Musicians are often lumped into two buckets: Those who make it big, and those who don’t make it at all. However, there’s a third group that sits in between these extremes: The artists that get a taste of success and draw the spotlight for a brief moment, but can’t sustain the momentum and watch the light quickly fade from their careers. Bittersweet as it may be, however, that brief moment can leave an lasting impression on the people who hear it, leaving them scratching their head as to why things didn’t. These are the stories of the one-hit wonders.
Today’s installment of One-Hit Wonderings is a tag team effort from Sam Wilson and MisterMatthias, who asked about a teenage phenom from the turn of the millennium who has mostly disappeared from the face of the earth in the last decade:
Teenage phenoms are nothing new in country music, and while the phrase brings names like Tanya Tucker, Brenda Lee, and Taylor Swift to mind, there are also some precocious artists that catch lightning in a bottle and then never fill another glass, leaving their young visage frozen in amber for country music fans of that era. One such artist was Jessica Andrews, a turn-of-the-millennium vocalist who became a household name at age 17 with the title track and leadoff single from her sophomore album, “Who I Am.”
Andrews seemed primed to take the next step and ascend to country stardom, but instead she faded back into obscurity within a few years, with only a single track (2002’s “There’s More To Me Than You”) making it inside the Top Twenty. Still, the song left enough of an impression with the public that Wide Open Country posed the same question that we have two years ago, With such a promising start, why did Andrews’s career fail to launch?
After examining the evidence, the truth is that we’ve really already covered Andrews’s story on the blog—specifically, in our deep dives into the careers of Lee Ann Womack and Toby Keith. Andrews was a product of her time, and just when she was about to break out, she was hit with the double-whammy of a changing radio climate and label instability, and she simply wasn’t able to overcome the setbacks. Instead, Andrews basically disappeared from public life, and had barely been heard from since the end of her Nashville saga.
Andrews first caught the ear of producer Byron Gallimore when she was ten, after someone sent him a tape of her performance at a local talent show. Gallimore initially passed on working with the young singer, declaring that he “didn’t know what he could do with a 10-year-old.” Two years later, however, Gallimore agreed to bring in the now-12-year-old Andrews and start crafting her debut album.
What led to Gallimore’s change of heart? Well, Wikipedia lists Andrews’s birthday as December 29, 1983, which most likely places Gallimore’s first encounter with Andrews’s work in 1994. Fast-forwarding two years brings us to 1996, which just happened to be the year another teen singer announced her arrival:
LeAnn Rimes exploded onto the scene with “Blue,” a song that cracked the Top 30 on the Hot 100 despite only making it to #10 on Billboard’s country airplay chart, and posted seven more Top Tens over the rest of the decade (including the #1 “One Way Ticket (Because I Can),” but not including “How Do I Live,” which reached #2 on the Hot 100 despite losing its country airplay battle to Trisha Yearwood). Nashville, like the NFL, is a copycat league, and as soon as Rimes demonstrated that there was a market for a teenage talent, everyone wanted their own youthful prodigy, and Gallimore already had someone in mind.
The back half of the 90s wound up being a veritable boom time for teenage country singers, with Lila McCann debuting in 1997, Amanda Wilkinson fronting her family’s band in 1998, and Andrews releasing her debut album Heart-Shaped World in 1999. (Billy Gilman would join the party a year later with “One Voice.”) Andrews, who spent several years working on her first album (recording nearly fifty songs in the process) and could only stand by and watched as her peers made waves on the radio, was worried about being lost in a sea of fresh faces and not taken seriously as an artist. Her fears turned out to be justified: She managed to put her first three singles into the twenties on the radio, but those numbers paled in comparison to the competition:
|Rimes||#1 (“One Way Ticket (Because I Can)”)|
|McCann||#3 (“I Wanna Fall In Love”)|
|The Wilkinsons||#3 (“26 Cents”)|
|Andrews||#24 (“Unbreakable Heart”)|
(For the record, I first encountered Andrews when I saw the video for “Unbreakable Heart” on CMT, and to this day I contend that this was actually her best single.)
Despite the relative struggles of Heart-Shaped World, there were some significant tailwinds blowing for female country artists in the late 1990s. As we recounted in our Lee Ann Womack analysis, Shania Twain absolutely dominated the tail end of the decade, and artists like Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, and even Rimes were starting to see crossover success with bolder, more confident material. Chely Wright would become a one-hit wonder with “Single White Female” in 1999, and Womack herself would eventually strike gold with “I Hope You Dance” a year later. The conditions were right for Andrews to catch her own rocket ride to the top, and she did just that with “Who I Am.”
Andrews did not write “Who I Am” (it was composed by Brett James and Troy Verges), but she often spoke of the incredible synergy between herself and the track and how it described her life perfectly (except, famously, that her grandmother’s name is not Rosemary). In truth, nearly anyone could have said that about the song given how “effectively vague” it was written: Who wouldn’t declare that they were “the spitting image of my father,” that “my momma’s still my biggest fan,” and that “sometimes I’m clueless and I’m clumsy, but I’ve got friends who love me”? It was that everyperson connection, backed by Andrews’s incredible vocal talent, that struck a nerve with the public and made the song a radio staple for years to come.
“Who I Am” appeared to be the breakout single Andrews needed to ascend to the level of Rimes and other powerhouse artists of the era, but the moment it fell off the charts, the wheels feel of Andrews’s career: “Helplessly, Hopelessly” staggered to a poor #31 peak, and “Karma” wound up being an unmitigated disaster that only made it to #47. Another shot of leadoff-single buzz managed to get “There’s More To Me Than You” up to #17, but afterwards Andrews would never again manage to put a single into country radio’s Top Forty. What happened?
Let’s return to our Womack analysis from before:
“‘I Hope You Dance’ topped the country and AC charts, and peaked at #14 on the Hot 100. However, things dropped off quickly: ‘Ashes By Now’ hit #4 on country radio and #45 on the Hot 100, ‘Why They Call It Falling’ fell to #13 and #78 respectively, and ‘Does My Ring Burn Your Finger’ dropped to #23 and didn’t reach the Hot 100 at all…To be fair, Womack wasn’t the only female artist from the era that was struggling: The music landscape shifted away from pop-country divas as the millennium began, and even powerhouses like Twain, Hill, and McBride were reaching the end of their runs by this time.”
All those late 90s tailwinds suddenly stopped blowing in the early 2000s, and female singers were replaced by groups (Lonestar, Rascal Flatts) and chest-pounding macho men (Toby Keith, Trace Adkins). In a way, “Who I Am” marked the end of an era: After the song left #1 in April of 2001, only four female artists would reach the top of the charts over the next year (McBride, Messina, Jamie O’Neal, and Cyndi Thompson), and in the following two years no woman would reach the summit of the airplay chart (Gretchen Wilson would finally break the streak with “Redneck Woman”).
As far Andrews’s teenage contemporaries, none of them ended up having much staying power in the end:
- McCann’s career was effectively over after her 1999 Top Ten “With You.” After its run, she would be locked out of the Top Forty herself.
- The Wilkinsons fell off quickly after “26 Cents”: Their follow-up “Fly (The Angel Song)” only made it to #15, and the group would never again crack the Top 30 in the States (they did, however, have a bit more longevity in Canada). Amanda Wilkerson attempted to forger a solo career in the early/mid 2000s, but her only chart entry limped to a stateside peak of #49.
- Gilman flopped so hard that he barely qualifies for the ‘one-hit wonder’ label at all: “One Voice” only peaked at #20, and none of his other releases even made it into the Top Thirty.
Even Rimes couldn’t escape the change: She went through a multi-year drought following 2001’s “But I Do Love You,” had a brief resurgence in 2004-2005 with her album This Woman, and then mostly disappeared after 2007’s “Nothin’ Better To Do.”
Without Rimes’s star power, Andrews floundered in the changing radio climate. However, she also lacked the label support to weather the transition, which brings us back to our Toby Keith deep dive:
“DreamWorks was having trouble behind the scenes, leading to a merger with none other than Mercury Records in 2004 and eventually closing its doors entirely in 2006. Keith has claimed that he was essentially pimped out by DreamWorks, ‘putting out an album every year trying to keep [them] afloat’ before the label could be sold.”
Andrews was Keith’s labelmate at DreamWorks, and her career was already on the rocks by this point (“Good Time” followed “There’s More To Me Than You” with a miserable #49 peak). Any hope for a comeback via her fourth album disappeared when the label collapsed, and the album was shelved and didn’t see the light of day until 2016. (CMT reported that Universal Music Group was going to absorb the DreamWorks roster via its other country labels, but there’s no record of Andrews ever being on another UMG label, so she may have been shown the door as it was being locked for good.)
Artists change labels all the time, however, and a few years later Andrews resurfaced on Carolwood Records (a Disney subsidiary) ready to chart a classic comeback story. Instead, history repeated itself: Her first single “Everything” peaked at #45, and her first album wound up getting shelved when Disney shut down Carolwood a mere year after Andrews arrived. To add insult to injury, while all of the other Carolwood artists were transferred to their sister label Lyric Street, Andrews was instead unceremoniously released. This was the final straw, and Andrews never again made it back onto the airwaves.
If there’s one word to describe Jessica Andrews’s musical career, it would be unlucky. She was slow out of the gate and wasn’t able to stand out from the teen phenom crowd, she was a product of a radio trend and wasn’t able to adapt to changing times, and she got the rug pulled out from under her twice thanks to labels closures. It’s enough to make anyone consider walking away from the industry, and that’s apparently what Andrews did.
While our previous one-hit wonders are still making music or at least making public appearances, we’ve heard next to nothing from Andrews since her brief Carolwood stint. Aside from a few personal headlines (she married fellow country artist Marcel in 2011, and gave birth to the couple’s first child in 2018), the singer hasn’t made news of any sort in roughly a decade. It’s pretty clear that we’ve heard the last of Jessica Andrews.
(…Or have we? While listening through Andrews’s singles on YouTube while writing this piece, I discovered that someone has been stealth-dropping cover song recordings on her official YouTube ‘Topic’ channel for the last few years. However, there are questions about the legitimacy of these recordings—the sound quality is horrible, and the last tweet on what I think is her official Twitter page calls them “bootleg”—so for now I think she’s done with the music business.)
Still, for unlucky as Andrews was, she broke through for one brief moment in 2000, just long enough to make “Who I Am” a part of the country music catalog. Regardless of what happened afterwards, Andrews ensured that country fans always knew who she was…even if her grandmother’s name isn’t really Rosemary.