The first time we saw Jessica Paige was back in May at the Bottleneck. Halfway through her set, she busted out a cover of Sia’s “Chandelier.” To be honest, it very well could have been Sia herself on that stage. We could not tell the difference. Her voice was that good.

At that time, the Kansas City musician had just toured the nation in an old beat-up Volkswagen bus and arrived in Lawrence for the end of her Spring tour. Fast forward a few months later, in true struggling artist fashion, she’s examining the $5 remaining in her bank account, and writing a song about it (below). She was the very essence of a struggling musician, but “keeping her head up high” (as noted in the song below) and happy with her work.

A few local sets later, she’s finding national fame. Paige didn’t find much luck the last time she auditioned for American Idol, but this week she’s headed to Hollywood as a contestant on the show. So what sealed the deal? Well, the song she performed for the judges was the same one she busted out at the Bottleneck. Her Sia cover, one that she had plenty of time practicing on stages in Lawrence, had sealed her fate.

But before she headed out to the West Coast, she played a date she had reserved at the Replay on Friday night. “I’m pretty excited about getting out of Kansas in the middle of the winter!” she proclaimed at the beginning of her set. Paige was in exceptionally high spirits, but this woman tends to sport enough optimism that would even have Artax gleefully galloping out of the Swamp of Sadness. She has a heartwarming laugh, is all smiles, and full of infectious charm… a stark contrast from her emotionally rich songs. Her perfect pitch means she’s nailing those notes with the kind of voice that pop stars wish they had— and it comes so naturally to her. Combined with her winning personality and forever hopeful demeanor (even with only $5 in her bank account), Jessica Paige is, without a doubt, America’s next sweetheart.

Words and photos by Fally Afani