Jamie O’Neal grew up with a microphone in her hand, singing in her family’s band and putting into practice what she learned studying music’s biggest legends at close range.
“From a young age,” she says, “I had a bird’s eye view as entertainers like Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson and Crystal Gayle performed. I watched from the side of the stage at the way they connected with a crowd, and that’s what made me want to be a performer.”
Jamie’s lifelong zest for performing, her love of country music and her “Ferrari of a voice,” as one critic called it, have since made her one of the genre’s most respected artists.
The successes are well known to country fans. Jamie launched her career with back-to-back #1's- "There Is No Arizona" and "When I Think About Angels”—and followed with hits like “Shiver“, "Trying To Find Atlantis” and the #3 tribute to moms everywhere, "Somebody's Hero". Along the way, she has earned four Grammy nominations and a host of other awards and critical accolades.
Now, with the release of her first 1720 Entertainment single, "Like A Woman," Jamie shows that both her powerhouse vocal abilities and her knack for conveying real emotion are as strong as ever. A song filled with passion and insight, "Like A Woman" talks about reconnecting with the spark of love and romance that launches relationships.
"Sometimes in the day-to-day routine of children and errands," she says, "we lose touch with that basic need we all have to be recognized and appreciated as a woman. That feeling and that need is what this song is about. It’s something women everywhere would want to say to their husbands, and men like hearing the message as well. Both can relate to it and I like that in a song.”
"Like A Woman" is from Jamie's forthcoming 1720 debut, a project that is a testament to her perseverance after creative struggles with previous record labels had taken their toll.
"There was a time last year when due to artistic differences I left my record label and I thought, 'I'm just getting off the carousel,'" she says with the easy laugh of the survivor. "It's been such a roller coaster ride, with such dramatic highs and lows. But I write and sing with more passion than ever now because of everything I've been through."
In fact, it was songwriting that kept her moving forward. "I kept writing the songs I wanted to write about, who I was and what I wanted to talk about,” she says. “That's exciting for me, but ultimately I knew as an artist that if I didn't keep going and record more music, I would regret it, and I don't want to have any regrets."
Through good and bad, Jamie has poured herself into her art, creating a body of work that connects profoundly with fans who recognize in her a kindred spirit.
"When someone tells me, 'Your song got me through a really hard time,’" she says, "or when 'Somebody's Hero' prompts someone to say, 'It makes me think about my Mom,' who I had to put in a nursing home,’ I know exactly how important it is that I do what I do.”
Those connections have been important since those early days traveling the country with her parents. She lived in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, attending Beverly Hills High along with many known actors and singers, then singing backup for Kylie Minogue. It was Nashville, though, that set her solo career in motion. Producer Keith Stegall (Alan Jackson, Clay Walker) helped her land the record deal that led to the critically acclaimed Shiver and its first single, "Arizona," which placed her in the front ranks of female singers. She won the ACM's Top New Female Vocalist award and was named the Top New Country Artist by Billboard. Two of her four Grammy nominations came as a songwriter, for Best Country Song for "Arizona" and its chart-topping follow-up, "When I Think About Angels".
She toured with Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride, Alan Jackson and Toby Keith, and landed songs on the soundtracks of Bridget Jones's Diary and When We Were Soldiers, as well as on the ABC smash Desperate Housewives.
It is a measure of the respect she has earned that after Celine Dion was unable to sing “All By Myself” for Bridget Jones, the producers searched country music for its most powerful vocalist and chose Jamie. When Carrie Underwood won American Idol, a search for a top-flight duet partner led once again to Jamie.
The woman known for her powerhouse vocals is also one of the industry's most prolific and accomplished songwriters, writing for LeAnn Rimes, CeCe Winans and Martina McBride, who took Jamie's "How Far" to the upper reaches of the charts, as well as Idol alumnus Kristy Lee Cook and newcomer Star DeAzlan.
Jamie has been a frequent television presence, with three appearances on The Tonight Show and appearances on Late Night With David Letterman, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood, among others.
Through it all, she has shared the journey and the art that grows out of it with a loyal cadre of fans.
"Growing as a person and as a writer," she says, "then taking a step back and only recording the songs that I absolutely believe in a hundred percent keeps me connected and gives me a sound people recognize as distinctively mine.”
That relationship with fans still inspires her, and it is one she solidifies each time she steps on a stage. It is a tradition she keeps alive with many of the songs on the new record, including “The World Goes On.”
"We all go through feeling down, and I've been there, where you just think, 'God, give me a reason to get out of bed,'" she says. “There are so many great things in life and in the world to look forward to and you just have to find your strength within to start over. Still, that's not to say there's not a side of me that doesn't love doing fun, light songs like 'John Deere Letter' or ‘Wide Awake’ from the new project. I love songs that make people laugh."
No matter which side of human emotion she is exploring, Jamie’s strength lies in the things she loves--songwriting and performing--and her art lies in bringing the realities of life to both. It is something her audience has treasured since the beginning.
"Knowing that the fans are still with me, still caring about my music," she says, "means the world to me. It's the one thing that propels me.”
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