Navigating pop stardom
N.B.T. winner's mom taking things one day at a time
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Talk to Carol Voitl about how things are going now that her daughter is a national music star, and she invariably will tell you that Shealeigh is having the time of her life.
Still, being the parent of teenagers is all about helping them navigate the pitfalls. And when your kid's life suddenly is thrust into the limelight, the pitfalls get more numerous and varied.
Shealeigh's introduction to stardom was pretty accidental, though it wasn't without purpose. She simply did what she loved. At 2 ½ she sang every word to "American Pie" at a block party. Neighbors would hear her singing songs while driving her Barbie car. And then there were the "Shealeigh songs" which, according to Voitl, were "very dramatic and never made any sense and we loved them."
Her parents started videotaping those songs and sending them to Shealeigh's grandparents, who live in Mooloolah in Queensland, Australia. When YouTube came along-and Shealeigh became more accomplished at both singing and songwriting-they harnessed the power of the internet.
Ellen DeGeneres and her staff found Shealeigh on YouTube doing a cover of VV Brown's "Shark in the Water" and sent her parents an email.
"We thought we were being punked," says Voitl.
Shealeigh appeared on Ellen in October 2010. She was 12, just starting seventh grade.
After that, Voitl says things became "confusing."
"It was a very hard sorting opportunities from opportunists," says Voitl.
"I loved taking advantage of opportunities that she wanted to pursue, but you just have to be very careful. It just made sense to me to step away until you find that person who you really feel is well intentioned."
Frayne Lewis turned out to be that well-intentioned person. Lewis runs One Sun Entertainment, a management and recording company.
Lewis, son of jazz great Ramsey Lewis, says Shealeigh is very mature for her age-both vocally and in the music she writes. She also has that infamous "it factor."
Shealeigh and her mother are just as focused on schoolwork and life balance as they are on her singing career. Consider this: after Shealeigh won N.B.T., her brother Ben, who had to stay in Chicago because of finals, called to congratulate her. But she was in the midst of a meet-and-greet with Aussie pop sensation Cody Simpson.
"I had to interrupt the meet-and-greet because it was really important for her brother to be a part of this monumental moment," Voitl says.
She also wasn't sure how she felt about Shealeigh working at first.
Her trepidations increased when Radio Disney required a second song. Voitl says Shealeigh got busy writing "Spotlight" and emailed the last lyric at 1 a.m.
"Some days I was just shocked that she knew what she wanted to do and what she had to do," says Voitl.
More importantly, Shealeigh loved doing it.
After N.B.T. took off, "they added a tour and I got really worried," Voitl says.
Shealeigh missed a lot of school in the second quarter of eighth grade, and some of her teachers weren't happy about it.
"No disrespect to anyone at the school, but they thought it was all fun," says Voitl. "It was work. We've been to Los Angeles eight times, but we've never been to a beach or Disneyland."
Shealeigh was focused on performing, but she completed every one of her assignments.
"She had the most understanding principal on the planet. He completely believed, he completely understood and supported. Without him I would have to say that this would not have been possible," Voitl says.
And as a member of performance troupe MWAH! (Messages Which Are Hopeful), an anti-gang and anti-bullying group, Shealeigh also gained confidence to talk about her personal fifth- and sixth-grade bullying experiences. Shealeigh's response was to cover the Taylor Swift song, "Mean," a song Voitl says carried more meaning as she sang it in her N.B.T. tour shows.
In response to this year's difficulties, Shealeigh wrote a yet-to-be-named 5 ½-minute song.
What Voitl finds interesting is that the dynamic would have been different if Shealeigh was, say, a sports hopeful.
"With sports it's so recognized," she says. "If she was being recruited to Notre Dame it would be good news, but I don't understand why it's not the same with music."
At this point, Voitl is looking into homeschooling options for high school, as she, her daughter and Lewis embark on a series of tour dates through December.
Although she has always checked with her daughter as each step unfolded, she is feeling more sure than ever that this is exactly where Shealeigh wants to be.
"She would never want to be doing anything else, but it's not always easy."