Jessica Kartalis says she didn't grow up trying to grab the spotlight. Quite the opposite, actually, until she picked up an instrument.
"I was really shy when I was younger," the 19-year-old Staten Island native says.
"That guitar was kind of like my shield."
It gave her enough confidence to audition on national TV during "American Idol's" last season, as well as book steady gigs at some of Atlantic City's newest attractions this summer, including LandShark Bar and Grill and at the bar inside The Steel Pier, where she covers popular music.
Her next step is a planned trip to Nashville, where she expects work on her debut EP of original music. She says she is going for a pop, rock and country style, but aspires to be more like Jennifer Nettles, of the duo Sugarland, than Taylor Swift.
"I want everyone to have fun hearing my music," she says.
"I want people to listen to my music and forget about their worries."
It's all been a relatively quick progression for Kartalis. She turns 20 years old this summer, only five years after she first started performing, but she already says this is what she wants to spend her life pursuing.
"It's really cool that I could get to do what I want to do," she says.
Saturday, June 29: The Steel Pier, 3 to 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 7: The Steel Pier, 3 to 7 p.m.
Saturday, July 13: The Steel Pier, 3 to 7 p.m.
Sunday, July 14: The Steel Pier, 3 to 7 p.m.