Olstead’s voice belies her age

When Renee Olstead walked on stage with Bill Cosby’s jazz all-stars at the Playboy Festival in June, an afternoon crowd watched skeptically. What could this tiny, red-headed sylph be doing with a bunch of road-hardened jazz veterans?

The question was answered in seconds. Singing the opening phrase a cappella, Olstead, then 13, soared into the Etta James classic “At Last.” Hitting the line’s peak -- “My love has gone at last” -- with a body-moving, note-bending blues inflection, she brought the fans to their feet, earning a rare afternoon standing ovation.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Sep. 27, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 27, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
Song lyric -- A lyric from the song “At Last,” famously sung by Etta James, was quoted incorrectly in a Calender Weekend story Thursday about singer Renee Olstead. The opening phrase is “At last my love has come along ... " and not " ... my love has gone away.”

Although she has earned the same reaction at her local gigs, she is hardly an overnight sensation. The 14-year-old is a veteran of more than a dozen films -- including a starring role in “13 Going on 30,” due in 2004 -- she’s a regular on the CBS sitcom, “Still Standing,” and she’s released three CDs. Her resume also includes a Grand Clio award-winning commercial and a role in “Larry McMurtry’s Streets of Laredo” when she was barely 5. A few years later, Donny Osmond, after hearing Olstead sing, raved, “She’s got a 30-year-old singing voice trapped in a 10-year-old body.”

Indeed. Far more than a teenage showoff, she’s a musical old soul with the skills to fulfill her ambition “to become a really good jazz singer.”


-- Don Heckman

Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine

University Center for the Arts, 24255 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu. Saturday, 8 p.m. $30. (310) 506-4522.