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Interview: Jackie Evancho talks about plans to sing at Trump's inauguration

Jackie Evancho and Andrea Bocelli will perform for Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration. Evancho, 16, said singing will be a “huge honor.”
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Published Dec. 16, 2016

The first words of Jackie Evancho's Instagram profile: "Just a girl."

She's 16 and a junior at a public Pittsburgh high school. She just got her first car, a black Mazda CX-3, and is cramming for her SATs. ("I'm going to work really hard on math. I'm really bad at that.") She paints and sketches in AP art, and on Sunday nights watches Westworld and The Walking Dead.

But to those learning her name just now, there's one thing about Evancho separating her from every other girl in the world. On Jan. 20, she will sing the national anthem at Donald Trump's presidential inauguration.

"It's a huge honor to be singing for my country," the classical crossover singer said by phone from Chicago. Tuesday she performs at Ruth Eckerd Hall, one of her last concerts before Inauguration Day. "It may be one of my most-scrutinized performances. But that's something I can't really think about, or else I'll get psyched out. So I have to think about it like it's going to be another gig."

Evancho has been in the spotlight since early childhood, first around her hometown of Pittsburgh, then in larger national competitions, including one for mega-producer David Foster in 2009. The next year she finished second on America's Got Talent, catapulting her to stardom — her 2011 album Dream With Me, recorded when she was 10, included a duet with Barbra Streisand. Her six studio albums, including the new Someday at Christmas, have all been hits.

Still: This is different. Presidential inaugurations are prestigious gigs; performers at Barack Obama's 2009 ceremony included Aretha Franklin and James Taylor. Evancho had performed for Trump as a child — twice for President Obama, too — and shortly after his team reached out to hers, she agreed and became the first artist to be publicly confirmed for an inauguration event.

Her decision, she said, was entirely apolitical: "I stay clear of politics as much as possible." At 16, she can't vote. She was born in April 2000, two months after Trump ended his first campaign for president on the Reform Party ticket. She did not appear on the campaign trail of either candidate, nor would she if given the chance all over again.

She knew her decision would be met with criticism. "You kind of have to think of those effects really early on because they are big, but that's going to come with everything."

Especially in 2016. Since Evancho's performance was announced Wednesday, she's been attacked on Twitter and elsewhere, called a traitor, a bigot, a sellout. She's been called stupid, ugly, ignorant and many other things we can't repeat here. All she can do is ignore it.

As a widely known public figure, Evancho is used to criticism and bullying, sometimes in the hallways of her high school but more often online. "For some reason, people have more courage online," she said. "And it tends to be really brutal."

Twitter users have been especially harsh on Evancho and her family in the past year, after her sister Juliet came out as transgender. It's a "really sad reality," she said, and one that feels much different from the criticism she's endured purely as a singer.

"When I was younger, I used to get really upset about it, because being a young girl, I always wanted to be perfect right off the bat," she said. "Then as I got older, I realized perfection isn't really a thing, and to take those criticisms and reflect off of them and grow from them. So now I'm very thankful to have them."

Next comes Christmas. Evancho hasn't asked for much this year. She got a new kitten a month ago. That's all she really wanted.

But she does have one wish for her inaugural performance in 2017.

"My hope is that everything goes well on my part, but I'm kind of hoping to pull everyone together through my national anthem. It's a big hope, but I really hope that it does something. Even a little bit."

She won't rehearse much. She's performed dozens of national anthems, and prefers to keep it traditional. The week of the show, "I think I'm just going to go about my life like I usually would. Come home from school, maybe practice a little bit. Other than that, nothing."

She's got the SATs coming up. She has her new Mazda. She wants to take up sculpture. She's just a girl with a lot going on.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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