Jessica Andrews

CONTRARY TO THE SAYING, SHE’S YOUNG BUT she’s not dumb. “Teen-agers who are in the music business are really smaaart. … We have to work on such an adult level that I guess our minds think more than a normal teen-ager,” 16-year-old country singer Jessica Andrews told POLLSTAR. “I guess if something would surprise [businesspeople], it would be that I’m so interested in my career and work so hard at such a young age.”

The groundwork for her career was laid during a serendipitous talent contest at school, where the then-fourth-grader’s sister talked her into singing rather than dancing. The 10-year-old sang Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and walked away with the first-place prize.

While showcasing about two years later, the Huntingdon, Tenn., native was signed on the spot by DreamWorks Records Nashville. At 14, she recorded “I Will Be There for You” for the Prince of Egypt – Nashville soundtrack. It was also her first single off her debut album.

Since then, Andrews’ resume has grown to include opening for Faith Hill and Martina McBride last year at age 15, as well as for Tim McGraw’s millennium eve concert. By then, she had turned 16.

Andrews’ debut, Heart Shaped World, was released in March 1999 and remains on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart. Her third single, “Unbreakable Heart,” is still charting and she’s up for the Academy of Country Music’s new female vocalist of the year. The awards ceremony airs next month.

While reaping the rewards of expertly guided career moves, the homeschooled 10th-grader is quick to credit her mother with teaching her the ropes. “You just have to learn. You just have to sit back and take it all in,” she said. “I’m involved in everything. I’m involved in all the decisions. There’s not people around me that make decisions for me.”

Displaying an ambitious streak, the guitarist/pianist/drummer revealed her objectives. “For a long time, I just wanna make music. That’s my goal – to have four or five albums out there. I want the whole world to know who Jessica Andrews is. Then, maybe I can go into acting … like major movie things. For now – for a good five to six, seven, eight years – I want to make music.”

Currently, Andrews’ musical aspirations are supported by touring.

“Touring really brings out the artist in everyone … and it makes you want to do the best you can and perform the best you can for the fans,” she said. “I really enjoy it more now because I’m more comfortable onstage.”

Feeling at ease in front of thousands has been a learning experience. The hardest audience is one “that doesn’t get involved in the show,” she said. “It’s kind of hard as a performer to walk onstage and be really energetic and try to get the audience involved when they just sit there. …

Jessica Andrews

“And I understand sometimes that they want to sit down and watch a show, and that’s great but my show’s very energetic and I like to get people involved and people onstage to sing with me. It makes me have to work more. The most fun shows are the ones where people are just bouncing off the walls having a great time. Those are incredible.”

Her concert style has evolved into one that includes a dialog with fans, almost by necessity. “Some artists can just go up there and play song after song after song, and they don’t ever get bored. But with my audiences, they want to hear a little bit about me because they don’t know all my songs.”

Having learned how to work an audience, the singer is busy preparing for her monthlong tour with Trisha Yearwood, which starts this week in St. Louis. She also plans to release her sophomore album at the end of the year.

However, when she spoke with POLLSTAR last week, the singer who counts Elvis, Reba, and Wynonna among her influences had one thing on her mind: her second appearance at the Grand Ole Opry that evening.

“It’s an amazing place and I get to use my own band this time,” she gushed. “It was the most bizarre thing because the very first time I was on the Opry, I just figured that because that place has so much history, I would be so nervous walking onstage. But it was the weirdest thing how this calm feeling came over me right before I was about to walk onstage and I was just the calmest person.

“I don’t really understand it. I don’t know if it was the spirits of the Grand Ole Opry just calming me down or what. … It made me feel so at ease, like it was home.”

As another saying goes, home is where the heart is and Andrews’ belongs to country music.