Former graphic communications and design student, Ashlie Wilson, has pursued a career in music after leaving Ryerson
People’s heads popped out of stores along the hallways of Vaughan Mills mall when they heard her. No one was prepared for the moment that AshaLee walked onto the stage of the YMCA Rep Your Region finale earlier this month, singing Rihanna’s Love On the Brain as if it were her own. A large crowd gathered and shoppers stopped to watch the performance. People might not have known who she was, but they knew she could sing.
And so, 25-year-old Ashlie Wilson, known professionally by her stage name AshaLee, won the regional talent show for young people aged 15-29 and took home the grand prize. At her preliminary performance at the YMCA in Scarborough Centre, Wilson sang If I Have Nothing, by Whitney Houston, and blew the crowd and the judges away. In Vaughan, the same thing was true; her performance was followed by a roaring applause.
The winner of the contest, run by the YMCA of Greater Toronto, receives a studio demo and professional music video to kickstart their career. Contestants competed in primary talent showcases in their local communities before the top two from each location moved on to the finals in Vaughan.
For Wilson, singing has always been a part of her life. Never having taken formal lessons, she attributes her vocal talent to the influence of her parents. “My mom is a cop, and she sings in a police choir back home in Jamaica,” she said. “And my dad did a lot of touring in a band when he was younger too, so it’s been in my family, and I just love the stuff.”
Originally from Portmore, Jamaica, Wilson moved to Toronto six years ago when she came to Ryerson University to pursue a degree in graphic communications and design. Throughout her time there, she sang at open mic night on Wednesdays at Ryerson’s campus pub.
Wilson has been taking her singing career more seriously the past couple of years. She has been singing at open mics across the city, competing in competitions and even headlined a 40-minute set at a music festival called The Bout, in downtown Toronto.
“It was really cool for me to have a stage on my own and sell real tickets,” she said. “There was a lot more to it than other shows I’ve done. It involved a lot of dancing and interacting with the crowd. It was really cool.”
As a solo artist and graphic designer, Wilson has taken control of her own image. “I do everything myself; I write all my own music,” she said. “I would describe it (my music) as very reggae, very urban. I don’t know how to explain it; it’s a funky kind of feel.”
As for her favourite song? “Honey,” she said. “It’s the first song that I wrote for my first project. But there’s also Why Are You So Different? which people really freaking love. So I’m proud of that.”
Wilson is currently in the process of working on her debut album. She has recently partnered with a management company that she says will give her the resources to bring her career to the next level, and with her Rep Your Region win, she has even more professional support behind her.
“It feels like it’s all coming at the right time,” said Wilson. “I’ve been putting myself out there for so long, and now people actually believe that I have a talent.”