A modest sensation
- Geoff Nudelman
- Portland Tribune - Features
Young singer Savannah Outen maintains reality while building a growing fan base
In the age of glorified teen superstars like Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus, there is a modest 17-year-old Hillsboro native making waves for a new generation of music fans.
Savannah Outen has earned several top 30 hits on Radio Disney network and is a growing sensation in a fan base that reaches from Canada to Switzerland.
In March 2007, she began posting videos of herself singing on YouTube. About 58 million hits later, she's working on a television pilot and gearing up for major tours with some notable names.
'Playing more shows is the best way for me to get myself out there,' she says.
It all began on Christmas morning at age 13, when her wishes were granted and she received a guitar. That day she began to teach herself how to play and the guitar is her main instrument today.
'She stuck with it ever since she got it,' says her mother, Lisa Outen.
Savannah's strong voice and skillful guitar playing led to a song released on Radio Disney in May 2008. 'Goodbyes' peaked at No. 5 on Radio Disney, the highest mark for an unsigned artist.
Although she has to make several trips between Los Angeles and Portland for her singing career, Outen maintains some semblance of a normal teenage lifestyle. She attended public school through her freshman year at Century High School in Hillsboro, and is working toward her graduation with online classes. She went to Century's homecoming dance last year.
'I don't think I've missed out on too much of normal teenage things,' she says. 'I've just had to live it a little differently.'
But, she also understands that other teen stars have had to give up growing up in order to become successful.
'Miley (Cyrus) just had to grow up really fast. I don't see myself going that route,' she says of the famed daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, also known as 'Hannah Montana.'
Writing about anything
Outen says that an important part of her image she wants to keep is the humility and modesty that some of her more popular counterparts lack. Those around her also attest that she is not like other growing pop sensations.
'She has matured a lot, she is more comfortable in every aspect now,' says good friend Alyssa Degati, who has known Outen since age 15.
Outen does not put on a façade on stage to appease a crowd or her fans - she is the same person whether singing in front of thousands or hanging out off stage, friends and family members say.
Her mother has seen her take the brunt of the music industry and garner strength through it all.
'Savannah has had to learn who her real friends are,' she says, 'She has learned how hard the industry can be.'
Outen's first taste of the entertainment industry came when she was 12 years old and joined the Junior BlazerDancer team. Dancing since she could walk, she quickly became one of the lead dancers on the team. But, the skimpy outfits and provocative dances didn't fit her modest lifestyle, so a couple of years later, she quit the team to focus on her singing career.
'What they were doing was really surprising for a group of 12- to 14-year-olds,' she says.
Growing up in the Portland area, Outen says that much of her music is not only written here, but inspired by her life experiences. Any spontaneous event will trigger an idea for a song.
'I'll write about anything,' she says, 'Most of the time, it's just something random that will inspire me.'
She's finishing online high school classes, after which Outen can pursue a long-term career in music. She recently launched a new single on Radio Disney, and is in the process of finding a label to formally release her debut album.
Above all, Outen is dedicated to her fans, who she says are the basis of her success. Unlike other Radio Disney stars, Outen's fans range from the so-called 'tweenagers' to parents and college students.
'I had no idea I would have such a wide range of supporters,' says Outen, who was grand marshal of this year's Rose Festival Junior Parade.
The future appears to look bright for this young singer, who sends some of her earnings to charity.
'I want to give back as much as possible,' Outen says.
She has limitless opportunities ahead, but understands that modesty is key and she can't get ahead of herself.
'She is genuine and real, she doesn't change for anyone,' Degati says.
Outen's fans wouldn't be surprised to see her name supporting a Bieber or Cyrus in the very near future.
All of this for someone who was nicknamed 'The YouTube Kid.'