Jackie Evancho takes time out to be a kid

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Despite her superstar status and her album's debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200, 11-year-old Jackie Evancho is going to spend the summer being a kid.

She's excited about "just relaxing and going to Delaware for vacation," she says.

But she's no average fifth-grader on summer break. Earlier this month she was in London to perform on "Britain's Got Talent" -- the European counterpart of "America's Got Talent," the show that last year made her a star. On a whirlwind media blitz to promote her first full-length album, "Dream With Me," she did interviews in New York City on the "Today" show, "The View" and "Piers Morgan Tonight." Then she flew to Los Angeles and schmoozed with Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show." Her 14-song album, produced by David Foster, includes classical arias, pop classics and duets with Susan Boyle and Barbra Streisand.

Not bad for a girl who once said, "I want people to like me."

Just last summer, this talent from Richland learned she had earned a spot on the fifth season of NBC's "America's Got Talent." Upon hearing the news, she burst into tears of excitement and joy. She had auditioned twice before but failed to make the cut. The third time, her parents submitted a clip of her singing through the show's YouTube auditions. Her performance earned the most fan votes and secured her a place in the competition. The Evancho family booked a flight to Los Angeles, unaware their lives would never be the same again. As Jackie packed her suitcase, she made sure she had one special item: her seal stuffed animal. It's something she still takes with her wherever she goes.

"I love seals, and I snuggle with them every night," said Jackie, who recently became a spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the United States. "It's too hard to sleep without them now. So, I have these little doll seals that I hold in my arms every night."

When Jackie arrived in LA and saw the huge stage she'd be singing on, she grew nervous. She didn't want to mess up because she knew all of her class was watching! On Aug. 10, 2010, Jackie stepped up to the microphone and sang Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro." Suddenly, she went from Jackie Evancho, athletic fourth-grade student at Pine-Richland who likes to play tennis, to Jackie Evancho, superstar. Her angelic mature voice left many scratching their heads. They assumed she must have been lip-synching.

Although Jackie finished second behind 31-year-old Michael Grimm, she says she wasn't sad. After the show, she embarked on the "America's Got Talent" concert tour and recorded a holiday album, which made her last year's top-selling debut artist.

When Jackie was in second grade, her parents, Lisa and Mike Evancho, took her to see "The Phantom of the Opera" in the movie theater. After purchasing the DVD, Jackie sang along to Andrew Lloyd Webber's music just as other kids her age sang to Miley Cyrus. At first, her parents didn't think there was anything out of the ordinary about her voice. Then she entered her first talent competition and left the audience speechless. That's when it hit them that their daughter had a gift. With Jackie's enthusiasm for singing, the Evancho family would crowd into their car -- because they couldn't afford plane tickets -- and take road trips to New York City so she could compete in talent competitions.

"I miss those days," Jackie says with a hint of sadness. "Those days were fun."

Interestingly, Jackie never thought about auditioning for the CLO Mini Stars or shows in the Pittsburgh area. However, she does offer advice to those her age who have aspirations to perform.

"You should always follow your dreams, no matter what people say," she says. "If they say you're a horrible singer, you should always try to believe in yourself."

Just like any kid, she had to contend with teasing. She says plenty of people told her she couldn't sing and although it hurt her, she ignored their comments.

She says since she has received recognition for her talent, she's had more people wanting to be her friends, but she sticks with the friends she had before. After all, she's never been one to follow the crowd. While many of her peers are screaming for pop star Justin Bieber, Jackie prefers to listen to classical music or Simon & Garfunkel. However, she does have a newfound respect for Justin.

"I watched his movie, and it kind of changed my whole perspective," she says.

Before seeing "Never Say Never," she assumed he was "a spoiled brat who was kind of mean and all, but not anymore." And like Justin, she can relate to life on the road and missing home.

When she returns to Pittsburgh you won't find her on Facebook or logging on to any of the other social network sites. She prefers playing in her big backyard and swimming in her pool. While her father attends many of the city's sporting events, Jackie says she goes only when she's asked to sing, as she's done at PNC Park for the Pittsburgh Pirates and at Heinz Field for the National Hockey League's Winter Classic. And what about Primanti Bros.? Has she had one of their famous sandwiches?

"I haven't, but my dad loves them. He says he's going to take me there some time."

Even though she's traveling quite a bit these days and getting accustomed to standing ovations, when she's home she is still expected to do her chores. With three dogs, two cats, three ducks, three frogs, two guinea pigs and a lizard, Jackie is tasked with cleaning up after her pets.

Family is very important to Jackie. In fact, there are moments when she thinks of giving up her career because she is afraid it will tear up the family.

"I'm never seeing them as much as I used to," she says, referring to her older brother and younger brother and sister. "When I'm home, everyone's like, 'Jackie got this, and I didn't.' It makes me worry about my future."

Her doubts don't last too long. She says, "The next day, we're all happy and hip-hip hooray and all that."

There's no telling what the future holds for Jackie. But one thing is certain: Pittsburgh awaits her Oct. 16 debut performance with the Pittsburgh Opera at the Benedum Center. Until then, she'll try to have a normal summer like any other 11-year-old -- in between performing songs from her new album and making countless TV appearances.

Dustin Fitzharris is a freelance writer. He can be reached at dfitz.geo@yahoo.com .


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