From studying to stardom in 30 days

The trajectory of Rachel Loy's overnight success would have left even American Idol's Kelly Clarkson reeling from the G-force.

A little over a month ago, Ms. Loy's life had been similar to that of any other junior at Boston's Berklee School of Music - a routine of homework and headphones. But when she wrote a song over spring break called "The Same Man," about a friend serving with the Marines in Iraq, it was picked up first by a local radio station and then by others across the country. Soon, a record company came calling.

Now, Loy is the first woman to sign a record contract while still attending Berklee - quite a feat considering that the college's alumni include artists such as Diana Krall, Melissa Etheridge, and Aimee Mann.

But this native of Austin, Texas, isn't taking things for granted. In fact, she can barely take it all in. "My life is a roller coaster right now," Loy says.

Actually, a coaster powered by an afterburner might be a more accurate description.

On the day of the song's release, Loy found herself on the set of "The Today Show," where Matt Lauer bounded up to meet her. After performing for a crowd outside the studio, there were clamors for Kodak moments and for the signature she'd previously shared only with her checkbook. Then a publicist cleared the way for her like a tugboat, escorting her to interviews. She rode in a limousine. People came to her hotel to meet her.

It was a heady first taste of stardom.

The next morning she was alone in Boston and back on the bus she takes to Berklee, with nary a glass slipper to show for the previous 48 hours. "For two days, I felt like I was a household name or something," admits Loy, who, with shades perched atop blond hair, bears a passing resemblance to Renée Zellweger.

Her hit song, an acoustic ballad, was inspired by a news broadcast from the war. When Loy's sister heard it, she recommended Rachel play it on a local radio station. The listener response was so ecstatic that the DJ posted "The Same Man" on an Internet discussion group for other radio presenters. When other stations began playing it, Epic records quickly flew her to California to record it with one of Avril Lavigne's producers.

"I had a lot of ideas about what it would be like once I got to even where I am now, and it's very different," says Loy, who is foremost a bassist. "People say, 'You must be so excited' - and I am - but I have to go home and work hard on new songs."

The new songs. It's a topic she brings up frequently, evidently feeling the pressure of a looming recording deadline. Not that Loy is gloomy or anything. She is thoughtful and self-assured, and possesses a self discipline gained from being homeschooled until ninth grade. She's also endearingly goofy.

"This week, I was so stressed out thinking I had to write all these hit songs for the record label. Aaaarggh," she says, making a face resembling a Munch painting. "I said, 'I cannot write a song like this. I'm going to see live music every night. I'm going to make it my job to have fun this week because I do get obsessed with music.' "

Even so, she explains in a soft but unequivocal voice, music is not the most important thing in her life. God comes first. Then her relationship to her family. Close friends are next. "After that, that's where music falls," she says.

Loy values maintaining a balance in life. She talks of wanting to hold onto her ideals in music, but not at the expense of ignoring advice from those who know the business better than she does at this stage.

Has she felt pressure to look or sound a certain way? "Whether that will happen, I don't know. I haven't been here before...," she says, trailing off. "The thing that I fear is that in order to achieve record sales, I'll end up sounding exactly like Michelle Branch or Vanessa Carlton. That's not me. I'll find a balance in there, somewhere."

Finishing her degree is vital to her, but studying will have to wait for now. "There's a window of opportunity for me. I'm young, I'm ready to do it. I've got songs. I'd be a fool not to."

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