I grew up with the romantic notion that I would always “follow my dreams”. Though it has gotten me in trouble a time or two, I was born with a sense of adventure that has shaped my greatest decisions. I grew up feeling the need to be great, but I never knew in what context. When you’re a dreamer without a concrete dream, you find yourself hanging on the lines that others throw.
I’ve been told that I could sing since I was three years old. I vividly remember standing on the stage of my old church to sing my first solo, “Jesus Loves Me”, and everyone in the audience stood silent as a pure melody came from my mouth. I fell in love with singing that day, and I never stopped. On car rides, my mom would blast southern gospel music and essentially force me to sing the harmony parts. If I was joking around too much or singing an incorrect note, she would turn off the music and get frustrated with me. (I think she always had a dream of my family becoming a gospel quartet, or trio if my sister couldn’t hang with us…sorry Grace).
I was told that I was a great singer, so naturally, I assumed that was the dream I would follow. I let singing carry me through high school. I used to cut class so that I could practice to lead worship for chapel, and I was given most every solo that I auditioned for in choir. I developed a make-shift recording studio in my basement to record myself and other bands for fun (and profit) while other kids were getting “normal jobs”. Singing was my identity, and I was comfortable resting in the fact that it was a sure thing. So, when it came time to make a college decision, I let my voice guide me. University of Kentucky offered me a vocal scholarship and the chance to join the prestigious acapella mens group on campus, The AcoUstiKats. As an 18 year old, I was sold.
My time at UK was a major fork in the road of my life. My reliance on my vocal abilities had provided an incredible outlet to learn and perform at UK, but I wasn’t growing personally. I was living the “college life” with no real direction when my father forced me to get a “normal job” after my freshman year. So, I worked on UK’s ground’s crew, followed by a day job at Best Buy. The jobs were both menial: mowing lawns, pulling weeds, and selling electronics in a blue polo. I hated working under a boss and feeling like I had nothing to offer, but I had never fostered my other talents besides athletics and singing. Taking pride in any other kind of work was a foreign concept to me.
Somewhere between the summer heat and selling one too many iPhones, I realized that the dreams that I had always planned to follow were falling by the wayside. For the first time, I realized that my voice wouldn’t keep me afloat if I didn’t start to paddle.
So, I made a change. During my sophomore year at UK, I applied to Belmont University in Nashville, TN, and transferred into the Business school. I began expanding upon the “recording studio” I had built in high school and used the equipment I owned to develop my reputation as a DJ for different clubs and eventually, weddings. My entrance into the wedding scene piqued my interest in importing and selling lights to do lighting for different venues. I started exploring other avenues, using talents that, at the time, seemed more like bouts of ADD, and trying my hand at entrepreneurship.
I came to Belmont at the perfect time in my life with a malleable attitude. I needed direction, and I was willing to work for it. I found my direction in Belmont’s Entrepreneurship department, where countless faculty encouraged me and guided me through the four businesses I would build in the next three years. At Belmont, I discovered what it was like to explore talents that no one had ever told you you would be good at, ones that you weren’t even sure you could do yourself. I learned what failure felt like, and I learned that failure makes success so much sweeter. I graduated fully able to support myself by the work I had created, and then, my path shifted again.
In June of 2013, a month after I graduated college, I received a call from a current member of UK’s AcoUstiKats, inviting me to come to LA for two months to be a lead singer on NBC’s The Sing-Off. The group had auditioned and made it into the top ten, and they wanted me to be a part of it. At 22, I was being offered the “chance of a lifetime”, the kind of opportunity that I always thought would allow me to follow my dreams. “Put your business on pause,” some thought, “you were born to sing, and here’s your chance.”
But, The Sing-Off wasn’t my chance to follow my dreams. The last three years taught me that following your dreams isn’t about taking opportunities, it’s about making opportunities. When I was offered a spot on the show, I was not the same kid I had been in high school, the one who was content to let his voice carry him throughout life. In the last three years, I learned how to follow my dreams without my voice, so that I could be ready in this moment, to follow my dreams with my voice.
Getting to be a part of The Sing-Off was one of the greatest blessings in my life, but I’ll be honest when I say that being on television or getting a big break won’t make your dreams come true if you don’t live a life that actively creates opportunities. Others will always tell you what you are good at and what you cannot do, but you are the only one who can decide what it looks like to follow the dreams in your own life. If you’re a dreamer without a concrete dream, stop waiting for someone to give you a big break and create your own, even if it’s not the path you expected.
I am thrilled to officially launch my company, PictureBooth.co, on December 9, 2013, the same day that The Sing-Off will premier. It’s fitting that the two biggest dreams I have chased come together at the same time because they have been integral parts of my life and growth. Thank you to those who have supported me, I could not have done it without you.