is a young and blossoming singer/songwriter, who despite her age has already accomplished more than many of her peers. She has been a contestant on America's Next Top Model
, photographed her first Forbes
magazine spread (as the shooter, not the subject) when she was 20, acted in a film and, at 21, has just completed her debut album, Are You Listening Now?
She's about to release its first single, "I Got Sunshine," co-written by fellow Chicagoan Alice Peacock
and VonderHaar's producer, Marshall Altman. VonderHaar feels this song expresses her own sunny attitude. The song, she says, "describes how to deal with the troubled world we live in by staying optimistic and reminding yourself of all the wonderful things we have in our lives."
Optimism is a trait that glimmers like a beacon from this go-getter. She started playing guitar at 12, but truly began to immerse herself in the craft of songwriting when she discovered the connection between her favorite poets, and the lyrics of many of her core musical influences. When Sarah's father died after his long battle with drug addiction, she bounced back from her devastation by channeling it into her music and one of the results was the album's incredibly inspired title song.
"It's definitely the most personal song I've ever written," she says. "It took me four years to build up the courage to write it, but it's probably the song I am most proud of."
forgive me for my anger/I forgave you for the pain
, she sings. … Goodbye to you my father/see you again someday.
Alternating between emotional ballads and upbeat pop-rockers, Are You Listening Now reflects a multitude of experiences in her young life, from love lost and found to the simplicity of childhood to the wisdom and strength of her guiding light, her poetry-loving mother, an English teacher – the woman who built her confidence by singing to her a song with the lyric, "Who's the most beautiful girl in the world?"
That sentiment surely helped her when she embarked on her modeling career. VonderHaar, who's 5 feet, 9½ inches tall and weighs 110 pounds, didn't even try to get on "America's Next Top Model." They found her – at a post-casting call party she attended by using a fake ID. She was there as a photographer, not a model, but when show reps noticed her, they said, "Are you here to audition?"
"I said, 'No, I'm doing photography and I'm already a model.' I didn't think I could audition. And they're like, 'No! Yes, you can, blah, blah, blah.'" So she decided to try out, hoping to boost her musical profile.
She didn't get cast on the first round, but they called her back for the next "cycle" – No. 8, which aired last year. She made it about halfway through before being eliminated.
People do recognize her from the show, and when it happens, she tells them, "I'm doing music now."
"It really has helped get my name out there," she says. "MySpace
is so saturated with musicians that anything that sets you apart from everybody else is good."
Lots of traits set VonderHaar apart – in addition to her physical beauty and vocal skills, there's her energy and spirited, rockin' attitude.
"I'm super energetic; I've always been," she explains. "I was the child that never stopped talking and never stopped running around. I think that reflects onstage. I love getting onstage and just having a blast."
Though she was a punk-rock lover early on – a favorite memory is crowd-surfing for the first time at a Pennywise concert – her first concert experience was the Spice Girls
and her musical influences include Barbra Streisand
, Elton John
, Carly Simon
, the Beatles
, Sheryl Crow
, Sara Bareilles
and Christina Aguilera
, as well as Pink
and Green Day
Now she's an upbeat indie pop-rocker, with a message, a plan and a purpose – a girl with a goal. She'd be happy to grab a stint on a TV show or a film, especially if she was able to play her own songs as a musician character.
"I'm along for the ride right now, wherever the wind takes me with my music," says VonderHaar. One gets the impression that, with her determination and talent, she's going to ride gusts from the Windy City right to the top – and stay there for quite some time.
I Got Sunshine
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