Ever since Lauren Pritchard was a teenager, she dreamed of becoming a singer-songwriter _ a goal she pursued with almost singular determination, even passing up a coveted opportunity to achieve it.
At 18, she appeared on Broadway in the Tony Award-winning "Spring Awakening," but left for a musical career.
She landed a development deal with a major record label, but abandoned it because she felt that she wouldn't be allowed to create songs the way she wanted to do them.
Pritchard then auditioned for a TV pilot, but after catching producers' interest, decided not to pursue the role. Instead, she set out for London to record the album that she had wanted to make for years.
The TV pilot turned out to be Fox network's "Glee," and the role was Rachel Berry, which has made Lea Michele a singing and acting sensation.
But Pritchard, who is currently on tour, has no regrets about "Glee," or any of her other career choices, because she feels she took the right path.
"I have totally felt I made the right decision, and to me, the success of the show really does excite me because I know that Lea is doing what she loves, and to see her do what she loves and see her be so successful is very exciting," she said.
Pritchard's debut CD, "Wasted in Jackson," is a soulful, wistful album that has received solid to stellar reviews since it was released digitally last fall; it was released to stores in February. It mines typical territory for a 23-year-old, including love and relationships, but also explores the restlessness of an ambitious spirit trying to avoid stagnation _ a theme that resonates with Pritchard.
"It's a reflection of how I was really feeling; it was very much written in hindsight," the petite brunette said in a recent interview. "I'm an extremely nosy, adventurous person."
Pritchard got her start by singing in school talent competitions and at local shows when she was growing up in Jackson, Miss. But she knew that she couldn't make her dream of becoming a singing sensation come true if she stayed in Jackson, so at 16, she decided to leave.
"I just wanted out of my hometown so badly," she said. "I just wanted to be able to accomplish the goals that I had so badly, I just think it overshadowed any actual fear."
Pritchard left for Los Angeles with her supportive but "terrified" mother. She began to settle into the local music scene, including meetings with musicians, writing music, getting gigs and hiring an agent.
Then a tragedy threatened to send her back to Mississippi.
Her brother was involved in a car accident in Jackson, and her mother needed to return home to help him recuperate. Although she worried about her brother, Pritchard feared that she would have to leave Los Angeles: "I was gutted. I was so upset," she recalled.
Pritchard started telling friends she was leaving town when one parent reached out to Pritchard's mother and implored her to let Pritchard stay with her family so as not to disrupt her progress. Pritchard's mom was persuaded by the mother's plea _ which was perhaps aided by the fact that the mother was Lisa Marie Presley.
Pritchard's stay with the Presley clan was the beginning of what some would call fabulous luck. She auditioned and landed a role in "Spring Awakening," in which Michele had a starring role. The pair became friends, but Pritchard, when offered a chance to renew her contract, decided to leave for the promise of a record contract. She had already secured a publishing deal, she said, and soon was in talks with J Records.
Although a representative for J Records said Pritchard never had an official deal and was never on the roster, Pritchard said she was working toward recording an album. She was interested in writing smoky songs that mixed a bit of soul and folk and pop, she said, but the record label wanted her to record songs written by others that would conform to mainstream pop radio.
"It was going in a much more R&B direction than she was comfortable with and I don't think it was ever quite convincing ... not to anyone," said producer-songwriter Eg White, chief producer and collaborator on "Wasted in Jackson."
J Records and Pritchard ended their relationship, and Pritchard landed on Island Records. She decided to head to London to sketch out her music, with White and others, but before she was about to leave, she got a tantalizing opportunity to audition for "Glee." She already knew about the show: Michele was already connected to the project, with the Berry role basically being tailored to her.
"I did not want to audition because it was totally her role," she said.
But producers were still auditioning for the part, and sought out Pritchard, who auditioned once _ but declined when asked to continue in the process.
"I just thought, the only thing that I want to make my full-time commitment to is my music career," she said. "When that happened, it was when I was taking all of my meetings with record labels, and I just thought, I've got this opportunity, and if I don't take it, I'm an idiot, and I'm not sacrificing anymore. I'm doing what I want and I love."
The irony is that "Glee" cast members have become TV and pop stars. Cast albums have sold millions, and songs from the show appear regularly on Billboard charts and have earned Grammy nominations.
But that's not the success that Pritchard wants.
"I've never looked back on the situation and thought, `I wish I would have,'" she said, "because I get to do what I love every single day."