Maybe the Australian angle is pushed a bit much.

“It’s hard to actually imagine, with my accent,” Jamie O’Neal told POLLSTAR.

She left the country when she was 2 years old, before she started to talk. She and her mobile musical family lived in Hawaii until she was 7, then Las Vegas. She went to school in Beverly Hills with classmates David Schwimmer and Jonathan Silverman.

The “Australian-born” tag that shows up in much of the press gets a little confining, she thinks, although she has spent some of her adult life touring the country and visiting her mother, who has returned there.

“If people are going to push the Australian thing, it’s going to get confusing,” she said. “Mel Gibson was born in New York but they don’t go, ‘Here’s this American.’ He’s obviously Australian. It’s the same for me … I was born in Australia and raised here, so I think of myself as American.”

The country singer, who began a tour with Lonestar October 6th, has an ACM award for new female vocalist plus two awards from BMI for No. 1 singles. She’s nominated for best video and the Horizon award for the CMA Awards in November.

She may also have one of the coolest press packages JAMIE magazine, complete with a UPC bar code on the front and an advertisement in the spirit of Absolut vodka on the back. And if you turn to page 4 and look at the masthead, you’ll see a support staff second to none.

Ron Baird of CAA, whose many notable clients include Shania Twain, is listed as booking agent, with Mark Hartley of Fitzgerald Hartley as manager. Mercury Nashville’s Keith Stegall is marked as producer. The only name that doesn’t appear is Luke Lewis, who by all accounts is the lynchpin to putting this battalion together.

“Luke and I go back because of Shania Twain,” Baird told POLLSTAR. “I have a lot of respect for Luke’s opinion. When he gets excited about something, then that usually indicates to me that I need to check it out.”

Baird caught up with the promising singer at a showcase in late 1998 around the time of the CMA Awards. It was about a month after she sang two songs for Stegall in the Mercury offices. The agent said he “flipped” when he heard her CD (pay attention, because the word reappears later in this article).

He was impressed by her savvy stage presence. “There wasn’t any hesitation prior to that,” Baird said, “but that was like 20 exclamation points. … I thought, ‘I gotta be involved with this project. Period.'”

Jamie O’Neal

According to O’Neal, the agent pushed hard to get her on the Girls Night Out tour with Reba McEntire, Sara Evans, Martina McBride and Carolyn Dawn Johnson.

Baird’s clients Twain and O’Neal have something else in common. Prior to Twain’s major tour, critics questioned whether she had the ability to perform, not knowing the singer’s extensive live concert background. O’Neal doesn’t have the same question marks over her head, but her background, too, is clandestine to most of the industry. The “new artist” tag, much like the one Shelby Lynne wore last year, belies the experience.

O’Neal started in Las Vegas at the Golden Nugget casino when she was 8, singing with her musician parents, Jimmy and Julie Murphy, as The Murphy Family. Her sister, Samantha, currently pursuing a pop music career, was her complement.

They traveled to country music fairs in a motor home. Jamie’s life consisted of “fair food and fair rides,” and meeting headliners like Dolly Parton.

When her parents divorced, O’Neal’s mom returned to Australia. Jamie returned there for an extended stay, at which time Kylie Minogue hired her as a backup vocalist for two years of international touring.

It was Minogue who suggested that O’Neal begin writing music. It was Jamie’s mom who suggested she change her last name so she could separate her potential solo career from the days of The Murphy Family.

Julie Murphy also sent her daughter’s demo tape to producer Harold Shedd, who flew O’Neal back to Nashville in 1996 for a song-publishing contract. She spent the next two years singing studio backup and writing songs. LeAnn Rimes, Chely Wright and Tammy Cochran have recorded material that O’Neal had a hand in writing.

Hartley, whose company’s roster includes Vince Gill, Pam Tillis, Los Lobos, and Olivia Newton-John, has known Lewis since they worked together at Columbia records in the mid-’70s; he didn’t wait for anyone to track him down.

“They gave me this record and I flipped out,” Hartley told POLLSTAR. “I called Luke and I said, ‘I rarely do this, but I’ve heard this album. I think it’s the best thing I’ve heard in years.'”

Lewis gave him O’Neal’s cell number and the deal was done within a couple of days.

“Mark said, ‘We have to get you a publicist,’ and that was a great thing,” said O’Neal, who landed with Maureen O’Conner from Rogers & Cowan. “She’s gotten me on Leno. I believe she’s gotten me on Letterman. Everybody’s really campaigned hard. … I couldn’t ask for more except for maybe Shania. Ten times platinum.”

That kind of ambition is fine with Baird.

“We specialize in limitless careers,” he said. “Once you’ve seen the real deal and you know what it looks like, it’s a little easier to pick it out when you see it again. Jamie O’Neal is the real deal and she will be as big of a star as she wants to be.”