Since first hitting the country music charts before she could drive, Jessica Andrews has been compared to other teen singers including LeAnn Rimes, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. Country music has turned to the pop-inflected songs of its teen stars to rejuvenate the genre, but with the release of her second album Who I Am in 2001, Andrews has proven her commitment to country music and received critical attention for a style and voice mature beyond her years. Chuck Taylor noted in Billboard, “There’s a depth and vulnerability about her vocal prowess that seem to convey experience, rooted pain, and the wisdom of many more years than she has endured.”
Andrews was raised in Huntingdon, Tennessee, just a few hours drive from Nashville. She was brought up in a musical family and singing was a big part of her childhood. All of that singing at home paid off early for Andrews. When she was in fourth grade, her older sister heard her singing Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and encouraged Andrews to enter the school talent show. Andrews took first prize with Whitney Houston’s version of the song, and her singing career was launched. Andrews put together a band and started performing locally at fairs and even some bars; by the time she was 12 years old, Andrews had gained a local reputation as a singer.
Family friends raved about the young singer to music producer Byron Gallimore, who had worked with country superstars Tim McGraw and JoDee Messina. Gallimore agreed to hear Andrews sing and was immediately convinced of her talent. Andrews notes in her website biography, “I started snapping my fingers, and I went right into my lower register and sang that Shania [Twain] song ‘If You’re Not In It For Love.’ He stopped me right away. I don’t know what he heard in my voice, but he called everyone into his office and had me start again. When I finished the song, he asked if it was okay to put this thing into high gear.” Gallimore arranged for a showcase in Paris, Tennessee, not long after first meeting Andrews. James Stroud of Dream Works Nashville signed the young singer immediately.
Before Andrews even had time to release her first album, she was invited to record a song for the 1998 album The Prince of Egypt—Nashville, which was certified gold. The only artist to debut on that recording, Andrews was in the company of such musicians as Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Clint Black. The song, “I Will Be There For You,” was also released on Andrews’ debut album Heart Shaped World ’in 1999. Other songs from the album include “Riverside,” about an innocent night spent with a young lover by the river, and “You Go First,” about first kisses. “Unbreakable Heart,” written by Benmont Tench, went to number 24 on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart. That song illustrates that, while much of her material reflects Andrews’ youth, she is also able to take on deeper topics; it is about loss and the only thing that God didn’t
Born c. 1985; daughter of Vicki (a school bus driver) and Jessie Andrews (a factory worker).
Released single “I Will Be There For You,” 1998; signed with Dream Works Nashville, released debut album Heart Shaped World, 1999; toured with Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood, performed at Fan Fair music festival; released Who I Am, 2001.
Awards: Academy of Country Music Award, Best New Female Vocalist, 2000.
Addresses: Record company —DreamWorks Records, 1516 16th Avenue South, Nashville, TN, (615) 463-4600, website: http://www.dreamworksrec.com. Website —Jessica Andrews Official Website: http://www.jessicaandrews.com.
make—an unbreakable heart. Chuck Taylor described the recording in Billboard as “one of country radio’s most beautiful songs” of 1999.
Andrews’ first album received generally positive reviews, even in a field packed with other very young female singers. Bill Friskics-Warren, writing for the Washington Post, found that “Andrews already exhibits the pluck and mastery of country’s platinum-selling female vocalists,” but he also noted that “refreshingly, she never forgets that she’s just out of junior high school.” Alex Henderson of All Music Guide also found Andrews’ freshman work to be promising: “Andrews specializes in a sleek, commercial blend of pop, country and rock. But as much sweetness as she projects, Andrews isn’t bubble gum…. [I]t’s clear that [she] is capable of depth.”
The album attracted the attention of the Academy of Country Music, as well, and Andrews was named Best New Female Vocalist in May of 2000. Andrews performed at the country music festival Fan Fair in Nashville, and she also began touring with established country stars like Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood. Reflecting on the experience, Andrews said in her website biography, “I know how serious these women are about music and their performances. So I took the offers to tour with Faith, and then Trisha, not only as a huge honor but as an opportunity to learn from the best.”
The lessons the young singer received from these established musicians went into creating her next album, Who I Am, and her first attempts at songwriting. Andrews worked with songwriters Bekka Bramlett and Annie Roboff to write “Good Friend to Me,” based on the recent breakup of her first love relationship. While the song was not one of the hits from the album, Andrews did have success with several other tracks, including “Karma” and “Never Had It So Good.” The title song from the album went to number one on the country charts. “Who I Am” marks Andrews’ growth as a musician and also reflects the rootedness and innocence that characterize her: “I am Rosemary’s granddaughter/The spitting image of my father/And when the day is done, my mama’s still my biggest fan.”
The strong pop influences on the album turned some reviewers off, even as Andrews experienced the greatest commercial success of her young career. Alanna Nash of Entertainment considered Andrews’ sophomore work proof that she is on her way to becoming a “bombastic pop diva,” and called Nashville producer Gallimore the “new king of schlock.” Most critics, though, considered the album a milestone for the singer, marking a passage to a more mature performing style. Maria Konicki Dinoia applauded the album in All Music Guide, remarking that it showed Andrews’ “appealing new confidence.” She wrote that Andrews’ vocals “are strong and convincing,” and called the songs on the album “snappy and infectious.” Michael Paoletta of Billboard also considered the album a success. He noted that Andrews’ singing was marked by its “power, range, and intuition.” Paoletta also made the prediction that “this could be the artist’s breakthrough project.”
(Contributor) The Prince of Egypt—Nashville, DreamWorks Nashville, 1998.
Heart Shaped World, DreamWorks Nashville, 1999.
Who I Am, DreamWorks Nashville, 2001.
Billboard, March 11, 2000, p. 78; June 10, 2000, p. 32; February 24, 2001, p. 23; March 17, 2001, p. 39; April 21, 2001, p. 25.
Entertainment Weekly, March 2, 2001, p. 71.
People, May 8, 2000; April 2, 2001, p. 39.
Washington Post, April 18, 1999, p. G5.
“Jessica Andrews,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 1, 2001).
“Jessica Andrews,” DreamWorks Records, http://www.dreamworksrec.com (July 1, 2001).
Jessica Andrews Official Website, http://www.jessicaandrews.com (July 1, 2001).