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Young Richland singing phenom's family is anchor

At age 4, Jackie Evancho told her parents she wanted to be a rock star. Six years later, she practically is.

Those who know the Richland girl are confident she can handle her overnight success.

This week's performances on NBC's "America's Got Talent" propelled Jackie into a spotlight larger than any to date. Her rendition of Giacomo Puccini's aria "O Mio Babbino Caro" earned nationwide acclaim and made her a mainstream topic in newspapers and on Internet sites and nightly television celebrity shows. She is, suddenly, America's newest sweetheart.

"Jackie is extremely grounded. ... She blends in with all of the other kids," neighbor Scott Butler said. "Everyone in the neighborhood is so happy that she now has the chance to share her phenomenal voice with the rest of the world."

She has become a phenom, but she is still a young girl -- one who likes to swim, write poetry, practice the violin and piano, and play with the family's pet ducks, Mo Mo and Midnight. Though her mother, Lisa, and brother, Jacob, 12, flew to Hollywood with her on July 31, she misses her father, Mike, and siblings Zachery, 8, and Rachel, 6.

Lisa Evancho looks forward to their return to "as normal of a life as we can." Jackie's stardom has brought traffic to their quiet street, even in her absence. In Hollywood, the squealing teenagers and people pressing for autographs are beginning to wear on them, and the trip is wearing on the family's bank account, Lisa said.

"I don't know how we're going to pay the mortgage this month," she said. "But this is Jackie's dream, and we're helping her get there. She's still completely unfazed by it."

Her mother says Jackie is a good student and teachers at Eden Hall Upper Elementary School are likely to be "really understanding" if she misses classes for the competition, as they were when she went to New Jersey for the David Foster tour and when she sang for the Pirates' home opener at PNC Park.

School starts Aug. 26, and Jackie will have to return to California -- although it's not known whether she'll be among semifinalists on an Aug. 24 show or those performing Aug. 31.

The Pine-Richland School District chronicled her success on its website and will update its home page with her "America's Got Talent" performances. Public relations director Rachel Hathhorn has spread the news for weeks.

"She is a shining star, so we're pleased to see her succeed," Hathhorn said.

The Evancho family discovered Jackie's ability two years ago, when she sang along with a "Phantom of the Opera" DVD.

"I thought she was good," Lisa Evancho said. "But I'm her mother."

Jackie performed twice in the Kean Theatre's popular Kean Idol Amateur Talent Contest, earning first runner-up honors in 2008 and 2009. She also performed as the featured singer at the 2010 Kean Idol Vocal Championship at the Gibsonia retirement community Washington Place at St. Barnabas.

"It's eerie in a way," said Etta Cox, a jazz singer and instructor at the Creative and Performing Arts High School, Downtown. "You can't believe a 10-year-old would have that maturity."

In October, WTAE news anchor Andrew Stockey took notice of her at a charity event he emceed. Like others, he was impressed by her immense voice.

"I was absolutely blown away," Stockey said. "When she starts singing, she becomes a completely different person."

He posted her work on his Facebook page, wrote about her in his blog and petitioned his fans to vote for her on YouTube.

In January, she sang the national anthem at the Harrisburg inauguration of state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin of Marshall, before belting it out before a crowd at PNC Park in April -- 20 years after pop queen Christina Aguilera, then an 11-year-old from Wexford, delivered her rendition.

As Jackie's fame mounts, Lisa fears stories she hears about a cutthroat, nasty industry. She is talking to other families because the Evancho family does not have an agent or manager, and she's feeling overwhelmed.

"It's kind of shocking," she said.

Her husband is fielding calls from local reporters and representatives of record labels while she handles calls from international reporters.

"We don't have anyone to navigate this," Lisa said. "We need someone invested in Jackie's future. The best way is to be referred to someone."

Jackie's style is considered classical crossover, a mix of pop and opera, made popular by artists such as Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. Before her television performance, sales of her 2009 album, "Prelude to a Dream," barely covered travel and promotional expenses. By Friday, the CD shot up to No. 9 on Amazon.com's bestseller list.

If she wins the "America's Got Talent" competition -- and its $1 million prize -- Jackie says she'll keep 10 percent, and put the rest toward her career.

Additional Information:

By the numbers: Jackie's rise

1.6 million • Views of a YouTube clip of her 'America's Got Talent' performance this week.

1.5 million • Views of the YouTube audition tape she submitted to the show.

4,000 • Facebook fans, up from 2,000 Wednesday.

9 • Rank on Amazon.com's best-seller music list.

Source: Tribune-Review research

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