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Child singing star Jackie Evancho balances school, career

Actress Jackie Evancho arrives at a screening of the film 'The Company You Keep' during the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in this
Actress Jackie Evancho arrives at a screening of the film 'The Company You Keep' during the 37th Toronto International Film Festival in this

By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - Three years after a popular TV talent show launched child soprano Jackie Evancho on a meteoric career, she still has no singing coach, can't read music and sticks to a modest rehearsal routine.

As she makes the transition from pre-teen singing sensation to professional artist, Evancho, who turns 14 in April, is seeking to balance her school work - and play time - with a busy concert tour schedule and recording her sixth album.

"She has the challenge of going from child star to legitimate artist," said Lisa Evancho, who tours with her daughter, helping to steam-press her dresses before performances and supervising her rehearsal routine.

"It's no longer ‘Let's go see the circus freak - the little girl with the grown-up voice.' It's more like wanting her to stand on her own ability and keep the career going in that direction. And, it looks as if it is," she said.

A runner-up finish on "America's Got Talent" in 2010 introduced Evancho, from Pittsburgh, as the newest - and youngest - classical crossover singer. Since then, Jackie has packed concert halls across the country and overseas, as well as landing duets with Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett and Jose Carreras, and two solo TV specials for PBS.

She also appeared with Robert Redford in a 2012 movie, "The Company You Keep."

Evancho got a standing ovation last week at Miami's Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, where she displayed her stunningly mature vocal power, phrasing and range in a rendition of "My Heart Will Go On," from the movie "Titanic," as well as her personal favorite, "The Music of the Night" from "Phantom of the Opera."

Onstage, she still has a little-girl-lost look between songs, accompanied by nervous little waves and glances at the audience. These days, however, she opts for wearing an elegant evening gown, over the knee-length skirts she wore on "America's Got Talent."

"I still get very nervous," Jackie confessed after the show. "But I enjoy it all immensely."

As soon as she starts singing, the confidence in her largely untrained voice shines through. Despite her blossoming musical career, Evancho says she has no professional coaching, and only rehearses for an hour three times a week with her mother.

She is often asked how she got such a voice.

"We like to say it was a gift from God," Jackie said, admitting she has tried three times to learn to read music, but just can't get the hang of it.

She has tried voice coaches but none has worked out.

"They wanted to try and change Jackie's voice," her mother said. "But we don't want her to sound like every other soprano."

Music runs in Jackie's family. Her father played drums in a band as a young man, and her mother played clarinet and oboe in high school.

Her own musical tastes are diverse, all the way from classical to Lady Gaga.

Despite her lack of formal music training, Evancho has been blessed with such a good musical ear that she has a virtually photographic memory for what she hears.

"When she starts, she can see the entire song in front of her. It's a rare gift," said her traveling conductor John Mario Di Costanzo, who has worked with some of the world's top opera divas. "Jackie sees the architecture of a piece as she is singing."

Evancho performs at 2,000-seat concert halls around the country about three times a month, and has almost 100 concerts under her belt. After a Christmas show, she did two Florida performances last week and will be at the 2,600-seat Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix on Jan 18.

"My parents don't want me to be exhausted. They let me stay home as much as possible so I can have my friends over," she said.

The last two years were spent in cyber-schooling, but Jackie missed the classroom and returned this week to public school.

How big her career will become is still hard to say. She has no ambitions to become a pop singer, and says the classical crossover genre suits her voice better.

Evancho's next album - another classical crossover - due out later this year, includes her first original composition.

She already has one album that sold over a million copies, and three Top 10 debuts on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.

Evancho says she hopes to go to university and study philosophy. "Singing is my main goal, and I think philosophy will help me write songs."

However Jackie's singing future turns out, she will have plenty in the bank to pay for university.

"She's done very well and she can afford her own education - and probably her three siblings as well," said her mother.

(Editing by Gunna Dickson)

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