Teen singer/songwriter Stacie Orrico has been hailed as one of contemporary Christian music's new breed of crossover stars. Working in the catchy dance-pop segment of the market, Orrico had garnered a steady following by the time her self-titled 2003 release appeared with Virgin Music's marketing muscle behind it. The album was nominated for a 2004 Grammy in the Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album category.
Born on March 3, 1986, in Seattle, Washington, Orrico was the third of five children born to missionary parents. After traveling to such remote locales as Ukraine they settled in Colorado, where Orrico became a fan of such mainstream pop divas as Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion. At the age of 12 she entered a singing competition at a Christian music seminar in Estes Park, Colorado, and was stunned when she won first place. She was quickly signed to a development deal with ForeFront Records of Franklin, Tennessee, one of the biggest labels in the contemporary Christian entertainment business.
Orrico's parents supported her music career, which she viewed as her ministry, and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to further it. Her first album, Genuine, appeared in 2000 on the Chordant label. It rose to number one on the Billboard new artists Heatseekers chart and its single, "Don't Look at Me," topped the Christian charts later that year. Another album track, "Dear Friend," came from her experience with an anorectic friend. In an interview with Campus Life writer Mark Moring, Orrico called the experience "devastating to me. We were so close, and then all of a sudden we couldn't talk the way we used to." By writing a supportive song, Orrico felt she could reach out to her friend and others in a way that reflected her religious faith. "I can relate to teens because I am one," she told Moring. "I'm dealing with the same things they're dealing with ... My heart is all about ministering to teens."
In 2001 Orrico toured as an opening act for Destiny's Child and also released a holiday EP, Christmas Wish. She had nearly completed her second album when the multimedia entertainment powerhouse Virgin Music signed her to a deal. They added some new tracks and teamed her with experienced producers who had worked with Pink and Matchbox 20. Signing with a mainstream label, however, was a difficult decision, Orrico said, for it made some in the Christian-contemporary scene wonder if she'd compromised her faith for commercial success.
Stacie Orrico and its single, "Stuck," were released by Virgin in 2003. It made top 40 radio play during its first week, and the video featuring Orrico in parody skits from popular teen movies became a favorite on MTV's Total Request Live. Orrico had cowritten that particular track as a message to young women in bad relationships, she told MTV's Corey Moss, after her songwriting partner Kevin Kadish asked her what she thought was her peer group's biggest challenge was. "I just said teenage girls end up in these relationships where they're not treated very well and they end up on this emotional roller coaster.... They are stuck." Moss, who called the track "a relationship song," noted that "it also has the young-woman empowerment message common in Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears tunes."
"Stuck" struck a chord with Orrico's target audience, and reached number ten on mainstream top 40 charts. The LP's second single, "(There's Gotta Be) More to Life," was released in the last weeks of 2003 and again proved a surprise crossover hit, hitting the top five. Orrico, who helped write several other tracks, told Moss that she was committed to improving her songwriting abilities, commenting, "I want to reach people my age, and the best way to do it is not to have a 40-year-old man write it."
Some fans worried that Orrico's new TRL persona had betrayed the Christian-music ideal, she admitted in an interview with Denver Post writer G. Brown. "On the Christian side and on the mainstream side, people are watching very closely for you to make a mistake that they can rally around. I'm not perfect, but I am being put in a situation where I'm a role model. If I'm expected to start dressing in a way I'm not comfortable with and singing songs I'm not comfortable with, that's not worth it for me. I'd rather quit all the music stuff and go back to school than compromise the things I believe in."
Despite such concerns, the success of Orrico's record was part of the phenomenon that prompted Billboard writer Deborah Evans Price to declare 2003 the year of the crossover for Christian contemporary music. Orrico considered it a new era as well, theorizing that both the 2003 war in Iraq and the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. had opened the door for once-pigeonholed Christian artists like herself. "The events of the last couple of years have made people more open to spiritual things and trying to find answers," she told Price. Furthermore, Christian pop was no longer ostracized by mainstream labels like Virgin—home to Moby and the White Stripes, among other top acts. "I don't think there's [sic] been any stations that decided not to play my music because of my background," she reflected. "If anything, I think they see it as maybe a good thing."
Orrico's major-label promotion helped land her a spot on American Dreams, a network series based on the long-running television music showcase, American Bandstand, in which she played the lead singer for a 1960s-era girl group, the Angels. She admitted to Houston Chronicle writer Nekesa Mumbi Moody that not all marketing ideas were equally wholesome: "My faith ... is the foundation for what I do and the decisions that I make as far as what I want to sing about and what I will or won't do or will or won't wear. I don't want to do stuff for men's magazines; I don't really think that's my audience who I'm trying to reach ... There are things that I don't want to be a part of." She planned to concentrate on her ministry-through-music for the time being, she told MTV, though she did admit to harboring a fantasy of bringing her message to a wider audience. "I would love to have a talk show or do something like that," she confessed to Moss, "but I've watched so many singers who try to act but have no acting ability whatsoever. I don't think I have any ability."
For the Record . . .
Born on March 3, 1986, in Seattle, WA; daughter of missionaries.
Signed to a development deal with ForeFront Records, c. 1998; moved to Nashville, TN; released debut LP, Genuine, 2000; opened for Destiny's Child, 2001; appeared on the television series American Dreams, 2003; released major-label debut, Stacie Orrico, on Virgin Records, 2003.
Addresses: Record company— ForeFront Records, 230 Franklin Rd., Bldg. 2, 1st Fl., Franklin, TN 37064. Website— Stacie Orrico Official Website: http://www.stacieorrico.com.
Genuine, Chordant, 2000.
Christmas Wish (EP), ForeFront, 2001.
Stacie Orrico, Virgin, 2003.
Stuck (EP), Virgin, 2003.
Atlanta Journal–Constitution, May 18, 2001, p. E1.
Billboard, September 2, 2000, p. 1; November 2, 2002, p. 15; October 25, 2003, p. 3; December 27, 2003, p. 22.
Buffalo News, December 17, 2003, p. N6Campus Life, November 2000, p. 28; November-December 2001, p. 22.
Christian Reader, November-December 2003, p. 66.
Houston Chronicle, June 12, 2003, p. 1.
Denver Post, March 25, 2003, p. F3.
"Stacie Orrico Goes Looking for More In All the Wrong Places," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1473256/06242003/orrico_stacie.jhtml (February 2, 2004).
"Stacie Orrico Won't Be 'Stuck' with Christian Tag," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1471487/04232003/orrico_stacie.jhtml (February 2, 2004).
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