Singer and Songwriter Mary Sarah on Building a Career with Grace
Most of Mary Sarah’s fans first learned of the singer/songwriter when she competed on Season 10 of the hit TV show The Voice. But long before all four celebrity coaches turned their chairs for the petite powerhouse, Mary Sarah was turning heads and hearts with her gift on stages across the country. Today, the rising star is poised to release new music and is also using her platform to support a cause close to her own heart.
Mary Sarah dipped her toes into the artistic pool when she was just 7 years old.
It began with a touch of jealousy and a desire to emulate the older sister she adores. She begged her mom for piano lessons just like her sister Emily was taking. Before long, she was singing along as her fingers picked out piano keys. That’s when the sisters’ piano teacher picked up on the natural gift his young student has, and asked if she would be interested in vocal lessons.
With her family’s support, Mary Sarah began training with a vocal coach. It was just for fun in the beginning, but her coach recognized a star.
As Mary Sarah approached her “tween” years, it became evident to all that her talent for song was matched with her love for it, and she began working with an LA agent.
Mary Sarah laughs as she recalls her first audition.
“I was so naive to LA and the whole stage process,” she says with a smile. She had no idea she should be nervous or that the odds of being selected were so slim. To her it was an adventure. She was on a trip with her mom, doing something she loved and surrounded by other people who love doing the same thing. In the eyes of a child untainted by competition or pressure, she saw only fun in the moment.
She walked in with the headshot she and her mom had just had done at Walgreens to sit with the kids whose parents spent fortunes on professional photos. The room was packed with kids and parents for whom that audition was the culmination of months or maybe even years of work and hopes. She walked into the audition room with a carefree smile, and walked out without knowing she’d just earned a coveted spot on the Kidz Bop tour.
She was just 12 years old when she and her mom embarked on a 48 city tour for audiences packed with thousands of fans. She loved every part of the experience. Her family, she says, prayed together for two weeks before deciding it was the right move for her. Her mother upended her own life to chaperone Mary Sarah. Her father, brothers, and sister managed to travel to some of the cities to support her, and holidays were spent together.
Life was good.
For a while, Mary Sarah thought this tour would be a one-and-done thing. She was only 12 years old and not imagining any career path. This was just another fun adventure as far as she was concerned.
But then she performed in the same theatre one of her personal idols played in. During that performance, Mary Sarah felt like she tapped directly into Patsy Cline as she sang her solo. The rest of the cast sounded like angels when they joined her, and the feeling was one Mary Sarah still becomes emotional about when she shares the story.
“Mom!” she gushed as she ran off stage, “I’m going to do this for the rest of my life!”
Since that tour Mary Sarah has followed her heart down a path most aspiring artists barely dare to dream of, let alone achieve.
Her voice captured the attention of the Oakridge Boys and earned her the opportunity to perform with them. From there she recorded her debut album, Bridges, featuring one country music legend after another in duets with her.
In fact, Mary Sarah was so focused on her own work, she only half heartedly auditioned for The Voice and twice declined the offer to be a part of a season. It wasn’t until the third time around that Mary Sarah accepted the opportunity – and even then, she didn’t focus on winning the competition.
“There is a lot in life that you can rush,” she says, but knowing when it serves you better to be patient than it does to pounce on an opportunity that isn’t right at the time is what helped her know when the time was right for her to compete on The Voice.
The first two times, she says, her heart wasn’t in it. She was all about creating her album Bridges and wanted to give all of herself to that project. She was still learning about the industry. Some of those lessons were difficult ones in terms of who she placed her trust in. She took some hits that she struggled through and was in no position to add the demands of The Voice to her life in that moment.
But when she auditioned for the third time, she was in a better position to accept her spot in the competition.
“I learned to take a step back and say you know what, Lord, you got this.”
Whatever God led her to, she believed, would be clear if she let go and listened for that guidance. If the opportunity was right for her it would come again- and it did.
Mary Sarah knew enough about the industry and herself when she accepted a spot in Season 10 of the show, to know she did not want any part of the contract offered to the winner. She and her family prayed about it. She decided placing in the top 5 would be perfect.That would allow her to maximize the platform without being contractually tied to it once the season ended.
“That’s exactly what happened,” she laughs.
Mary Sarah is someone at peace with herself and her life while also aware that she has the ability to use her own platform for a purpose other than music, as well.
Caiden’s Hope is a 501c3 charitable organization dedicated to assisting parents with a premature infant hospitalized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. One of the founders of that foundation was so moved by Mary Sarah’s live performance that he approached her after the show to ask if she would be open to working with them.
Mary Sarah believes that moment was one of many orchestrated by God.
Her brother, who Mary Sarah calls “one of the heroes in my life” was born prematurely. Just 1 ½ lbs at birth, Christopher had numerous surgeries while still a baby, and a liver transplant at age 14. He is diabetic as well, and the entire family knows full well how difficult it is to overcome such challenges. Being asked to lend her energy and platform to support other families in similar struggles is something Mary Sarah feels blessed to say yes to. It also made her time on The Voice more special, as that platform helped her inspire significant donations to the foundation.
As Mary Sarah is poised to release new music, she is both reflective on her past and her future. In some ways her career is in its infancy and in others, she’s already achieved things that can take a lifetime to achieve. It’s an interesting place to be and Mary Sarah is open to what the future holds.
She’s got advice for those seeking to blaze their own path in music; Don’t try to rush things,” she says. Your calling will always be your calling and it will happen. “Trust in that.” Focusing time on your gift, practicing, improving every day, is part of the process.
So is sacrifice.
Mary Sarah recalls plenty of times she missed out on social gatherings to stand on a stage and perform somewhere. For her it was an easy choice, though.A lot of amazing things come with sacrifice – Mary SarahClick To Tweet
That sacrifice won’t always feel so heavy.
She’s also learned to be a realist when it comes to any industry. “Remember that there are people in the industry that aren’t necessarily looking out for your best interest,” she adds as a word of caution. That was a hard-learned lesson for her and while it has not hardened her as a person it has made her more savvy about who she works with.
No matter the path or the passion or the calling, Mary Sarah is a firm believer that God’s grace is present and powerful. She believes stepping back and listening for that grace will guide her on her path and it can on yours, too.
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