THOUGH ONLY 16 years old, Jaci Velasquez has become one of the most talked about new singers for years. Tony Cummings reports.
The whole of the American CCM scene has been abuzz with talk of a sensational and precocious singing talent. Already Jaci Velasquez has played gigs alongside a heap of Christian music luminaries, her debut album for Myrrh is getting massive Christian radio exposure and the obvious hyperbole as "the new Amy" has started. The fact that all this has been achieved by age 16 might lead you to believe that Jaci's a raw beginner thrust to CCM stardom by A&R brilliance. In fact, Jaci has been recording and performing since she was 10. She beat 3,000 other entrants in an entertainment pageant at 11 and sang at the White House before she was 13! With Mexican/Texan roots, her father has been singing and ministering across the country for 36 years.
Jaci remembers the first time she knew she too wanted to sing for people...and why. "(It was) at around 10 or so. Before that, I wanted to be a teacher and then I really wanted to join the Air Force after I saw Top Gun. But music was always there. I started to sing in church when my dad was pastoring and saw what it did for other people, and it made me want to do it more. I remember one time I was singing 'Master Of The Wind' for my grandpa and shortly after that he started getting more involved with God in his life, seeking him more. It was things like that which made me realise this is what the Lord intended for me to do."
According to Jaci, "I've always known what I wanted from life. I know what I want out of my ministry. I want to go and reach people my age that maybe even a youth pastor couldn't reach."
Confident words from such a young person. In fact, Jaci's even given a good deal of thought to her readiness to be a role model for her peers, her response is one that most adults entering music ministry could stand to learn from.
"It scares me to death. But I know where I stand with the Lord and that I have a great opportunity to make a difference and inspire people to make a change in their own lives. See, when you're doing something bad over here, you're not going to go to somebody and say, 'You can make a difference,' (the title of one of the songs from 'Heavenly Place'). You probably wouldn't even like the song. You're not going to feel like you can make a difference, because you're messing up. But if you're living right, there's a boldness that comes from that and I saw that in my family."
Getting to know Jaci is getting to know her family, which she calls proudly, "the centre of my life." Even asking her about musical influences on her singing style evokes an unexpected response. "The artist who has made the biggest impression on me is my dad. He's taught me almost everything I know about singing. I care about his opinion more than anyone else's." And when asked how and when she first became aware of contemporary Christian music? "At about five I think. My brothers loved Petra and White Heart and I heard those groups all the time at home. Still do..."
Though her Myrrh debut 'Heavenly Place' is not Jaci's first recording (she had recorded some independent albums with her family's ministry), it most certainly is the one that will expose her to her widest audience to date and have people around the world singing along. It's also the most focused album she's recorded, says Jaci.
'My older records had every kind of music - pop, rap, country, mariachi, everything. This record is much more focused on adult contemporary/pop music. Mark (Heimermann, who produced) and I just clicked from the first. We spent so much time together getting to know each other that when it came time to write for the record, he and the other writers captured my heart and thoughts completely. Like on 'Shelter Me', which came out of conversations we had about my life."
Jaci Velasquez is out to change her world. And she plans to do it with a calling and a vision that is uniquely her own. As she puts it, "I'll sing for anyone who cares, who wants to hear me. It's easier to sing for Christians and they're the ones who are going to hear this record first. But we're commissioned to reach non-Christians. I've heard pastors say they have a vision to reach the unchurched, but everybody's called to do that. I think a vision is more personal, like say my vision for sharing a message of abstinence with teenagers. It would take care of so many problems..."
The classy Spanish tinged pop of 'Heavenly Place' has numerous highlights. Jaci mentions four.
"I think 'Shelter' is one of the best songs. People say to my parents, 'You shelter her too much. You need to let her see the real world,' but I wouldn't trade the upbringing I've had for anything in the world. I think that kids today are put into too many situations they just shouldn't be. Like it says in the song, 'Lord, shelter me/The ways of the world are at my feet.'"
"Even though this is not a Spanish album, we wanted a song that would communicate that yes, I am Hispanic and I do have a little chile running through my veins. So we did 'Un Lugar Celestial' which means 'a heavenly place' and the lyrics say things like/When all my skies are gray/I simply steal away' and bringing a little bit of heaven right where you are."
"Chris Eaton wrote 'Thief Of Always' and it might be my very favourite song on the album. It's very poetic and it's all about living every moment as though it was your last and making the most of your time here on earth."
"'I Promise' is my song - I wrote it. It's a song about sexual purity. Keep your promise before the Lord and wait until he brings you the one you are to marry. Everybody says, 'Don't commit fornication,' from the pulpit, but I wanted to put it in the positive as something young people could say for themselves. I am saying it for myself and it's not like I am not tempted like everyone my age. I just choose not to act on those thoughts."
Now that she has relocated to Nashville, Jaci is missing her father who is often away ministering. "I've got a good church here and I'm involved with the youth group and that keeps me grounded spiritually. My parents are the most godly people in the world. My Mum is the godliest woman that there is. I attend Bethel Temple - it's a great church. They hold the youth group every Wednesday and Sunday nights also. The praise and worship there is awesome and that is what my parents and I look for in a church. Sometimes we miss church on a Sunday morning because we've just come off tour, so we just have our own prayer meeting at home and spend time as a family - my Mum is on tour with me all the time, but my Dad and my brother aren't and I miss them a lot."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.