In an industry where style typically triumphs over substance, singer/songwriter Francesca Battistelli proves that both can peacefully co-exist on her debut album, My Paper Heart.

Inspired by everyone from the jazz greats her dad introduced her to as a kid to contemporaries like John Mayer and Sara Bareilles, Francesca set out to write soulful, socially conscious music that’s the perfect soundtrack for starting your day. Highlighting Francesca’s expressive vocals and her overarching desire to encourage her peers to make a difference in the world however they can, standout track “It’s Your Life” is a song about taking action.

“Whether it’s giving of your time to volunteer, giving your resources to help fund a cause you believe in or voting in the election, we’ve got to do something,” Francesca says. “We’ve got to remember that life is short, and we’re not promised tomorrow. Today is the day to take chances, dream big and make bold choices. Like the first line says, ‘this is the moment.’ I’ve always been one to take big chances, and it’s definitely not always easy. But it’s far better than not taking chances at all.”

And Francesca definitely knows a thing or two about taking chances. From the time she was six, she knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. After seeing “The Secret Garden” on Broadway with her parents, the decision was ultimately a no-brainer. “There was just something about live theater—especially musical theater—that has always resonated with me,” Francesca says. “So I thought that was it. I was going to be Mary Lennox in ‘The Secret Garden’.”

Of course for anyone who knew her family, Francesca’s passion for life on the stage wasn’t all that surprising, given her mom and dad’s extensive theater background. In fact, they’d met when her dad was the assistant conductor for the traveling production of “The King and I” while her mom played Anna, the show’s female lead.

Like any girl with dreams of grandeur, Francesca knew carving out her own path in the ultra-competitive arts world wasn’t going to be easy. But with her Broadway aspirations in the back of her mind and an insatiable work ethic, she stayed focused. Instead of signing up for the typical extracurriculars like cheerleading or sports, Francesca’s life revolved around dance lessons and musical theater training.

And when Francesca was 15, she put her skills to good use in an all-girl pop group in Orlando, an experience that helped pave the way for what she does today. “We traveled all over and performed at Hard Rock Live and House of Blues a couple of times,” Francesca recalls. “It was good for what it was because it tied together two things I loved: singing and dancing.”

But when the gig eventually ended, Francesca says she was thankful for an opportunity to clear her head. Armed with her passion for writing and a desire to encourage her peers through song, Francesca put pen to paper and crafted heartfelt, personal reflections on life for what’s now her major-label debut, My Paper Heart.

The inspiration for the title (and accompanying title track) comes from something everyone’s struggled with—the fragility of the human heart. “This has been the hardest, scariest, most rewarding year of my life. I have known sorrow, and I have known joy,” she shares.

While pouring out your heart doesn’t always come easy for some, the songwriting process has been both cathartic and fun for Francesca. Describing it as “the most fun she’s ever had professionally,” her enthusiasm can’t help but find its way into her music. In fact, whether she’s talking about the spirited, funk-laden title track or the buoyant, accept-yourself-as-you-are anthem “Free to Be Me,” Francesca bookends her commentary with “I really love this song. It’s so much fun to sing.” And that pervasive sense of joy, along with Francesca’s adventurous musicianship and relatable songwriting make My Paper Heart an impressive debut.

My Paper Heart