Six years ago, after meeting Bridgit Mendler, television producer Drew Vaupen dialed his writing partner Phil Baker and said, “We found our star.”
On Saturday, that star comes to Hamburg to play a concert at the Erie County Fair. Nowadays, Mendler is more focused on her music than on television, but her stardom was launched by the show Vaupen and Baker were developing, the Disney Channel sitcom “Good Luck Charlie.”
Mendler, then 15, was auditioning for the lead role of teen daughter Teddy Duncan. Vaupen remembers her as “fun and free-loving,” with a touch of nerdiness that conveyed an endearing, intelligent charm. With soft brown eyes, an easy smile and light blonde hair, she possessed an elegant beauty.
Plus, Vaupen recalls from the chemistry readings with Mendler’s soon-to-be co-stars, “she was brilliantly funny on the page.”
“It’s that ‘it’ factor,” Vaupen said. “She had beauty, brains, comic timing. She really had it all.”
Oh, and one other thing: Mendler could sing and play guitar. That musical acumen became part of her Teddy character. And now, after four seasons and 98 episodes of “Good Luck Charlie,” which wrapped production last year, it’s the focus of her career.
Mendler, 21, is working on her sophomore album for Hollywood Records, a Disney-owned label. On tour this summer with her four-member backup band, Mendler is playing songs from her 2012 debut album, “Hello, My Name is …,” and previewing some of her new material as well.
For Mendler, who spent so much time shooting on a soundstage, playing over the last couple of years for live audiences has been a new, and sometimes nerve-racking, challenge. Sometimes she feels confident. Other times, the insecurity creeps in.
“There’s not a night before a performance that I’m not feeling anxious,” Mendler said. “That’s not a bad thing. That’s a good thing. That’s what gives me energy to go out there and do a good job.”
Mendler writes or co-writes all her music. (During her “Good Luck Charlie” career, she kept her guitar nearby and wrote a song a day as way of keeping focused on her musical endeavors.) Like most songwriters, Mendler’s music is introspective, probing into areas such as her relationship with actor Shane Harper, who also played her boyfriend on “Good Luck Charlie.”
“I really do want to share my personal experiences with people, because I know for me, when I listen to music, that’s what is most compelling to hear,” she said. “I love dissecting an album and trying to figure out what somebody was feeling at that particular time in their life.”
One of her newest songs, which she’s playing in concerts but hasn’t yet released, is “Deeper Shade of Us.” With an upbeat melody and poetic approach inspired by the lyrical storytelling style of Bob Dylan, the song explores “getting to know somebody more and more all the time,” Mendler said. “I’ve been in a relationship for three years, and I still feel like it’s changing all the time in a really cool way. That one was kind of a personal song for me.”
Though Mendler’s music is clearly pop, she sings and writes with a style that could take her in different, and perhaps deeper, directions.
“I think she’s got a more sophisticated taste for music,” said Vaupen, who likens Mendler’s vocals to Norah Jones.
Freddy Wexler, who co-wrote five songs with Mendler, also points to her “bold, almost jazzy melodies” on their 2012 song “Top of the World.”
“Bridgit has amazing instincts, both melodically and lyrically,” he said. “Bridgit is a really strong songwriter. Her work has such a distinct voice.”
That musical depth mirrors the quality Vaupen saw in Mendler’s initial round of auditions, and the one that kept her humble while her celebrity skyrocketed.
“I kept waiting for her to go Hollywood on me,” said Vaupen, who with each new season would ask Mendler, “Is this the year, Brig?”
“What are you talking about?” she would reply.
“She’s the best kid I’ve ever worked with in Hollywood, by far,” Vaupen said. “By far.”
For the ultra-focused Mendler, the challenge today is “loosening up and just enjoying my experience.” She faced that in the early days of “Good Luck Charlie,” working so hard and with such focus that she had to learn to ease up and relax.
“The best work comes when you’re having fun – that’s something I’ve really had to learn,” Mendler said. “I want everything to go right. I can be a bit of a control freak like that. I think life has just been teaching me good lessons.”
Who: Bridgit Mendler
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Erie County Fair, Hamburg