Primary Instrument: Vocalist
There’s bound to be a bit of a disconnect trying to match the songs you hear to the artist who sings them on Renee Olstead’s stunning 143/Reprise Records debut album.
Here, after all, is a consummate collection of some of the most beloved standards in the great American songbook, from “Summertime” to “Someone To Watch Over Me,” “What A Difference A Day Makes” to “Sentimental Journey,” and including “A Love That Will Last,” the breathtaking new ballad from Renee Olstead’s mentor and producer, David Foster (famed producer of Josh Groban, Michael Bublé and Celine Dion).
It’s music performed with all the panache, polish and personal flair that has resonated in the repertoires of everyone from Billie to Judy and beyond. Simply put, it takes a lot of confidence, not to mention chutzpah, to take on the classics and make them your own.
Now, imagine accomplishing all that and more at the tender age of fifteen. Small wonder Renee Olstead turns heads and wins hearts whenever and wherever she steps in front of a microphone. But what may start as sheer surprise that a voice so resonant and revealing could come from an artist so young, quickly turns to utter delight at the stylish sensibility and consummate craftsmanship of this Texas-born prodigy. And if you still can’t put it together, you can always just close your eyes and listen.
Fifteen, of course, is a precocious age to have achieved anything, much less the nuanced and supremely assured performances that grace the dozen selections of Renee’s major label debut. But in point of fact, Renee has already compiled an impressive entertainment resume. It’s what can happen when you start your career at five.
Born in Houston, the only child of creatively supportive parents, Renee grew up in a diverse musical atmosphere and remembers Celine Dion as her first CD purchase. With no formal musical training, the youngster was constantly singing along to the radio, adding her own spunky spin to the hits of the day, and quickly found herself appearing in local musical theater productions and talent showcases.
But music was only one element in the mix. A natural actor with a knack for lighting up screens both big and small, Renee has been in front of audiences almost as long as she has been singing, appearing in such major motion pictures as The Insider with Russell Crowe, End Of Days with Arnold Schwarzenegger and 13 Going On 30 with Jennifer Garner. Equally impressive is the young entertainer’s television credits, which most recently include a co-starring role in the CBS-TV comedy Still Standing, now beginning it’s third season.
After relocating to Los Angeles to accommodate the shooting schedule for Still Standing and even while keeping up her studies with home schooling courses, Renee found time to perform with a local jazz and swing band at such well known Hollywood hotspots as The Madison and The Derby. When it became clear that her commitments were conflicting she decided to make a CD to commemorate her stint with the group, cutting several of the songs that were later selected for her major label debut. The result eventually found its way to the desk of David Foster, the multi-Grammy® winning artist, producer and talent scout, justly famed for knowing a good thing when he hears it, including Renee’s early role model, Celine Dion.
What Foster heard this time was a very young artist, very much in command of an extraordinary gift, able to bring fresh inspiration and a vivacious personality to songs that demanded the highest performance standards. Through mutual friend Jami Gertz, Renee’s fellow cast member on Still Standing, Foster immediately made contact, followed in short order by an exclusive recording offer. Work began on Renee’s debut album late last year, recording in and around her acting duties. “I love acting,” she asserts, “but I’m most passionate about music. I was determined to give this album everything I had, even if it meant working on it every minute I wasn’t studying on or the set. And that’s what it took.”
It was work that began with the song selection, which, aside from the abovementioned perennials, highlights “Taking A Chance On Love,” “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” “Meet Me, Midnight,” “Sunday Kind Of Love” and “A Slow Boat To China.” Also featured is a duet with Peter Cincotti on the Neil Sedaka signature hit “Breaking Up His Hard To Do,” a glorious rendition of Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight At The Oasis” and “A Love That Will Last,” written especially for the artist by David Foster and his wife Linda Thompson.
“I came to David with a list of songs I love,” Renee explains. “I knew a lot of the material had been done by some of the greatest artists ever and, of course, that was a little intimidating. I wanted to do them justice, but I was also grateful for the opportunity to keep the flame alive by introducing this music to my own generation and making it new for them. Some people may not take me seriously because of my age, but I can’t let that stop me. This is music that belongs to all of us.” And no one more so then a young woman at the cusp of a glorious career.