Sabrina Carpenter is still best known for her starring role as the doe-eyed rebel Maya Hart on Disney Channel's Boy Meets World spinoff, Girl Meets World, but to her legion of fanatic preteen followers, she's a powerhouse vocalist and pop's next big thing.
In the span of only three years, Carpenter has made the jump from folk-tinged acoustic pop music to radio-ready songs such as her latest single, "Why," which deals with decidedly teenage subject matter but gives Carpenter's music a contemporary and mature upgrade. Her voice recalls the husky vocals of Christina Aguilera's early pop hits, which makes it all the more shocking to learn that Carpenter was an infant — just a month old — when "Genie in a Bottle" hit TRL. "I was dancing to Britney videos in the womb," she reassures.
More surprising still is the 18-year-old singer's story of discovering Aguilera's music through the songs of Etta James. "I was exposed to the classics," Carpenter says. "My parents were always playing the Beatles and David Bowie and Prince, and my dad loves Rush. My mom introduced me to Aretha Franklin and Etta James. 'At Last' was one of the first songs I ever learned, and Christina Aguilera did an amazing rendition of that, and I think after I heard that, I fell in love with all of her songs and how soulful they were."
Carpenter took an active role as a songwriter at age 15 on her second album, Eyes Wide Open, and by the time she released her latest record, Evolution, she shared a writing credit on all but one album track.
"When I started to write my own music, you know, you're younger, and so you're writing about the things that are relevant to you and that go on in your life, and when you're 13... it's going to be happy. It's going to be lighter, but as I've been able to grow and write more of my own music and be in control... I've been able to put more of that soulful pop element into my music that I've always loved."
Carpenter has toured steadily over the past year in support of Evolution, including a stop at Parker Playhouse in December during her sold-out, debut headlining tour. She opened for Ariana Grande during the Brazil stint of her Dangerous Woman Tour, only a month after the deadly attack at Grande's Manchester performance. Carpenter returns to South Florida this week for a concert at the Fillmore, where she'll perform songs off her past albums and premiere new material.
She says it's important to stay on the road to connect and grow with fans and to share her evolving sound at a pace that makes sense. "I wouldn't want to go away for too long of a period of time and then come back and be completely different. I want them to be with me every step of the way and see that I'm growing, and see that I'm changing, so that when I do have the next body of work ready to go... it's going to be something fresh, and they'll be ready for it."
She seems to thrive off the jet-setting touring speed, and she's eager to try new sounds. "I remember when I first signed with my label when I was around 12 years old. The question I was getting all the time was, 'What genre are you? What music do you sing?' 'Cause that's supposed to define you as an artist. And if I were to say pop music, it would sort of have more of a negative connotation than how we listen to pop music. We love pop music! It's on the radio all the time. It's the stuff that gets us going in the morning... If you make pop music... you can have an alternative sound, you can have more an R&B sound, you can have more of an electronic sound."
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With so many plans for her career in music, it's hard to believe this ambitious young woman even has time to think about her second career in acting, but Carpenter has plans for that too.
"I'm absolutely planning on balancing both," she says. "Luckily, I've been able to focus on the music... There's always going to be a part of me that when I'm on the road and I'm touring, I'll miss filming, and when I'm filming, I'll miss touring and writing. I know that as long as I'm missing both of them, then I'll continue to do both."