BWW Interview: Jackie Evancho Explores Her Love of Theater Music at San Jose Civic Audiorium
BroadwayWorld spoke with Jackie Evancho in advance of her November 1st concert in San Jose. It's hard to believe, but the little girl with the big voice who rose to instant fame on "America's Got Talent" is now a young adult. Her most recent album is titled "The Debut" and is comprised entirely of contemporary theater music. Talking to her, it's evident that she is eager to spread her wings as she more fully explores musical theater opportunities. She retains her girl-next-door approachability even as she's become a seasoned professional with clear ideas on where she'd like to take her career. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Let's talk about your upcoming concert in San Jose. What will the repertoire be?
The repertoire's actually going to be a mixture of all sorts, from what I would say is "classic Jackie" - you know, "O mio babbino caro" and stuff like that - and then I'll be doing a lot from the Broadway album, and then me and my musical director Jorn Swart, we're going to be throwing in some surprise songs, things that people don't expect to hear.
I'm really intrigued, but I realize you can't tell me what those are going to be because then they wouldn't be a surprise.
With so much terrific theater music out there, how did you go about choosing the song list for "The Debut"?
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.
Which song on the album speaks most closely to who you are right now at this point in your life?
It 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.
That certainly brings a whole different subtext to the lyrics of that song.
Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Musical theater lovers often get their first exposure to it by performing in their high schools' musicals. Given that you were already a working professional by the age of 10, I assume that wasn't the case for you?
Yeah, that was not the case!
So how did you develop a love for theater music?
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.
I'm also curious about the title of your album, "The Debut." Any chance it's an intentional hint that you'd be up for appearing in a Broadway musical?
Oh, absolutely! I would love to be in a Broadway musical. Actually, I'm starring in a debut musical by Kip Winger called Get Jack! on October 29th in New York so that'll be really cool. It's my first musical [theater] experience so I'm really excited and nervous and can't wait to see how it goes.
You already had such a mature sound even when you were a young girl. How has your voice changed over the years as you've transitioned now into adulthood?
Well, 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.
So it was a conscious decision on your part. I'm curious to know how you went about that.
Well 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.
So many great singers have worked with Joan Lader. [Kristin Chenoweth, Cynthia Erivo and Hugh Jackman for starters. She even won a special Tony Award.] What's her secret to success in helping singers like you?
I believe her secret is knowing what she's talking about. She's studied the voice and any single aspect you could think of; she knows the entire anatomy. She knows what muscles and spots to use in your throat to activate different sounds and tones. She really is a genius when it comes to that and every time I see her I'm amazed.
One other obvious path you could have taken was to pursue a career in opera. Did you ever consider that?
I never really considered that 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.
I think the only major controversy you've had in your professional career was the pushback you received from the LGBTQ community for performing at the 2017 presidential inauguration. Looking back on that whole experience, were there any helpful lessons to take away from it?
Yes. And that lesson for me was mainly if you have a bad gut feeling, and your team still pushes you to do something, don't give in, don't do it! That's what I've learned.
Such a simple lesson, but one that can be really hard to learn.
Especially when you're in the public eye!
You've been very publicly supportive of your transgender sister Juliet, who herself is such an inspiration as a trans rights activist. Do you have any advice for cisgendered folks on how we can be more effective allies for our trans friends and family members?
My advice would be to expect whoever somebody identifies as, and to just completely support it. It doesn't matter if their minds change, it doesn't matter if they stay this way for the rest of their lives. You have to just support and show love. And if you have a specific opinion and it might not be a good one, keep it to yourself. So just show support and love - that's all you have to do.
One last question: You're obviously a very focused, hard working person. What's your favorite way to spend time when you're not working, when you're just kicking back?
My favorite thing to do is I collect all my animals (a cat and two dogs) and I sit on my couch and I watch my favorite shows or my favorite movies, and I just breathe and relax and take everything in.