Sophomore Jesse Ponnock just had the best day of his life. Since November of last year, he’s been competing against more than a hundred bands for a record deal in mtvU’s Best Music on Campus contest and finally, on March 28, Ponnock made UM history when he was announced the grand prize winner of the competition.
It was only days before that the 20-year-old singer-songwriter had written a blog on his MySpace saying, “I am confident if the time is right I will win this.” Luckily for Ponnock, his hesitant optimism paid off.
“I said that, but I lied. I had no idea I was going to win,” he said. “I was trying to stay positive because I really believe that makes a difference.”
In the past, bands from our school have cracked the Top 25, but this is the first time a UM musician has won this contest.
“I’m really proud to be representing UM,” Ponnock said, a music engineering major who is also involved with Cane Records.
The contest featured more than 130 bands from different universities across the nation. The list was narrowed down in rounds by way of online voting and a panel of judges.
As the winner, Ponnock will have a music video premiered on MTV and mtvU’s site along with a record deal with Drive-Thru Records, home to pop-punk bands like Hellogoodbye, The Early November and House Of Fools. This comes in stark contrast to his brand of introspective indie folk rock, which came into focus when his name appeared on the final Top Five next to four pop-punk bands.
Even now Ponnock is baffled that he was able to beat them out.
“It makes no sense to me,” he said. “I was up against four bands that were so marketable and who could probably sell a million records. The fact that they picked an indie artist is a risk on its own.”
Actually, in a romantic twist of fate, Ponnock grew up loving bands from Drive-Thru Records like New Found Glory and The Starting Line. Ponnock was born in Narberth, Pennsylvania, where he got his fix of punk rock by playing in a relatively popular high school band called Blame Summer. Through another local band, he had the chance to meet the owner of Drive-Thru Records.
But after Blame Summer broke up, Ponnock started obsessively listening to Bob Dylan and writing acoustic music. He soon got together with producer Tim Sonnoefeld of the Philadelphia band Gang and worked on recording three songs before he left to Temple University and ultimately UM.
When Ponnock heard about the Best Music on Campus contest-from the owner of Drive-Thru Records no less-he sent in those three songs that landed him a record deal last week.
But Ponnock said not everyone sees the legitimacy behind the contest.
“A lot of people talked a lot of shit about Drive-Thru records for doing this, like why are they being so lazy. They’ve never gonna get an artist this way,” he said. “The way I see it, it’s so cool of them because it’s not about signing good music for this contest. It’s about them being nice enough to give someone who would never have a chance to record in a real studio or make a real music video.”
So how exactly did Ponnock win? While he couldn’t find an answer on his own behalf, he was quick to credit his family and friends. This includes his sister Annette Ponnock, the former president of Student Government, who started a Facebook group called “I voted for JESSE PONNOCK,” and his friends at both UM and Temple University.
“They won this contest for me,” he said. “I’m sure all these bands had their universities behind them, but I had such a support group pulling for me.”
One of the most rewarding moments for Ponnock came when he got a personal phone call from Hellogoodbye’s singer telling him he’d won the contest.
“I answered the phone thinking I’m gonna talk to some lawyer,” he said. “And I get, ‘Hey man it’s Forrest from Hellogoodbye. Just wanna let you know that you won the contest and I wanted to personally welcome you to the family.’ And I started screaming, like I flipped my shit.”
Even as these opportunities continue to rain on him, Ponnock is still in shock over a dream come true.
“It doesn’t seem possible that things could work out with the best situation ever,” he said. “[Drive-Thru Records] has made some of the best music, in my opinion, over the past five years. This is literally a childhood dream of mine.”
Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.