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Betty Who unleashes her inner extrovert

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It's not an identity crisis, exactly. But there's definitely a growing disconnect between Sydney-bred singer Jessica Newham and her increasingly popular musical persona. Betty Who.

"Jess is all about eating and sleeping," explains the 22-year-old Australia native, who has since migrated to New York. "Whenever I'm not working, I try to do exactly the opposite of work, which includes a lot of watching Pretty Little Liars. I'm into binge-watching, for sure, and I'm also obsessed with Scandal, Betrayal, and I've seen every episode of Criminal Minds at least a couple of times. I'm all about keeping up with TV when I'm not working."

So who, then, is Who?

Thanks to her No. 1 dance-pop smash, "Somebody Loves You," Betty Who is commanding more and more of Newham's time and energy. The addictive single has set the stage for her second EP, tentatively titled Slow Dancing, which is scheduled for release later this month.

Does Newham have anything in common with her showboating alter ego? No, she says, nothing at all.

An avid fan of contemporary female pop — she cites Katy Perry and Lady Gaga among her biggest influences. In fact, Newham is already developing her own branding, which includes a cartoon pin-up girl and matching letterman jackets she and her backing band wear in concert.

"I love the idea of having a uniform onstage," she says. "I think it makes a huge difference, visually. I never want to be the person who tours in jeans and a T-shirt — I care too much about the people who paid money to come see me. I really want to honor them."

Newham first conceived her musical alter ego at age 17 after writing a song she hastily titled "Betty Who." The name just came to her, she says. "Then later, when I was talking about a stage name, that seemed like the best fit. We bounced a couple of names back and forth, but when I said, 'What about Betty Who?' everyone in the room was like, 'That's perfect! It's great!'"

The future dance diva initially entered the commercial pop world through a decidedly unlikely door, as a classical cellist who began training at age 4.

"Our teacher said we had to pick violin or cello to play, and one of my best friends said, 'I'll play cello!' And I said, 'Well, me too, I guess!'" Newham's devotion to the instrument continued on through performing arts high school and then Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Even so, her interest in performing classical masterpieces had begun to wane. One Berklee instructor noticed. He taught her to bow the bass line of the jazz standard "How Insensitive," then gave her some modern cello pieces to learn and sing along to. Once she met fellow student Peter Thomas, they began co-writing, and the die was cast.

"I was afraid of pop music, afraid of what it would mean for my career," she admits. "I'm so glad that Peter made me realize that pop music is not something to be afraid of, that it's the most amazing thing to embrace."

Will Betty Who ever break out that cello onstage? "My mother wishes I would," sighs Newham. "She keeps asking me, 'When are you going to play cello in a show?' And I'm like 'Uhh, Mom, it's a little off-brand.'"

scene@csindy.com

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