Singing the national anthem at a president’s inauguration should have been a crowning career moment for 17-year-old opera singer Jackie Evancho.
But her decision to sing at President Donald Trump's inauguration put her career in jeopardy. In the six months since, Evancho said she is still dealing with the waves of criticism she faced for performing and acknowledged the backlash she received affected her fan base.
She said fans accused her of turning her back on family, pointing to the Trump’s administration’s stance on LGBTQ rights, because of Evancho’s 19-year-old transgender sister, Juliet.
“[The comments] got really mean … because I ‘chose President Trump over family’ supposedly,” Evancho said.
Seeing her sister Jackie go through all the hate mail, “broke my heart,” Juliet Evancho said.
“The way Jackie looked at it, [the performance] was nothing political,” she added.
But even still, Jackie says she’s still proud she performed.
“I now get to tell myself that my name goes down on that long historical list of people who sing at the inauguration,” Evancho said. “It was a huge honor and an experience I’m never going to forget.”
The waves of criticism the singer received, and how her family dealt with it, is chronicled in a new one-hour TLC series called “Growing Up Evancho.” The show follows Jackie’s singing career and Juliet’s transition. Juliet was born a boy and came out publicly as transgender two years ago. The family’s TLC show also dives into the teens’ social lives and their relationships – both of them have boyfriends.
“Nightline” first profiled the Evancho sisters shortly before the inauguration in January when Jackie was preparing for her performance and Juliet was preparing to undergo gender confirmation surgery. Their mother, Lisa, went to the hospital with Juliet, and their father Michael and two younger siblings went to Washington, D.C., to cheer on Jackie.
Since the inauguration, Jackie has released an album called “Two Hearts” and Juliet is an LGBTQ activist, but politics still seem to bubble up. In one moment from the TLC series, the two sisters discuss having a meeting with their home state Sen. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Jackie revealed she was unsure about going through with it.
Jackie told “Nightline” that she worries about being too political because “my singing is my family business.”
“And as much as I wish I didn’t have to, I do have to consider what I say because some people can take it the wrong way and turn it into something it isn’t,” she said.
But both sisters do agree on standing up against Trump’s recent transgender ban in the military.
“I try my best not to think about it too much even though, I mean, I have to,” Jackie said. “I want everyone to be happy and feel equal.”
And just last week, the nonprofit legal organization Lambda Legal announced it had reached a settlement with Juliet’s school district in Pennsylvania, in which they agreed to rescind its policy of not allowing transgender students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.
“Going through the lawsuits with my school district, it was heartbreaking, knowing that people still don’t see me and so many other people in my community as normal people who can fight just as hard in the military and who are just going to the bathroom,” Juliet said. “They make it this big issue and there’s no reason for it.”
Both sisters say they welcome an opportunity to talk with Trump about their stance on LGBTQ rights.
“We really just need to fix it,” Jackie said. “Things need to be equal for everybody. You can’t exactly be comfortable and happy in your own skin when you have all of these restrictions on things that everybody should have.”
In the end, Jackie said she wants her fans to know that everything she does, she takes seriously, and “they are not always going to understand.”
“I will never turn my back on my family, no matter what,” she added. “They are number one for me. I would give my career up in a heartbeat for them.”