Let’s be clear: There’s nothing about Jessica Ketola that blares rock ‘n’ roll, even if she has sung onstage with The Police.
During one interview, she broke away to take chocolate chip cookies out of the oven and field a call from one of her four school-aged children. Married at 19, she sings in a church choir some Sundays and commutes to Seattle during the week, working for the nonprofit Unitus.
The friendly 37-year-old seems ordinary. When she sings, she’s really not.
Ketola, an Edmonds resident, ended up on stage with Sting after a chance encounter. Now emboldened by the experience, she is putting together a demo to pursue her long dormant dream of a singing career.
Her unusual story began in the summer.
The Police held a sound check party for the Unitus staff before a July 12 show at the Gorge in central Washington. The nonprofit was a charitable partner on the band’s reunion tour. As the band warmed up, Sting invited the staff on stage to sing with him.
Ketola, who described herself as “kind of spontaneous,” made an impression. On a YouTube clip, as she belts out “Every Breath You Take,” Sting steps away from the microphone and waves out his arm, as if to say, “Are you hearing this, too?” He asked for her to come back for a second song, then a third.
After that unwitting audition, Sting wanted to talk. Ketola was guided backstage to a deck outside the Gorge’s greenroom, where drummer Stewart Copeland and Sting were hanging out, taking in a spectacular view.
“Oh, there’s the singer girl,” Sting said, by Ketola’s recollection. “So do you want to sing a song with me?”
With a casual “sure,” she was on board. Then came the tricky part.
For one, she needed to put on make-up; she would be singing for thousands of people, after all. With her head in the clouds, she didn’t ask for a dressing room. Instead, she ducked into a sweltering portable toilet.
“It’s like 90 (degrees out),” Ketola said, “and then there’s this teeny tiny mirror, and I had a thing of lip gloss — that’s all I had — and I was trying to, like, fix myself. I was just thinking, ‘This is so funny.’ “
By showtime, she was a bundle of nerves, standing on the side of the stage, waiting for her cue. After Sting grandly introduced her as his “discovery,” she joined him at the mike for “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” ironically standing so close to Sting that he sprayed her with spit. With help from a teleprompter, she didn’t miss a word or a note.
Her husband, David, was in the crowd. He called home during the song, letting their children listen.
“I was freaking out,” eldest daughter Anna Ketola, 15, said.
After the show, Jessica Ketola amassed a small pile of industry contacts, including Sting’s manager and an “Oprah” producer. Now she’s recording a short demo in her spare time, when she isn’t at Unitus or, you know, baking cookies.
She hopes to finish it by December. Then she plans to reach out to those contacts. Maybe she will land a record deal. Maybe she won’t. Whatever happens, she at least has a story.
“That day was just so bizarre,” she said. “It was very surreal, and I was just very in the moment, thinking about the bigger picture. It was probably a good thing, because I probably would have freaked out. I could have choked, you know?”
Andy Rathbun email@example.com 425-339-3455
Taking the stage
See Jessica Ketola sing with Sting at www.myspace.com/jessicaketola.