For a girl who’s rubbed shoulders with Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, and David Archuleta, Evie Clair is refreshingly grounded.
The 13-year-old singer and America’s Got Talent finalist wanders downstairs to meet me for our interview with bare feet and damp hair. She greets me with a grin and a hug and immediately tells me about her latest star encounter: “A Village Person kissed me!” she giggles.
There are lots of other fangirl moments: “I saw Shania Twain walk past me!” Kelly Clarkson was backstage, and Evie did a double take in the mirror when she saw Derek Hough getting his hair done—in full view of the dancer and actor, she adds sheepishly. She was too star-struck to talk to Hough, she admits, but her eyes go soft and dreamy when she remembers singing with British pop star James Arthur in the AGT finale. “We did my song,” she gushes. “He kept apologizing because he’d forget the words!”
“Evie, play ‘Dreams’,” her mother, Hillary Abplanalp, begs, beckoning to the piano in the family’s living room. Evie pulls up the lyrics. Every bit a teenager, she apologizes in advance if her phone dies: “I’m only at 9%,” she admits.
A command performance for one at her East Valley home is a far cry from the Hollywood stages and millions of eyes she’s grown accustomed to, but the petite blonde belts out a rendition of the Cranberries’ song that would have Dolores O’Riordan herself on her feet.
“Oh, my life,” she sings, “is changing every day, in every possible way. And oh, my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems, it’s never quite as it seems.”
As the final chord dies, she meets her mother’s eyes and I realize what they both already know: that song could be Evie Clair’s anthem.
In less than a year, the 8th grader’s world has turned upside down, beginning with dad Amos Abplanalp’s 2016 cancer diagnosis and her audition for America’s Got Talent, and culminating in her spectacular AGT run—and her father’s death, within days of the popular television show’s finals.
But in spite of the spectacular highs and lows—and maybe because of them—Evie and Hilary still are smiling.
“You know, we’re okay. We’re still okay,” Hilary says.
It’s just a different sort of okay these days.
Kirra, Evie’s sister, pops into the room. I ask her what her life is like now.
“I feel deprived of my freedom,” she jokes. “We got stopped, like, 150 times at Disneyland!”
Evie nods. “We can’t be normal. The things we used to be able to do, we can’t do it without people recognizing us.”
This isn’t necessarily bad, she’s quick to point out. Her fans are adoring and supportive, sending letters and gifts, and traveling huge distances to see her perform.
“I love them! We try to respond to all the messages and ‘like’ all the comments,” she says of her followers.
That kind of fame comes with responsibilities, she adds, because “someone’s always watching.”
“Absolutely,” Hilary agrees. “You actually have to live your religion.”
For Evie Clair, sometimes that meant working with producers to make sure that her performance dresses were modest enough, or that she could get to church on Sundays, and sometimes that meant giving “the most Primary answers” to interview questions on the runway.
“You’ve got to share your light,” she says.
Even before America’s Got Talent, Evie Clair was going places. She’s got a single, “Love You One More Time,” on Pandora and iTunes, and she’s opened for the Duttons and seen her original music on movie soundtracks.
It would be easy to let that kind of achievement go to your head, but there’s no hint of diva in the girl before me. Evie hangs her legs over her mother’s lap and shrugs off her success with a smile.
“When you’re happy, everyone loves you.”
Such happiness hasn’t always come easily for the Abplanalps, especially through Amos’s battle with colon cancer.
“We didn’t know Amos was going to die. We really didn’t believe that was going to happen,” Hilary says quietly. “He had hope. He tried till the very end. You have to leave room for the miracle,” she finishes, her voice breaking. “I’m so grateful we had that hope.”
When Amos Abplanalp passed, the producers of AGT gave Evie an option: finish the competition, or come back next season. I ask them, gently, if it was hard to go on. Evie nods.
“While we were in the hospital, I knew I wasn’t going back. I didn’t want to do it anymore,” she says. “But my dad taught me not to quit.”
Evie Clair went on to deliver a stunning performance of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”—dedicated, as always, to her dad. While Evie finished in the Top 10, ventriloquist Darci Lynne Famer would ultimately win the Season 12 competition and nab the Vegas show and million dollar prize.
But there are no hard feelings from Evie Clair, who has big plans for the future. Simon Cowell has until mid-December to decide whether or not she’ll be signed to his label—and even if she doesn’t get a green light, there are plenty of other people waiting in the wings to represent the sunshiny teen. With local and national gigs coming up, Evie Clair has her eyes on the future and her family.
And Amos Abplanalp, they know, is still right there with them.
“I just talk to him all the time like normal – bring up memories, talk to him, about him,” Hilary says. “It’s important because he was just so amazing. He taught me so much. He helped me to understand not to be afraid,” Hilary says. “This is not the worst thing . . . that grief is so powerful, but everything eternally is great. It’s fine.”
Evie couldn’t agree more. After one more hug, she disappears in a flurry of blonde waves and a flash of braces, ready to face whatever life throws her way.
To see where Evie goes next, watch https://www.evieclair.com/ or follow her on social media @evieclair.