Jackie Evancho, the tiny child with the extraordinarily big voice and perfect pitch, will release her Syco/Columbia Records CD/DVD debut, “O Holy Night,” on Nov. 16. The CD features Jackie singing Christmas favorites “O Holy Night” and “Silent Night,” as well as new studio recordings of “Pie Jesu,” and “Panis Angelicus,” songs millions of people first heard the 10-year old Pittsburgh prodigy sing on “America’s Got Talent.” The set also includes a DVD with her “AGT” performances, her audition video, and a new interview with the singer.
Although this summer’s edition of “America’s Got Talent” introduced the world to Evancho and her astonishing vocal talent, her musical story begins before her life-changing appearance on the talent contest. The starting point came from what seemed like just another outing for the Evancho family: a trip to the cinema to see “The Phantom of the Opera.”
“We went to see it in the movie theater. It was very, very good,” Jackie told Pennsylvania television station WPXI. “It was a very long movie and we were mesmerized by it.” Her mother, Lisa, purchased the DVD and something in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score resonated in Jackie, igniting a passion in her soul. Still, as she sang the melodramatic tunes from the film around the house in her shimmering soprano, “We really didn’t think [her voice] was anything out of the ordinary,” says her dad, Mike. “She’s our oldest daughter; there were no other seven-year-olds to compare it to.”
Mike and Lisa remember the night they realized that Jackie didn’t have just a nice voice, she had a remarkable gift. “At her first little talent competition, we invited my parents,” Mike recalls. “She started to sing, my folks looked at each other like ‘What’s going on here?’ Plus with the crowd reaction, then we knew.”
After coming in second place to a 20-year old opera singer, Jackie entered more contests as her talents blossomed. She caught the attention of Grammy-winning producer David Foster, when she won a regional competition that allowed her to sing as Foster accompanied her on piano. “He thought her voice was extraordinary,” Mike says. She performed the National Anthem at the Pittsburgh Pirates 2010 home opener, as well as at an event honoring Chuck Yeager.
It seems unfathomable now, but Jackie’s appearance on “AGT” came after other brushes with the show were met with rejection. She auditioned twice for “AGT” in person in Philadelphia and the producers passed on her. It wasn’t until her parents submitted a YouTube audition for “AGT,” almost on a whim, that she finally found her home on center stage.
“I saw a video with [“AGT” host] Nick Cannon saying they were doing YouTube auditions,” Mike recalls. “We decided to put something up and then we forgot about it.”
The viewers who watched Jackie’s stunning audition submission couldn’t forget what they’d witnessed. She earned the most fan votes through the YouTube competition, awarding her the twelfth spot among the slate of “AGT” contestants for the show’s fifth season.
Her first on-air performance, in which she sung Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” was transcendent, shocking and delighting the surprised audience. That debut appearance remains a highlight for Jackie. “She thrives on stage and the applause and to have these judges recognizing her, it did mean a lot to her,” Mike says.
The judges were instantly smitten. “I can’t believe that from this tiny body, this huge mature voice you have,” said Sharon Osbourne. Piers Morgan said, “This is one of the most extraordinary performances that I’ve ever seen on ‘America’s Got Talent’.” Howie Mandel simple stated, “You’re an angel. You’re a superstar.”
She further wowed everyone with her subsequent performances of “Time to Say Goodbye,” made famous by her idols, Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman; Webber’s version of “Pie Jesu,” and, in the finale, the classic “Ava Maria.” Her sterling appearances sent sales of her self-made independent release, “Prelude to a Dream” soaring up Billboard’s Top Classical Crossover Albums Chart, where it peaked at No. 2.
The “AGT” runner up has nothing but fond memories of her time on the show. “It was amazing to be on ‘America’s Got Talent’ because it’s really helped me to reach my dreams,” said Jackie. “It’s helped me to show off my talent and helped me to realize how fun what I do is.”
When it came time to make her first post-”AGT” recording, there was no question that she would continue in the classical crossover genre. Including traditional Christmas carols seemed like a natural fit.
“It seemed appropriate for her voice as an introduction outside of ‘America’s Got Talent,’” Mike says. “We have to find what’s appropriate for a 10-year old girl.”
Working with producer Marius DeVries, who produced another one of Jackie’s favorite artists, Josh Groban, in the legendary recording studios at Los Angeles’ Capitol Tower, Jackie knocked out the recordings in three days.
While other girls her age are singing pop ditties they hear on Top 40 stations, Jackie has an inherent understanding of her talent. “I never really had a pop voice,” she told WPXI. “But even if I had a pop voice, I would have gone with classical because it’s different from what many other children do, because with classical you’re able to show emotion in it.”
She also continues to cultivate her other musical abilities, learning to play both the violin and piano. She’s already mastered the theme to “The Godfather,” according to her mom.
Next for Jackie will be a full album of classical crossover material that she will start recording in early 2011. “It won’t just be the songs that everyone seems to repeat,” Lisa says. “It will be covers of existing material that perhaps has new arrangements to it.” Jackie is also starting to write lyrics, but for now, Lisa stresses, “it’s school work and family life and her career.”
Plus, she has to have time to play with the family’s pet menagerie, which she cataloged during her “Tonight Show” appearance as nine hermit crabs, two guinea pigs, three dogs, two cats, a lizard, three frogs and four ducks, leading host Jay Leno to ask if she lives on an ark.
Keeping her extraordinary life as normal as possible is vital to Mike and Lisa. “She gets in trouble like any other 10 year old,” Mike says. “There are times she can’t play with her friends because her homework isn’t done…She has to do the normal chore stuff: clean her room, straighten up.”
But most 10 year olds haven’t decided what to be when they grow up. As Jackie told WPXI, “my dream is to make a career out of this.” Yet, even at a tender age, she unselfishly realizes her success can inspire others. “If they have a dream, they should always go for it because that’s what happened to me and my dream came true.”
And that dream is just beginning.
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