"It feels great," says country artist Jamie O'Neal of scoring a No. 1 country single in the song "When I Think About Angels," from her debut Mercury solo album "Shiver." "I wasn't expecting it at all.
It's not unusual for an artist to receive congratulatory gifts after scoring a No. 1 single, but when Mercury's Jamie O'Neal received an animal trap from Columbia duo Montgomery Gentry, she was puzzled.
"The card says, 'Next time you come sneaking around us, little girl, you'd better be careful,'" O'Neal says, laughing. "I thought if I was going to get something from them, it would be a bottle of Jack Daniels or something."
Ever the good sports, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry were acknowledging that O'Neal's second single, "When I Think About Angels," had jumped from No. 3 to No. 1 over their single "She Couldn't Change Me" on Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart early in August.
"It feels great," says O'Neal, who co-wrote the song with Roxie Dean and Sonny Tillis. "I wasn't expecting it at all. The record company said, 'It's really close -- don't get your hopes up. It's really tough out there.' So I kind of resigned myself that it might only go to No. 3, and that was OK. But, of course, you are really hoping it will go to No. 1."
This marked O'Neal's second trip to the summit in as many outings, an unusual feat for a newcomer in today's competitive country market. Her debut single, "There Is No Arizona," hit No. 1 in February, propelling O'Neal into the limelight and fueling sales of her debut album, "Shiver," which has sold 304,000 copies in the U.S., according to SoundScan.
She was then named top new female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music in May, while her remake of "All By Myself" was featured in the film "Bridget Jones's Diary" and on its soundtrack.
Despite undergoing back surgery in June for a ruptured disc, O'Neal has been burning up the road this summer as part of the Girls' Night Out tour, along with Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, and Carolyn Dawn Johnson.
This fall, O'Neal will be the opening act on Lonestar's I'm Already There tour. She's also slated to appear at the Billboard Music Awards, which will take place Dec. 12 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas and air on Fox.
Although heralded as one of the year's top new artists, O'Neal is actually a seasoned performer who honed her skills while performing with her family act, the Murphy Family, before moving to Nashville and paying her dues as a demo singer and songwriter.
"I've been around for so long that 'new' is not a word I use for myself," says the Australian-born chanteuse, "but it seems to people I've come from nowhere. I've been working since I was 8 years old. It does take a long time, but it sure is worth it. I feel like I'm at the bottom of the ladder, like I have a long way to go. But at least I've made it on the first part rather than being on the ground."
Country radio programmers attribute O'Neal's success to her individuality. "It's a refreshing sound," stresses Chaz Malibu, PD/music director of KHEY El Paso, Texas. "'There Is No Arizona' sounded so different than anything else on the air. It had that mysterious feel to it. Then 'When I Think About Angels' was so explosive. It makes you feel good." Malibu anticipates that O'Neal's next single, "Shiver," will do equally well. "If you thought the first two put shivers up and down your spine, this is going to be a great song."
O'Neal co-wrote nine of the 12 cuts on "Shiver," and Mercury chairman Luke Lewis thinks there are at least six potential singles on the album. "One of the nice things about this project is we've always felt it was really deep," Lewis says of the album, which came out last October. "We all believe 'Shiver' might be bigger than the first two singles, and if it is, we have a duet on there with Mark Wills ["I'm Not Gonna Do Anything Without You"] that we are thinking about releasing."