A little more than two years ago, Jackie Evancho won America’s hearts.
OK, so she didn’t win “America’s Got Talent,” coming in second in 2010 to singer Michael Grimm.
But Evancho was an immediate standout, a pre-pubescent cutie-pie with the pipes and poise of someone three times her age (she’s now a ripe old 12).
She quickly cornered the holiday market with that year’s “O Holy Night,” which sold so fast, Evancho became the best-selling debut artist of 2010 and the youngest Top-10 debut artist in Billboard chart history.
Now she’s a chart vet with three more albums on her resume – 2011’s “Dream with Me” and “Heavenly Christmas,” and her latest, “Songs from the Silver Screen,” which includes such well-known ballads as “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” (“The Lion King”) and “My Heart Will Go On” (“Titanic”).
The album also provides Evancho an opportunity to croon a piece from the musical that instigated her interest in music – “Phantom of the Opera.”
“My parents and I would always sing together and harmonize even if we were on the way to the grocery store. We were usually singing ‘Phantom of the Opera’ songs. I love all of them. I saw the show on Broadway, but I liked the movie better. I think it was more passionate,” the sweet-natured Evancho said recently from her home in Pittsburgh, where she lives with her human family and her animal one – four snakes (“They’re a lot more mellow than you would think,” she said) hermit crabs, frogs, dogs, cats and a guinea pig.
On Sunday, Evancho will be joined by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at Symphony Hall to delve into a repertoire that belies her youth. She admits to getting “big butterflies” before every show, but calms herself by saying a prayer before walking onstage.
Evancho loves performing with symphonies – she’ll usually rehearse with the musicians an hour or so before the show to practice song tempos – and is unabashedly drawn to classical style songs and arrangements.
“I love the way the music goes together, the way the notes flow together,” she said. “It’s the thing that inspired me and mesmerized me from when I first heard ‘Phantom’ when I was 8.”
Four years since that fateful musical meeting, Evancho is a seasoned traveler – Tokyo is her favorite city and she hopes to learn to speak Japanese – and has already worked with some superstars, such as Tony Bennett.
She joined Bennett on his “Duets II” album last year – and performed with him this spring – and is enamored of the musical veteran.
“He’s awesome. I love him. It would be nice to do a tour,” Evancho said.
She also made her acting debut in Neil Gordon’s “The Company You Keep,” produced and directed by Robert Redford, who stars in the film as her father. It’s expected to be released in March.
“He is such a sweet person. I loved working with him. It was such an honor to work with such a legend,” she gushed.
There is one more guy that Evancho has something to say about, and it has to do with the show that launched her career.
While she doesn’t watch “America’s Got Talent” regularly anymore, she did tune in a few times this past season for one reason: “I wanted to see how Howard Stern was as a judge,” she said.
And the verdict?
“He’s a really cool judge. He gave great advice.”
Spoken like a young lady who knows the value of good guidance.
Jackie Evancho performs with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $39-$125. Symphony Hall Atlanta, 1280 Peachtree St., Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene