Monday, April 22, 2013 | 4:07 p.m.
Newly teenage singing sensation Jackie Evancho spent this past weekend in Taiwan -- 7,000 miles from home. The previous weekend, she celebrated her 13th birthday here at Reynolds Hall in The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Last month, she starred as the bright shining soloist at Cirque du Soleil’s “One Night for One Drop” benefit at Bellagio.
In between her school, homework and travels back and forth from her Pennsylvania home to Las Vegas, she managed to find time for a conversation with me: “I loved being in Las Vegas for my birthday. It was the best moment of the night when I got the cake and everybody sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. It was really cool,” she told me.
“I’m now 13, but it doesn’t feel any different than it was being 12. I’m still going to school between concerts. Everything is going well. I’ve just learned a whole bunch of vocabularies, and now I have to get a report done on The Holocaust before flying 14 hours to the Republic of China. I’m a regular schoolgirl with classes by day and homework by night.
“I still have my school friends who are actually friends. It’s nice that they don’t think much about my singing career. They think it is cool, and they are happy for me, but they don’t really bother me about it. To them, I’m still just the schoolgirl from next door.”
Jackie told me that she thinks her voice is becoming more mature as she gets older since finishing second on Season 5 of “America’s Got Talent” in 2010 to Las Vegas resident Michael Grimm: “I like the way it’s sounding now. It sounds more rich and pretty. I’m not going to choose between classical, Broadway or pop. I would love to stay where I am now -- a mix of everything.”
Poised and well spoken, Jackie said despite four visits to Las Vegas, she still hasn’t had much time to see our attractions. She confessed to sneaking in to watch an hour of a Celine Dion concert at Caesars Palace, but so far not even the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay despite headlining there more than once.
She hopes to be back there with a Christmas show before year’s end: “It would be fun to spend a little of the Christmas holidays in Las Vegas.
“Usually, we travel the day before and leave the day after, so when you add in rehearsals or sound check, we don’t really have a lot of time. I haven’t seen the sharks, and I have not yet been on the roller coaster.”
Jackie, who confided that she still gets butterflies in her stomach before every performance, added: “It was only a little bit at The Smith Center -- not a bad case -- but normally all the time. I hear you don’t really overcome it. I think it’s something that just stays there faintly forever.
“I loved performing there -- really fun. I thought it was a great show. It’s a really pretty and big building. I never really thought about performing everywhere in the world when I was younger. I just thought I could be singing, and now I am singing everywhere.”
And acting! Pint-sized Jackie has already appeared in a film with award-winning actor Robert Redford. “It was amazing. It was super fun,” she giggled. “It wasn’t that difficult to memorize the script, as it was pretty short.” She made her movie debut co-starring with Robert, Stanley Tucci and Shia Labeouf in “The Company You Keep” rolling out in theaters now.
I asked Jackie how she balanced her life as a teenager and being a showbiz sensation. “I just don’t think much of it, and that kind of helps,” she said. “It is mainly my mom and my dad, though, who give me the balance of both. They have to worry about getting me to Taiwan. I have already been to Russia, London, Japan and Canada.
“I don’t think much about that or the spotlight. I just sing. But I have a fun hobby: I love to do archery. I’m pretty good on target. I’m not sure about the distances -- maybe only 7 or 10 feet, so far, but I’ve scored the bull’s eye several times, but usually always hit the target.“
She admits to having her own music collection where I’d find her favorite, Lady Gaga. “She is unique and decided to stand out and be herself,” Jackie said. “That’s inspirational. I’m not a [Justin] Bieber maniac. I’m not crazy about One Direction, either. I like some of their songs, but I’m not insane about them. … I like the music that Danny Elfman creates, a lot of music from Tim Burton movies. Celine Dion is my major inspiration.”
I also talked with her dad, Mike: “We have some shows for Jackie in May and June, with more being added. We take July off for vacation and then pick back up with shows in August. We typically only do between 25 and 30 a year spaced throughout. This way she has plenty of time for schooling and to just be a kid. It’s very important to me and my wife, Lisa, that Jackie still be able to have a childhood while allowing her to do what she loves.
“It’s all about balance. I never want her to come to me when she’s older and say, ‘Why did you let this industry steal my childhood?’ That would be my worst nightmare, which is why we are so careful. Not to mention, Jackie has three siblings who require just as much attention, and we are all very close. Even though I instituted a policy that at least one sibling travel with her and either myself or Lisa, too much time apart would not be healthy on any family.”
Lisa and he are doing a remarkable job. He revealed that Jackie will be the face of Guess Kids’ fashion line this fall. She also is writing and searching for new material to record for a new album, and they’re looking for a follow-up film.
While Jackie was in Las Vegas, she had a reunion at The Smith Center show with Tropicana headliner magician Murray Sawchuck, the first time they’d seen each other since competing for the $1 million “AGT” prize.
Murray told me: “I remember clear as yesterday. ... When the 12 acts where being lined up for the night of who was going to perform in order airing live to 22 million people, and this was the episode where I was vanishing the 1918 Steam Train for my father, I was thinking whatever the producers do, don’t make me close the show or go after Jackie Evancho.
“At the time, 10 years old and a voice of an angel. Thank God I was the fourth act before the end of the show, and Jackie was right after me. How do you follow someone as talented as that with such a gift?! Not even vanishing a train can top her voice!”
Jackie summed up our chat when I asked her if she had a dream as to where this was all going to take her. She said: “I just hope that I can become known as the best voice.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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