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Young singer grows up (a lot) in the spotlight

Evancho's sterling voice at the Honeywell


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published November 14, 2019

Heads Up! This article is 3 years old.

Singer Jackie Evancho grew up in the spotlight, so it wouldn’t be surprising to learn that she has developed a highly polished media persona and a well-rehearsed line of self-promotional patter.

That is not what I learned, however. As it turns out, Evancho hasn’t developed anything of the sort.

In a phone interview, Evancho was as refreshingly candid, open, and vulnerable she as she could possibly be.

She performs November 23 at the Honeywell Center in Wabash.

Standing on her own two feet

Evancho started winning singing competitions when she was 7. At 9, she attracted the attention of producer David Foster and released her first album.

At 10, she was a contestant on America’s Got Talent, where she finished second.

Five major-label albums ensued.

In 2016, she whipped up a storm of controversy by agreeing to perform at the inauguration of President Donald Trump.

Evancho was 16 and, like most kids her age, didn’t give much thought to politics. But she was vilified in certain quarters. The backlash was painful for her, but she said it altered her career trajectory in transformative ways.

In the aftermath of that crisis, Evancho decided to wrest control of her career from her handlers at the time.

“What I took from that is that I can’t let my team push me into a decision that I am nervous about or have second thoughts about,” she said in a phone interview with Whatzup. “That’s pretty much what happened … . Now I’ve learned that I have to listen to myself.”

Taking charge of her career

Evancho’s latest album, The Debut, is her coming-of-age party, of sorts.

Evancho has a lot of older fans who are accustomed to younger versions of herself, but she wanted to make music that attracted people her own age. “Her own age” isn’t 10 anymore. Evancho is 19.

The title of the new album has two meanings for her: It’s the debut of her adult self and it’s the debut of her interpretation of some of her favorite Broadway songs.

“It’s really the first time I am debuting my own opinions as an artist rather than just being a little girl who can sing,” Evancho said. “It’s my first album as an adult. It’s the first time I have directed things behind the scenes. I wasn’t just going into the studio and singing what they told me to.

“I was diving into the material,” she said, “researching everything, picking the songs, studying the songs, working with the producers to find a fresh approach for those songs. And that’s what the second meaning of The Debut is. I’m debuting these classic songs that everybody loves but presenting them in a totally different way.”

Taking charge of her career is still a transition in progress.

“It’s been different, that’s for sure,” Evancho said. “It’s something I have to adjust to. What’s wonderful about it is that I am learning so much about myself. I am spending more time alone and I am having to make important decisions by myself. It’s really helping me kind of come into my own as an adult. It’s scary and stressful but also enlightening and exciting.”

Wary of Social Media

Evancho said there have always been three pillars to a successful career: talent, connections, and a great team.

In recent years, a fourth pillar has been added: a robust and deftly handled social media presence.

It’s this last one that has been a tough pill for Evancho to swallow.

“Having to force myself to love social media has been one of the biggest challenges of my career,” she said.

Evancho is not at all reluctant to admit that she doesn’t care much for social media. She said it has been a conduit through which trolls and creepy men have been able to send her insults and improprieties.

Evancho has a thicker skin than she did when she was 16, but she is not yet impervious to these slings and arrows.

The fact that young people these days have no choice but to develop hides tough enough to withstand torrents of mostly anonymous abuse is almost “a form of evolution,” she said.

Social media is also a place where people can misinterpret something you have done or said and where such a misinterpretation can be widely and quickly disseminated.

“It can be frustrating when you’re putting material out into the world and it can be interpreted in any way, shape, or form,” Evancho said. “People can give you a hard time for something that wasn’t your intention.”

Hoping for Varied success

At the end of my conversation with this fierce, searching young woman, I was sure of one thing: She’s going to make it.

If Evancho has her way, she won’t just make it in music. She said she wants to become a female version of a Renaissance Man.

“I want to be able to do anything and everything,” she said. “I have one of those personalities that yearns to get their hands on any form of creativity, excel at it, and push it out into the world. I would love to be an actor. I would love to have my own empire where I have my own cosmetics section and clothing section. Music, painting, and drawing … I want to do everything.”

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