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Thomas Jefferson student discovers singing talent

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 10:17 p.m.
Thomas Jefferson High School senior Jamie Pasquinelli will travel to Europe this summer to sing with a U.S. traveling choir. She got into singing after a concussion derailed her from her main love: cheerleading. Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record
Thomas Jefferson High School senior Jamie Pasquinelli will travel to Europe this summer to sing with a U.S. traveling choir. She got into singing after a concussion derailed her from her main love: cheerleading. Randy Jarosz | For The South Hills Record

It took encouragement from a friend, as they stood together in her piano room.

She breathed in and let it out and, at that moment — the then seventh-grader, preparing for an audition — realized her hidden talent: she was a pretty good singer.

“I'll never forget it,” said Jamie Pasquinelli, 17, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School.

Since then, Jamie has performed in many venues, with roles in 14 shows at the Grand Theater in Elizabeth Borough and in the last three musicals at Thomas Jefferson. She is a member of the choirs at her school and church, St. Thomas A'Beckett in Jefferson Hills. Jamie also was selected to perform in the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association District Chorus Festival her sophomore through senior years, even making it to the regional level of the PMEA chorus last year.

And this summer, Jamie has the opportunty to perform on stages throughout the world, with the 37th annual “Sound of America” 2013 European concert tour.

“It's basically like any superstar on tour,” Jamie said, noting that she is most excited to see the fashion in other countries and experience different cultures. “I'm set on going.”

The program through “Sound of America,” a nonprofit organization based in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, is meant to provide high school and college singers and musicians from across the United States with the opportunity to garner an appreciation of international history, art and other cultures while showcasing America to those in other nations, its website states.

Each year, a new group of students are chosen through musical audition and recommendations for the annual summer European concert tour, that this year will take place over 23 days across six countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. The group will perform in 11 concerts.

For Jamie, cheerleading was always her first love. Even after realizing she had a nack for singing, cheerleading practices, competitions and the like always came ahead of anything else in life.

Jamie, who had been cheerleading since she was 4 years old, was planning to choose a college based on a school that she could cheer at, her mother, Patty, said.

“She was totally, all cheerleading,” Patty Pasquinelli said. “She really had cheerleading down to a science.”

As a high school freshman, though, Jamie's focus changed.

During a practice for the Pittsburgh Poison competitive cheerleading squad where she was a “back,” Jamie and other girls attempted to do basket toss kick-double and the girl on top fell directly onto Jamie's head.

She doesn't remember much from that day. Her friends had to fill her in on the incident later.

“I was so devoted that I didn't want to go to the hospital,” she said. Jamie suffered a concussion from the incident.

A few days later, she went to a competition and was hit in the head again, getting a second concussion, Patty Pasquinelli said.

The concussions caused memory loss, eye seizures and migraines. Jamie was placed on bed rest and missed three months of school. With not much else to do, Jamie repeatedly watched “Chicago” and other musicals from start to finish. She also enjoyed watching scenes from shows like “Wicked” and “Phantom of the Opera” on YouTube.

“That's when I really fell in love,” she said.

Jamie was unable to return to competitive cheerleading. Her doctors warned her that another hit to the head could cause serious brain damage, she said. So, she put all of her energy into singing and musical theater.

“It was really just a major switch,” Jamie said, noting she did attempt to return to Thomas Jefferson's cheerleading squad her junior year, but didn't stay with the program so she could focus on her music.

Jamie, then, put all of her energy into singing and musical theater.

“It's like my therapy — any way that I need to escape: physically, emotionally,” she said. “I love being on stage. I love performing.”

Her vocal performances, though, aren't the typical modern sounding pop music. She sticks with Broadway hits and showtunes.

Even the CD's in her car are “Addams Family” and “War Horse.”

“That pop stuff, uh uh. I have CD's in my car of musicals,” she said.

Jamie tried out for American Idol when auditions were in Pittsburgh last summer. Her sound likely wasn't what they were looking for, especially since she didn't make it past the first round, Jamie admitted. But, camping out overnight and going through the audition was an experience she will never forget.

“We just talked and sang and I did homework,” she said. “I would definitely do it again. It's an audition that everyone should experience.”

Getting that experience and going for those auditions, no matter the outcome, is important, she said.

After making it to the regional level of the PMEA choir last year, Jamie was sent information about the “Sound of America” European concert tour, she said. Even though she had chosen to perform in the Thomas Jefferson musical, “Willy Wonka,” instead of going to the regional concert — both of which were held on the same weekend.

Jamie, with the help of her choir teacher Julie Lucci, created a tape of her performances. Then, was surprised to hear back that she was selected to represent the U.S. in the concert tour.

“I was so happy. Then they sent me the papers and the reality hit,” she said.

Jamie had been accepted to the 2012 summer concert which was three weeks away from then and the cost was $6,000.

She ultlimately declined, but was accepted again for 2013.

Now, she just has to raise the money to get there.

The Pasquinellis have held several small scale fundraisers – candles and jewelry sale – to help fund Jamie's Europe trip.

“I'm going to try my hardest to get her there,” Patty Pasquinelli said. “I'm so proud of her.”

Jamie has applied to several colleges for next fall, with plans of majoring in musical theater.

“I don't need to be known,” she said. “If it happens, it happens. I just want to perform for a living and do what I love.”

Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or

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