When Sabrina Carpenter bounded onto the Darien Lake Performing Arts Center stage Saturday night, she launched straight into “Take on the World.” That’s the theme song of “Girl Meets World,” the Disney Channel show that made her famous.
The lyrics aptly capture the 17-year-old’s career arc: “I got a ticket to the top of the sky,” Carpenter sang. “I’m coming up I’m on the ride of my life.”
Yes, she does, and yes, she is.
Carpenter isn’t the first Disney star to parlay her fame into a singing career – or seemingly parlay it into a singing career. (I’ll clarify that in a moment.) When that happens – when a Disney kid inks a record deal and starts popping up at theme parks and county fairs – it begs the question: Is this teen star truly a singer? Someone who – like Selena Gomez and Miley Cyrus – could make a career out of it?
Or is this a kid from the Disney-slash-Nickelodeon family cashing in on a fame that’s as fleeting as adolescence itself?
I interviewed Carpenter a week ago and caught her Darien Lake show Saturday night. Which is enough evidence to back my instinct that this girl actually has it. For her, creativity seems to come before capitalism.
Let’s start with her history. Yes, Carpenter’s Disney cred gives her a supercharged preteen and teen fan base. An example is unfolding as I write these very words: During the show, I tweeted that my 10-year-old daughter joined me as my “assistant.” I also tweeted a quote Carpenter shared onstage to introduce a song: “Life is such a tough game to play and we think so many doors are shut and we can’t make it through. But somehow we always do.”
After her 70-minute set, Carpenter checked Twitter, found my posts, and retweeted the quote with a message: “Thank you for coming!!! Hope you and your daughter had fun :)”
Within 20 minutes, her tweet had more than 900 interactions, including both likes, retweets and responses. And as I check it now, another 100 happened just as I was typing these paragraphs.
When Carpenter speaks, her fans soak it up, share it, internalize it, live for it.
More importantly, though, Carpenter’s Darien Lake performance showed she has the same effect onstage. Her banter with the crowd is natural and heartfelt. Carpenter shares wisdom and observations blended with a whole lot of gratitude. She thanked the fans for coming, singling out the ones who’d never been to a concert before. She thanked parents for driving, and singled out her own father, who motored five hours from the Carpenters’ hometown in Lehigh Valley, Pa., to be there.
She’s smart and sweet and gracious. She looks the pop-star part, with razor-straight blond hair that plunged over a dark top and dangled just above a pair of high-waisted distressed jeans at her concert.
But let’s circle back to the pop music, and teen stars’ often commercially driven desire to sing it.
Carpenter is different than that.
She was 12 when she signed with her label, and 13 when she landed that Disney role. That order is important. Music came first, and it shows. She has a powerful voice, one reminiscent of Cyrus in her late teen years.
Even better, she’s writing her own music, much of which we haven’t even heard yet. Her Darien Lake set spanned 15 songs, many from her first album, 2015’s “Eyes Wide Open,” along with a handful of covers (Nick Jonas, Adele, Justin Timberlake) and selections from her next album, which is slated for a fall release.
When that record drops, we’ll hear the full Sabrina Carpenter – she has a hand in writing virtually the entire album. That includes “Smoke and Fire,” a deeply introspective song about what happens after a relationship ends, and “Wildside,” a power-pop song that is featured on Carpenter’s new Disney Channel movie, “Adventures in Babysitting.” (Carpenter wrote it first, and then the movie’s producers picked it up.)
Both of those songs were hits with the Darien Lake crowd, foreshadowing a future that Carpenter has a real shot at making happen: She could be a singer long after her Disney career wraps up for good.