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16-year-old Nikki Yanofsky: no nerves, just talent

By Shanon Cook, Special to CNN
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16-yr-old sings away nerves
  • Nikki Yanofsky sang at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics
  • Yanofsky's U.S. album debut on Decca Records is out Tuesday
  • She was youngest person to perform at Montreal International Jazz Festival in 2006

New York (CNN) -- When 16-year-old Nikki Yanofsky stepped on stage to sing the Canadian national anthem at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics, her nerves did a curious thing: They vanished.

"I never get nervous and I was so nervous for that one," she says. "But I walked out and all my nerves went away. That's how I knew that [performing] is really what I'm supposed to be doing."

Sure, not every burgeoning singer gets the chance to gauge whether she's chosen the right career path by belting out a number in front of a captive worldwide audience. But this jazz-inspired Montreal, Quebec, native has never had a problem with shooting for the moon.

"My dad always says you can't be king unless you believe you can be king. So first I had to believe -- I can be a singer. Now I'm trying to chase it."

Full of pep, playful enthusiasm and an inability to contain herself from breaking into song every five minutes ("I think in music"), Yanofsky treated to an informal chat at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, the site of her Tuesday album launch party.

Get to know me through my music

Called "Nikki," Yanofsky's U.S. album debut on Decca Records (out Tuesday) features new arrangements of songs like "Take the 'A' Train" and "Over the Rainbow" as well as originals she co-wrote with Jesse Harris and others. "It's cool because the covers you hear are the songs that have inspired me and influenced me. And then you go to the originals and you hear how exactly they've influenced me. So you get to know me through the music."

Shoeless, but not clueless

Yanofsky, who says Ella Fitzgerald is her biggest idol, was the youngest person to perform at the Montreal International Jazz Festival when she took the mic in 2006. She was 12. "I walk out on stage in this little white dress and no shoes and no makeup! I had the best time of my life. It was like my first real show and I just hoped I had many other shows that I could do like this. It was the best way I could spend an evening."

Touch me not!

If you get the chance to meet Yanofsky in person, don't be surprised if she declines to shake your hand. Paranoid about catching a cold -- disastrous to any hardworking vocalist -- Yanofsky admits she's a germaphobe. "I'm always asking 'Are you sick?' I'm always washing my hands and stuff, but not to the point of living in a bubble. A little bit before that point, maybe (laughs). Sometimes people take it personally, but I really don't mean anything by it. It's not that I don't like the person, it's just that I don't want to get sick from the person!"