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Jackie Evancho:Ten-year-old star of "America's Got Talent" in 2010 whose fans behave as though her performances are above criticism

A child blinks into television lights. Nine years old and small for her age, her sober expression mocks the synthetic grins and trivial putdowns of the toothy celebrities who are to judge her. The conversation is short; there are no jokes to be milked from an infant. Asked what she intends to sing, the little girl names an opera aria, "O Mio Babbino Caro", mouthing each syllable with a strong Dutch accent and exaggerated care. Celebrity mouths are seen to pucker: ooh, opera, posh.

A minute later, amid pinch-me shrieks from the studio audience, the camera pans back to the judges, their painted lips mouthing, "Wow!", "Amazing!". The stunt has worked, again. Another star is born. Millions click on YouTube. Ching go the tills.

No point in naming the girl at this point. A dozen epiphanies of this nature have occured on global TV in franchised brands of Got Talent, X Factor and lesser variants of the Roman emperor's raised finger. At this late moment in human decadence, it appears that nothing quite moves the public heart as the sight and sound of a bare-kneed infant simulating adult actions and emotion, set to music.

A telephone salesman might pass in the murk for Pavarotti, a Scottish spinster may credibly "Dream a dream", but when the votes are in and the last potato has left the living-room couch, what the collective unconscious registers is the act of an angelic child performing far above and beyond her wit and experience.

I use the adjective with reluctance. Angels are what the headline writers call Amira Willighagen, nine-year-old winner of Holland's Got Talent whose opera album is out this month, and her predecessor Jackie Evancho, runner-up at ten years old in the 2010 America's Got Talent show and a classical chart-topper ever since.

The noun places them in an ethereal realm, above criticism. Writers who review child performers by means of rational analysis, and voice teachers who use genre comparison, find themselves abused online for the twin sins of denying a heavenly being and attacking a vulnerable child. The God-child myth is alive and well in 21st-century America, operating in an informal coalition with the child-protection lobby. Our critical faculty has been dangerously disabled.

My colleague Tim Page was forced into virtual hiding after writing this cool-headed assessment of Jackie Evancho in the Washington Post: "Her interpretation seems little more than imitation — almost ventriloquism — with scarcely a trace of originality. She is comfortable only within a small range. The rest of the time, she is reaching hard for high notes or scooping for low ones. Her phrasing is shaky and unsure; her anxiety is palpable; there is nothing ‘easy' or free-flowing about her performance. All in all, figuratively speaking, one has the sense that she is trying very hard to fill gigantic shoes that may well fit her someday but could easily wreck the way she walks if she persists in wearing them now."

Tim's observations are shrewd, his predictions faultless. No singer in modern times has ever made an opera career from a childhood launch. These children are not opera divas in the making, whatever else they may achieve in the future. Some child singers go on to great things, others to grim ends. Michael Jackson and his siblings made epic pop careers. Shirley Temple became US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. Charlotte Church, sprung as a classical soprano, is now a media star. Lena Zavaroni hit anorexia at 13 and died at 35.

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Philoreia R. Florence Fletcher
February 16th, 2016
2:02 PM
I am sorry to see yet another example of an unsubstantial, overwrought, reaction to prodigy -- another negative one, that is. As a prodigy myself, in musical & poetical composition, logic, geometry, algebraic-linguistics, and philology, I can say only that I have met with, and continue to meet with, your kind throughout my life and career, and it is very very sad. Please have enough joy in and regard for your own work that you do not feel the need to slander, attack, unappreciate, fail to recognize, and pathologize, us. You assume we are held to lower standards, but I assure you that it is quite the opposite -- to even have a chance to compete in the world at the level of our talent we routinely have to prove ourselves as hard as you do by the end of a class, project, opportunity of any kind, before it even officially begins. This is because your kind is far less ostracized than you think, and we must get past you a/o fight for your recognition with our all nearly every step of the way. And often, you win, and a field, a subject, an institution, a world, loses a valuable lover, advocate, and contributant. Please consider, truly consider, my perspective and words. Think of what you are saying, and remember that those whom you are speaking of are people, with lives, feelings, identities, dreams, nightmares, of our own. Like any one very different from its species, we struggle often and greatly just to endure without being crushed for our peculiarity, and just like all creatures in an imperfect world, just like you, we suffer pain, loss, and adversity. Do not match forth with a closed mind, and do harm you likely do not begin to dream to those you fail to see properly in the process. I close in contrast to where I open, by saying that I am happy and surprised to see the support for prodigies by the other commentors -- thank you all so much! -Philoreia R. Florence Fletcher

October 31st, 2015
4:10 AM
Tim Page is off base with his criticism of Evancho. Such opera critic snobbery is ridiculous as most crossover artist have no desire to be opera singers. That is something for whatever reason Tim seems to impose on every young rising star. Jackie has a wonderful gift & what's wrong with just enjoying her voice. People who overly analyze everything miss the whole point of listening to music & enjoying it. Tim Page must be a miserable human being who feels he must snipe at young innocent talent perhaps out of envy. I enjoy listening to Jackie Evancho. Her voice is very unique & one of a kind.

Dafydd Llewellyn
May 24th, 2015
9:05 AM
Norman, I have to disagree with you about Hepzibah Menhuin; I spent my early childhood with her children, and my father performed the Beethoven violin/piano sonatas with her. Because of this contact our family knew Yehudi tolerably well. Yehudi was forced into his prominent position because of the traditional male-dominance thing; but in reality Hepzibah was by far the more talented musician. She simply did not get the same opportunity. Please do not spout conventional rubbish when you have no personal knowledge of the individuals involved.

Jenny Dahl Bakken
May 25th, 2014
12:05 AM
Hi! I am not here to bash you like the rest of the commenters even though I don't necessarily agree with you. I agree with you in some aspect: The worshipping of the child talents can sometimes get in the way of them developing into more mature, even better singers. Sometimes the youth is the "attraction" of them. But there are also REAL talents out there, children who move your heart with their voice alone, who you know you can hear in 30 years and they'll be just as good. For me, right now, Angelina Jordan is one of those rare talents. She has a presence on stage that most adult singers lack. Her voice is truly amazing. And she sings jazz! It's great. I am not a musician, so it is very much possible she could make improvements. But that doesn't take away from the fact that the hairs on my body stand up when she sings, she moves something in me. She is an old soul in an 8-year old body. One of the sentences I DID react to in your piece was when you used the sentence about children mimicking "the emotions and actions of adults". I think is an extreme underestimation of children. Children are in general seen as either 1) some sort of helpless creatures who must be protected from the real world or 2) incomplete adults. Children have thoughts and emotions that are just as complex and "real" as the one adults have. Children are often more emotional, their emotions sometimes even seem more profound. They might express them differently, but never think that a child cannot feel the same way an adult can. Love, sorrow, sadness, fear, rejection - children can feel all those things. You might argue that they are too young to know the "true meaning" of those words, but nothing is truer to a person than their own experience. If your friend doesn't want to play with you in the schoolyard or doesn't want you to come to their birthday, the rejection can wound so sincerely that you think your heart will burst. Adults do the same with teenagers, tell them that their feelings aren't as real and important because they worry about "small" things. To most people, life is a string of small things with some big things sticking out in it. I am tired of people thinking children and youths are less capable of feeling than adults. I remember what it was like to be a child, the deep love you feel for friends and parents but you don't really know how to say it except for hugging and giving them drawings. I think it's important for all of us to remember that children are not just adults in the making, they are already individuals!

May 13th, 2014
7:05 PM
All I can say is that at one time I would have agreed much with Page and Lebrecht, and still do to some degree. But the singing of Jackie Evancho is beyond anything fitting of such rantings. Sure, she might lack the technical performance of a "trained" operatic singer; but I don't know how anyone could really care about that once they've hear her sing. I am truly sorry for those that cannot perceive in their ears the beauty of her voice.

Jay Jackson
May 13th, 2014
5:05 PM
So Norman, quoting your 'article', "My colleague Tim Page was forced into virtual hiding after writing this cool-headed assessment of Jackie Evancho...", you believe his comments are cool-headed assessments. And that, "Tim's observations are shrewd, his predictions faultless.", so you support his comment that Jackie Evancho "Right now she reminds me a lot more of JonBenet Ramsey than she does of Maria Callas.", interesting. And since you felt the need to make the snide remark about Shirley Temple became US ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia,(she served the United States as an Ambassador under Four Presidents) I guess you consider that service beneath you, it's no wonder your 'article' does not make any mention of all the good works Jackie has done in the four years since she was on America's Got Talent. I am sure you think none of her deeds match the value of your self-serving blogs and 'article'. What a small, small, person you are.

May 13th, 2014
4:05 PM
You post on your own blog a recent picture of Jackie Evancho, and follow it with: "So why are the public being asked to believe in a never-ending myth of angelic infancy?" Yet here you do the same citing her 2010 America's Got Talent appearance at age 10, and post a picture from a 2011 appearance. 'Seems you're doing the same in a thinly-veiled attempt to shore up your own ice floe-based missive. And you are among a diminishing, noisy minority of "experts" who continue to dismiss and demean the talent and performance skills of Ms. Evancho. The continued caterwauling about imitation and lack of originality are so much bunk! NO ONE in the music industry sounds like her, and very few can match her emotional connection to the music she performs, or the audience she stands in front of. This continued tirade after her having the temerity to dip her toe into opera's sacred mud-puddle by singing a total of THREE opera arias (one for only a short time), and basing critique after critique on a pedagogy that requires its adherents to perform as caricatures belting face-to-face conversations to the back row has gone beyond ridiculous to the sublime - a true masterpiece at passing wind. I expected better of you. 'Sorry to disappoint you, but nothing in Tim Page's essay regarding Ms. Evancho has come to pass. His use of Jon Benet Ramsey in a comparison was disturbing enough on its own. Every one of his contentions, cautions, and impressions of her "anxiety", "limited range", "reaching and scooping for high and low notes" in his meandering monograph has been disproven time and again by simple observation. Yet you defend your "colleague" as being "cool headed", and present that what he wrote was the beginning and end of the subject. Ms. Evancho has been INVITED to perform in more prestigious venues in four short years than many stars do during lengthy careers. She is so bad a what she does that PBS has planned a third Great Performances concert to coincide with the Sept. 30th release of her third full studio album (and sixth total). She performed in Cirque du Soleil founder Gil Laliberté's charity gala "One Night for ONE DROP2013" as the sole live vocal performer in not one, but two acts. Cirque du Soleil and "mediocrity" are mutually exclusive terms. She has performed for the Japanese Royal Family, at the Hiroshima Peace Arch concert, and her second concert at Bunkamura Orchard Hall with the Tokyo Philharmonic. She was invited to perform in St. Petersburg, Russia at "Bouquet of Opera" in front of 100,000 in Palace Square with an at-first publicly doubtful and dismissive Dmitri Hvorostovsky and Sumi-Jo (both of whom she quickly won-over). She shared the stage in Taiwan with José Carreras in a rain-dampened outdoor concert in front of 30,000. She has performed in over 70 of her own concerts (with full orchestra), and twice co-billed with Tony Bennett (as well as being on the "bonus" track version of his DuetsII album). Robert Redford invited her to audition, and subsequently cast her as his character's daughter in "The Company You Keep" after seeing her on television in his location hotel room performing Puccini on her first PBS Great Performances "Dream With Me - In Concert". The list of her performances on television, and at public charity and private functions is too long to list her. Outside of music, she's spokesperson for the Humane Society of the U.S. She's modeled for GUESS Kids®, and Justice® clothing lines. Currently she can be heard providing vocals for "La Vie En Rose" on trumpeter Jumaane Smith's album "I Only Have Eyes For You". In spite of all of the above, to you and few others she is still just a pretender to be ridiculed. For that you, Tim Page, and cabbagejuice (one of your blog's most prolific Evancho detractors) are hereby admitted to the "Order of the Black Knight", the one who valiantly defended his bridge despite not having a leg to stand on, nor arms with which to gesture. Only a shrill voice remains. Jackie has already crossed the bridge, and is out of earshot. And she's not looking back.

Jay Jackson
May 13th, 2014
4:05 PM
Mr. Lebrecht and all this time I thought you were an open minded music lover, who could acknowledge the value and beauty of music, even that outside the constraints of the gerne you favor. Now you prove yourself to be the same closed minded fool your buddy Tim is. I knew you were smug, self-righteous, and egotistical, as Timmac48 has pointed out, but I did not believe you to be the closed minded fool this article shows you to be. You demean Jackie's exceptional musical talents, and make no mention of all the good she has done for millions of people in the four years since America's Got Talent. The list is far too long for me to even touch on here but anyone fair minded person can find some of her charity events listed on her Wikipedia page. What value to others does your self-serving article bring.

May 13th, 2014
6:05 AM
Tim's review was a joke. He knew it when he wrote it. That is why he went into hiding. Nothing he predicted that you describe as "faultless" has came true and judging by Jackie's success in the 4 yrs since he wrote it most likely won't. Reaching hard for high notes? that she absolutely nailed with pitch-perfect precision. Just what the hell was he watching and listening to before he wrote his hit piece? It sure as hell was not the same performance I or all the other critics were witness to. Perhaps he went into hiding because noone could take him seriously anymore. That is more likely the truth of the matter.

May 9th, 2014
6:05 AM
What's the matter, nobody paying any attention to you, so you decided to attack children. Jackie Evancho has brought more smiles & contentment to the world (let alone interest in Classical music) than a smug, self-righteous, egotistic so called music commentator, such as yourself, could ever imagine.

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