A Joyful Noise

Golden pipes -- not a genie in a bottle -- helped fifteen-year-old Rachael Lampa land a lucrative record deal and a rare position in the world of Christian pop.

These days, Rachael Lampa's schedule is not typical of that of most fifteen-year-old kids from Monarch High School in Louisville, Colorado. Of course, when a battery of people have you pegged as the next big thing -- not just for Colorado, but for the country and possibly beyond -- your dance card tends to fill up pretty quickly. Take, for example, this week's agenda: On August 1, Live for You, Lampa's debut record on Word records, hit the streets, an event the 4'10'' vocalist marked with a performance on the Tonight Show. On August 3 she'll perform on the View, and she's been selected as the featured artist for CNN's entertainment segments, spots that run all week. Over the next few days, she will also make appearances on Good Morning America, 48 Hours, and numerous other major network shows. That's what happens when you've inked the richest record deal for a newcomer in Christian pop-music history and you're being courted by major pop labels for a second deal.

But as large as these achievements are, they pale when compared to the size of what's made Lampa one of the hottest new teen talents: her voice. Lampa combines the dizzying range of British opera wunderkid Charlotte Church with the pop savvy and sass of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey -- and every other diva who'll be hitting the rehearsal room after hearing this former point guard for Monarch High's girls' basketball team. Lampa's voice is an unforgettable instrument of astounding control and dynamics; her talents have literally left audiences and A&R men in tears. It has a similar effect on record, even after repeated listenings. But don't expect this cool, confident kid to take credit for her singing skills. "It's Him singing through me," Lampa says of her gifts. "It's not really me singing at all."

That's some arrangement, she admits with a giggle, but it's also one that she's been developing all her life. According to Marianne Lampa, Rachael's mother, Rachael was singing before she could speak, stringing infant sounds into melodies before ever talking. At four she was composing her own tunes; by five she was belting out difficult pop hits in note-for-note fashion. "When she started doing 'The Greatest Love of All' completely on pitch," Lampa recalls, "we thought that was indicative of what her gifts were." Under the tutelage of her mother (a part-time singer and full-time nurse), Rachael went on to win national and international talent contests over the next few years and appeared at a number of high-profile engagements. The gigs included everything from appearances at CU football games, to a shot at singing the national anthem at Rockies games (in 1995, at the ripe old age of ten), to a performance on the Jenny Jones show.

Her record shall be released: Rachael Lampa's debut, Live for You, hit store shelves this week.
Her record shall be released: Rachael Lampa's debut, Live for You, hit store shelves this week.

Lampa has also performed at Elitch Gardens and various church-sponsored youth events around the state, as well as at her St. Louis Church in Louisville. Her appearance on a compilation to benefit Columbine victims reached the ears of Danny Meeker, the producer of last year's "Praise in the Rockies," an event for Christian musicians held each year in Estes Park. Meeker was bowled over by Lampa's voice and at the last minute placed her on the bill for last August's event, behind Amy Grant. Her performance struck the talent reps as powerfully as a faith healer strikes an ailing cripple. "She started singing, and everybody's jaws just dropped," recalls Brent Bougeois, Word's vice president of A&R, who was at the event.

"I thought it was just another local show. I never thought that anything would come out of it," Rachael recalls. "But it turned out bigger than I thought. That's when the bidding war started." In the end, Word won the war, beating out Sparrow Records (EMI's Christian division) and others for Lampa's services. In the past year, Bougeois and Word have had their new star on a high- dollar fast-track to reach the public. Last fall she dueted with Aaron Neville for a Word compilation and was then whisked into production for her debut solo release. Bougeois placed his new star and her mother in a Nashville mansion, where Rachael consorted with an all-star team of Christian pop writers; she discussed her feelings on both personal matters and her spiritual life so that the writers might create music that she could sink her teeth and religious beliefs into. Five weeks later, the songs were ready for Lampa to demo. (Lampa had to record her own demos, her mother points out, because the songsmiths were unable to find a singer with her daughter's range.) The novel songwriting approach paid off. "They listened to me and came up with songs that I can really relate to," Lampa says. "It feels like I wrote the songs."

One spin of Live for You reveals a kid with a voice years beyond her age, in a big-budget setting of eleven smartly crafted pop songs. And while the disc has plenty of the perky, danceable fodder teens are craving these days, it's miles beyond the current crop of teen-dream music. Live is a pop opus that includes righteous radio-bound gems, hip-swiveling teen ravers and shimmering adult showstoppers. Throughout them all, Lampa's voice crackles with heart-stopping soul and power, matched with a restraint today's pop divas have long since forgotten.

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