Sixteen-year-old Savannah Outen has more than 38 million hits on her collection of 40 YouTube music videos.
HILLSBORO —Savannah Outen is looking for her big break. The thing is, the 16-year-old singer is already famous.
Outen has more than 38 million hits on her collection of 40 YouTube music videos. If that were a CD, she would have the Recording Industry Association of America's diamond album hanging on her wall, just like Celine Dion or ZZ Top.
In 2007, Outen (pronounced Ooten), an unassuming kid from Hillsboro, put a music video on YouTube of herself playing a guitar and singing. Fans wanted more. Before long, her music videos had been seen millions of times.
Over the past year, Outen added two professionally shot music videos featuring songs she has written. Those have been watched more than 3 million times by people around the world.
Outen, who is home-schooled, is still shocked by the response. "It's so surreal," she said. A girl from Switzerland posted a note saying her high school class used Outen's song "Goodbyes," which she wrote when she was 13, at its graduation. Others send her videos of themselves singing her songs.
Growing up, Outen kept her singing talent from her classmates. Even now, she doesn't sing at open mics in Hillsboro cafes for fear that someone she knows will be there.
"I don't like telling my friends I'm a singer," she said. "I don't want them to think I'm cocky or anything."
But when she does sing, Outen becomes someone else. She transforms from a somewhat shy teenager with a cheery kid voice to a professional singer with a strong, mature voice and presence. A radio listener might confuse her for a woman in her 30s.
Outen isn't new to the music world. Her parents, Barry and Lisa, suspected their only daughter had talent when she harmonized to Justin Timberlake songs in the car as a youngster. She had no training; she figured it out herself.
Her dad said the defining moment was when she was a finalist against 100 other kids in a national talent competition.
The 12-year-old sang a cappella in front of a crowd.
"When she sang that night, and everyone was going crazy," he said, "that's when I realized."
Her fourth-grade teacher, Brigitte Skipper, saw it, too. "You could tell right away she had star power," said Skipper, who continues to follow Outen's career and attends her performances.
Since then, Outen has taught herself to play guitar, written or co-written at least seven songs, was in the top five artists on RadioDisney.com alongside Miley Cyrus, performed her own concert complete with opening acts in New Jersey, was on the list of 25 hottest stars in BOP magazine and has a single on iTunes.
She has Internet fan sites in Australia and Kuwait, a professional manager and has signed with his independent recording studio.
But in today's music world, it's not enough.
Outen is among the pioneers in this new era where record labels don't mean as much for a teenager with talent as getting a spot on a Disney or Nickelodeon show. Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana is a prime example.
"That's why everybody runs to Disney with a teen artist," said Keith Thomas, Outen's manager and owner of Levosia Entertainment. "Get the exposure and get on tours with other artists."
Of course, signing with a major record label such as Warner Bros. or Universal would be nice, Outen said, because it would open more opportunities.
But the interviews with recording companies are nerve-racking, she said. "Sometimes they have me play; sometimes we just talk. You never really know what they want. You just have to be yourself."
Outen, by the way, has no interest in trying out for "American Idol" or establishing a sexy image like the more risque singers, such as Christina Aguilera.
When Outen finally gets her break — and its just a matter of time — those who know her expect she will remain the well-grounded person she's always been.
"She's a wholesome kid," said Derek Duggan, her former science teacher at Century High School. "I think she could very easily go all the way and still keep a level head."
As for Outen, she just wants her success to be a model for others. "Pursue your dreams," she said.