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New Jersey Singer is #1 in Croatia
By Nenad N. Bach | Published  08/13/2007 | Culture And Arts , People | Unrated
The Croatian Celine Dion
She's still a 'Croatian Sensation'

Young North Bergen woman has No. 1 pop song in native land

MAKING PLANS - North Bergen's Gina Picinic, shown here in the recording studio last fall recording her current No. 1 single in Croatian, plans on becoming a crossover hit in America in the coming years.
When Gina Picinic was a senior at North Bergen High School a few years ago, she was already a recording star in her native land of Croatia. Just 17, Picinic was like the Croatian version of Celine Dion, earning the local title "The Croatian Sensation."

Now 21 years old, Picinic is trying to live down the nickname she received four years ago. But she's even more of a pop recording star in her homeland, and has a new nickname.

"They call me 'The It Factor,' " Picinic said. "I don't know what that means."

Last month, Picinic participated in an 11-day tour of Croatia, called "Melodie Istre i Kvarnera," or "MIK," which was like Croatia's version of "American Idol."

"It's the only traveling music festival in Croatia," Picinic explained. "Only the biggest singers in Croatia participate in it. There's a competition each night where judges and fans vote on who was the best, and I took first place most of the nights."

The final concert on the tour was televised live on Croatian television network HRT, and Picinic was the grand prize winner. Each of the concerts was attended by 3,000 or more avid music fans.

"I prefer singing in front of crowds like that instead of singing in front of like five people," Picinic said.

Croatian song of the year

Picinic is also enjoying her success on the Croatian pop charts as well. Her latest single, "Barka Lipog Imena," which translates in English to "Beautifully Named Boat," is currently No. 1 on the Croatian pop charts and was recently named the Croatian Song of the Year, the equivalent of the Croatian Grammy.

"It's really a big hit now," Picinic said. "I'm very proud of the song."

However, when Picinic first recorded the song in a Long Island recording studio last year, she didn't care for it. "In the beginning, I really didn't like the song," Picinic said. "Maybe my mind wasn't in the right place when I first sang it, but I didn't like it. My mother [Blacenka] talked to me and told me about the importance of the song. She opened my eyes. I realized just how emotional of a song it really is. It's beautiful."

Although the song has a bizarre title when translated into English, Picinic said that it is a romantic song about a beautiful home that was left deserted on an island and everyone had to leave the home on a boat. The boat came and saved the family from despair.

"It reminds me a lot of my own story," Picinic said. "We had a home on an island and we had to leave it to come to the United States. So the song means a lot to me."

The song was written and composed by Andrej Basa, perhaps the most known pop composer in Picinic's homeland, like the Quincy Jones of Croatia.

All over the world

Picinic says that she is drawing fans from all over the world, from places like Italy, Germany and Switzerland, even though her songs are sung in Croatian.

"They tell me that they just love my voice and they come to Croatia just to hear me," Picinic said. After the MIK Festival was completed, Picinic returned to the place of her birth, an island called Susak, which Picinic had not visited in four years.

"They had a big homecoming party for me and it was a big surprise," Picinic said. "It was so beautiful. The girls dressed in native clothing. They had a doll made of me. It was breathtaking. It caught me totally by surprise. I was crying and I never cry in front of people. There were so many people there. The place was packed."

However, in her new hometown of North Bergen, Gina Picinic is just like anyone else. She's a college student, entering her junior year at New Jersey City University, where she has a double major in English and education and a minor in music performance. She is studying classical voice at NJCU with Dr. Donna Connolly and was among a handful of NJCU students who performed at Carnegie Hall last semester.

"It's actually a good mix, singing classical in school and singing pop songs in Croatian," Picinic said. "I like singing American songs. Dr. Connolly helped me to prepare for the recording on Long Island of my latest hit in Croatia." So in Croatia, she's mobbed like a pop star. In North Bergen, she blends in just nicely.

"I don't go around bragging about myself," Picinic said. "When people ask me how my trip to Croatia was, I just say it was nice. But it was very stressful, going from place to place every night. I got like one and a half hours sleep each night. I enjoy being with people, especially when I sing, but when they attack you and want to touch you, that gets a little scary."

Added Picinic, "Even though I might be famous over there, I like coming home and being treated like everyone else. I really do like my privacy."

But there's no denying where Picinic is from now.

"North Bergen is my home," said Picinic, who has lived in the township with her mother since 1994. "I've been here for so many years that it is my home now and I look forward to coming back. It's different to go back to Croatia and see the different lifestyles."

Hits in America?

Picinic has a new goal in mind, to become more mainstreamed, becoming a crossover hit, much like Dion went from singing in French to appealing to the American audiences more than a decade ago.

"My goal is to be a crossover artist in the United States, but it's so hard," Picinic said. "My goal is to meet David Foster [the famed composer and producer who has worked with everyone from John Lennon to Josh Groban]. If I can't get to California to meet him, maybe he can come to New York. That's my goal, to be discovered here." In the meantime, Picinic will continue to take classes here. Picinic is proud of the fact that she is keeping a 3.8 grade point average at NJCU, and is a two-time member of the Dean's list at the school.

Her next Croatian single is already lined up and ready for a spring debut in 2008. Entitled "Prijatelja Imam Ja," translated it means, "I Have a Friend," it will feature a chorus that Picinic will sing in English.

"It's another song that is inspired by my real life story," Picinic said. "It's about friends across the ocean, touching hands at the other side of the world. It's a ballad right now. It might turn out nice."

Picinic will also return to Europe next year for the Eurovision 2008 tour, where she has performed twice before to rave reviews.

"For now, I have my priorities: school and family," Picinic said.


Formatted for CROWN by Marko Pulji
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