Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Deaf singer lends voice to fundraiser

Harvey in town for GiveHear benefit show


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published February 13, 2020

Singer Mandy Harvey’s new album, Nice to Meet You, has a literary antecedent: Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

To be more precise, Harvey was creatively inspired by one of the cartoon versions of that tale.

Fighting off despair

People who got acquainted with Harvey via her appearance on the 12th season of America’s Got Talent know well her backstory: Fourteen years ago, Harvey was a vocal music major at Colorado State University when she lost her hearing to a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, type 3.

Harvey gave in to despair for a while. What helped lift her spirits and get her back on track was the realization that Alice could have ended her travails at any time if she had just awakened from her dream. Harvey came to believe that she needed to wake up as well.

“I was so bitter and so frustrated and so angry, and I was like, I have the ability to wake up,” she told public radio station KUNC. “I have the ability to not think so negatively. I have the ability to step forward into a different possibility, a different tomorrow.”

Harvey returned to singing thanks to visual tuners and vibrations felt through the soles of her feet.

And she will return to Fort Wayne on Feb. 18 for a concert at Sweetwater Sound.

This concert benefits GiveHear, a Fort Wayne hearing clinic that follows reduced-fee and sliding-scale pay models.

Waking up

Harvey said many of the songs on Nice to Meet You touch upon her “waking up” process.

Even a cover tune, Radiohead’s “Creep,” is deeply personal.

“When I was on America’s Got Talent,” she said, “I felt so out of place and so kind of lost, and I guess it’s just a very scary process for me. And so as I was sitting in this hallway and all of these people, all these contestants were there and their managers or their, their parents and everybody’s taking videos of themselves and they’ve got like social campaigns and they’ve all been on TV before and they were just really natural. And I was just like the dork who’d never been on TV before, who didn’t know what was going on, just trying to survive. I just couldn’t get that song out of my head.”

The song’s lyrics (“But I’m a creep/I’m a weirdo/What the hell am I doing here/I don’t belong here”) very much captured how she felt in that context and others.

Her success on that show, including earning an acclamatory Golden Buzzer from Simon Cowell, surely mitigated some of her “Creep-y” feelings.

“It was absolutely an unbelievable experience,” Harvey told Orlando Magazine, referring to the curmudgeonly Cowell’s effusive reaction to her music. “I genuinely didn’t know if I was going to fall flat on my face or what the response would be. What made it impactful for me was that his (Cowell’s) comment had nothing to do with my story or my disability, it was all focused on my songwriting and my tone and my pitch and my actual singing ability which, to me, is most important. Because at the end of the day I don’t see myself as a deaf singer, I see myself as a singer. I’m a musician. I happen to be deaf. It’s just a part of who I am.”

After she finished fourth in the televised contest, Harvey vowed to perform “Creep” on piano in every concert as a way of facing her fear of playing piano.

Overcoming obstacles

Harvey’s performances have increased in technical sophistication since the days when she interacted with her band via bare feet.

She collaborated with Not Impossible Labs on a wearable device that helps her keep better track of what her bandmates are doing.

“Their goal was to kind of suit me up so that I would be able to understand the music that’s being played around me in a live setting,” she said. “But not just the feeling of the beat, being able to understand and say, OK, this is the piano running across my chest. This is the bass playing right here on the back of my spine. This is the electric guitar on my wrist.

“And in the end,” Harvey said, “I ended up doing a full symphony concert where I had like 20 different channels. I had every section and I could feel each section as they collided together. It was so brilliant.”

Harvey doesn’t just collaborate with organizations on technology. She also partners with them on humanitarian causes.

She is an ambassador for the non-profit organization No Barriers USA. One of its missions is changing cultural misconceptions about people with disabilities.

“In Nepal, if you have a disability it’s because you are karmatically cursed with it, so we got to help change stigmas,” Harvey said. “We had so many people telling us that we changed their thoughts on what was possible for people in their own community.”How you can helpGiveHear is a nonprofit audiology center at 130 W. Main St. in Fort Wayne. It provides low-cost health care to financially distressed people in the region. Services are not free. Fees are based on a sliding-scale model.

GiveHear is a nonprofit audiology center at 130 W. Main St. in Fort Wayne. It provides low-cost health care to financially distressed people in the region. Services are not free. Fees are based on a sliding-scale model.

GiveHear’s Circle of Life model encourages patients to give back to their communities through volunteering. For information about donating or volunteering, visit givehear.org or call (260) 602-3276.

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