Before Jackie Evancho: Remembering Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills and other young vocal prodigies


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To ease your nail-biting while we wait to see if 10-year-old Jackie Evancho makes it Wednesday night through to the finals on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” give a listen to these pint-sized wonders who came before her.

Julie Andrews had been singing with her parents on the stage in London for two years before she got her first professional gig at age 12 in a musical revue called Starlight Roof. The gag was that every night, a Starlight performer would ask if anyone in the audience wanted a balloon animal. Andrews rushed up to the stage, the two would start chatting and Andrews would drop into the conversation that she sang a little. She would be given a moment in the spotlight and come out with “Je suis Titania” from the Thomas Ambroise opera “Mignon” one does in these situations. Obviously. Bubbles Silverman began singing professionally at age 4 and later became Beverly Sills, a well-respected opera singer known for her coloratura. The fast scales and intricate patterns required for this type of singing are not everyone’s cup of tea, but Sills seemed to have had a knack for it from the very beginning. Here is 8-year-old Sills singing “Il Bacio” by Luigi Arditi in the 1937 film “Uncle Sal Solves It.”


In 1997, 11 year-old Welsh soprano Charlotte Church was invited onto “Big, Big Talent” to introduce her aunt Caroline. It was a bit of a set-up, as Church had already become a minor sensation after singing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Pie Jesu” over the phone to U.K. morning television program “This Morning.” She stole the show, and 13 years later, she has two kids and a yacht called Sketchy. Oh and also three platinum records.

Andrew Johnston was head chorister at Carlisle Cathedral in the north of England and had been singing with the choir since age 6. He reached the finals of “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2008 and at age 13 ended up with a $2-million record contract with Simon Cowell’s label Syco. Not bad for a kid from the projects in a forgotten part of Britain.

Is Jackie on par with Sills and Andrews, or were things really better in the good old days?

-- Marcia Adair


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