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Jackie Evancho opens up about her eating disorder, growing up in the public eye, her new album and more

Jackie Evancho spoke at length with Yahoo Entertainment's Lyndsey Parker, where the young vocal sensation opened up about her eating disorder, growing up in the public eye, why she did an album of all Joni Mitchell covers, and much more.

Video transcript

LYNDSEY PARKER: I'm going to start with the very, very obvious question, Jackie, which is-- so you have this album "Carousel of Time." It's Joni Mitchell covers. But I'm wondering if there are certain songs in Joni's catalog that resonate with you the most when you've been going through your darkest periods of your life.

JACKIE EVANCHO: At the time that I had decided to do the album and pick the songs, my frame of mind towards the things that I'm, I guess, diagnosed with, the trauma stuff-- I repressed that a lot. And it wasn't even at the front of my head. To be honest, that stuff only comes out when I'm songwriting.

LYNDSEY PARKER: It's interesting for me to hear because you have been so open, lately, about how you've repressed that before. What was the dam break or whatever that released that repression?

JACKIE EVANCHO: The thing that really broke it for me was, in 2020, I kind of had a break, like a snap in, a way. And I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking all the time. Couldn't keep anything in my stomach, just from sheer nausea and panic.

And that started a whole journey of going to outpatient-- or inpatient and being treated for all these things that were building up that I was ignoring. And after I got out, I was like, look, I can't keep living like this. I'm not the same person I was when I was 10, and I can't keep pretending because it's making me sick.

I kind of said, screw it. I'm going to be myself. I'm going to go out there. And if people don't like me, they don't like me. I can't please everybody. But I can be myself because there's no way I can feel ashamed, at the end of the day, if I could say to myself, well, at least you were honest.

LYNDSEY PARKER: You said you really used songwriting to get that out. How have you used it during the struggles you've had over the years, including the more recent ones?

JACKIE EVANCHO: I basically just sit and write songs as much as possible. I do a lot of journaling. That's more of the processing for me. When I songwrite, I like to say that it's almost like reopening a wound. But instead of healing it, I'm painting with the blood.

I'm still very much going through the same exact things that I was back in 2020. It's just that I've gotten more used to how those things feel. The type of nerve or panic-- I know how to handle these things now, but I'm still very much in the process of healing all these things.

I have to learn how to access what I've repressed. I have to learn how to process that in a healthy way because that's how the eating disorders develop and all those unhealthy coping skills. I have to retrain myself how to function in a healthy way.

It's not easy at all. It's been slowly bubbling since I was 15. Every year, it's worse and worse and worse. I know that I was at a point where I was becoming a woman and I wanted to be this specific version of myself. And I would say that a lot of my eating problems come from pressure I put on myself, not society's pressures, not anybody else's putting it on me. It came from myself because I'm a perfectionist and I hold myself to an impossible standard.

And so I, one day, looked in the mirror and I said, that's not what I want to look like. And I started off by eating healthier and working out in a healthy way. But then I wasn't seeing anything-- any results.

And so that spiraled and snowballed into where I'm at now. It got worse and worse and worse every year because, at that point, I wasn't able to see myself. I couldn't see the true reflection of what I actually looked like. And then it took that snap for people to truly see just how severe It really was because, even with the weight loss, you can hide that stuff. You can avoid it. There are all sorts of things that you can do to trick people into thinking you're OK if you don't want them to know you're hurting.

And I was always doing that because I don't like when people worry about me. I want them to be happy. I'm a people pleaser. And 2020 was definitely the point where I was like, I literally cannot function. I'm dizzy when I stand for no reason. And I feel sick. I have to put myself first now.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Is that when the car accident you had happened?

JACKIE EVANCHO: That actually happened in 2021, in January. The snap for me happened in November of 2020. And then the accident in 2021-- that was wild. I'm still terrified to drive when the weather is slightly bad. I'm still in pain because my back doesn't bend like it used to.

But the only pro that I got from that is-- now I know what I'm dealing with, and I know that I have to be more cautious. I have to take vitamins, supplements, and fight even harder to beat the eating disorders that are causing it.

LYNDSEY PARKER: How's your recovery with-- not just the eating disorder but also the osteoporosis that the car accident uncovered or whatever?

JACKIE EVANCHO: In terms of the osteoporosis, I actually don't know. I haven't had a checkup yet, which I know I need to. I've been told I need to. But I don't know. I've always had an aversion to doctors.

But with the eating disorder treatments and stuff, I'm still fighting, and I'm stuck in a spot where the real change has to happen. So I'm still very much in the throes of it. But little by little, each therapy session and talkthrough, I'm waking up a bit more.

LYNDSEY PARKER: What kind of feedback have you gotten from fans, especially other young women now that you are talking about this?

JACKIE EVANCHO: Yeah, I've gotten a lot of support. And it's refreshing from the comments that I was getting before that were, you're dying right before our eyes. What's with young people not eating? Have you ever heard of Karen Carpenter?

And it's just like, I know what I'm dealing with, and I can't-- I can't see myself the way everybody else could see themselves or the way that they see me. And for them to be harsh with it was hard for me to read. It made me panic. It made me feel bad about myself.

So seeing people respond in a positive way to me finally being honest was so refreshing. And it just reinforced my belief that, if we're honest with ourselves and we present in an honest way, even if it's just how you feel that day, there's no guilt. There's no shame in that because you were honest. That's my policy.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I'm not a doctor. I'm not a medical expert. I'm wondering if any of this stuff you were doing-- not treating your body well-- affected your voice at any time? Or was that ever a risk of having-- because, obviously, that would have been tragic.

JACKIE EVANCHO: Right. Yeah, it's not affected it yet, but it is still very much a risk. And it's an ongoing worry, and it's very hard to battle myself in my head when you have these disorder thoughts fighting with my passion for life.

And that's the thing that sucks about this eating disorder. It totally makes you fight yourself. You end up exhausted constantly, fed up. You feel left out because of your own choices. You can't sit and enjoy the birthday cake with the family. You can't go out to this event because you're so exhausted from what you put yourself through that day. And it takes away so much of your life.

LYNDSEY PARKER: Are you going to tour or perform for this record "Carousel of Time?" Are you feeling up for that physically and mentally?

JACKIE EVANCHO: Yes, I am, and I'm definitely feeling up for it. And I think it's good for me because, even though I'm not healthy-- I'm not 100% healthy yet, it puts me in a position where I have no choice because the voice that is pro-me and not trying to beat me down is, like, fighting back a lot harder.

LYNDSEY PARKER: I'm so happy for you that you're doing well and doing what you want to do. So I really wish you all the best.

JACKIE EVANCHO: Thank you for being so-- I don't know what the word would be, but you helped me to feel very comfortable with talking about things that aren't easy to talk about.