Born Jamie Murphy on June 3, 1968, in Sydney, Australia; daughter of Jimmy Murphy (a musician) and Julie Murphy (a musician); married Rodney Good (a recording engineer and singer), 2000. Addresses: Record company--Capitol Records Nashville, 3322 West End Ave., Nashville, TN 37203, website: www.capitolnashville.com. Website--Jamie O'Neal Official Website: http://www.jamieoneal.com.
Singer and songwriter Jamie O'Neal has been performing since she was eight years old, but made her adult debut in country music in 2000 when she released her album Shiver. The album made it to number 14 on the Billboard Country Music charts, and two singles from the album hit number one. O'Neal is noted for her individualistic style, heartfelt lyrics, and strong vocals.
O'Neal, whose birth name was Jamie Murphy, was born in Sydney, Australia, where her parents, Jimmy and Julie Murphy, were professional musicians. When O'Neal was two years old her family moved to Hawaii, where her younger sister, Samantha, was born. When O'Neal was seven, her parents took the family to Las Vegas, where they had found work performing at the Golden Nugget casino. The sisters had both inherited their parents' musical ability, so when she was eight and Samantha was six, their parents included them in their act, called The Murphy Family.
On the Road
O'Neal spent much of her childhood traveling throughout the United States in a motor home with her family, performing at state fairs, hotels, and conventions. She told a reporter for the Tampa Tribune, "We were on the road all the time. We just lived out of campgrounds. We didn't really have a place we called home." For friends, O'Neal spent her time with the members of her family's band, and received her schooling from a private tutor. The Murphy Family was the opening act for many country music stars. O'Neal told an interviewer on the VH1 website that her favorite performer during this period was Dolly Parton. "She was so sweet to us kids," O'Neal recalled. "And she loved hanging out with her band. I was just so impressed with her as a person, as well as a musician."
When O'Neal was a teenager her family moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where they recorded three country albums before Jimmy and Julie divorced, breaking up the band. Julie Murphy went back to Australia, but Jimmy remained in the United States. He moved to Los Angeles, and O'Neal continued to sing with him. She was still a teenager, so she attended Beverly Hills High School; however, she felt alienated from most of the other students because of her family's wandering lifestyle. "I would be gone so much on the road, so I was never part of any crowd," she told the VH1 interviewer. "I felt out of place; and I'd barely scrape by on my tests. Then I'd go on the road again." Eventually she dropped out of high school, hoping she could return to Nashville and pursue a solo music career.
O'Neal did move to Nashville, and found work recording demo tapes for music publishing companies. However, this promising start ended when she visited her mother in Australia and was invited to sing backup for Australian pop star Kylie Minogue. O'Neal toured with Minogue for two years, but she was not tempted to take up a career in pop music; country music was her first love, and she was determined to be faithful. One draw, in addition to the fact that she had grown up singing country music with her family, was the fact that she believed country music fans were less fickle and more loyal than pop music fans. "I would never be interested in crossing over and leaving country music," she told Pamela Davis in the St. Petersburg Times.
Moved to Nashville
During this time, O'Neal began writing her own songs. She also changed her last name from Murphy to O'Neal at her mother's suggestion, in order to differentiate herself from the Murphy Family band. O'Neal's mother also took one of O'Neal's demo tapes and, without asking her, sent it to a friend in Nashville, who passed it on to producer Harold Shedd. Shedd called O'Neal in Australia, offering a plane ticket to Nashville and a song publishing contract. O'Neil quickly accepted, and moved to Nashville permanently in 1996. She worked with Shedd for two years, and in 1998 signed a contract with EMI Music, in order to expand her career as a singer and songwriter.
During her tenure with EMI, O'Neal sang backup for Mindy McCready, Clay Davidson, Jason Sellers, Chely Wright, Ronnie Milsap, Sonya Isaacs, and other artists. In addition, her compositions were recorded by some of the biggest names in country music: Chely Wright recorded "Comin' Undone," and LeAnn Rimes released "Surrender." O'Neal was also co-writer of the Tammy Cochran single "So What."
Despite this success O'Neal still dreamed of a solo singing career. In 1998 EMI arranged for her to audition with Keith Stegall of Mercury Records, and Stegall introduced her to Luke Lewis, president of Mercury. Soon after this, O'Neal began work on her debut album, Shiver. This period was memorable for another reason. After the album was completed, O'Neal married Rodney Good, her collaborator and recording engineer.
O'Neal released her debut single, "There is No Arizona," in 2000, and it rose to number one on the Billboard Country Singles chart. This made O'Neal the first female country singer since 1996 whose debut single had reached the number one spot. In the Atlanta Journal-Constitution a reporter described the song as "an addictive country/rock tune with a get-hooked melody, haunting . . . harmonica and lyrics that prick the nerve of any woman who has been left holding a returned love letter."
Released Debut Album
O'Neal released her debut album, Shiver, in 2000. She wrote or co-wrote nine of the 13 songs on the album, which rose to number 14 on Billboard's Top Country list. One song, "When I Think About Angels," joined "There is No Arizona" by going to the number one spot on the Billboard Country Music charts. Of its success, O'Neal told Deborah Evans Price in Billboard, "It felt great. I wasn't expecting it at all." Ed Bumgardner wrote in the Winston-Salem Journal that although the songs did not even give "a passing nod to traditional country, [they] were too well-crafted and well-sung to be ignored." He commented that one strength of the album was the fact that it "sounds less like the clock-work of session pros than the tightly knit earthiness of a longtime band." O'Neal said that this flavor was a result of the talents of the performers in her band. "I don't tell anybody what to play. I let them hear the demos and tell them to add, subtract or change whatever they hear that they think will make the song and performance better," she told Bumgardner.
As a result of the album, O'Neal received the "Best New Female Artist" award from the Academy of Country Music in 2001. That same year O'Neal was nominated for the Country Music Association's Horizon Award, given annually to the new country artist with the most promising career growth over the previous year. O'Neal told Davis that at the time, she was preoccupied with a move from an apartment to a house, and was so busy trying to pack up all her belongings that the excitement of being nominated didn't really register. However, she said, "I'm just having a great time and trying to enjoy every minute of it because you don't know how long it's going to last." Of the nomination, she told Sandra Barrera in the Los Angeles Daily News, "For me, everything seems right, now. I'm at the right place at the right time."
Also in 2001, O'Neal received a lucky break when she was asked to provide a remake of her song "All By Myself" for the soundtrack of the popular movie Bridget Jones's Diary. The experience led to wide exposure for O'Neal, who told Davis, "I just lucked out. The great thing is I've gotten a lot of letters from people who don't run out to buy country CDs but really like that [one]."
Despite this feeling, O'Neal did not win the Horizon Award, which went to Keith Urban. She moved on quickly, preferring not to dwell on disappointment, and told Bumgardner that perhaps she had been passed over because "I'm hardly a newcomer to country music."
O'Neal underwent back surgery for a ruptured disc, but quickly returned to the stage, spending the summer of 2001 as part of the Girls' Night Out Tour, which also featured Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Sara Evans, and Carolyn Dawn Johnson. In the fall of that year she was the opening act for Lonestar's I'm Already There tour, and appeared at the Billboard Music Awards in December.
In 2003 O'Neal left Mercury Records and signed with Capitol, which was scheduled to release her next album in early 2005. Of her career, O'Neal told Davis, "Songwriting is one of my loves. I like to be able to go where I want to go and have the song be challenging and have a big range. If you want to have a hand in that, you have to write it yourself."
by Kelly Winters
Jamie O'Neal's Career
Performed with family band, The Murphy Family, beginning at age eight; sang backup for singer Kylie Minogue, 1994-96; moved to Nashville, TN, 1996; signed contract with EMI and sang backup for various artists, 1998-2000; signed contract with Mercury Records, 2000; released debut album, Shiver, 2000; released from Mercury and signed with Capitol, 2003.
Jamie O'Neal's Awards
Academy of Country Music Award, Best New Female Artist, 2001.
- Selected discography
- Shiver Mercury Records, 2000.
- (Contributor) Bridget Jones's Diary (soundtrack), Island, 2001.
- Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 15, 2001, p. F4.
- Billboard, August 25, 2001, p. 11.
- Billboard Bulletin, August 12, 2003, p. 2.
- Daily News (Los Angeles, CA), September 30, 2001, p. 4.
- People, April 23, 2001, p. 80.
- St. Petersburg Times, September 6, 2001, p. 22W.
- Tampa Tribune, November 9, 2001, p. 23.
- Winston-Salem Journal, November 23, 2001, p. D1.
- "Jamie O'Neal," VH1.com, http://www.vh1.com/artists/az/o_neal_jamie.html (March 19, 2004).
- Reuters.com, http://www.reuters.com/newsArticle.jhtml?type=musicNews&storyID=4599081 (March 19, 2004).
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