'I Don't Like Politics': Jackie Evancho on Trump, Internet Haters and Why Playing the Inauguration Was a 'Huge Honor'
Jackie Evancho admits that she never expected the Internet vitriol that she received for agreeing to perform the national anthem at President Donald Trump’s inauguration in January -- including accusations that she had betrayed her transgender older sister, Juliet. The 16-year-old pop-opera star has had two months to reflect on the backlash she received for the performance -- and says she’s hoping to meet with Trump in person soon to discuss transgender rights.
Earlier this month, and ahead of the release of her new album, Two Hearts (out Mar. 31), Evancho spoke to Billboard. In a conversation condensed and edited for clarity, she talks about performing in front of Trump while under the weather, her decision to sign on to the event, rejecting both liberal and conservative politics, and misconceptions about her family life.
What is the most memorable experience in your life thus far?
Evancho: To be honest, the inauguration, and the moment where I stepped up onto the podium and sang. The little visual that I got before I zoned out was the whole entire sea of people watching me, and that was one of the most amazing moments for me -- to have that visual.
Who asked you to participate in the inauguration?
That’s kind of a funny story. I was in New York doing advertisements for my Christmas album, and my manager told me that he had a meeting with Trump’s people. And I was like, “All right, whatever that means. Have fun.” He came back and said, “So, would you like to sing in the inauguration?" I told him, “Yeah, that would be awesome,” because I don’t see it as politics at all. Unfortunately, I know so many people wish that I did, but I don’t.
You didn’t think twice? So many artists turned it down.
Right. I was scared because so many people turned it down, and I didn’t understand why they did, and maybe I was saying yes to something I didn’t completely understand. But whenever I decided to say yes, it felt right. I was not doing it for politics or Trump, but for my country. I was proud of that decision.
What was your experience before and after, and what did you learn from it?
So, I felt like crap because I was sick. I had a fever and a head cold. It lasted from a week before to two weeks after the inauguration. It was the longest thing, and now my sister has it. It was rough. I was extremely nervous, because two days prior I lost my voice. I was like, “Oh my God, how am I going to keep myself warmed up? I am going to be sitting outside in the cold for two hours, not able to make a noise.” Those were my thoughts before I got to sing.
I sang, zoned out, and then after that I was like, “Could I have done better? Could I have done worse? Either way, I am proud of myself.” What I learned from that is to stay true to your opinion, you know? Stick to what you believe in.
Did you think that there would be a chance you wouldn't be able to play the inauguration?
Yeah. I was so nervous. I didn’t know. I thought I might have had pneumonia because it felt like it, and I’ve had walking pneumonia before, and it kind of felt like it. If I could sing, if I could pull it off, then I [was] going to do it.
Was the backlash hard to cope with?
At first it was really appalling, because I am a 16-year-old girl singing for my country and it’s like, come on, do you have nothing better to do than pick on me? After that thought crossed my mind, I thought it didn’t even matter anyway. I ignored it from that point forward.
Did you get any death threats or stuff on Twitter?
If I did, then I’m so glad I didn’t see them. But I did get a lot of, “You betrayed your sister. How dare you! How could you?” I was called vicious words, things I can’t even say. It’s just crazy the nerve people have over the Internet, because you know they wouldn’t do that in person.
Did you just think it would be a really good career move to sing at the inauguration, as in all the recognition? Did that run through your head?
It did. But I mean, my career -- it was more about morals for me. I believe it was a huge honor. It wasn’t politics. I was aware of the benefits, but that’s not why I said yes.
Your sister Juliet seems to be pretty outspoken and in support of your decision. Did you talk with her before you decided to sing?
I mean, we talked, but we both didn’t see it as something to talk about, because we weren’t thinking politics.
Your family is still going through the lawsuit involving the Pine-Richland school district using separate bathrooms, and how your sister will now be able to use whatever bathroom she chooses.
We did have a small victory for now. She is allowed to use her identified restroom and so is everyone else who is transgendered in that school district in the state of Pennsylvania, so that’s good. It’s not done, and there is still more that has to be done -- I don’t know the specifics, but I am told it’s not done yet. My sister is excited, though.
You tweeted to President Trump that you would like to meet with him to discuss transgender bathroom issues with your sister. Did he ever respond?
There was a meeting they had where Sean Spicer said that he would welcome a meeting with me. We are in the midst of figuring that out.
Do you know what you will say to him?
I feel like I am going to level with him and talk to him about the horrors that my sister has to deal with. Then hopefully we can come to some solution, which is hopefully a federal law that protects my sister and people like her in the bathroom.
Do you identify with being liberal or conservative? If you could vote, who would you have voted for?
In all honesty, I don’t involve myself with politics at all. I am nothing. I don’t like politics. I hate them. It makes everything such a big deal when it shouldn’t be. It’s such a problem and there is so much hate right now because of it. It’s one of those things that people don’t have anything better to do than create issues with it.
Positions like Trump being in office, and overruling Obama’s transgender bathroom views or saying inappropriate statements about women---Do you think that is right? Do you agree with it?
I don’t stand for that and I do disagree with it, and there are things I am going to disagree with when it comes to our president. It’s also an American right and it doesn’t mean I am turning on him or anything, but it affects my family and it affects my sister in a personal sense, so I had to do something. I mean, it’s something that I believe in. I strongly believe that people should be able to be who they are without judgment, and without having to deal with what people deal with. So, I do believe in that.
When you are 18, are you going to vote?
That’s a tricky question, because as of right now, I really don’t want to. But I think when it comes time, I think I will have to. [laughs]
Was your family all invited to the inauguration?
Yes. Juliet did not go, though. My mom and Juliet did not go because she was in the middle of her transition surgery. She went to Philadelphia for it and had to stay in bed for two weeks before she could travel home and stay bed-ridden. She was out of school for two or three months because of it.
What would you say to fans who have criticized you or have made comments about you not supporting your sister?
I guess I would say it’s a shame you think the way you do but don’t know enough to have an educated opinion. They don’t know at all what the truth is, which is why I hate Internet shamers and haters. I just ignore it. I can think [about] how stupid it is, but I do ignore it. It’s a crazy world we live in.