How Very Vanessa

By Audrey Diehl

Vanessa Carlton had always planned a career on the stage, but it wasn't as a singer and songwriter. That's right, for most of her young life, Vanessa trained to be a ballet dancer, and she was well on her way to dancing with a major ballet company when she decided that dancing wasn't for her and turned to the piano for comfort.

Music has always been a big part of piano-playing Vanessa's life. Her mother is also a pianist, and her father, a pilot, is "obsessed with the fiddle," according to Vanessa. Now, she's making music her career, and it looks like turning in her point shoes for a piano stool was the best decision Vanessa Carlton ever made. The Mitford, Pennsylvania native has a hit song, "A Thousand Miles," with a video in constant rotation on MTV, and her debut album, Be Not Nobody, should be a huge success when it's released on April 30.

Recently, I had a chance to talk to Vanessa about what made her return to the piano, how she got her start in the business and how songwriting set her free. So your mom made you keep playing the piano even when all your focus on ballet. Was that just something she though you should never give up?

Vanessa Carlton: Yeah, I'm so thankful that she made me do that. She just made sure that I maintained exposure to improvising and experimenting on the piano at all times. She made sure it was always done in that way for me as opposed to going to some strict piano class or whatever, and that's what's so great. I'm formally trained in a very informal way, and I think that's why I can sit at the piano and just feel so free. So do you think it's easier for you to write songs because your training was so informal?

VC: Yeah, it's just all play. Do you think your mom somehow knew that you would end up coming back to the piano?

VC: No, I don't think so... Maybe. I was so serious about ballet, and I was at such a prestigious school. It was like, 'This must be it.' I don't think it was necessarily surprising to her--or to the rest of my family--that I kind of dove back into music, but it certainly was a big change in my road. So what was your goal when you were a ballet dancer?

VC: To join a company, and just rise through the ranks and perform every night and do the whole thing. And [what I did was] almost like the night before the Olympic trials and kind of just saying, 'No I don't want to go.' You got pretty far in your ballet career. When did you quit?

VC: Well, I ended up being so afraid and frustrated that I didn't audition for any companies.