Sabrina Carpenter is 17 and a star. But ask her why, or what separated her as a young girl from the millions of others who’d love to do what she does, and she struggles.
Either that, or she turns on the humility.
“It’s hard to be talking as myself and say, ‘Yes, there was something different about me,’ ” Carpenter said. “Because I don’t think you yourself recognize it. It’s other people that recognize it, and you’re lucky enough if that happens because those are the people that give you chances.”
She’s humble. But there was, there is, something that splits Carpenter from the crowd. She’s a Hollywood Records recording artist working on her second album, and will be playing a June 25 show at Darien Lake Theme Park. (Admission is free with park admission.)
She stars in Disney Channel’s “Girl Meets World,” a spinoff of the classic ‘90s sitcom “Boy Meets World.” She’s a lead in the Disney Channel movie “Adventures in Babysitting” — a remake of the ‘80s Elisabeth Shue movie.
How did she do it? Here’s our take after a telephone interview with the teen star:
She wouldn’t stop singing.
Growing up in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, Carpenter sang. And sang. Almost as if it was her default mode. At restaurants, she would sing “Happy Birthday” to people “if they wanted to hear it or not,” she said. In her school talent she, she sang every year. She figured out early that performing was going to be her life and left regular school for home instruction after third grade.
“I knew for the rest of my life, I wanted to do this,” Carpenter said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do this, but I knew I needed the time and flexibility, and that homeschooling would help that. I knew I needed to take steps.”
At 10, she auditioned for a Miley Cyrus singing contest and finished third in the nation. That was 2009. Within two years, she landed her first professional acting gig, a guest role on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”
She accepts what she won’t know.
Carpenter has auditioned for characters she has “fallen in love with,” only to be rejected for reasons unknown. “Maybe it’s because you’re too short,” she said. “Maybe it’s because you’re not a certain age. Maybe it’s because your hair color isn’t right and they don’t want to use a wig.”
When that happens – which is often – you’ve got a choice: Move on, or try again.
She won’t accept “no” — sometimes.
Or a different hair color — and a lot of drive. When Carpenter auditioned for “Girl Meets World” at age 13, she was looped in with a group of older girls aspiring for the role of Maya Hart, best friend of the show’s main character Riley Matthews. (If you’re familiar with the original “Boy Meets World,” Riley is the daughter of Cory and Topanga.) Then the producers decided to audition a set of younger girls — so Carpenter was out. Seemingly. But rather than giving up, she came back… but looked different.
During Carpenter’s first auditions, her hair was colored red for an unrelated role. When the producers started seeing younger girls, Carpenter returned — but this time, with her natural blond hair. Ultimately, after a half-dozen auditions that included a screen test with Rowan Blanchard, who was hired to play Riley, Carpenter got the job.
“That was one that I just couldn’t quite give up on,” Carpenter said. “I guess there are situations … where it’s actually meant for you.”
She’s a kid captain.
Carpenter has kept control of her music career. Most of the material on her second album is written or co-written by her, giving the music more authenticity than the factory-made hits often performed by teen pop stars.
Carpenter admits this wasn’t a plan. “I was 12 years old when I was signed by my label and at that point, I was just lucky to be signed, I was lucky to be singing.” At that point, she said, “I had no idea what I wanted to do.”
But she grew up with the music. “You grow more sure of yourself and more sure of who you are as an artist,” she said, “(and) you also grow the confidence to be able to run the ship, to have to say no to people, or to be able to say yes to something.”
She captures inspiration when it strikes.
Carpenter’s songwriting typically happens in studio sessions with one or two older, more experienced musicians. “It’s very grown up and it’s taught me a lot about this world, but at the same time it’s fun because you’ve got these grown ups who are also living their childhood dream. They’re singing, they’re making songs,” she said.
But the inspiration for her music can strike anywhere — and she stands ready to capture it with her phone.
“I’m always writing everywhere I go,” she said. “If you see me saying something into my phone really, like, sketchy, that’s probably what I’m doing. I like voice memos. I like to write things into my Notes (app). I think that’s where I keep most of my writing ideas. I don’t know what would ever happen if everything got erased. My whole life is in my Notes.”
For her, music is everywhere.
Here’s a trait Carpenter shares with her dad: She wants music everywhere.
“We have speakers in almost every area of our house,” she said. “We’re a family that likes to hear music wherever we go, whether it’s in the car, which is often my favorite place to listen to music.”
Her older sister Sarah creates playlists for Sabrina. On Sabrina’s 17th birthday, for example, Sarah gave her a playlist with “every single song that mentioned the age 17 in it.”
For Carpenter, music is an essential mood changer.
“Listening to it can either help me cry, and maybe I need to cry, or it can make me happy when I don’t want to cry,” she said. “I think it’s such a powerful thing: Words and melodies, and you put them together. I couldn’t really picture a world without music. It would be quite boring.”
Check out this video for Carpenter's latest single, "Smoke and Fire:"
When: 6 p.m. June 25
Where: Darien Lake Theme Park, 9993 Allegheny Road, Darien Center
Cost: Free with park admission
Info: darienlake.com, (585) 599-4641