured singer at sporting events all over the U.S., singing The Star-Spangled Banner for the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks baseball games, and many others.
Currently, Demers writes a monthly blog for The Huffington Post.
Recognized for his uncommon talent, artistic reputation and professional track record, one would think that Demers would have broken through to a wider audience by now. Stardom up to now has eluded him, however, that may soon change due to an enviable opportunity that has come his way.
Recently, ovalpike.com spoke by phone with Demers who was calling from L.A. where he spent the entire month of March recording for a new album at the well-known Westlake and Village Recording Studios. This writer also communicated with Donnie Demers and some of Jimmy Demers’ closest friends, who are also his biggest and most enthusiastic cheerleaders.
Demers, who has been previously described as a pop, adult contemporary and adult alternative singer, says that he doesn’t like to categorize or limit himself. Drawn to lyric-driven music, Demers says that the album, consisting mostly of songs composed by Donnie, is “beautiful music.” He adds, “I sing music that moves me. On this particular project we have some love songs, some world songs and some dance songs; there is a variety of stuff on it.”
Some of the finest and most respected musicians in the recording industry are participating in the project. They include JR Robinson on drums, Michael Thompson on guitar, Randy Kerber on piano and Neil Stubenhaus on bass, and a string section for some of the album’s songs arranged by Kenny Werner, Corey Allen and Tom Zink.
As far as whether the album has a working title or a potential release date, Demers says, “I’m just recording songs right now. I am not thinking of the finished product. That’s just not of any concern to me. I just want to make beautiful music. Whatever happens to these songs and whatever happens down the road will happen.”
Demers also says, “I have no record deal, no agent, no manager. There is no team assembled for this. This is basically a gift from the heart. My friends, Jeff and Diane, wanted to finance a project of these songs so we’ll see what happens once we record them.”
The friends that Demers speaks of are Jeff Skoll and Diane Meyer Simon. As co-executive producers of the album, they are committed to not only getting it out into the marketplace but making sure that it is successful in reaching the widest audience possible.
Skoll, a Canadian entrepreneur (he was the first president of Ebay) is also a philanthropist and founder of the Skoll Foundation. A film producer, he also founded and is chairman and owner of Participant Media, a production company that makes movies (Inception and The Help) and documentaries (An Inconvenient Truth) that promote social values.
Diane Meyer Simon, of Montecito, California, is a nationally and internationally known environmental, women’s rights, animal rights and arts activist and catalyst. She is president emeritus of Global Green USA, an environmental organization she co-founded with former Russian president, Mikhail S.Gorbachev.
Skoll and Simon both met Demers separately through mutual friends. Upon hearing him sing they were both smitten by his talent. While attending the wedding of other mutual friends — film and television actress, Amy Smart, and HGTV personality, Carter Oosterhouse — in Traverse City, Michigan early last fall, the two of them heard Demers and his brother perform My Heart is Home (a song Donnie wrote especially for the couple) at the reception, and afterwards they made the decision to sponsor them.
While sitting around after the wedding with a group that included Jimmy, Donnie and their close friend and skating icon, Michelle Kwan, Simon says, “I looked at Jeff and said, ‘We need to produce another album for these two guys. Are you in?’ and he said, ‘Absolutely.’ That was how and when the decision was made.”
Skoll remembers that “after the wedding, we all sat together under a beautiful starlit sky. We talked about Jimmy and Donnie doing another album together and Diane and I agreed to sponsor it on the spot. We wanted them to be unencumbered and free to do exactly what they wanted. Now, they are in the studio and everything we had imagined is coming true. I’m so happy for them and happy for us. It isn’t every day when someone gets to be a patron of the arts for such talented artists. We want the world to hear their wonderful music.”
“It’s been awesome. We’ve had an amazing time creating music. We’ve been in an environment that can only make the creative process much better because we were told to just go in, make beautiful music, don’t worry about anything else and stay in the present,” says Donnie.
Overseeing the creative process during the recording was Atlanta-based producer Terry Coffey, a longtime friend and collaborator of Demers (he also produced Dream A Little) who also co-wrote some of the songs on the album with Donnie. Coffey first met Demers when they performed (and recorded an album) in Truth, Inc. Coffey also produced the original “Always Coca-Cola” campaign for which Demers was the first voice.
“Terry has been so great in this process,” says Donnie, who adds, “He has been able to translate my ideas without treading on those very delicate grounds that brothers tend to go to and because of that, we’ve been able to get a really exquisite product from Jimmy. His vocals are really amazing on this album.”
“It’s going great. The music sounds wonderful. Jimmy is in the best voice I have ever heard him in. He’s at the top of his game,” says Coffey, who was contacted shortly before the recording was completed in mid-April. “The songs are very lush. They represent all the colors that Jimmy has in his voice and the songs really showcase his vocal abilities. They seem like they should be classics already. We have something for everyone. You’ll find very classic-sounding ballads on the project. You’ll also find contemporary-sounding material as well.”
“Jimmy is a chameleon as a vocalist and has phenomenal control of his gift, so the material goes from one extreme to the other. We have a song that’s very reminiscent of the Beatles in its approach and the production. Then we also have one that sounds like it could be a country hit. The tracks are very different but the connecting part of it all is that his vocals smoothly blend it all together. His vocals make it work. I am in awe of his voice. I have never worked with a singer with his enormous range. It’s fun to work with him because you never know what he is going to do.”
Coffey mentions that there is one particular song on the 10-track album — co-written by him and Donnie — which he’s convinced will resonate with listeners. “It’s called Message to the World. It’s kind of inspiring. It has African rhythms in it and we have a children’s choir — chosen by choral director Maxi Anderson — singing the chorus. It’s extremely joyful and uplifting. We are very excited about that song in particular.”
According to Coffey, it seems that Demers’ music is truly an extension of Demers the human being. “I can’t imagine life without him. As a friend he has brought so much to my life. Because of him as a person and his talent, he has taken me to a higher level than I thought I could ever be. Even if he weren’t a vocalist he would still be the closest and best friend I ever had. I learn so much from him. Jimmy is a people person first, before he’s a vocalist. People are more important to him than anything. I have actually never known anybody who knows over 10,000 people and can tell you a particular thing about each person. I get it why people are so drawn to him because he is so genuine. He really does love people and always puts them before himself.”
Coffey’s observations regarding Jimmy’s character mirror that of those who know him the best and who say that his artistry is truly an inseparable extension of who is.
“Jimmy was born with many gifts. One is his ability to have this incredible vocal range, and then to harness that and turn it into music. My mom used to call him the ‘singing bird.’ He’s one of the greatest singers there is but not because he works at it but because that’s just who he is. He’s also a great social person as well. If he wasn’t a singer, he would have been a politician. He loves people more than anything. That’s a gift in and of itself. The more people he can meet the happier he is. He just loves weaving in and out people’s lives — touching them and having them touch him,” says Donnie.
Amy Smart and Carter Oosterhouse credit Jimmy, who was a mutual friend to both of them, for not only introducing them but also playing cupid — resulting in their wedding and the opportunity for the Demers brothers to perform (the song they sung will be on the album), and hence, inspire Simon and Skoll to be their patrons. “Jimmy is one of my closest friends and I love him so much. He can light up a room and make people feel inspired and laugh and feel happy. He’s got a really magnetic personality,” says Smart. “Listening to Jimmy sing is a visceral experience and he really knows how to command a room,” says Oosterhouse, who adds, “He’s such a charismatic person. With this record, he does have the potential to become widely known because of his connections but he would never use them to slide something in. That’s not who he is. He would want to make it because of his talent. He has pure integrity.”
Cheryl Tiegs, who met Demers over ten years ago in a yoga class, says she first heard his voice when he sang in her car. “He doesn’t hold anything back; it was quite powerful and a real treat.” Tiegs reinforces a reoccurring theme regarding Demers’ raison d’être when she says, “He’s very spiritual, in the way of always thinking about other people, thinking good thoughts, being kind to others, meditating, praying and grounding himself as much as he can. He doesn’t lie and doesn’t talk badly of other people. I look up to him. It’s important to have friends who you admire and want to emulate.”
Tara Guber, who operates a L.A. yoga studio, says she first met Demers when he came to take a class. “Jimmy met me and then he professed how much he loved me and cared about me and how great I was. I didn’t trust anybody so open and loving and so present and intent on expressing his gratitude and appreciation for me or anybody in his life he cares about. And over the years, I discovered that indeed Jimmy is everything he appears to be. He’s such a loving soul. He’s authentic and it’s shocking sometimes to meet someone who is so willing to be vulnerable and open to being exactly who he is.” Gruber laughs when she adds, “Nobody does a room like Jimmy does a room. Before he leaves he has everybody’s email and telephone number.”
Tim Shriver, Chairman and CEO of Special Olympics and son of the late Sargent and Eunice Kennedy Shriver, is another friend of Jimmy’s and Donnie’s through their long association with the organization for which they have regularly volunteered their talents. “As an entertainer and an artist and as a human being, he projects extraordinary love and gentleness. Those are soft-sounding words but I think they actually reflect Jimmy and Donnie. Jimmy came to our functions and was always ready to sing, always ready to reach out to someone. He’s so incredibly empathic with our volunteers, family members and athletes — the kind of guy who can’t get enough of human goodness.”
Michelle Kwan, who knows a thing or two about fame resulting from a gift for communicating and expressing oneself in front of an audience, first met Jimmy and Donnie when the brothers performed at the 2009 Special Olympics World Winter Olympics (she serves on its board) in Boise, Idaho. Making a prediction regarding the album’s potential, she says, “I won’t be surprised if Jimmy’s popularity grows and his fan base gets larger. Both Jimmy and Donnie have wonderful hearts, so hopefully the music and lyrics will resonate with others and this album will bring happiness and expose their talents to the world.”
Super-agent Rob Light is head of the music department, member of the management board and partner at Creative Artists Agency (CAA), and is one of the most powerful men in the recording industry. He doesn’t represent Demers but is a big fan. He says he first heard Jimmy and Donnie perform years ago when he and his wife attended a friend’s small cocktail party and the host asked the Demers brothers to do a couple of songs. “I am very fortunate to be in the music business, so I hear lots of people sing in lots of different settings. He gets up to the piano and truly this gift comes out of his mouth. He has an astoundingly beautiful voice. Afterwards I went up to him as I would with anyone who is talented and we became friends and have stayed friends ever since because he is one of the most spiritual and upbeat people I know.”
When asked about Demers’ potential, Light says he wishes he could focus on everyone he meets who is talented, but that would be impossible. “I represent a lot of clients who are talented but I’m not sure I can impact what Jimmy does until he has a record deal or a TV appearance or something like that. What I try to do is help artists by being an advocate until they can connect to the next level. So, I am an advocate for Jimmy and when people ask about him, like you, I say ‘this is a truly gifted man’ and in a world where there are a lot of talented singers, it’s hard to break through. As a fan, I hope that right moment will happen and the right thing clicks in.”
As far as Demers’ album, Light says, “I think he’s finally putting something down that can be distributed, and that is a real positive. I hope it will allow him the opportunity to sing in settings where he can be discovered. My hope is that this record will help expose him to people who will give him a shot, and if the material is right, there will be that song that connects and people will discover him.”
“My prediction is that the vehicle is there and it will open a lot of doors for him, and when they open people will take notice because he is that talented. He’s the most spiritual, upbeat person I know and it is infectious, and if I were going to make a prediction, I would bet on him to succeed. He’s one of those guys you root for and I root for him. As someone who has been blessed and fortunate to make a living in this business, I hope he gets that opportunity. He deserves it. The fact that Diane and Jeff are giving a chance at that opportunity wills the first of many doors to open for him. No one will be disappointed if they open a door for him, I promise you that.”
If Demers were to achieve stardom, would he be able to handle the fame? Donnie says, “Jimmy would be able to handle any kind of fame. In fact, when we went over to China — that culture was so embracing, you can become a celebrity overnight — we performed at the closing ceremonies of the 2007 World Summer Games for Special Olympics in front of 65,000 people, and the next day Jimmy couldn’t go anywhere without people asking for autographs. He was so naturally embracing of all of that, and that was looking at the future and knowing that he can definitely handle that kind of attention. I only worry, however, that fame would take away the beauty of his anonymity and what makes him reach out to strangers as opposed to them reaching out to him.”
As far as success on a large scale, Demers says he would be ever grateful for it and believes “it would take a lot more than fame to make me ever forget from where I came.” “I’ve lived long enough to know it’s all an illusion. If you allow yourself to be lifted too high by outside praise, you then allow yourself to be brought down by any outside criticism. There’s a happy medium there, somewhere. The lucky ones find it. I think we’re rarely given more than we can handle, so if fame and success are on the horizon, I hope I’m a lucky one. And by lucky I mean I hope I’m prepared for it when it comes, and I hope I’m prepared for it when it leaves,” says Demers.
Demers is acutely aware that he is at a crossroads when he says, “In many ways I feel as though I have lived the last thirty years to be in this very moment because it was thirty years ago I recorded my very first song. I have lived much of my life with a voice that always felt bigger than I was. But that is no longer my story. I have a newfound respect for my voice, and I guess, for me, that is something that came only with time and the experience of being alive.”
Regarding what may well be the vehicle that conveys his message to the world, Demers says, “As a singer, my wish is that when someone hears my voice, they are reminded of who they are and why they came. If I can in some way remind another human being of their own great self-worth, then for me, I can’t imagine a greater gift.”
“For the first time in my life I know I’ve earned every note I’ll ever sing. And to have completed what I can only describe as the project of my dreams, well, thirty years feels like a rather small price to pay for such a beautiful gift.”
To hear Jimmy Demers’ music and see his videos, visit www.jimmydemers.org.