Rolling Stone magazine recently selected Vanessa Carlton as one of 10 talented new artists to keep an eye on. Her breakout single, "A Thousand Miles," has become an instant hit on radio and MTV. Her recently released debut album Be Not Nobody (the title came to her in a dream), has been described by one critic as a more pop oriented version of Fiona Apple's music "minus the stormy psychodrama."
But despite the early commercial success and press accolades, not long ago Carlton was on the fast track to becoming a ballet dancer, not a singer/songwriter. At the age of nine she became obsessed with dance. At 13, she began traveling to New York City from her Mitford, PA hometown to study under such ballet greats as Gelsey Kirkland and Madame Nenette Charisse. A year later she was accepted to New York's School of American Ballet.
As Carlton approached her senior year, her once promising dance aspirations began to unravel in a system she says is "neither easy nor fair." As a result, she began to play the piano and write songs.
"It was the dilapidated piano in the kitchen of my dorm that brought me solace," she recalls. "Sometimes I would skip ballet class to go upstairs and play. All these songs just poured out of me."
Music actually came to the 21-year-old Carlton early in life. After a family trip to Disneyland, a two-year-old Vanessa banged out a version of "It's a Small World" by ear on the piano. Her mother subsequently exposed her to a variety of classical composers such as Eric Satie and Mozart. At age eight, she wrote her first piece of music and continued writing music until dance began to play an increasingly large role in her life.
After graduating from dance school, she began working as waitress and performing as a singer/songwriter around New York. Interscope head Jimmy Iovine saw one of Carlton's shows and signed her to a recording deal.
"I had always loved to sing growing up, but I never thought of myself as a singer until I sang my lyrics," she says. "I put my voice and piano together and I couldn't imagine it any other way."