Montaigne is not your usual popstar. The Eurovision Australia Decides contestant - real name Jess Cerro (her stage name comes from French philosopher Montaigne) - doesn’t drink, do drugs, practices meditation, is an avowed vegan and was almost on track to play soccer professionally.
Cerro’s father Argentinian-born Gustavo played professional soccer for the Australian National Soccer League before moving to play in Malaysia, with his Spanish-Australian wife Martina in the 1990’s. Jess’s birth made the paper. A sister followed, before the couple who met and grew up in Australia settled back in Sydney.
Jess and her sister grew up in an immigrant, sport-loving, clean-living house that encouraged hard work.
“My dad was an athlete so I didn’t see him drinking in the house and we were discouraged to drink or take drugs. We were encouraged to work hard.”
“I think there are some elements to that that I really value growing up, but I also feel like I’m not good at having pure unadulterated fun.”
The 23-year-old self-described introvert says she prefers meditation and yoga, playing video games and reading to parties.
“I think maybe that’s just who I am! I’ve come to just accept that.”
“I feel healthier and better about myself and I feel I can give more attention to myself and the people I love if I focus on these things.”
“It’s great to let your hair your hair down – it’s an important part of being human…but I think it’s very easy thing to do and a lot of pop culture says do that kind of thing. I like to think of of myself as a balancing force in pop music.”
She does have a theory about the rock-star lifestyle, saying it could just be an antidote to boredom
“When people started touring…there was no internet! So, drugs and alcohol were a way of killing time - moments of solitude will drive you crazy. Now I have social media so I can get my dopamine hit there,” she laughs.
With both parents working multiple jobs to see her through private school, the Hills District girl relentlessly pursued soccer, helped by her football coach father. Music she thought was an impossible dream, and a hobby she could pursue on the side.
“I did not have the confidence to go on any of the shows like the Voice or X factor. I thought it just won’t happen. I will just have to do music in private as a hobby.”
The pair recorded a song Jess sung to use for a sports scholarship audition and ended up so pleased with the sound they uploaded it to a local radio station’s online platform for emerging artists. The song was picked up with Triple J, became a hit and led to her debut 2016 album Glorious Heights, winning her an ARIA for best breakthrough artist and her opening for Blondie and Cyndi Lauper – a dream run she herself can’t believe.
“I have to remind myself not to take it for granted. I’m very aware how strange and exceptional to the rule my life is.”
The introverted jock has been writing songs since she was a child as a form of therapy.
“It’s also good to give attention to your value and try to assess and think about your life, and think about why in fact things are difficult for you and within you.”
“It can be really f***king tough and even I still am wrestling with so many things.”
In her latest album Complex, the singer-songwriter work continues wrestling with demons with relationships, loneliness and body image. Her track ‘This All I Am Good For’ (opening line "every day I wake up and measure the skin around my waist”) details her experience burn-out and her grief at losing her athletic prowess.
"It was written during a period where I was extremely down on myself, not just because of my own insecurities, but I got very ill in a way I couldn't understand, and no specialist could understand. It's now medically recognised as burn out, which is amazing, but at the time I didn't have that diagnosis which really messed me up. “
“I had no energy and lost this fundamental part of myself and had to come to grips with that. I ended up feeling really lethargic and my body swelled and that bothered me because I’m a woman in the 21st century in a society that values women for their bodies and that was definitely personal.”
Eurovision - Australia Decides will be broadcast live from the Gold Coast on SBS on Saturday, February 8. Follow the hashtags #Eurovision #AusDecides, Facebook: @SBSEurovision, Twitter: @SBSEurovision and Instagram: @sbs_australia. Voting lines open on Friday, February 7 at 8:30pm. Click here on how to vote.