MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 76: JACKIE EVANCHO

The last two years of me blogging about different artists have been some of the most enriching in my own life, in a musical sense. I’ve explored music that I would otherwise not have ventured in; and have found myself enjoying music that I would otherwise have thought was ‘worldly’, to put it in a blunt way. Because to be frank, prior to 2019 (whence in started my blog series), I was primarily listening to CCM- which isn’t a bad thing at all. I was enjoying the music I was listening to, and appreciating artists like Chris Tomlin, Matthew West, Steven Curtis Chapman, Newsboys, Francesca Battistelli, Natalie Grant, Third Day, for KING AND COUNTRY, Michael W. Smith, Tenth Avenue North, Carman, Rebecca St. James, and Casting Crowns, to name a few of many CCM artists I was listening to, prior to 2019. And yet, looking back on it now, CCM is just once slice of this pie called music, and while there are a few genres that I wouldn’t intentionally seek out and listen to- hard rock, screamo, and rap would be the genres I wouldn’t prefer to  hear, if I did have a preference; I have to understand this very fact that I have learnt these last couple of years or so- that God can use whatever music He chooses for us to gain a better understanding about ourselves, God and everything else in between. And if that is through CCM, then great. If it’s through pop, country, music from musicals, rock, if it’s from the ‘mainstream’ circle that can seem to be ‘off-limits’ to a lot of young people ‘raised’ within the Christian faith…then great, too! I mean it. If God can speak through Balaam’s donkey in the Bible, then speaking through country music, or though pop music of today, isn’t out of the realms of possibility for God to undertake. And with that frame of mind, I was able to enjoy a lot of music within the last 2 years that I would never, in a million years, have listened to, had it not been for this ‘musical experiment’. Artists like Josh Groban, Train, Ronan Keating, Martina McBride, The Corrs, Bryan Adams, Rascal Flatts, Backstreet Boys, Pentatonix, Keith Urban, Hanson, Colbie Caillat, Goo Goo Dolls, Little Big Town, Missy Higgins, Sugarland, SEAL, Coldplay and John Farnham, are all fast becoming some of the standout artists I’ve encountered over the last couple of years, and once again, I’m amazed about how impactful a lot of the music I’ve heard this last few years, and how God has used a lot of ‘mainstream’ music to shatter my own expectations of what ‘mainstream’ music should sound like and be, and how God can even use the unlikeliest of sources (a mainstream song) to convey His love for His creation. Music is a gift, and God uses music full-stop, for our good and His glory. And so, after 75 blog posts about a myriad of music artists that I’ve firmly believed have made a tremendous mark on music history, and have impacted people around the world over time, I’ve decided to take a leap into a musical genre unknown for the most part. Opera/music from musicals, wasn’t necessarily my go-to music initially, but ever since loving The Greatest Showman and enjoying thoroughly the soundtrack of it, I saw musicals and opera in a new way, that I was to broaden my own horizons about how music should be and how I was prejudiced against opera, for what reason, I don’t know. I did tackle opera a little, and songs from musicals in the discussion of artist Josh Groban, in a blog I undertook way back a couple of years ago, writing it in March 2019. And here I am in March 2021, and what better way to basically celebrate my very own anniversary of venturing-out ‘musically’, than to delve into yet another vocally powerful artist who has shattered people’s expectations over the last 10 years. Being one of the world’s most impactful within the operatic pop/musical category for the better part of the 2010s decade, I’ve taken it one step further than Josh Groban, and have tackled an artist that even I didn’t think I was going to delve into- Jackie Evancho, child singer and all-round impactful artist, who has, in my opinion, revolutionised opera, pop and people’s appreciation of musicals, since her ascension to fame in 2011 when Jackie came second in the 2010 season of America’s Got Talent.

‘…a lot of times people assume that a little girl voice turns into a big girl voice, but for me it was a big girl voice turns into discovering all sorts of different parts of that voice. I realized as I was getting older that I wasn’t just a classical crossover singer or an opera singer, and that I could manipulate my voice to do what I wanted it to. I discovered a pop side and a Broadway side and different parts of my voice, and that came with age…you know I was always singing pop to myself, and then I finally sang it to my mom and she was like, “Wait, you can do that, too?!” And from there started the journey of me testing my limits and different spots of my voice, and I ended up seeing a vocal coach named Joan Lader. She’s amazing, I love her! I see her occasionally to make sure that I’m using the right techniques, and also she helps me to control the other spots in my voice that I’m discovering…I never really considered that [pursuing a career in opera] because the opera world is very limited. Although I love singing it and hearing it, I didn’t want to limit myself to one thing, and as I get older I realize that was a good choice because I don’t want to sing just one genre. I want to sing all sorts of different things, whatever my heart desires…’

Maybe it’s just me, but from my observation over this last decade, I would say that Jackie Evancho has been one of the shining stars to come out of talent shows (of any format in any country), and still have her integrity, passion, zest for music, and all-round personality, all intact, years later. To put it bluntly, it must be hard for anyone to be in the spotlight for an extended period of time (in any talent show) and then to have expectations placed upon you, upon exiting said competition, and out in the real world. It must be tough, having people critique your work and expect you to be at your best, at every turn. Amplify that feeling, for a ten-year-old who came runner up in the 2010 edition of America’s Got Talent (AGT), and that’s the feeling I’m sure Jackie was feeling a decade ago. And it is because of such a rise to stardom that Jackie has had, and her own ability to perform operatic/pop-musical songs, with such ease and poise, that her popularity and fame rose throughout her time on AGT, and further beyond, post-AGT. And even though everyone thought she was going to win the competition, she didn’t, and maybe that’s the point. Somewhere along the line, people can get tied up in fame and fortune, and sometimes if someone is crowned champion (of whatever talent show), their ego can rise too big, and they can often change into people that they themselves don’t necessarily want to be. Who knows how Jackie might’ve turned out- had she indeed have won the AGT 2010 season. We may not have gotten the Jackie we know now. Sometimes people can turn out better in the long run, if they don’t win. They’ll be more persevering, more appreciative of circumstances and situations, maybe even more humble, if ever there was such a thing. Jackie’s time in the competition, has been one of such awe and wonder, and though she didn’t win, her career hasn’t suffered one bit.

There’s nothing much to say about Jackie Evancho in this blog. There, I said it. She’s literally released album after album of cover songs, famous opera tracks, and melodies from musicals that we all know and love. Some in English, some in other languages, Jackie’s vocal prowess across her 5 studio albums, 2 Christmas albums, 1 Christmas EP, and her pre-AGT album, is nothing short of impressive, marvellous and impressive, for someone who started her music work at 10, and is now aged 21. Not including her 5 originally written songs from her 2017 album Two Hearts, most of her other songs she’s recorded, are songs that we all know before (that’s if you’re an avid fan of musicals, opera, and the like). And even if you aren’t an initial fan of that particular genre of music, just one blink through Jackie’s discography, and you can see her ability to transform a lot of familiar melodies; and place her own ‘Jackie Evancho’ spin on it. Jackie released her first label-backed album in 2011, Dream With Me, and with songs like ‘When You Wish Upon a Star’ (from Pinocchio), ‘The Prayer’ (Celine Dion & Andrea Bocelli), ‘Somewhere’ (from West Side Story), ‘All I Ask of You’ (from Phantom of the Opera), ‘Angel’ (Sarah McLachlan) and ‘Imaginer’ (a French song with musical inspiration from ‘Broken Vow’), anchoring the album musically and sonically, Jackie transformed the hearts of people around the world, if not during the AGT performances, then most certainly during the release of her 2011 album. And I guess, the rest is history. And this blog post isn’t another history-expose of an artist. There’s google and Wikipedia for that. What I will say is this, that as Jackie’s voice matured and she moved from opera music to cover songs from musicals, and her own pop melodies, we saw an artist that was vastly admired and respected; and blessed with a vocal far beyond her years. Dream With Me showed us the hidden door of the underutilised and underappreciated genre which is opera, and the overlooked style of musical-songs that Jackie also prided herself to deliver covers of, throughout her career. Dream With Me is a moment in history and time, where we as a people became more aware of opera, and took it for what the genre really was- a difficult genre of music, that can only be accomplished by a handful of accomplished voices in the business. And for Jackie to deliver these songs on Dream With Me when she was 10, is nothing short of miraculous and God-ordained. And it has been Jackie’s voice, and voice alone, that has placed her here in this blog post series…and that’s ok.

Following Dream With Me, Jackie delved into the world of movies and songs that have been prominent in movies for her 2012 album Songs From the Silver Screen. Songs inclusive of ‘Pure Imagination’ (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory), ‘Music of the Night’ (The Phantom Of the Opera), ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ (The Lion King), ‘My Heart Will Go On’ (Titanic), ‘I See the Light’ (Tangled) and ‘Reflection’ (Mulan) are all relative standouts on an album rich with nostalgia and memories, as we take a trip revisiting songs that have been within our hearts over time, by the way of a movie. While the album still had an operatic tinge to it, Jackie’s voice was maturing, and her songs reminded me of other opera singers at that time, like Josh Groban, and females like Katherine Jenkins and Susan Boyle, in the very best way possible. Even after hearing all the albums from Jackie, I’d have to say that her 2012 album feels to me, the most complete. Maybe it’s because I’m still a sucker for songs from movies, or maybe I just like being reminded of my own childhood when I was more of an avid movie-goer. But whatever the case, Songs from the Silver Screen is a Jackie Evancho standout, and alongside her 2019 album The Debut, the album remains to this day, the go-to album from Jackie that I’d listen to, if ever I’d pick one to listen from start to finish. Jackie’s ability to create music in a way that allows us to joyously hear her graceful versions of already powerful classics, is nothing short of God-given, and much like how my reasoning was, behind placing Pentatonix on my blog series list, so too is my reasoning behind Jackie Evancho. Her vocals alone, demands people’s attention, and her talent to create music of that high calibre at such a young age is extraordinary, and needs to be at least listened to once, so people can see her passion and enthusiasm for music. Jackie’s a role model for each of us, a reminder to always chase our dreams, that it’s never too young to start undertaking our passions, that people ought not to look down on us if we’re deemed too ‘young’ to undertake what it is we want to.

Jackie Evancho has been in the music business for a while- a decade, and her name has been thrown around here and there- I’m sure people have heard of her, even if they themselves haven’t heard of her music. Coming second in America’s Got Talent, and wowing people at aged 10- that’s kinda hard to miss, right? Born and bred in the deep heart of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Jackie’s been making music for quite some time, and while her name right now isn’t as popular as it was back when she burst onto the scene in the early 2010s; we as listeners are nevertheless blessed to hear and appreciate an artist like Jackie. While I wasn’t totally in the know about the opera/musical genre that Jackie embodies in her songs; I was however game enough to listen to Jackie to give it a go. The result- my appreciation and admiration, respect and reverence, for Jackie as an artist. Though even now Jackie’s music, and I guess opera in general, still won’t be my go-to music (more so pop, rock, CCM and country); I can nevertheless listen to these songs with more respect for people who do delve into opera; and achieve it with such grace and poise. The same cannot be said of me even 5 years ago. And so, if Jackie’s music (as similar stylistically to Josh Groban’s) can move the needle a little and challenge myself into thinking outside the box of what styles of music can be enjoyable; then Jackie Evancho and her songs have served their purpose well.

Sometimes I feel that often than not, the music industry feels like they need to bring something new to the table every-time, when all they really need to do at a certain moment is to re-invent the old music in a new light. It is when this happens, that newer listeners from a younger generation, can connect and relate to these songs, and remind themselves that some songs are in fact timeless. Regardless of the time period, songs that stand the test of time are worth listening to, and songs can and should tug at the heart through universal music issues spoken about through said melodies. Much of Jackie’s material, covers and original pop material, are testament to this fact!

I’m sure that in any album that Jackie has done, there’s always a song for anyone to listen to and be encouraged by. Even if on the whole, Jackie’s music may not be as unique as other musical styles (her albums don’t have that much original material, and it is a whole lot of cover songs for one artist to sing), Jackie’s voice alone should be a showstopper. An artist who I originally thought had more songs in languages other than English than she did, sung in more languages than she originally did, Jackie brings the emotions in the songs that she delivers. A quick look through her discography and you can see the timeless songs she places her ‘Jackie Evancho’ stamp over- ‘Think of Me’ (The Phantom of the Opera), ‘Ave Maria’, ‘With Or Without You’ (U2), ‘Safe and Sound’ (The Hunger Games), ‘Writing’s On the Wall’ (Sceptre), ‘A Thousand Years’ (Christina Perri), ‘May It Be’ (The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring), ‘How Great Thou Art’, ‘All of the Stars’ (Ed Sheeran), ‘She Used to Be Mine’ (Sara Bareilles), ‘A Million Dreams’ (The Greatest Showman), ‘Requiem’ (Dear Evan Hansen), ‘Once Upon a December’ (Anastasia) and ‘I’m Not That Girl’ (Wicked) are all given the Jackie Evancho treatment and transformation, and while some covers I was unfamiliar with, and some I was,  I can nevertheless assert and understand that Jackie is first and foremost a powerful and impressive vocal singer. Whether she writes her own songs or not is immaterial (she does though- original songs ‘Sane’, ‘Pedestal’, ‘The Haunting’, ‘Wonderland’ and ‘Apocalypse’ are all on the deluxe edition of Two Hearts). She still has the ability to transform a track that has been on the shelf and hardly touched for years and give it a new life that people of a new generation can enjoy and call their own. And that talent is reason enough for Jackie’s placement amongst everyone else, in this blog series.

‘…I wanted “The Debut” to sort of be the new American Songbook so that required looking into these newer Broadway shows that people are becoming more and more obsessed with, like Hamilton, Dear Evan Hansen and Wicked. I chose my favorite songs from these shows after doing research. I picked the ones that spoke most to me, and then I kind of put myself into the songs…[a song that speaks the most] would probably be “I’m Not That Girl” from Wicked. It’s one of my favorites from the album. I think it spoke about me and who I am because I’m an adult now. I first came to light as a singer when I was 10 years old and so a lot of people still see me as that little girl. They see that I’m an adult now and they kind of get taken aback and thrown off course when I decide to wear something that isn’t, you know, a little girl doll dress…I was trying to find a way that I could break into a younger demographic, but not neglect that fans that I do have. I was looking into Broadway shows that a lot of older [fans] love and I was seeing that there were a lot of younger people adoring the soundtracks, especially “Hamilton.” And I thought well this would be a perfect idea for me to really delve into that world and see if I can merge the young and the old demos. And I fell in love with the music and the characters and the plays, everything about it….’ It is in this quote above where Jackie reflects upon her career thus far, where you can glean and discover a lot of gems about Jackie, her outlook on life, and her music as a whole. As she has evolved in music style (first us being shown opera melodies, to now here in 2019, we have a more of a glimpse into more musical songs), Jackie’s message of hope, inclusion, passion, emotion, and songs that fill you up and give you courage for the next day; can be seen quite vividly in her music. I myself am not necessarily the greatest candidate in giving a full detailed account about Jackie and her storied career, from inception into the music industry till now. Mainly because I’m not that well-versed in musicals or in opera. Never was, and I’m not sure if I ever can be, and maybe that’s ok, for someone who is unbiased to either genre, to make an assessment about an artist that has taken both the opera world and the world of musicals, by surprise. Most of my blog posts have been, in one way or another, a ‘skeleton-like’ look through an artist’s career. And to be honest, over the last 2 years since I undertook, boldly and maybe at the time foolishly, the grandiose task of delving into 100 artists that are influential on a variety of minute or even grander levels; I’ve learnt a lot about myself and my own ability to be even willing to open up to new genres of music, and whether prior to this, let us say, a musical awakening; was I really in tune with what was out there and what was a possibility for God to speak through to me? Probably not.

Jackie’s career has been littered with a lot of accolades, awards and prestige, as shown by the amount listed on Wikipedia articles about Jackie’s music. And it is in the reading of the amassing respect for Jackie in the form of awards, that I’ve come to appreciate Jackie herself, and be reminded that opera and musical songs aren’t that bad, as maybe I was led to believe. Jackie’s career in music is as diverse as it is touching to different people in different aspects of time, and that’s ok. For me I felt more of a connection to Jackie’s renditions of songs found in movies and songs from musicals, than any other- and while I can appreciate and even respect Jackie for presenting songs in operatic format, it has and always will be Jackie’s renditions of cinematic music, and music from musicals, that strike a chord- and none other than songs like ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’, ‘My Heart Will Go On’, ‘A Million Dreams’ and ‘She Used to Be Mine’. For what I’ve said about this influential list, that influential doesn’t necessarily mean popular, nor should it; still stands, and Jackie Evancho is one such artist that follows such a trend as this- she is very good in her field of music in which she specialises, but popular on a grander scale that encompasses a variety of genres across multiple cultures and time periods…not so much. And that’s ok.

Dubbed as an American classical crossover artist, I’d have to say that Jackie’s more familiar and famous songs are songs not in English, and maybe, therein lies the universality of music and how music can transcend even language. With musical and vocal similarities to that of Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Celine Dion, Susan Boyle, Michael Buble and Il Divo; Jackie’s full vocal range on display in most, if not all, of her music, is something to be in awe of. Out of any artist within the modern music era, I’d have to say that Jackie’s up there with Josh Groban, in terms of vocal ability. And as you look throughout her career, you can’t help but smile and enjoy the music, even if some of it is in a language other than English. Songs like ‘Nella Fantasia’, ‘Nessun Dorma’, ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’, ‘Ave Maria’, ‘Dorme Jesu’, ‘Caruso’ and ‘Attesa’ have all been prominent non-English songs throughout Jackie’s career, and though I don’t understand any other language that well other than English, I have since become fascinated with songs not in English, and understand that a song and it’s emotion and heart translated in it, is far greater and bigger than the language in which it is sung. I don’t tend to understand each of these songs I’ve just mentioned, yet, even still, God can still work through them and impact the listener (myself included), and it is through these songs that I’m sure the Lord has done just that! It is these songs in this paragraph and the paragraphs previously, that remind me that one person ought to be more than the genre people place over them. In this case, Jackie is so much more than an opera artist. Sure, that was the starting point, but it shouldn’t end there. Jackie’s ability to create a song like ‘Apocalypse’, or even make an existing song her own, is what I reckon will propel her career even further and increase her own longevity as an artist moving forward.

As a whole, Jackie’s music has touched millions of people around the world, and over the course of this last week or so, mine as well. This is an artist truly blessed with something meaningful to say; and is impacting culture and people around the world with her own music, cover songs, and songs not in English, all in the time of breaking down stereotypes about what they believe to be operatic pop and what they reckon Jackie’s music sounds like, I’m sure only based upon hearing her America’s Got Talent auditions and performances. Regardless of rash opinions and quick-to-judge listeners, prior to me actively picking Jackie Evancho as an artist to explore this week, I was also one of these people that assumed Jackie was this, when in fact, she was so much more. Listening to operatic pop and music from stage productions has broadened my own horizons on music and made me appreciate the world of classical music, opera, anthemic pop and stage productions much more than initially thought. Sure, I was impacted and inspired by artists previously in these Momentous Mondays blogs (artists like Alicia Keys and Goo Goo Dolls have given me a reignited appreciation for R&B and rock, respectively), but to delve into a relatively unknown genre of music and come out the other side as someone that can appreciate a softer style of music, through musicals, is a powerful feat. God has certainly worked through Jackie’s music, reminding me that He can, and He will, speak through anyone He chooses, and Jackie’s music, with all the multi-faceted layers, is evidence of this!

I’ve said this before in previous posts, and I’ll say so again- the song has to be believable, and the artist singing the songs have to believe, or at least appear as if they believe, the themes in the songs they’re singing (if nothing else, cause I’m sure there are many songs sung by many artists, where the artist doesn’t believe them at all!). Jackie Evancho, I feel, is one such artist where the belief in the song carries through in her vocal delivery, and the passion and heart evidenced throughout much of her music career. So as we carry about our weeks, let us be immersed in the music that is unique and different, understanding that all music, created by God, has its place in the industry. That music that harms is not by God, but rather, twisted by man to fulfil plans and desires not aligned with the Father’s. And where does Jackie Evancho’s music fit in? Let’s just say that much of her discography has stirred up things in myself that would otherwise have been dormant, like I’m sure my appreciation and dare I say it, respect, and admiration, for classical music with a pop edge, and music from musicals as well. Jackie the artist is as needed in both the classical music genre, and mainstream music industries, as she is needed in society, full stop. So let us sit back and enjoy Jackie Evancho and her music, and what she has to offer. And be reminded that influential need not be the same as popular!

Does Jackie Evancho make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Safe & Sound’, ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’, ‘How Great Thou Art’ or ‘A Million Dreams’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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