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Judge for Alexa Wilkinson

Park City, UT
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Portrait of Alexa Wilkinson
Alexa Wilkinson describes herself as the weird kid in school that no one really understood. The bright, talented, charming young singer/songwriter says it, and, she expects you to believe it. One listen to her second album, Lions, makes it instantly clear that she's the kind of sparkling young woman most girls want to make their Facebook friend, and most boys either admire longingly from afar or approach with sweaty palms and nervous stammer.

Born in New Jersey, Wilkinson moved to the wide open spaces of Park City, Utah at the age of 12, by which time the budding songbird had already learned trumpet, drums, and guitar. She's come a long way since writing her first songs at age 15 with a friend at soccer camp, but from the very beginning of her life in music, Alexa says, “I always felt like I had something to say.” When the perky, multitalented teen wasn't snowboarding, snapping photos, or indulging her travel bug, she was huddled up with the music of songwriters like Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin, from whom she drew inspiration. After what she refers to as “my time in jail” at the University of Utah, where she wound up spending half her time recording demos, she realized academia wasn't her path, and strode proudly and purposefully toward a career in music

Sometimes the best plan is to have a little luck, though, like Alexa's dad having a chance encounter with pop star Josh Kelley and passing on his daughter's demo. Kelley was so impressed he began writing and recording with Alexa and released her 2007 debut album, Lullaby Appetite, on his own label. That album, and subsequent tours with Kelley, Kate Voegele, Joshua Radin and Ingrid Michaelson, gave Alexa some serious momentum. “Playing in front of that many people just kind of boot camped me into being a better artist,” she says. Two songs from the album were also featured on MTV's The Hills, bringing her music to a whole new audience.

With the artistic energy and craft she picked up from that experience, she approached her next recording project with characteristic gusto, once again finding a meeting of the minds with a music-biz heavyweight, this time songwriter/producer/A&R man Marshall Altman, (Kate Voegele, Marc Broussard, Matt Nathanson). Once the pair set to work on Lions, their unique process immediately took shape. “Imagine a car maker sculpting a model of a car,” she says, “and all he's sculpting is the shape, and then you have someone else come in and put all the cool little dents and airstream-looking things, the lights, and the shimmer...that's kind of what Marshall and I did.” With Alexa as the sculptor and Altman supplying that all-important shimmer, she began to feel her musical powers rise to a new level. “I think my songwriting got a lot better,” says Alexa, “I feel like I found my sound.

That sound drips Wilkinson's plucky personality from every beat. Like its creator, Lions is a complex, unpredictable creature. The mix of flashbulb-bright pop hooks, library-rat lyrical smarts, soul-baring emotional honesty, and sweetly sarcastic humor is a musical mirror-image of the talent-loaded, unpredictable young lady herself. An eclectic artist whose own tastes run from the straight-shooting pop appeal of Michelle Branch to the brainy indie rock of the Decemberists, Alexa fashions a single sonic tapestry of delicate folk ballads, R&B-tinged electronic beats, and bouncy rockers laced with pure-pop sugar

Lions is full of little snapshots of life. There's “Hitchock Afternoon,” about watching old movies and missing an ex-boyfriend. “It's a song that you hope someone will hear and know it's about them,” Alexa says pointedly. Then there's the powerful “1974,” inspired by a neighbor of Wilkinson's who died in Vietnam. In typically unpredictable fashion, she was prompted to write “The Other Boleyn Girl” by the historical novel, not the popular movie. The wistful ballad “Grey Skies” is full of bittersweet longing, a scenario Alexa describes as “a crazy girl that thinks her bed is talking to her, telling her that it's all right to miss someone.”

It all adds up to an album that, again like the young artist herself (or as she likes to refer to herself, “melody chef”), is full of power and promise. “I want people to listen to the album over and over again and love it like they do a new pair of shoes, like it's better when you wear them more,” she says with a half-smile. “I really want people to grow up with it and make it a part of their lives, like people still make Joni Mitchell's album Blue a part of their lives.” For all the travels and experiences that have given her a wisdom beyond her years, Alexa still feels like she wants her songs to reach out to listeners the way she might when talking to a friend. “I don't feel anything differently from anyone else, its just that I'm putting it in a different way--that's what singer/songwriters do.” In other words, once you let Lions in, it becomes a friend you want to have around forever