Most of us have probably heard the phrase, “seeing is believing.” Although there is nothing inherently wrong with this idea, it teaches us to wait for results before taking action. I believe there are talented, intelligent, driven people all over the world who have dreams and ambitions, but very few people reach for their goals and dreams without first being able to “see” that they are realistic. In reality however, people are able to accomplish much more than they may realize, and believing that something is possible and committing to that idea is the first step to achieving results. In other words, contrary to popular thought, perhaps believing is seeing.
Today, people all over the world know me as the first person with a disability to become a finalist on American Idol. They know me as a TV personality or a singer-songwriter and pianist with an inspirational story, but very few can imagine the obstacles I had to overcome in order to be where I am now.
I have been blind since birth, and consequently I was drawn to the world of music and sound from the very beginning. I clearly remember laying in bed at night as a kid and dreaming about someday performing in arenas and what that would be like. I didn’t know how to get there, and I certainly didn’t have a clue yet about what challenges I would face as a blind musician competing in the very visual entertainment business. But I could imagine it, and that was enough to get me started on the right path.
I began playing piano by ear at the age of 3, and soon after began classical piano training. It was always a learning experience for every new piano teacher I worked with, because none of them had ever taught a blind pianist before. In a sense, my parents, my piano teacher, and I were figuring it out as we went along, discovering what worked for me and what didn’t. Obviously, I was never able to read sheet music due to my blindness, so my teacher would record the music for me on a tape, hands separately; then I would listen to the tape, learning the left hand, then the right hand, and eventually putting them together.
One of my earliest teachers taught me a lot about excelling at the piano and also in life. At the time, when I would play a piano piece which required me to move quickly from one note on the keyboard to another note extremely far away from the first, I would use my fingers to feel my way across the dozens of keys in between until I found the note I needed to play. One day, my teacher said, “Scott, I don’t want you to feel all those keys anymore. I want you to play the first note, then lift your hand off the keyboard in an arcing motion, and come down right on that other note! You don’t need to feel your way. You just need to know exactly where that note is.”
He was asking me to take a leap of faith, to do something I had never done before – not to mention it was way outside my comfort zone. But nonetheless he insisted that I could do it. So, I gave it a try – I lifted my hand off the keyboard, hoped for the best, and completely missed my target! I wasn’t even close. But I didn’t stop there – I could understand in my mind what he wanted me to do, and I kept trying. Eventually, I hit the right note, and before long I was doing it every time. I carried that confidence with me for the rest of my life, and every time I overcame a new obstacle, I found more confidence to overcome the next. It was the same confidence that allowed me to enter college at 14 years old, graduate at 19 Summa-Cum-Laude, become a Marshall and Fulbright scholar, and live independently as a person with a disability overseas in London, England. But the pattern was always the same – before I succeeded, I had to be able to see it happening in my mind.
In 2008, I was at home watching American Idol with my family. Many people had asked me if I would ever consider auditioning for the hit Fox TV show, but I had never felt it was the right place for me since at the time the contestants only sang and were not allowed to play an instrument. But all that was about to change. All of a sudden a grand piano was wheeled out on stage, and one of the contestants sat down to play and sing. I thought to myself, “If only I could be in her shoes, playing and singing for millions of people…” And that was all I needed. I didn’t spend any time wondering how in the world a person like me with a disability would fit in on the world’s biggest reality show, or how I would be able to participate in the heavily choreographed group songs, or how I could connect with TV viewers when I couldn’t even see the cameras. All I knew was that my dream was to sing and play for millions of people, and now American Idol was a viable option for making that happen.
The Idol producers had never worked with a person with a disability before, so there were plenty of obstacles to face throughout my time on the show. But in every case, I made an effort to rise to the occasion, and consequently they were willing to venture into uncharted territory with me – breaking barriers and changing paradigms every step of the way. No one would have ever thought that a blind individual could or should dance and sing on the Idol stage in front of 30 million viewers until they witnessed me doing exactly that. There was no precedent to show me the way – only my belief that it could be done.
In my short 26 years, I have released numerous CD’s (including Heartstrings which debuted at #18 on iTunes), headlined concerts in the US, Canada, Austria, England, and Japan, performed with pop icons like Alice Cooper and Jason Mraz, and toured in arenas across North America – just like I had imagined as a kid.
I never expected all this to happen or assumed it would, but I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that it was possible, and this belief kept me focused on my goals throughout the entire journey there. Sometimes the hardest part is getting started, but the only way we can truly know our limitations is to test them. Goethe put it this way: “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it! Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”