A singer's dream of Belarus

For Baltimore native and aspiring singer Amy Carrick, a little "luck of the Irish" has gone a long way.

Just three short years ago, Carrick was working 80-hour weeks, teaching ballet, nannying and waiting tables in an Irish pub in Nashville. Now, she is taking what could be a first step toward international fame, departing for Belarus to compete in the prestigious Straviansky Bazaar vocal competition.


A competition held annually for more than 15 years, its contestants include both vocal performers and composers. Competitors are whittled down over three nights (July 11-13), performing three different pieces, all in front of millions of television viewers.

"It's sort of like the Slavic equivalent of American Idol," says Carrick, who has toured with a professional company of Riverdance the last 2 1/2 years and will be the only American in the competition.


For Carrick, the trip to Belarus represents a step toward fulfilling a lifelong dream of living in Russia. But it likely wouldn't have happened if not for a serendipitous visit to the Nashville pub where she was working by members of the Irish touring company of Riverdance.

"In Nashville, everyone is somehow connected to the music business," says Carrick, who moved south in 1994 to study vocal performance at Trevecca Nazarene University. Although most Nashville area singers dream of country music fame, Carrick, a classically trained singer, was focused on light oratorio and Irish traditional music.

"Since I worked in an Irish pub, my managers asked me to sing a few Irish songs to the guests, just a cappella." Pretty soon, Carrick was waiting fewer tables and singing more often. "They realized I could bring in a crowd."

On one occasion, the crowd included a few Riverdance cast members who were in town performing. Impressed with Carrick's singing, they told her to send a demo CD to the show's producers in Dublin. Setting up an audition took more than a year, but it was worth the wait. In December of 2000, Carrick became the first American member of the show's choir and has been on the road with Riverdance ever since.

The tour, which she describes as "a home away from home," includes cast members from all over the globe and has only strengthened her desire to move to Russia, a goal she set at the age of 15. In fact, Carrick's interest in Russia was sparked when she began studying ballet at Peabody Preparatory at age 3.

"All the great ballerinas were Russian, and I dreamed of dancing at the Bolshoi," she says. She began to study Russian as a freshman at Roland Park Country School. As a sophomore, she spent a month in Moscow and instantly fell in love with the city. After returning there last summer with a Russian dancer from Riverdance, she felt at home.

"I've lived in great American cities - Baltimore, New York, San Francisco - but no place pulled my heart like Moscow. I love the architecture, the layout of the city and the rich cultural life." Though she describes her Russian language skills as "minimal," she decided to permanently relocate as soon as she could.

Advancing career


Through her contacts in Riverdance, she got in touch with a Russian music producer. "I started out just by giving him a demo, and then everything sort of snowballed," Carrick says. He encouraged her to audition for Straviansky Bazaar. She sent the competition's directors an audition tape in February and received word of her acceptance just weeks ago.

Though her career has been advancing rapidly, it has not been a painless process. "Everything involving this competition has been a struggle," she says.

After learning she had to sing something by a Slavic composer in the competition, Carrick had only three days to find a song, which necessitated contacting music warehouses in the heavily Russian enclave of Brighton Beach, N.Y., and sending the information off to Belarus. Every call required a translator.

Money also has been a hindrance. While most European competitors have sponsors, much like U.S. beauty pageant contestants do, Carrick is solely responsible for funding her travel, costuming, telephone bills and other expenses totaling around $10,000.

Despite these potholes on the road to possible stardom, Carrick says she is "so excited to be representing America" in Belarus. Winning the competition would allow her to record her first solo album and embark on her first tour, much like the winners of American Idol have done.

Just don't call Carrick Kelly Clarkson. While she admires American artists like Jewel, Avril Lavigne and the late Eva Cassidy, her real idol is Slavic pop star and former Straviansky Bazaar grand prize winner Laima Vaikule. Little known in the United States, Vaikule is a huge star in Russia.


Early bloomer

"I've known I was a performer since I was 3," says Carrick. According to her mother, Alice Carrick, "performing is all she ever wanted to do."

"Even when she was very young," her mother says, "people would see her on stage and say 'Wow, look at that little girl. She really had a great stage presence.'"

While in high school, Carrick sometimes questioned the feasibility of a singing career. Alice Carrick and her husband, Gerald, discouraged her from attending the Baltimore School for the Arts; though "in hindsight, it may have been a mistake," Alice admits.

"While I was attending Roland Park, there was so much focus on academics. It was hard for me to juggle school and performing," Carrick says. Still, she devoted most of her free time to dance lessons and singing in the choir at Aisquith Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

Carrick lived in Hamilton until she moved to Bel Air at the age of 16. After her family's move, she completed her senior year at Bel Air High School, where she was a member of the pop choir and realized that singing was her way to excel. She took a "crash course" in voice from Maryland vocal instructor Lori Ramsey in preparation for college auditions, intending to major in vocal performance. And though she left for school with only minimal knowledge of classical voice, she was able to graduate cum laude from Trevecca in only 3 1/2 years.


"I just wanted to finish quickly so I could focus on performing," Carrick says.

Now, thanks to hard work and a few happy coincidences, she can do just that.

Her parents support her career wholeheartedly. Although they won't be able to accompany her to Belarus, they are sending a camcorder along with her to document this important milestone in their daughter's life.

As she embarks on her new life in Russia, Carrick is far from apprehensive. Her mother believes Amy will be just fine, although she will miss her greatly.

"God has given her a great deal of talent and this tenacity that is remarkable," Alice Carrick says. "She's always been one to grab the bull by the horns, and we just want her to do what will make her happy."

"My parents think I'm crazy for wanting to move to Moscow," says Amy, "but they also taught me that if I got an education and followed my heart, then everything will just fall into place."