Pop ingenue Vanessa Carlton is only 21 years old and she is already working on her second career. Her first, as a ballerina, began at 14 when she was accepted into the School of American Ballet. While

Pop ingenue Vanessa Carlton is only 21 years old and she is already working on her second career. Her first, as a ballerina, began at 14 when she was accepted into the School of American Ballet. While that ended on a sour note, her new career as a fledgling pop star couldn't be better. Her debut single, the top-10 "A Thousand Miles" from the A&M album "Be Not Nobody," released April 30, has been openly embraced by radio and MTV.

"After I got signed, I was drowning, completely drowning," Carlton says. "I was surrounded by the wrong people who didn't quite understand the music. You have to find people that will bring out the absolute best in you if you're going to work as a team. I wasn't there yet. It was a tricky situation because I write all my own songs. I'm not a producer yet. And I especially wasn't then. I was very young and didn't know how to work in a studio. You have to go down a couple wrong paths before you find the diamond path."

Luckily, she found hers, via the guidance of Jimmy Iovine, chairman of Interscope/Geffen/A&M, who signed her, and Ron Fair, A&M president, who also produced the album.

"I was able to connect with her musical soul because she touched a nerve in me going back to my love for Laura Nyro and Carole King," Fair says, "the archetype of female piano goddess bearing her soul with an orchestral angle to it."

The resulting collaboration "Be Not Nobody" is more a declaration of independence for this young artist -- who is already being called a happier Fiona Apple -- steeped in rich orchestrations and classical sounds yet musically relevant enough to connect with a young demographic.

"The way I write is confusing to me as well," Carlton says. "I will sit down at the piano, and it's like a tide. It's very healing. I have no control over how it works. It scares me sometimes. I say things in my songs, I discover things about myself in my songs that I would have never discovered if I had never written the song. It surprises me every time."

She adds, "I lost my identity when I left ballet. I lost the connection. I went numb to that artistry. That's one of the hardest things. Talk about love and loss. To lose your connection with an art form that was once so strong in you is traumatizing. You're so empty. I slowly started skipping my ballet classes and sought refuge in the wonderfully warm and open arms of a crappy piano in my dorm."





Excerpted from the May 4, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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