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Former CSU student inspires millions on ‘America’s Got Talent’

Millions watch her perform on “America’s Got Talent,” and last weekend, thousands gathered to see her perform the “National Anthem” at the opening day of the new on-campus stadium. Despite having no hearing ability, Mandy Harvey is currently a semi-finalist on “America’s Got Talent,”

America’s Got Talent singer and former CSU music student Mandy Harvey is a deaf singer who specializes in jazz, songwriting and pop, performed the national anthem for the inaguaral game of the on-campus stadium on Aug. 26, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Clary Jacobs/School of Music, Theater and Dance)

inspiring millions with her resilience. 

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Harvey began studying music education at Colorado State University in 2006. She left that same year after her partial hearing loss became complete. 

“It had been my dream to be a choir director for college level music,” Harvey said. “I never in a million years saw myself performing.”

Harvey began singing at four years old. Her childhood-voice-coach and former Assistant Professor of Music and Voice at CSU, Cynthia Vaughn remembers a time when a high school-aged Harvey would dedicate her time to helping others.

“As a teen, Mandy worked at church as a janitor, and she would save up money to help other kids go to church camp,” Vaughn said. “She did it anonymously.”

Vaughn said Harvey was always a hard worker. 

“She was very musical and learned music..quicker than any other student I have had…she had an uncanny memory for songs and lyrics,” Vaughn said.

Harvey’s time with Vaughn resulted in her participation in multiple choirs in high school, but it wasn’t just her own musical experience that she was concerned with; Harvey also student-directed a choir for freshman girls. 

Harvey came to CSU in 2006 to join the music program, and everything began to change.

Harvey suffers from a connective tissue disorder that required several surgeries during her childhood. By the time Harvey was 18, she had entirely lost her hearing due to the degradation of her nerves. There was no physical pain, but as to whether it caused any emotional pain, Harvey had only one word: “Absolutely.”

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It goes without saying that Harvey struggled with her hearing loss. Vaughn said Harvey would hide her impairment by utilizing expert lip-reading.

Following her hearing loss, Harvey was forced to rediscover herself.

“I initially didn’t focus on music or anything,” Harvey said. “I just wanted to figure out how to breathe again, so I focused on American Sign Language to have a language to communicate.”

Three women pose together.
Mandy Harvey (left) poses with Cynthia Vaughn (middle) at Jay’s Bistro in July 2010. (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Vaughn)

Harvey said ASL gave her a great deal of confidence after her hearing loss because she was able to make friends within the deaf community.

“They got me to say ‘yes’ again,” Harvey said.

Harvey said she found it difficult to return to music, and she lost touch with Vaughn because she so heavily associated her with the music in her life. 

Approximately a year later, Harvey reached out to Vaughn to begin voice lessons again. Vaughn remembers being shocked by Harvey’s incredible resilience and talent.

“At her first lesson, I played a chord on the piano, and I was absolutely stunned when she sang a note in that chord,” Vaughn said. “I remember I asked, ‘how did you do that?’ She said, ‘I don’t know. I just want to sing.’ So, we did.”

Harvey spent a great deal of time—nearly ten years now—becoming “very sensitive to vibrations and creating strategies to be able to perform.”

In videos of her performing, it isn’t uncommon to see Harvey without shoes on, as she uses vibrations from instruments to help her keep time.

With that, Harvey threw herself back into the music game and eventually decided to audition for “America’s Got Talent.”

America’s Got Talent singer and former CSU music student Mandy Harvey is a deaf singer who specializes in jazz, songwriting and pop, performed the national anthem for the inaguaral game of the on-campus stadium on Aug. 26, 2017. (Photo courtesy of Jennifer Clary Jacobs/School of Music, Theater and Dance)

Her audition resulted in a golden buzzer from Simon Cowell—notorious for his strict criticism, and it received nearly 23 million views on YouTube.

“Losing my hearing was my biggest fear, and it happened,” Harvey said. “So, performing in front people wasn’t so scary anymore.”

Now, Harvey is working hard with the help of her tour manager, Laurie Green. Green only recently met Harvey, but she said that from the beginning, Harvey was noticeable warm. 

“She’s incredibly authentic,” Green said. “She’s singing for everybody that’s listening, and there’s something that’s honest and heartwarming about that.”

This weekend, Harvey returned to CSU for the first time since her days as a student. She described the homecoming as “an emotional experience.”

“My dreams died here,” Harvey said. “But I’m excited that I’m being embraced back in.”

Watch Mandy Harvey on “America’s Got Talent:”

  • Tuesdays and Wednesdays 
  • NBC
  • 8/7c

Collegian reporter Nate Day can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @NateMDay. 

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