Nikki Yanofsky fuh-lipped out!

The 15-year-old singer couldn’t believe she’d been chosen to sing for the Olympics


Nikki Yanofsky fuh-lipped out! Nikki Yanofsky has a habit of astonishing people. Usually this is how it happens: first, she bounds onstage in a club or a theatre, a petite teenage gamine in front of a greying, paunchy all-male jazz combo. She then snaps her fingers and counts off the introduction to a jazz standard. The moment her voice rings out, the venue echoes with the sound of dropping jaws.

The jazz world has celebrated many a prodigy, but none has been met with this much unanimous adulation or hope since Wynton Marsalis drew his first raves in the early ’80s. With her multi-octave range, impeccable pitch, increasingly rich tone, and unexpectedly soulful power, Yanofsky, who turns 16 on Feb. 8, has been wowing crowds in her hometown of Montreal since she was 11, playing guest spots at clubs with her father’s weekend-warrior cover band. As word spread, high-profile gig offers with professionals followed; she has headlined shows at jazz festivals from Montreal to Sapporo. Pop audiences are catching on, too, and this month, her star is set to surge: she sings the theme song for CTV’s Olympic coverage (a Céline Dion-meets-Chariots of Fire power ballad called I Believe), and the video will premiere during the Super Bowl.

Perched on a chair three times her size in the green room of Mississauga’s Living Arts Centre, just before a show, she thinks back, wide-eyed, to when she was informed of her Olympic duties: “I was fuh-lipping out! I was watching American Idol auditions, and these people are trying to make it, and they have so much talent. I’m like, ‘Why me?’ It was definitely a ‘pinch-me’ moment.”

Yanofsky has rather more talent than the average Idol contestant, as well as determination and a savvy management team. She’s also part of a digital generation for whom downloading has opened up an eclectic world, where the musical past is just as accessible as the present. She became enamoured of jazz when she discovered Ella Fitzgerald tracks in her iTunes library. “Jazz is an older music style,” she says, “but I don’t think that it only appeals to an older crowd. Some of my friends have gotten into jazz because I’m like, ‘Hey, check this out!’ I think good music’s good music.”

To promote her career, her father, Richard, president of the toy robotics company WowWee, bypassed record labels (“I did not want to burden my daughter, starting at 11 years old, with being a commercial entity,” he says) and set up his own artist development team, called A440. Some of the musical heavy-hitters invited to hear her perform were so impressed they became collaborators.

Singer-songwriter Jesse Harris, who penned Norah Jones’s breakthrough hit Don’t Know Why, first heard her sing at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center: “She totally blew away the room,” he recalls. Soon enough, he found himself in the Yanofskys’ basement in Montreal, writing songs with Nikki for an upcoming album, to be released this spring. “She’s not just a novelty act,” he says. “She’s just an artist who happens to be 15 years old.”

In some respects, Nikki comes across as a normal teenager: she loves to shop and has a “huge crush” on Robert Pattinson. But not many adolescent girls pen songs about their first relationships with the likes of Harris and Ron Sexsmith, and then write about the breakups with Wyclef Jean.

Her rapidly moving career, she declares, is strategized by A440 but entirely driven by her own desire. Like the athletes whose feats she’ll be celebrating, she says, “I know that sometimes you have to make sacrifices. Maybe one night you’re not allowed to stay up really late and go to a party because it’ll jeopardize your health, which will jeopardize your performance. I never feel like I’m missing out on something, because what I’d rather be doing is singing.”

At the end of her set in Mississauga, she swoops off to the wings and high-fives her mother as if she’s scored a winning goal. She skips all the way back to the microphone for her encore; so infectious is her energy her pianist skips along with her.

Yanofsky’s enthusiasm and conviction can even make a line like “I believe together we’ll fly,” in the Olympic TV theme, into more than just an earnest lyrical cliché. It’s easy to get swept along with the singer for whom the sky is, apparently, no limit. “I think the day you think you’re the best you could be in anything is a bad day,” she offers, “because it always continues to get better. There’s never a time when you can stop.”


Nikki Yanofsky fuh-lipped out!

  1. my goodness… watching this music video with this young star singing from her heart just about made me cry. It's difficult to describe the emotional response this song brings to those who hear it… she is certainly destined to be a huge star on the world stage and this song/video will send her career skyward in a hurry. Good luck to Nikki and to Canada in these 2010 Winter Olympics.

  2. This is the kind of music and talent we should be seeing in the music industry! She's phenomenal!

  3. I can't get enough of Nikki. I hope the world listens to her and falls in love with her as I did.

  4. Go to youtube and search for her version of Airmail Special.
    I saw Nikki when she was 12 at the Montreal Jazz Fest. This kid’s a real raw talent. I hope she manages to keep her head on her shoulders because there’s no shortage of success coming her way. Good luck Nikki!

  5. This girl is gorgeous, and she has a very good voice – well-trained and mature for her age. However, she is NOT star material. She sounds like a zillion other singers, her age AND older. Watch American Idol – that sort of voice is a dime a dozen, really. And she is not a jazz singer. She doesn't have the musical chops. She should really be doing pop, or theatre. Somehow she got her foot in the door, and, as always happens in Canada, now she has the monopoly on "jazz star". Canadians always get fixated on one or two performers and give them everything, shutting out all opportunities for the many, many (usually more talented) others who languish elsewhere looking for a lousy break. It's so pathetic. It's why so many performers leave and go to the U.S. The saddest thing is that Canada is not fostering its vast pool of talent. It's so insulated and narrow, and the result is mediocrity and blandness. I know to someone who doesn't sing, this girl probably seems amazing. Trust me, she's a dime a dozen. She should be performing in a weekend band, not singing a (horrible version!) of the National Anthem at the Olympics!!!!!

    • yes what you say might be true BUT what you say sounds more like sour grapes
      rather than appreciating what she has accomplished at such a young age
      yes she has talent but like so many other canadians who have worked SO hard at
      thier craft to get somewhere –one has got to be in the right place at the right time
      it sounds like she has the people behind her to make that happen
      one can not knock her for that—————with that said the question stands
      where will she be in the future does she have the staying power

    • Hey trustme…
      Are you a singer?

    • i completely agree with you!

    • Beg to differ …..to paraphrase PET …..'just watch her' !

    • First time hearing her the other day. Remake of the Beatles “I get by
      with a little help from my friends” and have to agree with you totally.
      Mediocre at best. definitley did not make the song her own. Tried to
      blues it up but her teenage voice and range limitations were
      embarrassing at times. Wow Canada, your perception of talent really is
      weak. But all we have to do is look and listen to Beiber to already have
      painted that conclusion.

  6. I think Nikki is just amazing and have enjoyed watching and hearing her sing, since I first had the pleasure of hearing her on the The National on CBC after she sang for the first time at the Montreal Jazz Festival. She is very gifted and it makes me proud to see this young Montreal Canadian advance in her career. I look forward to watching her continued rise of fame. Well done Nikki and good job done by both her parents in the upbringing of this young woman.

  7. Why didn't you make mention of 'I Believe' composer Stephan Moccio in this article? That's odd.

  8. is she related to Zal Yanofsky from the band ' lovin' spoonful ' ?

    • The spelling is different–Zal Yanovsky.

  9. After seeing her completely embarassing over-exposure at the Olympics ceremonies, its obvious that she's just another well-connected child being 'managed' by adults behind the scenes. Just what we need, another packaged, commercialized 'robo-singer' product. This is not an artist.

  10. This is a song and voice that continues to make my day a better day.
    Thanks to the songwriter, Nikki Yanofsky, and the back-up children choir for a great performance.
    The odd person may say they don't like this; however, look at the statistics. The vast majority of us enjoy the song and this talented young ladies music.
    Thanks to all who brought this new talent to us.

  11. There's a Polish singer called Ewa Farna, living in the Czech Republic, who is the most popular teenage performer in Central Europe. Her career parallels that of Nikki, except that Ewa has released many more albums and a DVD. She sings rock and pop rather than jazz, and is now recording her biggest Czech and Polish hits in English versions. I attach here her very first live appearance in English, a once-only performance of a Roxette song.[youtube f5IEnL4rkEAhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5IEnL4rkEA youtube]

  12. How could Nikki Yanofsky NOT be related to Zal Yanofsky (formerly lead guitarist of the seminal 60's group, "The Lovin' Spoonful)? I mean, it's not as if there's a huge Yanofsky family in Canada with musical connections! I think they're keeping the connection quiet, because Zal's career (and The Spoonful's) was ruined due to Zal turning in his pot dealer rather than be deported from the U.S.A. back to Canada — and all for possessing a couple of joints! (*shakes his head*)
    So, NIKKI !!! Give us the 411 on your Grandpa connection! ZAL STILL ROCKS — and where else would you get your chops from — so give him his props, Babe!

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