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Sterling himself seems to be in transition, too, a teenager teetering on the brink of a musical breakout. He plays gigs to packed houses almost every other weekend. He's touring and recording more than ever. For the past year and a half, a film crew from Simon Barron Productions has been following him around, shooting footage for a documentary titled Catch Me If You Can. There's a sense within the Sterling camp that something's got to give.
So Jo Ann quit her job last year to work full-time on her son's music career. She says she's considering whether Nick, who graduated as "Outstanding Student of the Year" at Mesa's Poston Junior High School in May, should even go to school full-time next year.
Sterling says music is "all that I really think I was meant to do," even if he did entertain the thought of being an engineer before the math turned him off. "I like playing live, I like performing, and I like to travel," says Sterling.
Outside of music and school, Sterling tries to be a typical teenager. He likes to ride his bike, play basketball, swim, play hacky sack, and juggle. He likes mozzarella sticks. He collects stuffed penguins, which sit on shelves in his room, tucked between books of guitar tablature and trophies from music competitions.
Sterling really sees himself as just a regular young guy -- even if he seems 40 from the forearms down -- and he shies away from accolades of his genius. When Fox 10 News recently broadcast a lengthy spot on Sterling, he came home from school the next day, upset that so many of his classmates had seen it. Sterling says, "I try to keep the music separate from school, because I don't want to be treated differently."
Still, people line up after Sterling's shows to meet him and lavish him with praise. They buy merchandise and get him to sign everything. After all, they say, those autographed early Nick Sterling albums might be worth a lot of money someday.