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Because of music class, world gets to hear Jackie Evancho

Required general music classes at the elementary level enabled the world to hear Jackie Evancho, says her fifth-grade teacher at Pine-Richland School District.

Teacher Steve Rickenback says that's typically where "extremely talented" students such as Jackie are discovered.

"You develop a part of the brain that otherwise wouldn't be developed," he said.

The 10-year-old classical crossover singer from Richland will perform as a semifinalist tonight on "America's Got Talent" after wowing judges Aug. 10. She's among 15 vocalists, dancers and magicians competing to advance to the top 10 acts, for an ultimate prize of $1 million and a headlining show in Las Vegas.

When Jackie was in the first or second grade, she asked to perform in front of the class. Rickenback wasn't prepared for what came next.

"It was different," he said about the little girl with a big voice.

Students at Eden Hall Upper Elementary will follow Jackie's journey through video clips of each week's performance.

"Kids usually don't get to hear about other kids (who are) into classical music," spokeswoman Rachel Hathhorn said. "It's neat that she's a young child picking that."

Support system

Classical music always entranced Jackie, said her uncle, Matt Evancho, 31, who is pursuing a doctorate in musical composition. He worked with her informally for two years.

"When we started, she had an understanding of music that is rare for her age," he said.

Matt Evancho was traveling with friends when Jackie stunned listeners with her first television performance three weeks ago. He stopped at a restaurant in Alabama to watch, and cheered her on with the wait staff.

"She's singing about experiences you'd think she's going through, but she couldn't have because she's only 10," he said.

In addition to her parents, two brothers and a sister, Jackie has six uncles, an aunt and eight cousins on her father's side -- all of whom are eager to see her succeed.

"Having a large family gives her a good foundation of support," said her grandfather, Bill Evancho of Richland. Yet, he said, "We want to keep Jackie as Jackie."

Risks ahead

When phenomenal response to her first performance brought increased traffic on the family's cul-de-sac, her parents limited Jackie's homecoming party from Hollywood two weeks ago to a casual dinner with immediate family.

"It's a concern, but it'll be dealt with," Bill Evancho said. "We've mentioned increased security (to Jackie's parents)."

Family, friends and local musicians are watching to see what happens when she enters the music industry. Pittsburgh pop icon Johnny Angel -- who began his career as a teenager in the early 1960s -- said an "old-school" manager, Herman Lipp, shielded him and "kept a lot of the ugliness in the world away from us."

"There's a lot of snakes out there," said Angel, who toured with the Cordells as a teen and later opened for the Temptations, James Brown and the Four Tops.

The Internet aided Jackie's overnight popularity and provides great exposure for young artists, said Angel. He got a sneak peek of Jackie's talent as a judge and emcee for the annual Kean Idol competition in Richland. She performed twice in the amateur talent contest, earning first runner-up honors in 2008 and 2009, and sang at the 2010 Kean Idol Vocal Championship.

"I knew that somebody, someday was going to hear that girl," Angel said. "Now maybe she'll let me open up for her."

Additional Information:

When to watch

Jackie Evancho of Richland will sing on 'America's Got Talent,' which airs from 9 to 11 tonight on NBC.

To learn who made the Top 10, watch at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Those acts will perform Sept. 7, and the final four will compete Sept. 14 for $1 million and a headlining Las Vegas show.

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