America’s got talent crowned a new winner recently: Kodi Lee, a blind, autistic millennial with the voice (and spirit) of an angel.
Kodi blew away the judges from the get-go (they pushed the Golden Buzzer!) and he never stopped blowing them away until the end. Watch a bit of him here, singing my former employer Leon Russell’s massive hit, “A Song For You”:
Many neurodiverse folks create a very close and special relationship with the arts; as a result, their gifts are poised to shine through. I have worked extensively with this population and I have witnessed firsthand the unbridled joy and connection to the source of that joy people in this population have (unconsciously) achieved.
We professionals practice and practice, we edit, limit and criticize ourselves in countless ways. What would it be like to sing, play and perform with this kind of freedom? We may never know, truly. But Kodi does, and maybe we can take a peek into his world:
1. Be Fully in the Moment
Kodi doesn’t get distracted and knows how to fully be in the moment. When peoples’ brains work differently, they can have a hard time with many everyday tasks/concepts. Reading comprehension, math, balancing a checkbook (uh, hello, anybody want to help me with that?)… for someone who is challenged in certain ways, these things are impossible. And certainly for Kodi, because he can’t see.
However, since Kodi is not distracted from life’s many must-do’s, his full attention can remain on…whatever he decides to shine it on. Lucky for us, it’s music. So how can this work for you?
Firstly, think of all the times you couldn’t focus on your musical life because you were sick; you were in physical pain; your personal life was in shambles; you had too much schoolwork, too much work-work, too much general anxiety…you get the idea. You had to dig in so hard to come back to your creative stuff, right? Why? Did you get too into your head? Were you worrying/thinking about the future? What did you gain by doing that? Was your creative life enhanced by these behaviors? If not, then why do we (yes, I’ll put myself in there with you) continue to behave this way? Because: it’s what we know how to do; I call this phenomenon negative emotional muscle memory. Basically, it’s learned negativity that serves no purpose, yet we continue to allow it to show up and ruin things.
So, how do we change it? By creating new positive emotional muscle memory. Be vigilant about catching yourself worrying or drifting, and when you do, just witness it and gently change the dialogue. If you’ve ever meditated, you can liken my theory to the concept of witnessing the thought and letting it pass, returning to the breath. Slowly, you’ll find that the negative thoughts won’t take hold for as long, or in the same way.
2. Stop Judging Yourself Harshly
Kodi doesn’t appear to judge himself harshly; it isn’t in his consciousness to do so.
Many singers, especially those who grew up in the click-track/auto-tune era, have an extremely exacting and precise relationship to pitch and rhythm. Many of my younger students have the idea of ‘perfect’ everything because…that’s what their ears are accustomed to. (Kudos to Gen X and Boomer parents who’ve given their musical children the gift of growing up with artists that didn’t manufacture and quantify their compositions to within an inch of their lives in the studio.)
One of Kodi’s gifts is that he seems to be happy and confident in who he is and in what he’s doing. He’s not analyzing anything or comparing himself to others; he’s simply doing what he knows he loves to do. If 1/10th of my clients could heed this call, I’d be thrilled. Another by-product of not judging oneself too harshly is that it forces one to remain in the present moment, not looking backwards or forwards.
See, if we don’t judge and just be, we allow the present moment to be the most important moment in time. When we truly can live there, stay there, in the present moment, our main concern is to make the best of exactly where we are. So, any song we sing, any riffs we compose, any people we reach…are right here, right now, period. And, like little children, or elders with dementia, or certain members of the neurodiverse community, we then can experience in real time, what that moment brings: joy, sadness, hunger, love. It then stands to reason that when we experience it, we can then pass on those emotions/feelings/energies –in real time– to others. And that, my singing friends, is the basis of the connection we wish to create with our listeners, always and forever.
3. Work Hard AND Accept Help
Kodi works hard, but takes help when he needs it. Kodi plays piano, tap dances and enjoys many other artistic pursuits. He challenged himself to audition for AGT and undertook any potentially grueling filming/travel regiments.
Yet, remember: Kodi needs help doing many, many things. It never occurs to him not to accept help. Of course, his desire to do things independently exists, but circumstance dictates that he allow others to give of their time and talents. Many. Times. Every. Single. Day.
While most of us know exactly what it’s like to be Kodi, how many of us can allow ourselves to ask for –and take–help? It’s harder than you think for many. As an exercise, allow yourself to ask for help at least once a day; I trust it may be as difficult for you as it was for me. See, because if we need help and ask for it, we think we’re perceived as weak, or vulnerable. We’re allowing others to see us as a not totally-all-together-self-sufficient-I-got-this human. And for many of us who’ve done everything for ourselves in life, or in our careers (booking, managing, writing, recording, singing, playing, earning a living, etc.), this can feel extremely foreign and uncomfortable. In addition, when we ask, we run the risk of not getting that help. And how would that rejection feel? Ouchie.
See, Kodi doesn’t worry about any of this stuff. He just…does what Kodi does. But…what can we do? Well, I’m no certified life coach, but I am a vocal coach, and… it’s kinda the same thing, ha. So, I will suggest two people’s worldviews: Brené Brown’s TED talk called, “The Power Of Vulnerability”, and Amanda Palmer’s book, entitled, “The Art Of Asking”. These women deeply understand these concepts and can shine a light on some of this murkiness we may encounter in our artistic journeys. You are so very welcome. And many thanks to Kodi for inspiring this discussion; may he rock on with his bad self.
Jaime was a Musical Director, coaching voice and performance for Disney and wrote “Working With Your Voice: The Career Guide to Becoming a Professional Singer” (Alfred Publishing). As a session singer, she ‘jingled’ for Coke, Pillsbury, Folgers, Chevrolet, and hundreds more. She’s sung on thousands of live gigs (covers and original music) and toured for years with Leon Russell and Sam Moore. Jaime sang BGVs live and digitally with George Strait, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson, Jimmy Webb, Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus, Johnny Mathis, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Willie Nelson and others. She performed off-Broadway in “Search: Paul Clayton”, toured nationally with “Old Jews Telling Jokes” and presently coaches students in voice, performance, beginner guitar/piano, studio singing, songwriting and auditioning in NY, CT, LA, Nashville and virtually. For bookings: www.workingwithyourvoice.com