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Perfect Pitch

After her breakout performance on America’s Got Talent last year, Mandy Harvey is charging ahead, creating new music and inspiring people everywhere she goes.

Mandy Harvey first caught national attention when she appeared on the TV show America’s Got Talent in 2017 and sang her original song “Try,” which she wrote about not giving up in the face of adversity. The performance, which has been watched over 27 million times on YouTube, is even more affecting when you learn that Harvey is deaf—she cannot hear her own voice when she sings.

Harvey was 18 years old when she lost her residual hearing due to a connective tissue disorder. At the time, she was enrolled in a vocal music education program at Colorado State University. Devastated, she dropped out and gave up on music. And that was that. Or it almost was.

At the insistence of her father, one day she picked up a visual tuner and just tried to sing. Remarkably, she could still find the right notes; even if she couldn’t exactly hear them, they were still there in her mind.

Critics often commend Harvey on her perfect pitch, and, indeed, in her performances she easily glides from note to note. Although she’s currently touring all over the country playing covers of jazzy standards as well as her own material, her home base is Tampa. Orlando Family Magazine corresponded with Harvey over email and she gave us some details on her upcoming album, what life is like post-America’s Got Talent and how she manages to perform without being able to hear her music.

Last year, you took fourth place on America’s Got Talent. How has your life changed since the show?
A lot of things have changed. I was already touring and already pursuing a full career with music, but being on that show, having so many connections, and having so much exposure really allowed me to make that leap of faith a lot quicker than I anticipated being able to do—so I’m extremely happy.

How do you go about singing and playing ukulele when you cannot hear the music?
Singing and writing music is very formulaic. It’s a lot of math and a lot of work. I use visual tuners to understand pitch value, and from there I see the solfège move in front of me as I’m performing, coupled with feeling the vibrations to stay in time with the other band members. With writing music, I’ll think of a melody line and then record it into my phone, and then send it to somebody who can hear, and they transcribe it, so it becomes again, math.

You lost your hearing at age 18 due to Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, a connective tissue disorder. What kept you going through that tough time?
EDS is not something that you ever get past. It’s something that’s going to be with me for my entire life. So, for me it was really important to create a foundation of support with friends, family and people who understood what I was going through—to encourage me through the process that I’ll deal with my whole life.

You have three albums already under your belt. When can we expect a fourth?
I’m working on my fourth album—it’s all original music. I can’t say too much about it except, I’m really excited. It’s going to be coming out soon.

The first two albums I didn’t venture to write any songs of my own. The third album, All Of Me, was the first album where I did a mix of songs that I wrote with some standards that I love. I was encouraged by a friend of mine named Erik Weihenmayer, with [the nonprofit] No Barriers, to start writing music because it’s always been something I’ve wanted to do but I was afraid to do, and with the support of my friends and family, I was OK to take the risk and go for it, and I have not gone back since.

You are an ambassador with No Barriers. Why did you decide to join up with this organization?
No Barriers’ slogan is “What’s in you is more important than what’s in your way.” They work with wounded vets, underprivileged youth, [and] people with and without disabilities to overcome their barriers. That’s what makes me inspired to face my own [barriers] on a daily basis. They have helped me break out of my shell and changed my life in so many different ways that I’m excited to do as many projects with them as I can. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be going to Nepal with a group of students, and we’re going to climb mountains together, as a team.

Although you are touring right now, you are originally from Florida.
My entire family is from Florida. We range all the way down: Fort Meyers, Lehigh Acres, Jacksonville, and the middle of the state. We’re all over the place. We own Florida. And right now I’m living in Tampa. My parents live in Kissimmee.

You have inspired a lot of people with your life and music. Who inspires you?
I’m inspired daily by everybody. I have a lot of beautiful people in my life who inspire me every day but the thing that inspires me the most is seeing a person combat their barrier and just go for it. That’s inspirational no matter how small or how big the accomplishment—just knowing that everybody’s working on their own projects and they’re trying to be better selves. It’s a huge inspiration for me.

What do you love about music?
I love that music is different for every person. You can experience it in so many different ways and it doesn’t matter if you can hear or not. Music is a part of the soul.

This article originally appeared in Orlando Family Magazine’s July 2018 issue.