Juana Mikels still remembers the day she discovered her daughter’s talent for singing. Mary was 7 years old and heard the soundtrack to “The Sound of Music” for the first time.
“I could hear this voice booming out of the room. I had to open the door because I could not tell if it was Julie Andrews or if it was Mary,” Juana says. “And it was Mary.”
Now, Mary Mikels is 20 years old and wants to be the next Blind Idol.
“It could open up some doors that I might not be expecting and it could turn my whole life around,” Mary says.
Blind Idol is a live event where legally blind singers compete to win $1,000 and studio recording time. This year’s final will be on August 12 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Mary has qualified.
Anastasia Powell helped found the competition three years ago. She too is legally blind, and a fan of the popular TV show American Idol. Blind contestants, she thought, have some unique challenges on stage and could use their own space to compete.
“Vocally, we’re on the same level,” Powell says. But, “when people are at concerts, sometimes the biggest thrill is not what they sang. It’s how they performed.”
Powell says blind contestants find it difficult to navigate the stage.
“Sighted individuals have the benefit of being able to work a stage and doing all the dancing and performing and props, and [for] people who are blind, that’s challenging.”
Initially, Powell thought Blind Idol would be a large talent show for residents of North Carolina. It’s not televised like American Idol, but it has grown. This year, contestants hail from other states as well, including Delaware and Utah.
Mary will be one of five finalists in the August 12 live show.
“It’s important for me to win this competition,” says Mary. “This is a livelihood that I’m hoping to get into.”
Mary is the youngest of four children, and grew up in a household where her siblings played musical instruments. She took lessons in piano and violin, and became interested in singing by listening to Christian music.
After winning a singing competition in middle school, Mary began performing at football games, churches and weddings. Now, she’s aiming for even bigger stages.
“It was my uncle and my aunt that inspired me to really think about singing and doing this kind of thing as an actual career,” she says.
This summer, Mary plans to take a three-week voice program at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts. She has big dreams for her future — including an audition for NBC’s competition show, America’s Got Talent. She has auditioned before, but didn’t make it. With more experience and Blind Idol under her belt, she feels ready this time. The show begins auditions late this year for its 13th season.
In the meantime, Mary is learning Italian to perform the aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” in August. She isn’t nervous about the performance.
“One thing I really hope that people will understand is that just because you have a disability, that does not mean that you can’t do something that everybody else can do,” says Mary, “Such as getting up on stage and belting it out.”