Jackie Evancho Talks 'AGT' Return, Debuts 'Somewhere' From Upcoming Broadway Covers Album: Exclusive
Now 18, the "America's Got Talent" runner-up opens up about becoming an adult & taking ownership of her career.
Jackie Evancho is all grown up. Nearly a decade after America's Got Talent turned her into an overnight sensation, the former child prodigy returned to compete on America's Got Talent: The Champions last week.
Despite being eliminated after a breathtaking performance of "The Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, Evancho will appear in next week's finale (Feb. 18) to perform "Somewhere," the classic West Side Story ballad from her upcoming album of contemporary Broadway covers, The Debut, which is set to be released April 12.
Now that she's 18 -- she finished second on AGT when she was just 10 -- Evancho is taking charge of her career and speaking out about the challenges of growing up in the spotlight like never before. After opening up in a lengthy Facebook post, the pop-opera star has since revealed a years-long battle with anorexia and body dysmorphia as well as the trauma of dealing with "pedophiles and stalkers" in a recent interview with People.
Below, Evancho speaks with Billboard about her new music, being compared to Barbra Streisand and how therapy helped her overcome the wounds of child stardom. Plus, listen to the premiere of "Somewhere" before she performs it on Monday's AGT: The Champions finale.
You were just on America’s Got Talent: The Champions last week and you’ll be on again this coming week. What has it been like being back on the show after so many years?
For me, it’s actually been kind of awesome. To be back on the stage that started it all was really nostalgic, and it was one of my most favorite parts of my childhood. So to be back on that stage, it really felt like I was home again.
And next week, you’ll be performing “Somewhere” on the finale. What made you choose that song?
That song is absolutely one of my favorites to sing live, and I really just wanted to kind of show everybody my favorite songs and a new way of presenting myself, because they know me as Phantom of the Opera Jackie -- a little girl. Yes I still sing Phantom and all of that stuff, but now that I’m 18 and I am broadening my horizons, I really wanted to show them what else I could do. So I took some of my most favorite memories and really kind of looked at them, and one that stood out to me was when I sang this song with Barbra [Streisand]. So I guess it’s kind of saying goodbye to the old me, but in a new way.
I love that. Your performance has been compared to Barbra’s, whom you recorded a duet of the song with on Dream With Me back in 2011. How does that comparison make you feel?
That was amazing to hear, because exactly what I want out of my career is to be like her. She’s such an influence of mine. I love her voice, and she makes it seem so effortless and flawless. So to be compared to that shows me that I’m doing something right.
Do you see any similarities between your new version and the one you did with Barbra, or how is it different?
Well, I tried my best to kind of keep the roots of the song but, you know, add different flavors. So that is really what I did -- you’re not going to be able to hear it on America’s Got Talent, just because we had to keep it pretty straightforward, but the song will actually be on my album as well. So there’s going to be a bit more of a Jackie flavor to it, I guess. [Laughs]
So your new album, The Debut, is full of Broadway covers. How did you go about selecting all of the songs for it?
For me, it was really kind of just taking a look at all of these new, amazing Broadway shows that everybody loves and finding which parts of the shows -- which characters from the shows -- really resonated with me. I really studied the characters once I picked the songs. For me, it was really important to find pivotal parts of the shows and represent [them] on the album, and really look at songs that people wouldn’t expect. A lot of people would expect me to be singing “It’s Quiet Uptown” from Hamilton, but instead I looked at a very important part of the show and took that song, which was “Burn.”
What can fans expect from this new album that’s different from the music you released before you were an adult?
I think they can really expect to hear more authenticity in terms of what I have to say in my art. When I was younger and would work with producers and make albums, I would put my two cents in and then whoever was producing the album could decide if they really wanted to listen. Now that I’m 18 and am owning my own career, I think they really do pay attention to what I say more. What I say goes, and I think that’s awesome.
I also heard that you moved to New York. What’s it like living on your own for the first time?
Honestly, it’s pretty great. I love it, because I’ve definitely found out that living on your own helps you to figure out who you actually are. Because you can talk to nobody but yourself for the longest time. [Laughs] So for me, it’s really kind of forcing myself to become an adult even if I don’t want to.
You’ve also been very open recently about the struggles you faced growing up in the spotlight -- from your battles with anorexia and body dysmorphia to predatory men trying to take advantage of you in the industry. What made now the right time for you to open up about so many of your vulnerabilities?
I think that, for me, speaking out about things that are my truth was really important now that I’m 18 and I can control so much of my life. For so long, everybody has known me as 10-year-old Jackie, and it was like I had to pretend to be a 10-year-old for so long even though I was 18 and I’ve had all of these life experiences. I’ve had terrible things happen to me and I’ve had amazing things happen, but I really just wanted to start my adulthood being very much genuinely me.
Were you nervous at all about opening up about some of these challenges or negative experiences that you’ve been through?
Yeah, actually, I really was nervous. Not because I was speaking the truth -- although that was hard. What made me nervous was that, because there are so many people coming out and speaking their truth, I didn’t want people to think I was hopping on this bandwagon to try to get publicity or something. Because that’s not the case and I would never do that. I wanted to really just be honest with my fans and let them know that I’m not a 10-year-old girl. I’ve experienced things that have aged me and that the world isn’t amazing as a child prodigy. It can really be difficult.
How did all of those experiences change you as a person and as an artist?
I think those experiences really made me an introvert. And I think that because I became an introvert, it put of a bit of a wrench in being an artist. Because I didn’t want to let new people into my life, and I didn’t want to work with people and write songs with other people and collaborate. It was really difficult.
And how did you then start to overcome that?
I went to therapy, obviously, and just kind of sorted through all those memories and things that changed who I was. I communicated with my parents more and if I was feeling uncomfortable or closed off, I would tell them about it and they would reassure me. I think communication is really important for anybody.
Now that you’ve spoken your truth and opened up about so many of these things, what do you hope your fans can take or learn from you sharing your experiences?
I hope that they know that I’m not just some little gimmick, I’m not some special occasion where a 10-year-old has this adult voice. Now that I’m an adult -- and I have a good voice still -- I want people to know that I’m an artist and that I take my job very seriously. It’s my life and I’m devoted to it. So I want people to know that music is definitely my passion.
As you move into this new chapter as an adult, where do you see yourself going in terms of musical style? Because this album is a little bit different from your previous work.
Right. I don’t think there is one specific path that I’ll be taking in terms of my music. ... I really want to just try a bit of everything. I want to be like a renaissance man, but modern-day. I want to try all sorts of things, and not just in music. I also want to act a little and want to make clothing lines and makeup lines and really just become a businesswoman.
Who would you say, then, are some of your musical influences or people who are inspiring you as you make this transition into adulthood as an artist?
I think that there [are] a lot of inspirations that I pull from a bunch of different people in different aspects. I really want to have the career and stage presence of Barbra Streisand. I want to have the work ethic and cleverness that Kim Kardashian has with her business. And I want to be able to write lyrics the way that the lead singer from Cage the Elephant does. I want to be able to do a bunch of different things.
So we can expect a Jackie Evancho empire coming soon?
Oh yes you can! Wait for the reality show called Jackie Empire.
Stream the exclusive premiere of "Somewhere" below. The Debut will be released April 12 via Vydia.