Jackie Evancho of America's Got Talent' has a voice mature beyond her 10 years

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How many kids have been asked if they have "swallowed" a grown-up?

That's just the question "America's Got Talent" judge Howie Mandel posed to Jackie Evancho after the tiny 10-year-old from Pennsylvania sang opera to make it to the talent show's finale.

Jackie is one of four finalists who will perform on the television show tonight. Her competition includes a dance troupe from Virginia called Fighting Gravity; Michael Grimm, a 30-year-old blues singer; and Prince Poppycock, who sings while wearing outrageous costumes. The winner will be determined by the votes of viewers and will be revealed Wednesday night.

What has stunned many people is how Jackie's enormous, adult-sounding voice could come from such a little girl. (See box on this page.)

Jackie lives with her parents and three siblings (two brothers and a sister) outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But Jackie, who also plays the flute and piano, is not one of those kids who started singing as soon as she talked.

"I started singing when I was 8 years old. We went to see [the musical] 'Phantom of the Opera,' and I started singing around the house."

A lot has changed in the past two years: She has sung the national anthem at a Pittsburgh Pirates game, has appeared on a PBS special and has competed in a Las Vegas talent show.

But things really changed when she became a contestant on "America's Got Talent," chosen because of her performance videos on YouTube.

Before her first live appearance on the show she said, "This is the biggest thing that has ever happened to me."

When she finished singing "O mio babbino caro," an aria by Giacomo Puccini, that night, she received a standing ovation.

But there has also been controversy surrounding the girl and her talent. Some have questioned whether she is really singing or just lip-syncing (moving her lips while a recording is played). The folks at "America's Got Talent" have denied that charge, and when asked to disprove it during a show, she sang high notes spontaneously.

Another source of controversy is whether Jackie could damage her voice by doing too much at such a young age. Mike McCarthy, the music director at the Washington National Cathedral, told the Los Angeles Times, "[The voice] needs to be able to function as it is and at the stage of development it's at." But others point out that there have always been child prodigies (kids who display incredible talent at a young age).

Jackie doesn't seem bothered by any of the controversy and has said that her goal is to prove to America that "the best things come in small packages."

-- Tracy Grant

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