Perhaps the most interesting facet of Andrews' life is that, at age seven, she had a bone growing through her spinal cord, the removal of which would leave her with a 50/50 chance of paralysis. Fortunately for her, the surgery was successful. By the time she hit double digits, tapes of her made their way to producer Byron Gallimore. Her first recording was "I Will Be There for You," on the Nashville soundtrack for DreamWorks Animation's 1998 film The Prince of Egypt. (DreamWorks released the movie's actual songs on one disc, contemporary Christian songs "inspired" by the movie on a second soundtrack, and country ones on the third.)
DreamWorks Nashville, having already gotten its feet wet with Linda Davis, also made "I Will Be There for You" the first single from Jessica's debut, Heart Shaped World, and it reached a modest #28. Next was "You Go First (Do You Wanna Kiss)," which struck a very credible balance of youthful eagerness and shyness in love — she states confidently "Can't you see what I'm suggesting, it's a double dare," yet follows it up with "Do you wanna kiss…you go first." After it was a cover of Carlene Carter's 1993 single "Unbreakable Heart," on which Andrews handily outshone the original with a softer vocal and warm production. Not unlike LeAnn, Jessica was proving to be a solid interpreter of songs that fit her youthful image without feeling lightweight.
Her debut helped her net the Academy of Country Music's award for Top New Female Vocalist (and a tour with the precocious child singer Billy Gilman), so it was clear that Andrews was poised for the big time. And in November 2000, "Who I Am" began her only trip to the top. Underneath, the pop diva era was beginning to slide, as seen by the performance of its two leading ladies: Faith Hill's "If My Heart Had Wings" only made it to #3, and Martina McBride had an early flameout at #11 with "It's My Time." (On the other hand, Sara Evans fared well with a cover of Edwin McCain's "I Could Not Ask for More," and Jamie O'Neal's smart "There Is No Arizona" was finishing up its run.) Change was afoot, though, as Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis were making last-ditch efforts at radio relevance, while Mark McGuinn and Trick Pony (both of whom have been featured previously in this column) were partway into their 15 minutes of fame.
"Who I Am" was a massive hit, holding down the #1 position for three weeks, going to #28 on the Hot 100, and even managing a peak on the Latin Pop chart. The PAX Network also used it as the opening theme for its crime drama "Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye." Despite its success, though, I feel that "Who I Am" is a weak song. To me, it comes across as two men (Brett James, just returning the biz after a flop of an album in 1995, and Troy Verges) trying and failing to capture a teenage girl's way of thinking. Lyrics like "When I make a big mistake and when I fall flat on my face / I know I'll be all right" come across to me as weightless, you-go-girl, motivational poster blurbs that Jo Dee Messina had already done to death. But still, she could easily have saved it with a fiery vocal and strong production. Instead, the production was shiny and lifeless, and Jessica's singing was uncharacteristically restrained, almost timid. (Also, she's even admitted that Rosemary isn't her grandmother's name.)
Cue the failed follow-ups. "Helplessly, Hopelessly" was hopelessly in search of a decent melodic hook, and once again, her decision to phone in the vocals didn't help. Byron finally seemed to light a fire under her on the punchy kiss-off song "Karma," but too late. On to disc three, Now, led off by "There's More to Me Than You." A kinetic breakup song, ironically co-written by her now-husband, Marcel, it achieved a respectable #17 peak. After it was the equally snappy road trip-themed "Good Time." Anchored in fine lyrics like "When you drive along on your freedom wheels / You know any destination will kill the frustration," it nonetheless may have been a little too shiny and slick at the time. Both of these songs found not only artistic, but also vocal growth, a pleasing grain being especially evident on "Good Time." She also backed Poison frontman Bret Michaels on "All I Ever Needed," his only foray into Country.
Said growth continued onto what would've been her fourth album (Ain't That Life), with "The Marrying Kind" containing lines like "Just another night of foreplay in a shot glass" and "Summer Girl" (later covered by Leighton Meester on the Country Strong soundtrack) having "Drink 'til he's cute" and "Who needs a boyfriend, I got my girlfriends." Such lyrics stood in stark contrast to the sweet teenager she had once been, but showed as much personality as "Who I Am" lacked. After both songs bombed, the late-2005 closure of DreamWorks left Ain't That Life in the vault. She moved to Lyric Street's short-lived Carolwood branch two years later and released "Everything," also co-written by her and Marcel, and produced by Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts. Although not exactly original in the lyric department, it found Jessica's voice only growing more powerful and husky than ever before. The song only went to #46, and when Carolwood folded, Jessica was the only act on it not to end up at Lyric Street. Since then, her website has disappeared, and her Facebook page has not been updated since 2009.
Andrews is, like so many other artists I've written about before, one whom I think deserved better — in no small part because the song that I feel was by far her weakest release was her only big hit. Maybe if Who I Am were front-loaded with something a little sturdier such as "Karma," then she could've maintained a long, slow-burning career not unlike Gary Allan: one that would've seen her move more smoothly from the closure of DreamWorks and/or Carolwood to another label. But not unlike LeAnn Rimes, Jessica is both young enough and far removed enough from her teenaged hitmaking days to launch a comeback.