While the opera/pop singer tells Yahoo Entertainment that her physical recovery is still very much in progress, Evancho, now age 22, seems to be finding her voice — and part of that process is interpreting the songs of one of her chief childhood influences, Joni Mitchell, on her lovely new covers album Carousel of Time, out Sept. 9.
Classical-crossover prodigy Jackie Evancho first came to international attention at age 10, when she competed on America’s Got Talent Season 5. She became an instant sensation, with her holiday EP O Holy Night establishing her as the best-selling debut artist of 2010, the youngest top 10 debut artist in Billboard history, and the youngest solo artist ever to go platinum in the U.S. However, as she matured amid the glare of the public spotlight, she struggled, both personally and professionally, developing an eating disorder at age 15.
Evancho clarifies that her personal ordeals didn’t influence the Mitchell “story-songs” she gravitated towards when assembling the tracklist. “Honestly, at the time that I had decided to do the album and pick the songs… the trauma stuff, I repress that a lot, and it wasn’t even at the front of my head, she says.” However, making the album has helped her healing process during the past two years.
“I think the thing that really broke it for me was in 2020,” Evancho reflects, as she opens up about her anorexia. “I kind of had a break — like a snap, in a way. And I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking all the time. I couldn’t keep anything in my stomach, just from sheer nausea and panic. And that started a whole journey of going to outpatient or inpatient and being treated for all these things that were building up that I was ignoring. And after I got out, I was like, ‘Look, I can’t keep living like this. I’m not the same person I was when I was 10. And I can’t keep pretending, because it’s making me sick.’ So, I kind of said, for lack of better wording, ‘Screw it. I’m going to be myself. I’m going to go out there. And if people don’t like me, they don’t like me. I can’t please everybody, but I can be myself because there’s no way I can feel ashamed at the end of the day.’ If I could say to myself, ‘Well, at least you were honest.’
While November 2020 marked a breaking point for Evancho, she says her anorexia was “slowly bubbling since I was 15.” At that time, she was developing from the adorable Christmas angel who won the hearts of millions of AGT viewers into a mature singer-songwriter. “I know that I was at a point where I was becoming a woman and I wanted to be this specific version of myself, and I would say that a lot of my eating problems come from pressure I put on myself — not society’s pressures, not anybody else’s putting it on me,” she explains. “It came from myself, because I’m a perfectionist and I hold myself to an impossible standard. And so, I kind of one day looked in the mirror and I said, ‘That’s not what I want to look like.’ And I started off by eating healthier and working out in a healthy way, but then I wasn’t seeing anything, any results. And so that kind of spiraled and snowballed into where I’m at now. It got worse and worse and worse every year, because at that point I wasn’t able to see myself. I couldn’t see the true reflection or what I actually looked like.
“And then it took that ‘snap’ for people to truly see just how severe it really was. Because even with the weight loss, you can hide that stuff. You can avoid it. There are all sorts of things that you can do to trick people into thinking you’re OK if you don’t want them to know you’re hurting. And I was always doing that, because I don’t like when people worry about me; I want them to be happy. You know, I’m a people-pleaser. And 2020 was definitely the point where I was like, ‘I literally cannot function. I’m dizzy when I stand for no reason. And I feel sick. I have to put myself first now.’”
Another wakeup call came soon after, in January 2021. After breaking her back in two places in a car accident, Evancho was diagnosed with osteoporosis, caused by her anorexia; doctors said her fractures were the type usually seen in 80-year-old patients. “That was wild,” says Evancho. “I’m still terrified to drive when the weather is slightly bad. I’m still in pain, because my back doesn’t bend like it used to. But the only pro that I got from that is now I know what I’m dealing with and I know that I have to be more cautious. I have to take vitamin supplements and fight even harder to be the eating disorders that are causing it.”
Evancho isn’t sure what her long-term osteoporosis diagnosis is “(I haven’t had a checkup yet, which I know I need to. …I’ve always had an aversion to doctors”), but when it comes to her eating disorder, she’s optimistic. She admits that it’s still “very hard to battle myself in my head when you have this disorder, thoughts fighting with, you know, my passion for life. And that’s the thing that sucks about this eating disorder. It totally makes you fight yourself. You end up exhausted, constantly fed-up. You feel left out because of your own choices. You can’t sit and enjoy the birthday cake with the family. You can’t go out to this event because you’re so exhausted from what you put yourself through that day. And it takes away so much of your life.” But she is ready for a change.