Park your preconceptions. Despite her marquee-perfect name, tender age and glitzy TV buildup, don't assume that Erika Jo is the packaged spawn of a Music Row marketing committee. It became apparent the 18-year-old singer had real talent and star appeal when her self-titled debut album sold more than 36,000 copies its first week out. Now this winner of the Nashville Star talent series is on tour for the summer with her three runners-up. And she's loving it.
"I tell you what, it's been crazy," she says, as she ticks off her current week's activities. "I'll give [you my schedule] since the album came out. Of course, I was in New York doing a lot of media a couple of days before. The day the album came out -- last Tuesday [June 14] -- I did a CD signing down here in my hometown [of Mt. Juliet, Tenn.], and I did a bunch of radio things that morning. Then Wednesday I was rehearsing. Thursday, I rehearsed just a little bit in the morning for the Nashville Star tour. I left [later] Thursday to go on the bus for the tour.
"We had our first date Friday in Fargo, North Dakota. Then we went to Iowa City, Iowa, Saturday. We got home about noon Sunday. My plane left for New York at about three o'clock. I've been in New York for the past three days doing a big USA Networks party. Now I'm here [in Nashville] today going to the DMV [Department of Motor Vehicles] to get my lost license. After that, I'm going down to the [record] label [office] and talk to them and get some things straight before I leave again tonight at midnight for the tour."
Speaking to CMT.com by cell phone from the Chevy Silverado truck she won on Nashville Star, Erika Jo laughs easily and often, and she rattles off details with the precision of a shipping clerk.
She is proud of the new album on Universal South Records, even though it was rushed out and required her to work with four different producers. "We recorded 10 songs in 11 days," she reports. "We tracked for two. We did vocals for five. Then we mixed and mastered for four."
Selecting the songs, she says, "was kind of a compromise on each level. There were some that I wanted and they didn't. There were some that they wanted that I didn't. And, of course, there were some where we both went, 'Yeah, those are great songs.' It was a very good process."
While this is her first commercial recording, Erika Jo Heriges [pronounced HER-gis] has been around the music business all her life. Born in Angleton, Texas, she decamped with her family to Nashville when she was 18 months old. From the time she was 5, she performed with her father's band, Bo Denver and the Southern Connection. She was always a soloist, she says. "My dad would get up and do his set and his songs. Then I'd get up and do my set." In recent years, she has also worked as a demo singer.
Erika Jo showcases a remarkably mature voice, one that ranges comfortably from buoyant to pensive to torchy. Some of Nashville's best writers contributed songs. "I Break Things," the first single and music video, is from the pens of Monty Criswell and Wade Kirby. Others represented include Tom Shapiro, Tony Martin, Mark Nesler, Aimee Mayo, Marv Green, Jim Collins, Shaye Smith, Katrina Elam, Chris Farren, Rachel Proctor and Kerry Kurt Phillips. The singer's only cover tune is of Jessi Colter's 1975 classic, "I'm Not Lisa."
"I do write," Erika Jo explains, "but nothing that I wrote made the album. I'm an unconventional songwriter because I don't push my stuff on anybody. I know they're not as good as other songs they can give me. . . . I write for my own pleasure."
Erika Jo did a brief show on the River Stages segment of the recently concluded CMA Music Festival and signed lots of autographs at various fan club booths. "And then," she says excitedly, "I went to Fan Fair [the old name of the festival] with a pass that I had bought last year just as a fan. . . . I went and sat down in the crowd -- just like everybody else -- at the [Nashville] Coliseum [where the major acts performed]. I hung out and had a wonderful time."
So did anyone notice her? "Yes, they did," she exclaims. "It was great. It wasn't anything like, 'Oh, no. I hope they don't recognize me [so] I'll wear a ball cap and glasses.' I just went like I normally would and thought, 'Well, if they recognize me, they recognize me; if they don't, they don't.' Really and truly, I thought maybe three people would know who I was [and that] it wasn't going to be that big of a deal at all. But it really was. It was really cool. A lot of people were coming up to me and asking for pictures, and that, in turn, made other people stop and go, 'Well, who is that?' Then they would come up. It was a lot of fun."
Erika Jo says she's primed and ready for all the busy-ness of show business. "My mom and I] were talking about this the other day, and she said, 'I just don't know how you do it, because you're gone, you're gone, you're gone, and as soon as you come home, you hop in the shower, you repack some stuff and you're on a plane going somewhere.' She said, 'I just could not do it.' I said, 'Yeah, you could -- if you'd been wanting to do it your whole life. I can sleep when I'm dead.'"