Olivia Millerschin recently came upon a keepsake from her childhood at her parents’ home.
“I found this drawing I did in kindergarten,” she says. “It said, ‘When I grow up I want to be ____________.’ And I wrote, ‘A singer.’ I took a picture of it. It’s really great.”
Just now grown up at 21, Millerschin is a delicate, beguiling Rochester-based singer-songwriter who already racked up quite a string of accomplishments. They include a John Lennon Songwriting Award (for her attention-getting “Screw Valentine’s Day”); hundreds of live performances in venues from Radio City Music Hall to colleges across the nation; reaching the 2014 quarterfinals of the TV series America’s Got Talent; and completing her second full-length CD, Look Both Ways, released this fall.
“I think I’ve accomplished quite a bit for someone my age, I guess,” Millerschin muses. “But there’s so much more that has to be done and so many talented people who can do the exact same thing. A couple of friends were like, ‘Are you ready to get your record out?’ I said, ‘No, I am ready to make more music.’ I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
The Rochester Adams High grad, proficient on piano, guitar, and ukulele, nominates her mother, Erin, as leader of her support group. “She comes to every single show, even when I tell her not to,” Millerschin says, laughing.
Overprotective stage mother? Hardly. “She’s been at this about four years now,” says Erin, who, with her husband, John, owns a PR firm in Auburn Hills. “When she was younger, a petite 17-year-old woman traveling to do college shows … her father or I would go, just to be there. But she’s got a good head on her shoulders. Now, we don’t go as much.”
Olivia’s head has always been into singing: She began classical voice training by age 8. However, being chosen at 11 for the children’s chorus in a production of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Whistle Down the Wind at the Fisher Theatre may have cemented her passion. “For a while I wanted to be a Broadway singer,” she says, “but that quickly passed when I realized that I didn’t have the voice they do.”
No, Millerschin’s voice is an enchanting, gossamer blend of vintage folk and modern pop (think Judy Collins meeting Ariana Grande) that floats her deep, often dark lyrics over listeners’ ears.
“My older stuff is really bright and the newer stuff is still hopeful,” she says. “I just felt there were so many things that weren’t being talked about that are just as valid as happy feelings.”
After a year at the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music, where classwork was being interrupted by an increasing tour schedule, Millerschin decided to concentrate on her career.
While she enjoyed the exposure from America’s Got Talent, behind-the-scenes realities taught her harsh lessons. Rehearsals were grueling, and producers made inexplicable demands. “I think the worst part was not really having much control over how you look or what music you create,” she says. Hence, one of the meanings behind her CD’s title, Look Both Ways, recorded in Detroit and Brooklyn, N.Y.
“I’m a young person in an industry that tries to make people this way or that way, and I’ve been struggling with that,” she says. “I started getting a little jaded and thinking of people in a negative light. But then I realized people are just trying to do what they think is best. I need to look at things from both ways, through someone else’s perspective.”