DULUTH -- Lots of little girls raised in the late '90s and early millennial years dreamed of being Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera. Singing and dancing in front of the mirror they imagined performing on stage to adoring fans.
For Savannah Philips, a 16-year-old who splits her time between Duluth and Los Angeles, this dream is slowly becoming a reality. After releasing a demo album called "One in a Million," she recently performed to a sold-out house at The Roxy Theatre on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, Calif.
Her future is only looking brighter with her first full-length album expected to be released by summer 2012. Her sponsor, fashion footwear line Gotta Flirt, is producing shoes she designed that will be sold in stores.
However, Philips' journey to where she is today has taken years of work. Her struggle with a life-threatening condition almost cut her dreams short. Luckily, the enthusiasm Philips possessed as a little girl still perseveres.
It all began for Philips at that young age, daydreaming about the various pop stars and running around her house singing opera. She was the fourth child born to Steve Philips and Sandra Sike Philips following a line of athletic siblings.
Yet, right away this "baby" of the family (11 years younger than her closest sibling) was different. Born on Friday the 13th, she soon showed her family that she was a mature, motivated child. Her career began unexpectedly in Los Angeles in a hotel's restaurant.
"I met Savannah at about 10 years-old. It was toward the end of the night and I noticed her blowing out candles," said Frank Harris, veteran artist developer and her agent.
"We had gone to Los Angeles originally for acting for my sister," Philips said. "We met Frank one night. He asked me if I was a singer and if I wanted to sing. I didn't even think, I just said, 'Sure!'"
The next morning Philips surprised Harris by accepting his invitation to come into his studio and sing a song she wrote.
"I was surprised when she came into the studio. I really didn't expect her to come with anything because most people don't. We started working together," Harris said.
Soon Harris realized she needed a vocal coach so he contacted Atlanta-based Jan Smith, one of the nations most notable vocal coaches and artist developers. At that time she was known for coaching Usher and now for Justin Bieber.
Although Smith typically doesn't work with clients under 13 years old she took Savannah on.
"Since she was already plugged into the industry with an agent and from doing television work I pursued working with her," Smith said. "Savannah was very focused and driven even at that point."
Years later Savannah is thankful Smith decided to coach her. Smith has helped her develop her voice and write songs.
"Working with Jan has been one of the best things ever. I love her so much and she has been there through everything," Philips said.
Smith continued to be there even in fall 2008 when Philips was suddenly diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
"One day when she was performing in Texas we noticed (Savannah) couldn't get her breath and was having a really hard time," said Savannah's mom, Sandra Philips.
At the time she was known for being able to sing six songs without break. When she started to vocally digress Harris noticed something was wrong.
"While I was on stage I noticed it wasn't a performance anymore, it was more of (Philips) trying to catch her breath," Harris said. "Turned out what was causing the shortness of breath was that her heartbeat was at 160 beats per minute. She was at a point where she could have collapsed right then and there."
After that experience Philips was taken to a doctor who told her she had hyperthyroidism, a condition her dad and sister had been previously diagnosed with as well. It meant her heart was racing at unhealthy, unsustainable speeds. For a 13-year-old girl it was an incredibly rare diagnosis and it was dangerous to do surgery.
After four years of dedicating herself to her music Philips was told she may not be able to sing again after the delicate surgery surrounding her vocal cords. Still, Jan encouraged her to believe in herself.
"I would lay in bed at night and my heart would beat 200 beats per minute like I had just run a marathon. You could see it pounding out of my chest. I was taking 28 pills a day. It's all kind of a blur.
"I couldn't even walk up the stairs without feeling like I was having a heart attack. I passed out randomly," Philips said.
After braving the surgery Philips is now left with a small pink scar. She believes it made her stronger and more appreciative of the chance to pursue her dreams.
Throughout the beginning of her career the fan that cheered her on the most was her "granddaddy," Charles Sikes. Everyday they would talk on the phone and she often sent him pictures from California.
"He flew out with my mother two years ago to watch her perform at the Whisky A Go-Go," said Sandra Philips. "He got to see her perform and he adored her. He had so much fun watching her career."
After he passed away Philips decided she was going to dedicate her song "One in a Million," his favorite song, to him at every show. With the help of her best friends (her mom and sister Samantha) she continues to push to become the artist and performer that would make her grandfather proud.
In addition to singing regularly at the Whisky A Go-Go, she also sings in her church band, at blood drives and acoustically at outdoor events. Her dream is to someday tour with a bigger artist "like Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber."
As an artist Philips is still exploring all the different genres and sounds. She gushes over Pink and Aguilera who "can do every style of music and its awesome." Harris thinks she will soon find a sound of her own.
"Savannah is still growing into what she will become. I told her mom many years ago that one day she is going to lock herself into her room and write her own album that will determine her sound," Harris said. "Right now she likes everything. In her music she has country, pop and freestyle."
Philips may not know exactly what her sound is yet but she knows singing is what she wants to do.
"Being on stage is like no other feeling in the world. I love it and cannot even describe the feeling I have. I just want to be on the road and tour, tour, tour," Philips said.