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From the Vault: Jamie O’Neal (2004)

What ever happened to Jamie O’Neal? The singer, who hit it big with 2000’s “There Is No Arizona,” has devoted the last two years to motherhood—and she couldn’t be happier.

Originally published in the July 6, 2004 issue of Country Weekly featuring Jo Dee Messina on the cover. This story is presented here in its entirety.

Jamie O’Neal’s daughter, Aliyah, leans over and wraps her little hand around a volume control knob and slides it up and down. The delightfully energetic, curly-headed one-year-old plays for a moment with a recording studio soundboard before sitting straight up on her mother’s lap. She returns to laughing and clapping—and pointing gleefully at the strangers crowded in Jamie’s basement studio at the family’s home in Brentwood, Tenn.

“She’s fascinated by the studio,” says Jamie. Songwriter Rodney Good, Jamie’s husband, is beside them, leaning against the soundboard, which is covered in knobs and blinking lights. “She loves playing with everything and making it move.”

Fans constantly ask Jamie where she’s been, wondering what happened to the striking Australian blonde who burst onto the scene nearly four years ago with the massive hit, “There Is No Arizona.” The answers are gathered around her.

For Jamie, the last two years have flown by, filled with golden memories of bearing her first baby and nurturing the child through her first year. “I just feel like nothing I’ll ever do is as important as that,” she says. 

Jamie has continued to write songs and to work on music with her husband Rodney. But, more than anything, she’s relished the opportunity to be a fulltime mom. “The day I had her, my life totally changed,” says Jamie. The look on her face conveys that she wouldn’t have had it any other way.

In 2000, Jamie appeared headed toward stardom. “There Is No Arizona” zoomed to No. 1, making her one of those rare new artists who score a big hit with a first record. The follow-up, “When I Think about Angels,” also flew to the top of the charts.
Both songs showed off her songwriting skills and her impressive voice. A bluesy singer with a husky alto, Jamie brought a lifetime of experience to her first record, since she’d been singing in a family vocal group since she was 8 years old.

As her star rose, she married Rodney Good, her longtime beau. Having achieved a dream of creating a chart-topping record, she focused her time and attention on furthering the career she’d wanted since grade school.

Motherhood—or anything outside of music—was not on her list of immediate things to do. “I’ve always loved kids, but I didn’t know if it was going to be in my future or not,” admits Jamie. “It sure wasn’t something we were planning. I was as busy as I could be writing songs and doing shows and making a record.”

Just how much of a surprise was her pregnancy? To explain, Jamie tells a story involving one of her best friends. “I remember when this good friend of mine became pregnant,” recalls Jamie. “When she first found out, she called me up and said, ‘Are you sitting down? I’m pregnant, and I’m having twins!’”

Jamie’s friend was overjoyed, of course, and the singer was happy for her. “But I also remember thinking that it would change her life so much,” says Jamie. “I thought, ‘Well, there goes us ever leaving on another vacation together or just taking off somewhere spontaneously again.’ I hung up the phone and said to my husband, ‘Can you imagine having a baby right now? It would change our lives so much!’”

Jamie now realizes she was tempting fate. “Within two months, I was pregnant!” says Jamie. “My friend got a good laugh out of that. We had our kids the same year.” And guess what? She and her friend still take vacations together—only now the infants come along with them. “We just got back from the beach,” she says. “We were getting a lot of strange looks, sitting there in the sand making baby noises and cracking up. The kids loved it, though. They had a blast!”

Of course, as soon as Jamie discovered she was going to have a baby, her anxiety about her career went away. All she felt was joy—and an immediate willingness to turn her focus toward the life growing inside of her.

“When I found out about Aliyah, I was working on my second album,” she says. “I was writing, and I was still touring real heavily and traveling a lot, and I was trying to find time for recording. Life felt pretty frantic. I toured up until the fifth month, until I got off the road last April.”

After Aliyah’s birth, Jamie’s career went through some bumpy times. Her producer, Keith Stegall, who also works with Alan Jackson, had left Mercury Records. Jamie stayed on the company’s roster for a while, but she decided to leave the record label in the fall of 2003, just before the company planned to release her second album.

“Looking back, it was incredible timing, really,” says Jamie, who shows no anger or bitterness over the series of events. “I think everything worked out the way it was supposed to.”

After departing the label, Jamie finished the few concerts she already had on the books. Then she informed everyone she wanted to take time off to be home with Aliyah.
“We took her with us on the shows we had, and it was hard traveling with a newborn,” she says. “I sure wasn’t going to leave her at home and go work, so I decided it was best to stay home.

“I have to say, I feel so lucky now that I got to spend a year with her, bonding with her and being with her all the time, everyday. It was a total blessing.”

Jamie knows that not everyone is fortunate enough to devote such time to a newborn. Many of her peers in entertainment have to get back on the road to sustain their careers. Indeed, she has first-hand experience: Growing up in a musical family, Jamie can remember her parents leaving on tour when she was very young.

“My mom and dad went over and toured around Asia, and I stayed with my grandparents for six months,” she says. “It had to be heartbreaking for them. I don’t know how I could ever do that with Aliyah. I don’t think I could ever leave her. I’m so glad things worked out the way they have.”

She recognizes her fortune—many working mothers don’t have the opportunity to stay home these days. “I don’t know how single moms do it, to be honest,” says Jamie. “I have so much respect for them, and for mothers who have a whole bunch of kids. It’s so all-consuming. Still, it’s more rewarding than any job you can have. So I guess you do what you have to do.”

Jamie didn’t turn away from her career completely—she just stopped playing concerts so she could stay home. “I was writing up a storm!” she says. “Having Aliyah completely affected my songwriting, too. Now my songs have a lot to do with family and kids and the happiness that brings. It’s about knowing what your purpose in life is.”

Not only did motherhood impact her writing, but it also changed the emotional connection she has with music, too. “Every time I hear a sad song, or any song that has something about kids or babies in it, I just bawl my eyes out,” says Jamie with a laugh.
She knows other performing mothers feel the same way. One of the shows she performed after having Aliyah involved a concert featuring her friend Martina McBride. While visiting before the show, Martina and Jamie discussed motherhood, and Martina said she wanted Jamie to hear a new song she’d just recorded. 

“She played me ‘In My Daughter’s Eyes,’ and it was the first time I’d heard the song,” says Jamie, who co-wrote Martina’s current “How Far.” “The album wasn’t out yet, so no one had heard it. When she played it, I just burst out crying. Then they came and told me it was time to go onstage. I joked with Martina, saying, ‘Oh great, thanks a lot for playing that!” With Aliyah enjoying her first birthday on June 11, Jamie knows it’s time to return to performing. She recently signed with Capitol Records and is putting finishing touches on what will be her second album.

“I feel like I’m going to have a better second record now because of all the time we’ve had,” says the singer. “The new songs are stronger and more me. I feel like it’s a more well-rounded record and just better overall. I’m glad we waited.”

And the performing bug is back. After spending her whole life singing songs, she believes the year off and her new perspective as a mother will make her even better on stage.

“I’ve been away from it for a while now, and I really have started missing it,” she says. “I look forward to getting out there and playing again, because that’s my first love, being on stage. I love to write songs and record, but being on stage is the best. There’s nothing like having a live audience in front of you and being able to really belt out a song.”

She understands that fans wonder what happened to her, too, so she’s eager to tell them about her new family and to perform some new songs. “From the standpoint of the fans, I know they think I’ve been gone for a while,” says Jamie. “To me, I’ve been so busy and so happy, that it doesn’t seem like that long of a time.”

Meanwhile, Jamie is now sitting with Aliyah on the floor of her nursery. The baby is playing with the family Maltese Griffin and a few favorite stuffed animals. The beautiful room, designed by Jamie’s friend Molly Beeson of Molly B.’s Designs, provides the perfect playpen for mother and daughter.

As they play, Jamie’s dad—Jimmy Murphy, who lives nearby—has stopped by to say hello, which brings a squeal of delight and a claw-like wave from his granddaughter Aliyah. “It’s been the most incredible year,” repeats Jamie. “Whatever happens from here, I’ll always cherish having had this time with my daughter.”

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