Jessica Andrews: Who She Is

Teen Singer Prepares for Stardom With Second Album, Billy Gilman Tour

Every artist tries to grow between albums. For an
established star, a two-year span between works
sometimes can bring major changes and a new
perspective.

For 17-year-old Jessica Andrews , the period
between her first, Heart Shaped World, recorded
when she was 14, and her second, Who I Am, due
Tuesday (Feb. 27) brought a total overhaul of her
outlook on music and life.

“Everything I’m doing now is new, from the types of
songs I’m singing, to the musicians I’m working
with, to the way I see the world,” says the
Huntingdon, Tenn., native during a recent interview.
“This album is a reflection of all that change.”

Heart Shaped World yielded three impressive hits: “Unbreakable Heart,” “I Will
Be There for You” and “You Go First.” It also earned Andrews critical accolades
and the Academy of Country Music’s 2000 title as Top New Female Vocalist.

Produced by Byron Gallimore (Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Jo Dee Messina), the new
album sticks with the radio-friendly, country-pop sound of the first. Who I Am still
exhibits some of the innocence and youth of Andrews’ debut, but it also focuses
on growing up and the emotions that come with it.

The title track — which sits at No. 6 on Billboard‘s Hot Country Singles & Tracks
chart and at No. 7 on the CMT Top 12 Countdown — sets the tone for the rest of
the album. When she heard the demo, Andrews felt the song — written by Brett
James and Troy Verges — was created especially for her.

“I should have written that song myself,” she says, “because it’s so much like
my life. Everything is so true in that song, except that my grandmother’s name is
not Rosemary. It’s about believing in yourself and being supported by those
around you. No matter how many mistakes you make, your friends and family
will be there for you.

“I’m telling you, I have the most supportive family and friends in the world. You
don’t come by that very often, because there can be a lot of jealousy in a family
when someone is successful. In my case, that’s not true at all.”

No longer a starry-eyed ingenue, Andrews has not become a jaded star child
either. Calling herself “experienced and optimistic,” the teenager has avoided the
kinds of pitfalls that 18-year-old LeAnn Rimes is going through, with lawsuits
against her manager-and-producer father and her record company.

“I’m very fortunate that I have a team of people
around me that I trust,” Andrews says. “They
respect me as an artist and as a person. It’s all
about having good relationships. We’re having the
time of our lives right now. I know bad things
could come along in the future, but we’ll work itout.”

Andrews makes her first outing as a writer on
“Good Friend to Me,” a track on the new album.
Co-composed with Annie Roboff (“This Kiss”) and
Bekka Bramlett, the groove-driven tune was
inspired in part by Andrews’ reaction to young love that didn’t work out.

Who I Am closes with a sultry midtempo tune, “Show Me Heaven,” from ex-Lone
Justice vocalist Maria McKee. “Show me heaven/Cover me/Leave me
breathless/Show me heaven, please,” Andrews sings, sounding like the older,
passionate teenager she has become.

Indeed, Andrews will be the senior member of the summer tour package she’ll
undertake to support Who I Am. Partnering with 12-year-old Billy Gilman, they
will play 30 to 40 dates together after Fan Fair in June. Andrews promises a fun
concert experience, while making it clear it won’t be “some kiddie show.”

“It’s going to be total energy,” she promises, “with two young people coming
together who are both so full of life. It’s going to be a very well-put-together, fun
show, and I hope people take it seriously.”

Andrews had some early reservations about touring with Gilman — the youngest
artist ever to place a song on the country singles chart — fearing that fans and
the industry might regard their youthful combination as “a Sesame Street show.”
She has worked hard to be taken seriously on an adult level and to be set apart
from country music’s other talented female teens: Rimes, Lila McCann and
Amanda Wilkinson.

Andrews has opened national tours for Hill and Trisha Yearwood, among others,
standing in the wings to watch and learn. Now, major stardom seems to be
within her reach. On Valentine’s Day, nearly 1,000 fans turned out at a
Manassas, Va., mall, outside Washington, D.C., to hear her do songs from the
new album. Fans sang with her, word-for-word, on her new hit, “Who I Am.”

“It’s amazing how quick the transition has been from people not knowing who I
am to people knowing who I am,” she says, subconsciously echoing her CD title.
“That let me know the ball is rolling and people are learning about me.

“That’s what I’ve been waiting years for,” she continues. “I started singing when I
was 10, and from then on I’ve wanted to be a big, huge star and sell millions of
records. So, I’m having fun. Now, I’m not saying 10 years from now I won’t be
totally exhausted from it all and tired of people recognizing me. That’s something
I don’t know, but right now it’s wonderful.”