Singer finds worldwide fanbase through Quarantine Karaoke, breaks down ‘brick walls’ for blind female musicians
YAKIMA, Wash. — While social distancing measures may prevent some from getting out and meeting new people, it hasn’t stopped Samantha Wyatt from making several thousand new friends.
“If you asked me two months ago, if I imagined doing this and the reaction we got, I’d be like, ‘No, you’re crazy,’” Wyatt said. “I would never get that kind of response.”
Wyatt, 29, has loved to sing since she was a little girl, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 stay-at-home order that she found her perfect fanbase; Quarantine Karaoke, a Facebook group where people from around the world go to sing their hearts out while they’re stuck at home.
After much consideration , Wyatt decided to post her first video in the group on the evening of March 28, singing Anyway by Martina McBride. Then she went to bed.
“Honestly, I was not expecting to see what I saw when I woke up the next morning,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt anticipated maybe a few likes and a couple of comments; instead, there were hundreds of comments, her phone was blowing up with messages from fans and never-ending friend requests.
“Ever since then, it’s just been nothing but lovely comments and great feedback,” Wyatt said. “I’ve made great friends.”
Wyatt started off quarantine with about 280 friends on Facebook; now she’s up to more than 2,300 friends and 1,700 followers on her personal page and almost 700 followers on her new professional page, ‘Samantha Sue Sings.’
The feedback she’s received has been extraordinary. With almost 50 videos uploaded in the group alone, she’s received about 35,000 comments and near 100,000 likes, as well as innumerable messages from people whose lives she’s touched:
“You just make my day. With everything going on, you’re the sunshine in my day.”
“Thank you so much for sharing your gift with the world. Absolutely beautiful!”
“During these troubled times in our country, with so much uncertainty and anxiety, your soothing voice is a gift to all of us.”
One little girl was so taken with Wyatt’s singing, she drew a picture of her and the singer together, saying, “She is the best singer ever. I hope to see her one day! I love to sing too.”
Another woman posted a video from Wyatt’s littlest fan — at nine months old —holding a phone and staring intently at a video of Wyatt singing.
“Say, ‘Yay, good job Samantha,’” the woman said near the end of the video.
Wyatt never thought she would get to this point; when she tells her story, piece by piece, it becomes clear that she’s been through a lot.
“I was born with a defect in the middle of my brain, the part that connects the two halves,” Wyatt said. “That affects my pituitary, which is my hormones and my optic nerves: just took them both out.”
Partly, this means that Wyatt is blind, though she’s never been too concerned with that part. She often says blindness is the least of her problems.
“I could be anything,” Wyatt said. “I could be a teacher. I could be a lawyer; blindness is not the thing that stops me.”
What does stop her is the other problems; with a self-described ‘broken’ pituitary gland, her body can’t regulate hormones that control stress, growth and other functions.
“Either way you look at it, it’s broken; you can put a new hose on a broken sprinkler and it’s still gonna be broken,” Wyatt joked.
She’s had countless doctors’ appointments, had to take growth hormone injections and has to take so many pills, she jokingly calls her bathroom “Wyatt’s Pharmacy.”
Wyatt also has a sleep disorder called Non-24, which prevents her from having a sleep pattern.
“My brain is gonna sleep when it wants to sleep and be awake when it wants to be awake and I’m just along for the ride,” Wyatt said.
For the longest time, Wyatt and her mother didn’t have a name for what was happening to her. When she was a little girl, her mom would have to sleep on the couch in case she woke up in the middle of the night.
Wyatt said teachers would judge her mother for keeping her home to sleep and tell her that her daughter couldn’t learn if she wasn’t at school. Then, when Wyatt went to school tired, the teachers would judge her mom again.
“If I had been up all night, I’d just slump over my desk, just like ‘Goodnight,’” Wyatt said. “It was my whole life; everything was about the sleep.”
Wyatt said she’s tried every combination of medication her and her mother could think of to help regulate her sleep. As she grew older, her problems with sleep compounded.
When she was younger and more resilient, she could be up all night, get through school and sleep when she got home; eventually that got harder.
“By the time I graduated high school, I was already burned out,” Wyatt said. “But I still had the drive. I still wanted to be the person in society doing their thing and getting a career and being this powerful adult and living on my own — which is still a priority, by the way.”
Despite the challenges she knew were ahead of her, Wyatt decided to pursue higher education; she was an A student, after all. After graduating high school in 2009, Wyatt moved to Seattle on her own and studied there for a year.
“I thought maybe I’d live there and that’s where my career would be,” Wyatt said. “And it wasn’t. It was so hard.”
She was living alone for the first time, a difficult transition for any young adult made doubly hard by the fact that she didn’t know anyone in Seattle. The added stress of moving and starting college and everything else exacerbated her sleeping issues.
“I would sleep through alarms. I would have dreams that my phone was going off and sleep through it,” Wyatt said. “I was so tired. I just couldn’t keep up. I was sick all the time.”
At one point, her mom came to visit and saw how unhappy she was; at the end of the school year, she asked Wyatt if she wanted to move back home.
“I eventually decided to,” Wyatt said. “And it was just because school and a bad schedule just takes it out of you.”
Wyatt moved home and decided to attend Yakima Valley College, but she felt badly about Seattle not working out.
“I felt really crappy and like a failure and like a loser,” Wyatt said. “I feel like a lot of people saw me that way.”
Wyatt said in some people’s eyes, she’s still not an adult; people sometimes treat her as if she’s a child.
“To them, I’m the ‘child angel baby person’ and I’m just so over it, so entirely over it,” Wyatt said. “And it’s so hard because you know it comes from a good place.”
Every aspect of her story, from the joyous moments to the hard ones, she tells laced with humor, grinning at her own jokes and laughing in a way that makes people want to join in.
“Everything laced with humor,” Wyatt said. “You have to or it just isn’t right.”
Reaching for her cup of hot tea to soothe her voice after more than an hour of talking, Wyatt had a little trouble finding her cup and laughed.
“Well, now you know I’m blind,” Wyatt laughed. “Jeez…proof!”
Wyatt’s full of jokes like this; for her, blindness isn’t something to tiptoe around. It’s just a part of her, a part that’s fine to joke about and laugh about with the people she loves, just like anything else.
Her banter with her sister has sometimes gotten them into a little trouble in public; when Wyatt’s sister leaves her with the cart at a grocery store to go get something off a nearby shelf, she occasionally gets accosted for leaving Wyatt alone or being ‘mean’ to her.
“If people hear us in public, they’re like, ‘Why are you so mean to your sister?’” Wyatt said.
Wyatt jokingly calls her mom Carol — that’s not her name — just to tease her, especially when Wyatt feels particularly sassy.
“I sass her all the time. I’m like, ‘Whatever. Shut up, Carol,’” Wyatt joked.
The intricate bond and strong camaraderie between Wyatt and her loved ones is one of the pillars upon which Wyatt has built her own strength. Through everything, Wyatt and her mother believed someday, sometime, somehow, it would all get easier.
“Someday you’ll get a schedule and a good career and all of these things,” Wyatt said. “It’s just gonna suck right now, but it’ll get better.”
At this point, Wyatt still didn’t have a label for why she didn’t have a sleep pattern and it became harder and harder for her to make it work at YVC.
“I was right in the middle of it and it was awful,” Wyatt said. “I was coming home in tears almost every day.”
Then came a glimmer of hope; a TV commercial for a new drug being developed to treat a sleep disorder called Non-24. Wyatt and her mom talked about it and decided to put school on hold while they attempted to figure out her sleep issues.
“It took me a year just to get diagnosed,” Wyatt said.
After that, it took another year just to figure out how to pay for the new drug; even with insurance, it was incredibly expensive. Finally, after years of wondering and waiting and hoping, the time was finally right.
“We get it, we get the drug and I take it for three months,” Wyatt said. “And it doesn’t work because you can’t stimulate something that’s broken.”
After all that work, all that hope, it all faded away, leaving Wyatt and her mother to grieve the loss of what might have been if it had worked.
“We grieved and we were angry and sad and all of the things,” Wyatt said. “Before you accept, you have to grieve and you have to go through all that. And boy, we did.”
Part of that healing process was a new friend coming into Wyatt’s life; her dog, Bernie, who was rescued after being burned in a wildfire and brought to Wyatt as a foster.
“We showed up and it was way worse than we thought,” Wyatt said. “By the time he was ready to maybe find his home, it had been like six months.”
But by then, Bernie had already found his forever home with Wyatt, helping her to get through the worst of it with him by her side.
“There was just no way… No way I could let him go,” Wyatt said. “He goes where I go.”
Months passed and Wyatt gradually made her way toward acceptance.
“I’ve done all these brick walls; I have tried every way to be what other people deem a ‘normal-looking’ member of society,” Wyatt said. “And well, that just doesn’t work.”
Realizing that her path would be a different one, Wyatt decided instead of trying to put herself into a box that did not fit her life, that she would focus on living, rather than just surviving.
“To heck with it; it’s about quality of life now,” Wyatt said. “I refuse to tiptoe, I refuse to whisper if I’m awake.”
Then came the process of figuring out what her life’s purpose was: pet rescue and, of course, singing.
“I’d always sung and I’d always been musical but I’d never used it,” Wyatt said.
She did choir and took piano lessons and violin lessons.
“And eventually, I would give up on every one, because of brick walls everywhere,” Wyatt said. “No time, exhaustion, school… I thought that I was a shower singer and I kind of just put it away.”
But with a newfound determination to pursue her dreams, she pressed on, auditioning for The Voice and American Idol. While she enjoyed the experience of going to a new place, the auditions were not as enjoyable.
“Those were brick walls too: no, no, no, it’s the way I look, it’s the blindness,” Wyatt said. “It makes people sad and they can’t put stuff on that makes people sad and change the channel.”
That’s why she finally took to doing Facebook lives in the Quarantine Karaoke group, a place where she’s been blessed with nothing but support from her devoted fans. Seeing all the comments, from all the people every single day, she was floored.
“Some of them have actually made us cry, like straight up ugly crying, like bawling,” Wyatt said.
Wyatt’s hope is to someday be able to make money doing what she loves: singing and bringing joy to others. It’s not a straight path, as there currently aren’t any blind female singers who are well-known in the mainstream music industry.
“If you ask about blind people, people are going to say Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Ronnie Milsap,” Wyatt said. “But there are no women.”
Wyatt wants to change that, breaking down those brick walls for other musicians like her.
“I’d love to be able to make a living at it so I can buy some property and own my own house and be able to do pet rescue,” Wyatt said. “Singing is really the only way to do that … it’s my talent and I’m really starting to see it with this group.”
For all of her troubles, her hope for the future and her dogged determination to do whatever it is she sets her mind to, Wyatt has undoubtedly brought joy to peoples’ lives.
Poring through comments, it’s clear that when she sings, her voice places others at ease, reassures them everything will be okay and makes them feel that if nothing else, they matter to her.
It’s for this reason that Wyatt’s family and friends have coined a particular phrase to use as a catch-all description for her otherwise indescribable personality:
“It’s magical how someone who has lived her entire life in darkness can bring so much light.”
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