Things have been moving fast lately for Annalise Morelli.
The West Ashley 14-year-old's calendar has been full this spring with singing gigs at local festivals and sporting events.
She recently entertained at the Walterboro Rodeo, sang the national anthem at the Mother's Day RiverDogs game and performed at the First Flush Festival.
On May 25, she's singing at a benefit concert at Brett's Roadside Kitchen on James Island.
She's going to study at Juilliard in June for four weeks as part of South of Broadway Theatre's "Summer in the City" program in New York, and then spend the rest of the summer in Nashville.
"We did all this at 14 thinking that maybe it would take off by the time she was 16," says her mother, Lisa Morelli. "We had no idea of the success she'd have. We were trying to help her begin her journey, and now it has taken flight."
All the recent payoffs are the culmination of a decade of preparation for Annalise.
"I have wanted to be a singer since I was 4," she says. "We have videos of me doing performances when I was little, and I was always making up shows for my family to watch. When I had a baby sitter, I would say, 'Want to hear me sing?' "
For her mother, the defining moment came during a dance recital when Anna-lise was still in preschool.
As the rest of her class was on stage dancing, Annalise not only danced, but also sang at the top of her lungs. The audience loved it.
"I realized then that maybe she had a little something different," Lisa says.
If anybody would recognize talent like that, it would be Lisa. A former Miss Charleston, she also sings, acts and has been an acting coach.
"We are not going into this with our eyes closed," she says.
Soon after that dance recital, Annalise started taking music and acting lessons. At 6, she posed for a Pottery Barn Kids catalog. She has performed as a member of the Charleston Youth Company and in productions at First Baptist Church School, where she's also a singer in the worship band. She has auditioned for professional films.
"She loves all that, but in the last two years, we realized that she should pursue singing the most," Lisa says. "She knows her voice is a blessing."
So the family, which also includes dad Andy and sister Payton, 11 (who also sings but likes acting better), started taking trips during school breaks to places such as Los Angeles, New York and Nashville.
"Whenever we take trips, my mom is always asking, 'Is this what you want to do?' " Annalise says. "L.A. was amazing and New York was great, but I felt most at home in Nashville."
Everywhere they went, Annalise worked with local vocal coaches. She now works with Jamie Wig- ginton at VocalEdge in Nashville. "The best thing has been taking her to all those places and letting her get training with so many different people, because they all do things differently," says Lisa.
Annalise has taken piano lessons and plays drums and guitar by ear. She spends up to four hours a day working on her music. Last summer, she attended the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities' Discovery Program.
For her 14th birthday, she wanted to compete in the American Idol Experience at Walt Disney World's Hollywood Studios theme park. The show offers budding singers the chance to perform in an "American Idol"-like atmosphere.
"I just wanted to do it as a fun thing," Annalise says.
During a family vacation Sept. 5, Annalise won the contest and received a "dream ticket" that allows her to go to the front of the line at an "American Idol" audition.
She was excited to learn the show is coming to Charleston for auditions July 22, until she realized she won't be the required 15 by then. Her birthday is in August.
"The ticket is good in any city, so we have been waiting for the other cities to be announced, and we'll have to go to one of them," Lisa says.
Winning the Disney contest made Annalise's dream more of a reality for her dad. "When people voted for her when she was a complete stranger, that's when Andy's radar kicked in," Lisa says.
A month later, Annalise was recording in Nashville.
Lisa has been managing her daughter's career until she signs with a record label.
"I'm a 'momager.' This is my full-time job. I have to make sure everything is taken care of, talk to sound people, make sure she's got autograph cards, everything. I often work late into the night. But I have dealt with stage mothers as an acting coach, and I really do not care to be one."
Annalise knows that pursuing her dream may take her away from Charleston.
"The goal is to live here and Nashville," she says. "But Charleston will always be home."