Meet Ingrid Michaelson: The Woman Behind That Old Navy Sweater Song

Unsigned singer's music has also been featured on 'Grey's Anatomy,' 'One Tree Hill.'

If you’ve watched any television within the past two weeks, then you’ve probably caught the latest Old Navy ad for the store’s new line of Fair Isle sweaters. The spot features an infectious track, intoned by a soothing voice that’s a cross between Regina Spektor on painkillers and Lisa Loeb on … well, nothing. But just who is the woman behind that can’t-get-it-outta-your-head sweater song?

If you’re a fan of “Grey’s Anatomy,” you’re probably already familiar with this singer’s work. She’s 26-year-old Staten Island, New York, native Ingrid Michaelson, an unsigned musician who still lives at home with her parents — hey, it frees her up for touring — and whose song “Keep Breathing” punctuated the show’s dramatic season-three finale, which was seen by more than 25 million viewers. Three other songs from her album were also used throughout last season. The morning after Burke left Cristina at the altar, Michaelson’s name was the most searched-for item on Google.

That, coupled with the Old Navy ad featuring “The Way I Am,” helped Michaelson’s second self-released LP, Girls & Boys, crack last week’s Billboard top 200 for the first time, making her the sole independent artist on the chart. The album entered at #166, having sold nearly 4,500 copies. During the previous week, the disc generated sales of only 500. To date, the set has sold more than 15,000 copies.

“It’s been quite a shift from a few months ago when I was working with a children’s theater company,” said Michaelson, the daughter of composer Carl Michaelson and Elizabeth Egbert, a sculptor who runs the Staten Island Museum. “It has been pretty crazy, but I have a lot of levelheaded people around me. Inside of me, I still feel the same. Nothing’s really changed — it’s just my environment, and now some of my interactions are changing. I’m just trying to go with the flow and not get too wrapped up in it.”

Michaelson remains unsigned, regardless of her recent success, but did admit that there are several labels interested in adding her to their roster — and that’s cool with her.

“I’m not opposed to signing with a major label or any label, but we’re taking it slow,” she said. “I released the record myself, and I just got a major distribution deal through a small label called Original Signal, and I want to do it really slowly. … It’s worked so far.”

Obviously, Michaelson doesn’t want to jump the gun. She wants to sign with a label that suits her, where forward-thinking people work and respect what she’s been doing all by her lonesome. “I want to work with people who are willing to think outside the box,” she said. “I want to get to know people, because you don’t want to jump in bed with a stranger or get married to a stranger, and signing with a label is like a marriage. So there has to be a good, solid relationship there.”

For Michaelson, her career started picking up steam last November, when someone who works for a company that licenses music for television and film discovered her on MySpace. She met with the company, inked a deal, and it wasn’t long after that her songs were being snatched up for shows like “One Tree Hill” and “Kyle XY.” But “Grey’s Anatomy” was the true “catalyst,” she said. And watching that final episode back in May was agonizing for her.

“It was pretty intense, waiting for that moment to come on, because it was the last six minutes of the show,” Michaelson said. “I was so nervous, but it was amazing.”

Still, Michaelson likes the fact that she’s still somewhat anonymous. She can walk down the street without anyone asking for her autograph, and for her, life’s still fairly normal. It’s when she plays gigs that it hits her. “That’s when I feel the change,” she said, “because people want to meet me and they want my autograph. That’s the only difference I’ve noticed.”

At the same time, she expresses a slight reluctance when it comes to her career. “You get used to where you are and you’re happy and comfortable; and being successful and being shifted into a whole other area of your life, it’s very scary,” she said. “So there is a part of me that just wants to go back — go to bed and not do anything more. That’s just a fear of change and a fear of growth, which I think everybody has. There are moments when I think, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ But at the same time, it’s all I have. How many people can say they make a living doing what they love?”

Not many. But at the same time, she’d like to be known for more than just that Old Navy ad.

“My worry is being known for the commercial and for ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ ” she said. “If I had one song that was good and the rest of my songs sucked, well, then that might be the case. But the fact that the album is on the charts proves people are listening to the other songs, and being like, ‘OK, she’s not just a one-hit wonder. There are other songs of quality and substance.’ Hopefully, I’ll be perceived for my body of work and not just a couple of songs that got shoved down people’s throats. Not that I’m against my songs being shoved down people’s throats to an extent. It’s almost like a blessing in disguise. It helped people find my record, but hopefully, what will happen is people will listen to the other songs, not just the one or two they recognize from television.”

While most are just finding out about her latest record, Michaelson, who kicks off a U.S. tour with Matt Nathanson on October 15 in Northampton, Massachusetts, said she’s already thinking about her next disc.

“I’m in the very early stages of putting down scratch tracks for my album, which will probably come out in about a year,” she said. “I have more than enough songs for it. Really, I’m more concerned with touring and building a fanbase. You get handed opportunities and you take them, obviously — but you can’t sit back and relax. You have to build on what’s just happened. So this year will be about catching up to what’s been happening.”