'I AM VERY HOPEFUL'
Jackie Evancho on What She’d Say to Trump About Transgender Rights
After singing the national anthem at Trump’s inauguration, the 16-year-old is still ‘hopeful’ about meeting with the president to talk transgender rights.
Jackie Evancho has cycled through more stages than your average 16-year-old. Evancho rose to fame on America’s Got Talent in 2010 with her reverse-Susan Boyle act: the voice of a seasoned opera singer trapped in the body of a pre-teen. But the singer’s reality TV stardom quickly paled in comparison to her latest claim to fame, performing the national anthem at President Trump’s inauguration. At the time, the soon to be 45th Commander-in-Chief was struggling to book an opener, with stars like Elton John and Andrea Bocelli ultimately bailing on the festivities. Evancho entered into the first real controversy of her young career when she became the first confirmed inaugural act.
Evancho is promoting her new album, Two Hearts, which debuted on Friday at No. 64 on iTunes. These days, she explains, she’s modelling her career on chart-topping acts like Halsey and Lady Gaga. “This new album is kind of different I guess, because it took me about a year to create,” she tells The Daily Beast. “Of course it has my classical sound which everyone knows me as, but I also am dabbling in the pop world as well… I kind of just want to send the message that I’m getting older and I’m not the ten-year-old little girl on America’s Got Talent anymore, I’m becoming a true artist.” When I got Jackie on the phone, she was rushing between The View and an in-store album signing in New Jersey. These are the sorts of opportunities that come with being associated with Donald J. Trump, for better and for worse. “I am working a lot more,” Evancho says, “But I have gotten a lot more haters. At the same time, it doesn’t really matter to me…I’ve had a lot more work to do which is really great, I’m on the road more often and everything is just working out.”
Evancho has the pure enthusiasm of someone who starred on a reality TV show and released seven studio albums before her 17th birthday. In other words, she’s living her dream, and isn’t inclined to let her inauguration memories be marred by controversy or politics. “I lost my voice two days before so the pressure was really on,” she recalls, “So I didn’t really have too much of a chance to take it in because I was so worried about my voice and how it would feel and sound that day. But overall the experience was something I’ll never forget, it was a really cool experience.” She and Trump spoke briefly; he shook her hand, thanked her, and said “congratulations and stuff like that.”
At the time, Evancho was focused on the biggest performance of her young life. But just a few months later, the singer has some more substantive points she’d like to talk over with the president. Jackie’s sister Juliet came out as transgender in 2015. In October, the 18-year-old filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against her school district after the school board voted to force transgender students into separate bathrooms. According to Juliet, “The day after the vote, it felt different in school: I felt exposed and vulnerable… I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home. But then my classmates nominated me for homecoming queen, showing that they know, accept and respect me for who I am. So, why can’t everyone else?”
Recently, Trump rescinded the Obama administration’s previous stance that restricting transgender students’ access to restrooms would be considered a Title IX violation. The president’s decision threatens the wellbeing of transgender students like Juliet, and immediately struck a chord with her sister Jackie. “When I heard about it it was kind of just ‘oh, that sucks,’ you know?” She pauses for a second, then continues. “As an American I’m allowed to disagree with my President and his positions, but it did suck, and I thought, ‘Well I have this platform, I did perform at his inauguration, so maybe I can send him a tweet and calmly discuss this with him at some point.’ And that’s kind of what happened. I created the tweet, and posted it, not at all expecting it to blow up the way it did.”
Evancho reached out to Trump’s infamous Twitter account, writing, “I am obviously disappointed in the @POTUS decision to send the #transgender bathroom issue to the states to decide… u gave me the honor 2 sing at your inauguration. Pls give me & my sis the honor 2 meet with u 2 talk #transgender rghts.” Evancho weathered some backlash on Twitter, but she’s used to the “haters” at this point. Besides, she explains, “I try my best to stay out of politics, but in this situation I didn’t see any other choice.”
Evancho also tweeted out the specific days that she would be in D.C.—March 30th and 31st—and implored the president for a one-on-one. Now that window has come and gone, and Evancho has “yet to get a response.” Still, she’s optimistic, adding, “I know that he’s a busy guy right now, but I am very hopeful.” Evancho doesn’t get into specifics but she does have “points that I want to get across…I know that I want to bring up that it's more of a rights issue rather than an issue that should be passed down to the states.” She’d like to see the president push for some sort of legislation, “To protect, not just my sister, but the transgenders and the LGBT community.”
Evancho is more forthcoming when it comes to the specifics of her sister’s case—she’s excited to share that a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the Pine-Richland High School’s discriminatory policy, meaning that Juliet can continue to use the bathroom that corresponds to her gender identity. Still, they’re waiting for the final verdict, which could take years to reach. “She’s not back at school yet because she got her surgery, so she is still on medical leave, but she should be back in school soon,” Jackie explains. “And,” she sighs, “We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully people aren’t too hard on her.”
If she could go back and do it all over again, Evancho would still perform at the inauguration, explaining that her decision was apolitical and, besides, no one could have predicted the future. But when asked if she would sing for Trump again, she pauses, admitting that, “I’m not exactly sure.”