Episode 160 - Mandy Harvey

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The AGT Golden Buzzer Winner That Made Me Cry

Conversation with Mandy Harvey, a jazz and pop singer and songwriter who became deaf after an illness in her teenage years and then later went on to compete as a singer on America’s Got Talent where she won Simon’s Cowell’s Golden Buzzer. Simon described her as "breath taking....reminds me of the first time I heard Adele sing." She’s got a new album out this year and a new video for her hit single, “Release Me”. (see videos below) (see transcription below)

 
 
 
 
 

Watch Mandy’s debut that went viral on America’s Got Talent in 2017 when she earned Simon Cowell’s Golden Buzzer with her original song, “Try”

 

Check out Mandy’s amazing new single and video for “Release Me”

 

Transcription

[intro music]

Shark:
Welcome back to "A Shark's Perspective".

2017 was a very rough year for me personally. My mother got sick and passed away later in the year and quite honestly, after seeing someone go through a debilitating disease, I just needed a smile. Luckily during the summer I found one and my mother loved watching "America's Got Talent". On that show, a bright young talent emerged from an unlikely place and I remember to this day showing my mother the video of a young woman who could previously hear but was now deaf. She sang and performed on AGT. Well, she brought the house down and I will fully admit that I cried like a baby, listening to her and watching that story. That moment as well for her became a performance that's been viewed all over the world, over half a billion times.

Mandy Harvey is a jazz and pop singer and songwriter who became deaf after an illness in her teenage years and then later went on to compete as a singer on America's Got Talent where she won Simon Cowell's Golden Buzzer. Simon described her as breathtaking....Reminds me of the first time I heard Adele sing. She's got a new album out this year and a new video for her hit single "Release Me".

And on this episode we'll discuss not letting a disability hold you back or to find you; how we as business leaders should not forget to create an enabled technologies and marketing technologies to help people; humans with disabilities; help someone who is deaf hear a podcast; how to tell an amazing story without trumping your talent; how people can judge you incorrectly and way too quickly; I make her pick between jazz and pop; she names her favorite shark; and quite simply just a great motivational lesson for all of us.

So let's tune in to an amazing singer and artist with quite frankly, an amazing Shark who had an amazing mom, on this episode of "A Shark's Perspective".

[music]

Shark:
Mandy, thank you so much for joining us today on "A Shark's Perspective". If you would please, tell us a little bit about your journey to date for the two people who didn't see you on "America's Got Talent".

Mandy:
Well, like you said, my name is Mandy and I have been obsessed with music my entire life. Started singing when I was four. Went to college for vocal music education. Never wanted to be a performer, just wanted to be a music teacher. Hated people staring at me and attention. And, while I was there, I lost the residual hearing in both my ears and was dropped from the music program. From there I had to reinvent my life and start over and I found a way back into music kind of by accident. And I've been doing music ever since.

Shark:
Well, what inspired you that first time to go try out for "America's Got Talent"? I mean, if you, if you went through that much, you know, pain. I mean, I hate to hear that the school you out of that program, I guess.

Mandy:
Well, you know, it's not their fault.

Shark:
No, absolutely. Yeah. I was going to somewhat defend them, but the point where they say you're out, for most people, that stops them, yet you got back up.

Mandy:
Well, I mean, it was crippling and devastating for a really long time. I'm not going to lie, but I think it's, it's difficult in the moment because in that moment initially, I didn't have fight in me to find a way to figure it. I was just kind of consumed trying to figure out how to live my life and to re-learn the world around me that I just, I didn't have the fight in me to, to help them find solutions.

Shark:
Well, you didn't sign either, did you? I mean, you just said had to learn....

Mandy:
No, no, I mean, I, I knew a little bit of sign language, but not much. And so I had to learn a completely new language and figure out communication and how to wake up in the morning. It was bizarre. But as far as going onto "America's Got Talent", I'll be very honest, that's something that I never thought I would ever do. But there was an opportunity to audition and I was asked, by several people, hey, why don't you, why don't you, why don't you? And I was like, well that's ridiculous and terrifying and only crazy people want to be on reality television shows. But the more conversations that I had with people who were closest to me, they kept asking me the same thing. What do you wanna do with your life? Like, well, I know I want to do music but I want to do so much more. I want to encourage people and I'm want to show that it's okay to fail, to be a complete devastation of who you were, that you have the ability to get back up. I want to show a different side of what a disability looks like. To highlight the invisible ones and to say that we judge each other so quickly for no reason. Every single person is dealing with some kind of barrier, they're just not always obvious. And so I swallowed my fear and my pride and I walked on that stage. I had never seen the show before, so I was kind of expecting nothing.

Shark:
Well, and so the Golden Buzzer then, I mean, I still have watched this several times since scheduling this with you. I've watched it online on YouTube several times since you first appeared. It's a moment that I will admit, made me completely bawl like a baby and cry.

Mandy:
Me too!

Shark:
But did you even understand that the time when you got that Golden Buzzer, what that meant? I mean, if you'd never seen the show and you just show up and there's thousands of people standing out there and somebody gets a Buzzer, as great as that is, you've got to be asking yourself what in the world's going on right now?

Mandy:
I thought I won a car.

(Laughter)

No, no, but you know here's the funny thing about it. It's not just that I didn't know what that meant. It's, it's a lot deeper. Whenever a person gets a golden buzzer, it really doesn't have a definitive kind of projection of what's going to happen. You know, they know that it will go somewhat viral of some kind like it will be seen a few million times at least, but they don't ever know if it's going to be like a big one, you know? And they, they never on AGT, all the people that I talked to, they never expected that video to go as far as it went. I mean, it's been pirated all over the place. They did a, a loose collection of videos and it's been seen well over half a billion times and counting and in different countries. And they're always finding new videos. They found one yesterday that aired a year ago and it has 65 million views on it and it's not from, you know, the AGT site or YouTube. So it's just like there's just, it took legs and it just ran out the door and nobody expects that. Nobody can plan for that. And even if you get a golden buzzer, it doesn't mean that it's going to be seen or appreciated or a ripple effect of change in that way. So I don't think any of us knew what was going to happen. I remember telling my dad, I just constantly just kept asking him what just happened, what just happened, what just happened? And in the middle of the night I'd wake up and I'd be like, what just happened? And he was just like, your life just changed. I don't know how, but life just changed.

Shark:
Well, now you're the biggest thing in Botswana and Malaysia and you didn't even know it until somebody found a pirated video. Yeah. So you're life, how has your life changed then to sort of stay there? Obviously the music career's done well. You've gotten a lot of accolades and attention. You've brought a lot of amazing focus to something that gets ignored too much. But just you personally. I mean, how's that help you grow?

Mandy:
I mean, it's really changed the direction of my life. I've spent a lot of time playing it safe and protecting myself. And now after I kinda got pushed off a cliff and freefalled for a while, I found that it's not that bad to just go for it. So I've been working my butt off every day to try to make as big of an impact as I can. As far as my 'life' life. You know, I travel a lot. I get to meet people every day. They tell me their stories and we get to bond as people. And I think that's what's so broken in the world right now is that we're so disconnected from each other. And so the reason why that that video went viral is not because I'm that cool. I think it's because the world is hungry for a little bit of hope and connection. And so I've made it my goal to work on the both of those things as much as possible. Private life has changed a lot. I travel a lot, so I'm not home very often. My relationship with my husband was already separated and fractured or for AGT happened and then it just broke and I never thought that that was going to be a good thing but we're both so much happier now and he's with somebody else and I'm with somebody else and our lives have just changed.

Shark:
You're probably a lot closer to your dad now.

Mandy:
Yeah. You know I had a long time in the past where I wasn't very connected with my family and we've worked on it really hard for the last, I would say ten years, but this last year he got to travel with me for a full year and that I will cherish that forever.

Shark:
Yeah. So I've played piano, most of my life and I understand how the vibration feels, but I continue to have the power to hear. I still don't....it's hard for me to still fathom how and I, and I get when you didn't wear shoes on stage and you were barefooted to feel the vibration, but how do you take the vibration and turn that into a song now in your head because some of it's memory, but some of it is still, as you hear something vibrating that doesn't necessarily think, oh, this is going to be a great song.

Mandy:
Sure. Well, you know, I think it's so funny. There were so many different people who were like, oh, she's not wearing your shoes so she can hear the music through the floor. That's not right. I don't wear shoes so I can feel the other musicians so I can stay in time with them. That's just for rhythm. But as far as learning a song, when I learn a song, I'll sit with a visual tuner so you can have a free one on your phone. My preference is Pano, P - A - N - O, and you can see what noises you're making and then lock into a note and then find, hold, like lightly put your hand on your throat and find where that vibration is the strongest and then you can mark it off and do a bunch of scales and come back to it and it stays in the same place that day. Obviously if you have a cold or if it's cold in the room or hot in the room that things kind of shift. So you have to kind of be centered in that moment. But so I would sit in front of a mirror and I'd mark it off on my throat and then I do scales and then find another note and mark it off on my throat and then do a bunch of scales. And you get used to kind of the feeling of where those buzzes happen. And so when I write songs, the poetry is poetry. It's how I feel. I don't really care if other people think that it's perfect or if it's what they feel. You know I'm expressing myself and so I kind of let that go as far as judgment because we all come from different backgrounds and different wounds in different happinesses. And so that's just gonna be preference. As far as the music, I write what feels good and what I enjoy is singing. "Try" was hard for me to write because it was one of the first things that I wrote and one of the first things that I ever wrote about myself. And then in addition to that, I put a few failsafes in that song. So every person has a natural break in their voice. It's where it flips from chest to head voice. You can't avoid it. It's part of, it's part of who you are and everybody has a different one. The note for "Try" in the chorus is on the border of my natural break. So it's one of the hardest notes to do consistently but I do it consistently but it's scary every time I sing it I should say because it's right there on the break. It's in my head voice, but I could belt it but barely.

Shark:
Amazing. Well, when you do concerts now, do you ever go back and watch the footage? Like when you sang "Try", I remember that. The visuals were so amazing and I'm sure when you go to a concert halls that are not able to replicate that. But part of everything that helped tell your story as well was not just the songs with the visuals around what you were doing when you were on "America's Got Talent" and now to your new "Release Me" video, which is amazing. I saw it when it came out. Talk about how that’s helped tell your story as well when you get up on stage.

Mandy:
Yeah. Well, you know, I weave my story and with my songs. And I have a full band that travels with me and we perform concerts that way and they're very lively and a lot of fun and I always sign when I sing. There's only maybe a fifth or a quarter of the songs that I play where I play an instrument because I have EDS. It's a connective tissue disorder. It's the reason why I lost my hearing. And so basically I can't play an instrument that long. I have to take breaks or I just physically can't do it. And so I'll play a song on the Ukulele and then I'll spend three songs signing and singing and then that. So I guess visually beautiful for other people. To me it's a way of saying exactly what I mean and being inclusive. And then for the songs that I'm playing an instrument for I have an interpreter on stage who interprets so that there's constant communication on multiple languages.

Shark:
Is that the same woman that was with you when you were at "American Got Talent"?

Mandy:
No, it depends. That's Sarah. I love Sarah. She traveled with me for a while and there's a gal named Amber Galloway. She's got pink hair. She's very popular. She travels with me from time to time. She actually helped me with the sign language for "Release Me". We're deeply connected people. I love her dearly and I use a lot of local interpreters as well. It depends on the venue.

Shark:
Does it ever become difficult for somebody in your spot for the story to not "Trump" the music because your music is fantastic. I am honestly, I'm a big music fan. I loved your story, but I'm also part of, or separately, whichever way you look at it, I'm still a huge music fan now of yours. Does it become difficult for the music to get the attention as much as well because you're also a musical artist....not just telling your story?

Mandy:
I think what gets cumbersome is that I feel like there's two different major hurdles for me. The first one is that Oh, other people must be doing a lot for me....that I'm not capable of doing it myself because I am "disabled" and I put that in quotes. I don't see myself as being disabled. I don't see myself as being broken. I see myself living life differently and there's nothing wrong with having a difference. So I have a struggle with people taking me seriously, I think. And then when they come to my concerts, they always say the same thing. They're like, "I was just not expecting that. Wow." Okay. Well thanks. I guess. I mean I'm glad that I had the opportunity to actually express myself and you digest it, but it's kind of sad that your lack of education has put me in a small box of potential there.

The second is because I'm so good at what I do and I work so flippin' hard, that I must be lying. So I'm either having somebody hand hold me or I'm lying. And it's sad because again it puts the entire deaf community in a small box. And that's just unrealistic and unfair. There's people who do crazy, beautiful things all over the world that seemed impossible until it wasn't anymore. And I'm not the only person who can't hear who sings, you know? There are so many incredible people out there, but I choose to just focus on what I can focus on, which is I need to sing. I need the right music and be damned what other people think.

Shark:
Well, if anybody had heard me sing, they would probably look at me as the broken one. So I don't think you have anything to worry about whatsoever. But talk about where you'd like to see your music career going.

Mandy:
Yeah. Well, you know I have a new album coming out October 18th....right around there. I'll be able to release the actual date and the name of the album and everything really soon actually. But I really hope that people can hear like this whole musical journey that I painted. It's been a true joy to put this album together. And I think that people are going to be just in love and happy with it. I want to see myself continuing to do what I'm doing. I want to travel the world and encourage people and I want to raise awareness of inclusion and I want to help technology to improve. I want to continue to visit schools. I visit schools all over the world and get to sing and talk to little itty bitties all the way through you know us going to hospice care centers. People are people no matter how small.

Shark:
So technology. So we were talking a little bit about Microsoft and I think still what's amazing about doing this interview as we're doing it on Skype and it's transcribing everything in real time as we speak. Talk about the types of technology that you use on an ongoing basis, daily basis, that helps make your life better that we didn't have five, ten years ago.

Mandy:
Oh Man. I mean it's changed so much. I mean just Skype has changed so much.

Shark:
In a good way.

Mandy:
Yeah. Because Skype used to be like a world opener because you could actually look at each other to lip read or have signed conversations back and forth. And now it's not only that but instantaneous captions. It's just beautiful because I enjoy being a part of the conversation and this allows me to go on how I want to. Not just based off of the limitations of what it needs to be. I can have a private conversation, For a long time, I used a system called ClearCaptions and it uses an actual person and they transcribe for you. But again, you have a person there so if you want to call up your husband and be like, "Hey sexy. Miss you." It's a little weird because you know that somebody on the other side drinking their soda and be like tic, tic, tic, tic....'Hey Sexy. I miss you.' But I use a lot of visual tuners. Like I said, I use Pano is my favorite one. I use FaceTime and Facebook IM's and gosh, there's just so many of them. It's ridiculous. I transcribe songs. I record them on an app in my phone and then I send them off and then I get a transcription back of the notes of what I'm actually saying so that I know what I did and that allows me to be able to visually see kind of what I wrote and then modify from there. Gosh. Man, I remember when texting was, you know, one letter was part of the three button process. And now you can click a button and talk and it transcribes for you in mass. The world is crazy. It's beautiful but crazy.

Shark:
So I primarily focus on business and marketing and advertising and things like that but where do you want to see your brand grow? I mean, you don't have a disability. You're much stronger than that. You're a beautiful musician with beautiful music. But you've got a brand. You've got a story. So what is the Mandy Harvey story going to be and going to evolve to over years? What's your world domination plan?

Mandy:
My world domination of bringing people home and internal fire. I want to make it my life's mission to show people that it's okay to fail and that barriers are real and sometimes dreams die and have to be modified and resurrected and try again. That being said, I did write a book. I want to write a series of children's books. I have like a whole world that I've created that I want to put out there. I want to continue to make albums. I want to make albums in different languages. I want to learn different languages. I want to be able to help improve technology. I worked with a company called Not Impossible Labs on vibrating technology. So it's their "music not impossible" line where you can take a song and it breaks it down and you can feel the different aspects in different instruments, in different parts of your body so you have a better understanding. It's not just one vibration at the beat, but you know where everything is and you get a better picture. I want to push for inclusion, not just on a work basis, but also for the arts. You know so many people with quote unquote disabilities in the media are portrayed by people who don't have one. When you have all of these incredible, amazing people who have talents and who have such amazing gifts to share, but they never get the opportunity because we're so afraid of that barrier. I want festivals to be more inclusive to having sign language. I want to go on a plane and be able to watch any movie I want because the captions exist for those movies, but they're just not turned on. And not just in English, but in Spanish and other languages as well. I mean, come on. It's 2019 we can't turn on closed captions for once? I know that those captions exist. It's part of the ADA, man. I've seen them. I own that movie at home. I know those captions are real. Why can't we just turn a button?

Shark:
All right, Mandy. I don't think you'll get asked this very often on any other interview....

Mandy:
Go for it!

Shark:
....podcast, radio, TV interview. You're on "A Shark's Perspective". So the world needs to know what is your favorite kind of shark and why?

Mandy:
Ugh. Uh, I'm very honest with you. I know a lot about sharks. I'm petrified of them. It's one of....it's basically my number one fear. I'm a Florida girl. I think the easy answer that most people go with, it would be like Great White Sharks, but I would stick with something that would more than likely not kill me. So, I'm going to go with a Reef Shark.

Shark:
Thank you. They're the little ones. Yeah,

Mandy:
They're the little ones because you know, I feel like I could at least battle that out.

Shark:
And so had-to-hand combat, you could outlast a reef shark?

Mandy:
Absolutely! The ones that I find the most fascinating though are actually highly aggressive. I think Tiger Sharks and Hammerheads are really interesting because of how they kind of pack.

Shark:
Yeah. Bull sharks. Bull sharks are the most aggressive, which they have a lot of in Florida that I swim with unfortunately too much. But those are the only ones. They have the most testosterone of any animal on the planet. So they are the most aggressive and Tigers will eat anything, but you can swim with them.

Mandy:
Tigers will eat anything and Hammerheads are super territorial. They're like hippos.

Shark:
Yeah. So, well good. That was a better answer from what I expected.

Mandy it's that special time in the show. Are you ready for the five most interesting and important questions you're going to be asked today?

Mandy:
Yes. Bring it on.

Shark:
Some of these are a little bit AGT related too, so....

Mandy:
Okay. Go for it.

Shark:
Howie Mandel or Simon Cowell?

Mandy:
Simon Cowell as far as music. Howie Mandel as far as friendship.

Shark:
Oh Nice.

Mandy:
He's a wonderful person. I've actually met him outside of the show and his wife. Beautiful people.

Shark:
That's great. Number two. We'll talk about two of the judges in the middle, the Spice Girls or "Project Runway"?

Mandy:
This is gonna sound horrible, but I don't really know. I know that I'm supposed to say Spice Girls because they like 'owned the world' for awhile, but I don't really know their music that much. But I do love fashion. I love watching that. So maybe "Project Runway".

Shark:
Okay. Number three. Jazz or pop? Because you've been described as a jazz and pop artist.

Mandy:
So why would you make me choose? My heart will always have jazz in it. As far as what I write naturally, it tends to be a mix, but it's more pop.

Shark:
Fair enough. Number four. Singing in a concert venue or speaking to kids at a school and giving them motivation?

Mandy:
They're different. Speaking with kids....

Shark:
If you had two....if you had a gig....if you had a choice of one of those two gigs, they were on the same day, the same time, which one would you choose? And they paid the same.

Mandy:
I think I would do it with the kids.

Shark:
Yeah. Number five and the most important question that you're going to be asked today is biscuits or cornbread?

Mandy:
Corn bread!

Shark:
Good answer. Alright. So Mandy, where can people find out....

Mandy:
Especially because I'm allergic to wheat?

Shark:
Yeah, that's what I was just thinking. So at least you didn't say gluten free....wheat free.....everything free....

Mandy:
Then why eat it? No, no grits. I choose grits.

Shark:
That is good. So Mandy, where can people find out more about you by the album when it comes out? Which I don't even know where to buy an album anymore.

Mandy:
Oh my gosh. Well it will be available digitally. You can find me online at mandyharveymusic.com or follow me on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook. @MandyHarvey is my handle for Twitter and Instagram and Mandy Harvey Music is for Facebook. I have a lot of updates and a lot of things that come out. So check it out. I perform concerts all over the place and I have a new album coming out this fall. It's going to be awesome.

Shark:
Thank you so much Mandy, for joining us on "A Shark's Perspective".

Mandy:
Well, thank you for having me. You made me pick between jazz and pop?!?!

Shark:
I know.

Mandy:
What's wrong with you?

(Laughter)

What's your favorite artist? (funny voice)

[music]

Shark:
So there was my conversation with Mandy Harvey, a jazz and pop singer and songwriter who became deaf after an illness in her teenage years and then later went on to compete as a singer on "America's Got Talent" where she went won Simon Cowell's Golden Buzzer. Simon described her as "breathtaking....reminds me of the first time I heard Adele sing". She's got a new album out this year and a new video for her hit single "Release Me". Let's take a look at three key takeaways from a conversation with her.

First, what do you want to do with your life? You know, what would you do if you lost one of the most precious things and gifts that you knew of but took for granted? Like your hearing? Mandy Harvey lost her hearing while in college. Unfortunately, a lot of people quit when they get hit hard with something, but she got back up in a big way and didn't give up. She said and I quote, "I know I want to do music, but I want to do so much more. I want to encourage people and I want to show that it's okay to fail to be a complete devastation of who you were, that you have the ability to get back up. I want to show a different side of what a disability looks like, to highlight the invisible ones and to say that we judge each other so quickly for no reason. Every single person is dealing with some kind of barrier. They're just not always obvious. And so I swallowed my fear and my pride and I walked on that stage." Such a great lesson. So ask yourself, how would you get back up?

Second. A lot of people, whether personally for themselves or professionally for their brands, are often looking for that viral moment, the one that skyrockets them to fame, but no one can plan those. There's not and shouldn't be a formula other than making a connection down to our core at the human level. We're looking to connect and I love it when she said, "and I think that's what's so broken in the world right now, is that we're so disconnected from each other. And so the reason why that video went viral is not because I'm that cool. I think it's because the world is hungry for a little bit of hope and connection and so I've made it my goal to work on both of those things as much as possible.

Third, so business leaders and marketers and podcasters, we and I am including me, should not forget about how there are a lot of people who need our help and we should not ignore them. It's likely that if you're listening to this, then you take for granted the gift of hearing and the power of audio. There are estimated in the U.S. over a million deaf people and roughly 10 million people who are hard of hearing and that's just that community. Think about all the others who need some assistance. Mandy uses a lot of technologies to help her and even when we spoke, I forgot when talking to her again, that she was deaf, not because she was reading my lips, but because Skype will allow you to transcribe in real time a conversation. I mean, how awesome is Skype? There are a lot of tools that we use every day, but take for granted. She wants to help technologies to improve to help people with disabilities. And when you think about tech and Martech and the tools that you use, are you doing the little things like this to help people that want to be part of a conversation? I really need to do a better job of providing transcriptions on my shows, not because some expert thinks that it will dramatically improve my Search Engine Optimization, but because it will help me dramatically connect with a person....with someone. People still matter a lot more. She went on to say, "I want to make it my life's mission to show people that it's okay to fail and barriers are real and sometimes dreams die and have to be modified and resurrected and try again." Well, she is absolutely right now wished that she could hear literally how amazing her words are.

Got a question. Send me an email to kenneth@asharksperspective.com.

Thank you for the privilege of your time.

Tell a story that will help other people listen. You've got a powerful voice and yeah, I really do miss my mom. So mom, this one's for you.

Join us on the next episode of "A Shark's Perspective".

[music]