LAWRENCEBURG, IN - Students from Aurora Elementary and South Dearborn Middle Schools are filing into bleachers on one side of a gymnasium. Across the hardwood floor, seven teenagers are huddled as one of them, 16-year-old Sadie Loveland, whispers a prayer.
Sadie asks “our heavenly father” to help them perform well and deliver their message of the day as part of a campaign against bullying. After their “amen,” the teens clasp hands, twirl once in a circle, outstretch their fists into the center and exclaim, in unison, “Jetset Getset, unite!”
At their heart, Jetset Getset is a trio of 16-year-old girls from Dearborn County, Ind., serving up a country-pop mix of twang, rock and do-wop with underlying—if somewhat clashing—slices of grounded faith and high-heeled cheesecake. Avery Eliason, Tori Little and Sadie Loveland are the faces and voices, but the puzzle pieces are the brainchild of Kelli Jette, an education professor at the University of Cincinnati and a former music teacher and classical competition pianist.
Five years ago, Jette wanted to form an all-girl singing group that would perform at regional fairs and festivals, but Jetset Getset’s achievements have long outgrown those early ambitions.
They have a record, a couple of videos and some national touring behind them, primarily visiting radio stations in the uphill battle for airplay. A trade journal of the Country Music Association named the group among 20 new artists to watch in 2013. Their name will appear Nov. 10 in Phoenix on the NASCAR Ford driven by Leavine Family Racing.
The girls are budding celebrities at home. Each has stories of being recognized and asked for autographs while out shopping. Sadie says one girl recently approached her and reported she planned to dress as Sadie for Halloween.
Still, Jetset Getset are very much a homespun, family operation largely financed by Jette. A certain generation might draw comparisons to The Partridge Family, the fictional family band of early ‘70s TV fame. Jette is the group’s Ruben Kincaid. Jennifer Eliason, Avery’s mother, is the group’s key songwriter. Jette’s son, Justen, is the band’s rhythm guitarist. The keyboardist and sax player is Jette’s 65-year-old father, Terry Ranck, retired after more than 30 years of teaching music in Indiana and Cincinnati.
Jette, who made a play on her last name to coin the group, assembled and experimented with different girls up front through former elementary school music students and their connections in church choirs. Tori, who was just a fourth-grader when Jette marked her as someone special, was the first to come on board. Sadie was 14 when she became the last of the girls to join. Each of the girls’ parents is involved to varying degrees and responsibilities.
“It’s been three, it was two, it was four—a lot of different numbers of people,” Jette said of Jetset’s makeup. “If I had a group of different children or teenagers, I don’t believe it would have worked. It is the dynamics of this group—the way the kids were raised—that keeps this going.”
“Kelli just has a passion for this. It’s not just a business for her,” said Jennifer Eliason. “She really loves the girls and wants them to succeed, and she loves nurturing children and seeing them develop their talents.”
Jette didn’t set out to become the maker of a girl-band, but after leaving elementary school teaching for her position at the University of Cincinnati, she missed working with youth and wanted to fill the musical gap in her life.
“The most favorite part of my job was the show choir,” she said. “I loved the singing and dancing and all the pizzazz that goes along with it.”
The girls have a simple, easy rapport and present themselves publicly without pretension. By Jette's calculation for what could work and sell regionally, the trio roots its music in modern country, but the songs they choose to cover from other artists lean to pop and R&B. Their voices are stronger as a collective than as individuals, though that could evolve as they mature.
Jette self-produced and Jennifer Eliason wrote the songs for the group’s first record, which earned Jetset Getset an invitation to appear on “Shotgun Red,” a cable television variety show produced in Nashville. That appearance won the attention of Playback Records, a tiny label out of Nashville, which in 2012 teamed the girls with professional session musicians to record album “Saturday Night.”
Jetset Getset rehearses nearly every Monday in the basement of Eliason’s mini-mansion in the hills of Lawrenceburg, Ind., and the band devoted chunks of this year traveling to the South and Southern California performing and promoting the record to radio programmers. Of the seven teens who sing and play instruments in the band, only Sadie and bassist Paul Kelley regularly attend public school. The others attend school online or are home-schooled.
Their shared Christianity was accidental, Jette said, and none of Jetset’s songs—originals or those they cover from other artists—come from a Christian vantage. But faith is woven into everything the girls do together. They pray before each rehearsal, performance, video shoot or other public appearance—even praying before sitting for the interview for this story.
“Faith is a very big thing in our group. It’s what keeps us together and keeps us going,” Tori Little said.
“We’re not an obvious Christian band,” Avery Eliason added. “If we live it, people will see it and know we must be Christians, because ‘They act like it,’ and we want to be a force for good.”
At the same time, the girls seemingly haven’t connected their faith with the soft sexuality threaded into their collective image. The girls swap flats for strappy, high-heeled shoes for every performance—they even rehearse in heels. Asked why they wear those shoes for rehearsals, Eliason didn’t hesitate, saying “Practice makes permanent.” Jette has coupled the footwear with tight pants and on-stage choreography some might see as lightly suggestive. For their part, the girls say they enjoy the choreography.
In response to a question through email about the supposed clash of the girls’ faith and image, Jette noted the pressure to “sexualize the performance of girls and women” in an industry where Beyonce, Carrie Underwood and Selena Gomez are standard-bearers.
“We have a policy of keeping faith or religion out of our stage show, even though group members are religious in their private lives,” Jette wrote. “That being said, there is a line in dress and dancing that we don't cross. Often we have to modify the dance moves our choreographer comes up with because we feel the line has been crossed. It is difficult to decide where that line is and, among so many people, we don't always agree where the line is. But we are used to compromising and finding common ground in this group, so we've been able to arrive at a stage show and image that we are all comfortable with.”
The band are taking the rest of 2013 off, but will make a push next year for a contract with a larger record company and hope for an invitation to become the supporting act on a high-profile tour.
“We have a philosophy that we’ll just keep running as long as we possibly can,” Jennifer Eliason said. “Kelli has a motto—we say no to saying no—and as long as opportunities keep coming, we’ll keep taking ‘em.”