At Raider Fest on August 25, Jay Thoennes performed alongside Olivia McDaniel
In celebration of Harrison’s first home game of the 2017-18 season. Even amid some minor technical issues, they sang through three songs, accompanied by nothing but Thoennes’ piano playing.
It is a performance that might not have happened if it were not for Thoennes’ online presence. He said that he and McDaniel were approached to take the place of the Jazz Choir, who Thoennes said was unprepared due to the absence of choir teacher Jaclyn Richardson, after the accompanist discussed Thoennes’ YouTube channel with him.
This YouTube channel, Jay Alan, began activity around a year ago with a cover of Adele’s “Hello.”
”I was like,’This is it, I just have to sit down and film it, and whatever happens happens,’” he said. “Looking back, (the Adele cover) wasn’t that successful, but in the moment it had 5,000 views, which was a lot for me, and it was a big deal in the school.”
Since then, dozens of videos of covers have been posted to the channel. They feature a simple setup: Thoennes set up at a piano or guitar in hand and performing songs from a variety of artists new and old, with the occasional guest appearance from Olivia McDaniel.
Many of these videos have seen massive success. Every video on the channel has surpassed the 1,000-view milestone and more than half of them have received more than 10,000, while the channel itself has 18,000-plus subscribers and almost one million total views.
Some of Thoennes’ most popular videos are covers of new songs from pop’s biggest stars. Covers of Ed Sheeran's “Supermarket Flowers” and Lorde’s “Liability” rank as some of his most viewed videos.
But his greatest success came from a cover that he did not expect to gain as much traction as it did.
“My most viewed video is a song from 13 Reasons Why,” Thoennes said. “It has like 160,000 views. I did it thinking, ‘I’m gonna get like, two thousand views.’ I just genuinely liked the song, and I posted it, and it just kind of blew up.”
Big things seem to be in store for the channel. Frequency of video uploads has increased to a weekly basis and some of Thoennes’ most popular videos have been his more recent ones. His cover of Sam Smith’s comeback single, “Too Good at Goodbyes,” has already been viewed over 23,000 times in the span of about three days.
However, as the year comes closer to its end, Thoennes says covers of older songs will become more prevalent on the channel. When asked if there are songs he wants to cover for the Jay Alan channel, but has not been able to for whatever reason, he said, ”Usually older songs from way back, like “Landslide” by Stevie Nicks. I love that song and I want to cover it eventually. But it has to be at a time where new music is coming out, and at this point of the year, people are releasing new stuff every week. So probably in the wintertime I’ll have weeks where there’s no new music, and then I’ll post songs that I really enjoy.”
The channel is another way for Thoennes to express a passion for singing that he has had for a long time.
”Pretty much when I could start talking, I started singing, and it probably wasn’t until I was 13 that I started taking lessons because I just didn’t have anything else to do,” Thoennes said. “Then I was like ,’Woah, maybe I’m good at this.” And then I just kept going. and the more reinforcement I got from people that I had a talent, the more I enjoyed.”
Thoennes says that in an ideal situation, his lifelong love for singing will be something he can take to a professional level. He says that if he does attend college, he hopes to attend the Berklee School of Music in Boston; his goals reach farther than West Lafayette, an area that he says does not carry that much of a music scene compared to a city like Boston.
However, if everything were up to him, he says he would want to focus on his YouTube channel and get it to a point where someone in the music industry will notice him and get him a record deal as soon as possible.
Whether he does reach stardom in the same way household names like Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes got their start, heads off to college, or finds another way into the music industry, he has done a lot to reach that goal ‒ whether it be performing for tens of thousands of worldwide viewers or doing local performances for Harrison and the community.