From Lena Horne to Christina Aguilera, Pittsburgh boasts a rich tradition of female vocalists who have influenced American popular music. But few have achieved fame at such a young age like Pittsburgh native Jackie Evancho.
Jackie was first inspired to sing after seeing a film version of "The Phantom of the Opera" just before her 8th birthday. She began to sing around the house, and before long, her parents, Lisa and Michael Evancho, entered her in a local talent competition. When the young soprano finished in second place behind singer more than 10 years older, the Evanchos realized their daughter possessed a special gift.
Jackie sang at local events and was a member of the Children's Festival Chorus. Her family eventually created a YouTube channel to post her performances. Her videos received thousands of views and generated additional event bookings throughout the nation.
The videos also caught the eye of record producer David Foster, who had worked with superstars such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston and Madonna. Mr. Foster, who would later produce one of Jackie's records, "Dream With Me," handpicked her to participate in the Hitman Talent Search Contest in late 2009. She appeared in front of thousands at the David Foster & Friends Concert one month later at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Her big break came in 2010 when she won a contest on YouTube to audition on the hit TV show "America's Got Talent." She performed a stunning rendition of Puccini's "O mio babbino caro," which received a standing ovation and blew away the celebrity judges.
She advanced to the finals and drew another standing ovation after singing "Ave Maria" in her final performance. Although she placed second to crooner Michael Grimm, it was clear a star was born.
Soon after, Jackie signed with Columbia Records, and her "O Holy Night" EP debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, selling more than 1 million copies to date. She earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest top three album act and broke other long-standing records worldwide. Jackie has toured the globe and performed for luminaries such as President Barack Obama, the Japanese royal family and Muhammad Ali.
In 2011, she returned to Pittsburgh to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" prior to the NHL Winter Classic at Heinz Field and give a sold-out performance at the Benedum Center.
Recently, in addition to a nationwide tour, 12-year-old Jackie was selected to play Robert Redford's daughter in the upcoming movie "The Company You Keep."
The Heinz History Center will honor Jackie as the youngest History Maker at the 20th Annual History Makers Award Dinner Friday at the Westin Convention Center. Other honorees are Chip Ganassi, Ronald Davenport, Michael Fisher and Stephen Tritch. Tickets: Mark Burnett at 412-454-6405 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
First Published April 12, 2012 12:00 AM