DENVER—Rachael Lampa seems like a typical freshman at Monarch High School in suburban Denver. To friends she's no big deal — just a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky 14-year-old who loves basketball, softball and Jesus.
She has another life, however, that few in her school know about yet. Rachael is the Christian music industry's hope for a singing Catholic superstar who will generate millions in sales each year.
In November, Rachael signed the most lucrative first-record deal ever offered to a Christian music artist. Meanwhile, Sony executives in Los Angeles are working with her on a separate mainstream pop CD. She's had offers from most big league recording labels in America and turned down more money than most people will make in their lifetimes.
“I know about all of the negatives of the music industry,” says Rachael's mother, Maryanne Lampa “It can be very rough, and very destructive, especially if it becomes a game of ‘I'll do anything for stardom.” We refused some offers early on because they didn't seem like they were from God. It has to feel like God opening a door or we won't do it.”
Record executives say Rachael's voice and stage presence are so powerful that she could become a star on the magnitude of Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Celine Dion. Her manager is Michael Blanton, whose only other clients are superstars Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.
Shortly after Rachael signed a record contract with Word Records, the label that made Grant famous, the company moved six grand pianos into a mansion so top Christian songwriters could compose music and lyrics for her.
“The Christian music industry realizes the time is ripe, right now, for a major music icon who comes out of the Catholic faith,” says Bill Baumgart, director of artists and repertoire for EMI's Sparrow Records in Nashville, Tenn., the nation's largest Christian recording label. Baumgart, a Presbyterian, is among dozens of record executives reeling in rejection after Rachael signed with Word.
“The industry has become more interested recently in reaching the culture at large, and today the Catholic Church has tremendous credibility with the mainstream culture,” Baumgart says. “Some of the more radical fundamentalist Protestant artists do just fine with a certain audience, but they tend to get discredited by the culture at large more than Catholics do.” Traditionally, the Christian music industry and Christian radio stations have been dominated by evangelical Protestant artists.
A Greater Niche
Most Catholic teens, says Rachael, listen to secular pop music. She hopes to help change that. Her goal is to evangelize youth about Jesus with hits that will be played on Christian and secular radio stations.
She wants the songs being written for her to be inspired by the lyrics of traditional Catholic hymns.
“The recording industry's view of Catholics is changing for two reasons,” Baumgart says. “We see the charismatic movement in the Church as creating a greater niche for Catholic artists. Mostly, however, there seem to be some tremendously powerful things happening with Catholic youth. Catholic kids today want a real worship experience and a personal relationship with Christ. The music they buy will have to reflect that.”
Rachael's parents work as nurses while rearing four children and devoting enormous time to their parish, St. Louis Catholic Church in Louisville, Colo. The family participates weekly in a charismatic prayer group at a nearby parish in Boulder.
“Rachael does not view her voice as a talent she has developed,” her mother says. “She views it as a gift from God, so her ego is very much in check. She feels God wants her to use the talent he gave her to spread his word, and that's what's she's always wanted to do.”
Although her first CD won't be available until next spring, prospective fans can hear Rachael on the just-released CD A Lullaby for Columbine, produced in memory of the high school massacre that took place just across town from Rachael's school. The CD is available at most major record stores. Rachael sings lead on the first track, “We Will Always Remember,” with Winston Ford, of Earth Wind and Fire, and two other artists.
The recording industry learned about Rachael this summer, when she sang at a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colo., that fea tured Amy Grant.
“I was pretty blown away by her performance,” Baumgart says. “Everyone there was blown away. And I've come to learn she's not just an incredibly talented singer, but someone who has a solid relationship with the Lord and a genuine desire to spread his word.
“That was important to me. Today's youth are hungering for substantive relationships with Christ like never before. They want Christ in their music, and we need artists who can sincerely evangelize.”
More Than a Voice
Not long after hearing Rachael at the music festival, Baumgart flew back to Denver to meet Rachael's family and friends. He wanted to determine whether she had the character and spiritual strength to make it in the music business.
“It's one thing to have a great voice,” Baumgart says. “But it requires a lot more than that to make it in the recording industry. It's a very demanding lifestyle. One has to be tremendously strong, and have a very good support structure.”
Rachael's sincere spiritual conviction, as well as her family's, convinced him she could hold up well. Other record executives also had no concerns about Rachael's character and strength.
During Baumgart's visit, Rachael sang for the St. Louis Parish summer picnic in a park. Baumgart was moved to tears during Rachael's performance. People walking by stopped to watch in sheer astonishment as a larger-than-life voice rang out from the mouth of a tiny young girl.
“Rachael's talent is an anointing from God,” Baumgart said that day. “That's all it can be.”
That gets no argument from Rachael's parents. The girl astounded them by singing, without lyrics, before she could talk. As a toddler she would sit at the top of an old staircase and sing. She made comments to her mother about the wonderful echo created by the high ceiling and hardwood floors. Rachael's devotion to music progressed as she grew.
Her mother recalls that at age 4, Rachael was writing her own scores on a glockenspiel. At age 7, she had taken to writing music so she could sing the words to books she was reading. At age 8, she entered a statewide talent contest and won. She accepted an invitation to sing to a crowd of some 40,000 people at Folsom Field Stadium in Boulder before an Independence Day fireworks display. She sang “God Bless the USA,” bringing the crowd to a long, standing ovation.
“Before the performance she was doing cartwheels on the football field,” Maryanne Lampa recalls. “She told me to come get her five minutes before she was to go on stage. To her, it was no big deal.”
Wowing 70,000 Listeners
Later, at the ripe old age of 10, Rachael sang the national anthem at the opening game of the Colorado Rockies' 1995 season, astounding a sold-out crowd of nearly 70,000 fans at Mile High Stadium. Fans elected Rachael as their favorite national-anthem performer that year, so she sang again for the final game of the season.
Since her Estes Park show, Rachael has turned down more money than most people will earn in a lifetime by rejecting an array of impressive offers from mainstream and Christian labels. Along with Sony, Baumgart says, Capitol Records executives courted Rachael with “very serious interest” in signing a major pop contract.
The family had a hard time deciding between the offers from Sparrow and Word. One factor that led to the decision involved Pope John Paul II. The Vatican recently contracted with Word Records to produce a CD for World Youth Day 2000, and Rachael has been asked by the president of Word to be a featured artist on the recording.
Rachael and her family say they're committed to maintaining a lifestyle close to what they've always known. But they know it might be hard. Before leaving for Nashville recently, Rachael had already missed about 20 days of school this fall.
She works out her absences with teachers in advance, and has done a good job of keeping up on homework and tests. Word executives have vowed to do whatever possible to keep Rachael's Louisville life as normal as possible.
Talking with Rachael, one gets a genuine feeling that her desire for success has nothing to do with a personal longing for riches and fame. She seems too selfless to be 14, exuding a relentless drive to evangelize Catholics, Protestants and the mainstream secular culture. Music, she says, is a powerful tool for doing that.
“To anybody looking to find the Lord, let me assure you he can be found in music,” Rachael says. “If you listen carefully, you'll discover that the Lord is in all kinds of music.”
Wayne Laugesen writes from Boulder, Colorado.