Teneille Young may very well be the poster lady for following one's dreams after 40. Comfortable enough with who she is at 42, she offers herself as a singer at live performances and in music videos “just as she is.”
As the inspiring mum and homemaker shared with Sunday Guardian in an interview last Monday, the tumultuous and unforgettable 2020 emboldened her to explore her creative talents and even take up kickboxing as part of her fitness regime. She urges women to love themselves and be fearless in seeking out their dreams.
Young spent most of her adulthood faithfully catering to the needs of her family and as a “backstage mum” taking her girls, Layla, 13, Leah, ten and Lily, seven to various extracurricular activities, including concerts at Queen's Hall. When the girls' vocal coach, Kyle Richardson, left for Spain to join the cast of Lion King in 2019, Young sought out popular singer and vocal coach Wendy Sheppard to instruct them.
Months later, in October, when Young jokingly WhatsApped Sheppard a recording of herself and Richardson singing a song from the 1978 hit “Grease”, Sheppard insisted that Young join her in a Christmas performance at Fiesta Plaza. Initially taken aback, Young eventually agreed. Since then, she has been living out her deepest dream to be a singer. Apart from performances at various local venues, she launched an endearing cover video of Queen's “I Want to Break Free” last August on Trinity TV's “Dare To Dream” fundraiser, a cover video of Lady Gaga's “Shallow”, and “Always on My Mind” with Sheppard. She even plans to start writing her own songs.
Young's following on Facebook surpasses 1,100 and though she only joined Instagram a year ago after urgings and strict directions from Layla, her fan base on that platform also numbers over 1,100. She has come to embrace the sayings, “When your life feels black and white, make sure that you dream in colour” and everything happens in its perfect timing.
“It was not really something that I ever thought about doing,” Young laughed as she recalled her live debut at Fiesta Plaza with Sheppard two years ago.
“I mean you sing in the shower and you imagine yourself on stage performing, but I didn't actually think it would ever happen.”
With some vocal training from Sheppard to prepare and calming words from singer, Raymond Edwards whom she met backstage on the day, she and Sheppard ended up doing a duet of Bob Marley's “Is This Love?”.
“It was nerve-racking but exhilarating. It was surreal like I was on stage performing, but looking at myself doing it. Performing with Wendy brings out the best in you. You feed off each other, so it helped that it wasn't just me on stage.”
She also performed with Sheppard at Westmall and at the Oval that Christmas, where the girls joined in.
“I always joke with her (Sheppard) and say: like I was on tour with you that December,” Young said.
Being on a music tour was far from her mind as a student of Bishop Anstey High School where she was an accomplished science student. But Young said she was always very fond of singing.
“I actually did try out for the choir and did not make it. I was like: OK, well, I will just sing in the shower.”
It was casually singing in the shower at her childhood home in Santa Cruz years earlier that had made Young discover her love for the art.
“The lady next door told me when I was seven that her four-year-old grandson would go out to the wall and listen whenever I was singing in the shower and I loved singing even more.”
Her life would take other turns before she had the chance to live out her secret passion. Declining a scholarship from a foreign university, Young decided to work at her parents' photo lab and studio in Arima after completing Form Six studies.
“I really enjoyed it. My parents taught me everything there is to know about business. I didn't learn it in a classroom. It was a privilege to serve the people in Arima and the surrounding towns. It really taught me respect, to interact with the public, to communicate. It gave me the confidence to do what I'm doing today; to actually get up on stage and perform and make these music videos. I just think everything happens the way it's supposed to happen. All of that was preparing me for this,” she said.
Working in the family business also allowed her to meet her husband, Angus.
“He encouraged me to go back to school and become qualified. I did the programme at ROYTEC–the University of New Brunswick's Bachelor of Business Administration Programme and I majored in Finance.”
Her perfect grade point average and all-round personality ensured that Young was valedictorian of the Class of 2006. She delivered a stirring graduation speech and the day after her graduation, the then-26-year-old was offered an opportunity to be part of a political party.
“Even that I sometimes wonder about; what would have happened...but I really wanted to start a family,” she reflected.
A few months earlier–in August–she had received a better proposition from Angus.
“Angus proposed to me on the night of my last exam. I came home exhausted and I wanted Chinese food. We all ate. It was at home with my parents and my sister, and I was just lying on the couch, watching TV. He got down on his knee and he proposed. I wasn't expecting it. I wasn't dressed properly or anything...I was just hoping for some ice cream,” she laughed.
Four months later, they were married and within five years, the couple had three girls. Young started a children's boutique in Westmall after having a hard time finding good clothes for her eldest. She juggled being a wife, homemaker and mum who often volunteered for school activities, with running a store. Eventually, she had to give up her business.
“I opened in 2009 and eventually added a photo studio with the knowledge from my parents, to try and diversify, and that really helped, but I was having my third child and the rental charges at Westmall continued to increase, so I thought my time could be better used elsewhere. I eventually closed in 2013.
“It was very emotional closing down, but when one chapter ends, another one starts,” she said.
Her husband who had operated his own financial advisory firm, soon changed career direction and was offered the CEO position at a Merchant bank at age 35 and she was contented to look after her family.
Because of their relation to a prominent politician, however, Young said she and her family have had to deal with intense public scrutiny and the ugly side of politics, particularly during the pandemic.
She chose the song, “I Want to Break Free” for her first cover video as it symbolised some of the changes that she wanted to see in her own life.
“If you play a song for a million people, each would interpret it differently based on their life experiences. For me, it was breaking free from the chains that prevented me from doing what I wanted to do and becoming what I wanted to become; which is the best version of myself.
“You kinda think I'm a mum, I'm a wife, I can't make this music video and 'Break Free' really explored the different roles of women...There must be room somewhere for you to be your true self. I saw that the multiple roles I have as a woman do not limit me, they empower me.”
She said, for her, the lyrics of the song: I've fallen in love, I've fallen in love for the first time, meant falling in love with herself and helping to inspire women to develop self-love and never give up on their passions.
“Be your biggest fan, clap for yourself and don't wait for other people to do that,” she said.
She said even getting all glammed up for the video taught her about self-love as women tend to neglect their own needs. Her eldest daughter, Layla, was her stylist, picking out her mum's wardrobe and even lent her own clothes for a particular scene.
Young's more reflective cover video, “Shallow”, with keyboards by Chad Pimento, represents weathering life's storms that sometimes take you far from your safe place in the shallows, she felt.
“You have to find a way to deal with all the challenges that life throws your way. You can't allow yourself to drown, you can't swim back to where you were before. I can never go back to being that old girl. You completely evolve to become a better version of yourself. I saw it as a rebirth, an awakening to embrace my true, authentic self when I sang that song,” Young explained.
Cover video releases and all, Young prefers the thrill of singing live.
“When you sing live, you can connect with your audience. People see the emotion on your face, they see you as you are with all your flaws, imperfections. To me, that is beautiful because no one is perfect. This is me at my point in my journey, just as I am,” she said.
Since her debut in 2019, she has worked alongside other creatives, including visual artist Fitzroy Hoyte who founded the Thinkartworktt Studio which offers creatives a contemporary space in art, music and other forms of expression.
For Thinkartworktt's Christmas collaboration in 2020, she was invited to sing. Her girls spontaneously joined her and when Christmas 2021 rolled around, the girls were ready with their own little performance, as well, their proud mother said.
“It's really good exposure for them. It really helps children to build confidence.”
The year 2020 also pushed Young to start testing out her skills at kickboxing with instructor Micah Espinet, an experience she describes as “empowering”.
A cat she named Luna crawled into her garden towards the end of 2020 and brought laughter and comfort to her and the girls during the pandemic. Luna has also inspired her to write a song. She also wants to add other pieces to a painting of a landscape she completed as a teen which hangs in her dining room and has accompanied her every time she moved house.
The girls, too, have adopted a passion for art, lining their porch area with their own artwork, making refreshments and doing a performance for her on Mother's Day during the first lockdown, Young recalled, adding that Leah now enjoys writing poems.
And Angus? He has been her greatest supporter, she said.
“There are times when I've said: what are you doing? Teneille are you crazy? And my husband has been my biggest supporter. He is like: don't give up on your dreams. Because he knows I didn't take up my scholarship, he always says to me: get on that plane.”
Q&A with Teneille Young
You said you embraced your authentic self when you sang the cover of “Shallow” and “Break Free”. Who is Teneille Young exactly at age 42?
I think that's a lifelong journey and I think we always rediscover ourselves. At 42, I am a homemaker who can do anything; a woman who can be a rock star, own my own business, be a mum. Women can do anything. I am embracing the power of being a woman and loving it.”
Why the choice to turn down the scholarship?
I think about that now. I was 19 at the time. I think I just thought I had my whole life ahead of me. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My mother's family's business was Sunday Basket (fast food restaurant), so I grew up behind the counter with my mum, helping her cash and swiping fries. The staff were like family. I was always involved in it. It was always my dream to own a business, so I was motivated to take over and do things my way...just a young girl with big dreams.
So no regrets about not taking it up?
What do you think accounts for your social media following?
Let me explain that. Facebook is apparently the granny of all social media as I was told by my children, so I got on Instagram. I just started with no experience and then I heard I need to get with it on TikTok and Layla helped me. It's all relative right, because some people have thousands of followers. I guess people are interested. A lot, I think, are other musicians, mummies and women. Friends messaged me after “Break Free” and said it was inspiring and encouraged me.
Your list has been considerable, but any other plans for 2022?
On Sunday (January) 16, I'm releasing my latest cover, “The Show Must Go On”, also a song by Queen. It really hits home I think for everybody because people have been through so much with COVID with children having to be online for two years. I feel like my children have been robbed; my daughter did SEA in 2020 and she couldn't have a graduation. She still talks about that, the Christmas concerts, not being able to interact, make new friends, and there are the mothers having to be at home helping and having to work at the same time...fathers too, businesses closing, people losing loved ones. But through it all, the show must go on. Life has to continue. I like to write poems, so I also want to start making my poems into songs and do an original.
Follow Young's journey on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and TikTok @teneillemyoung