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ReachOut Interview: Jennifer Niven, All the Bright Places

by RO_Meredith Interviews

In today's blog, we talk to Jennifer Niven, the YA author behind All the Bright Places, a New York Times bestseller and a novel that honestly and powerfully deals with so many of the issues we tackle on ReachOut. 

Beyond that, it's also a gripping love story. But while the chemistry between Finch and Violet is undeniable, so are the very real challenges that each grapple with on a daily basis. Finch with the unpredictable ups and downs of his own mind and Violet, who struggles to move past her grief and guilt over the loss of her sister. That's what brings them to meet under grim circumstances at school and propels them into a senior year of discovery neither saw coming.

Intrigued? Read on for our interview with Jennifer and enter to win one free copy of ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by posting in the comments below! The first person (located in the US) who shares where they feel "unlimited, fearless and safe," words used by Violet to describe the online magazine she created, will be our winner.

Update: Our winner has been named but the conversation continues on the ReachOutHere Forums where we talk about books!

Trigger warning: The sensitive and realistic depiction of mental illness and suicidal ideation may be upsetting to some readers. 

ReachOut: What inspired you to write a story that dealt with suicidal thoughts, mental illness and grief from the firsthand perspective? How did it come to be a YA novel?

Jennifer Niven: Years ago, I knew and loved a boy, and that boy was bipolar. I witnessed up-close the highs and lows, the Awake and the Asleep, and I saw his daily struggle with the world and with himself. I’d always thought of writing something about the experience, but how do you write something so personal and so tough?

When I finally sat down to try it in the summer of 2013, I knew in my bones that I should write it as YA. I’ve always preferred first person narration because I feel it’s the most immediate, and most novels dealing with mental illness and suicide seem to be written from the outside looking in—the main character is either left in the wake of someone who has [died by] suicide or they’re observing that person from afar. We rarely get to hear from the character who’s actually going through it.

RO: The word “survivor” is used a lot to characterize Violet, and I know you have a personal connection with the term as well. What did you learn about that label in the process of writing this book? What was important for you to include?

JN: The first thing I learned, after all these years, was that I had a label. Survivor of suicide. All I knew was that I’d loved and lost someone who died too soon. And it was traumatic. And it was heartbreaking. And part of me will never get over it. I’ve lost so many people in my life— my father, my grandparents, cousins, friends, mentors, cats, and, most recently, my mom, who was my very best friend.  So much loss.  But through it, I try to focus on something Violet realizes in the book:  it’s not what you take, it’s what you leave.  Every person I’ve lost has left me so much—including this boy I knew and loved—and I like to think I carry them with me. I’ve also learned the importance of wandering the world, making it lovely, and leaving something behind. It was important to me to share that with readers.

RO: There are so many different types of adults that surround both Violet and Finch in the form of parents, counselors and teachers. Some are more involved and engaged than others, but all are flawed in their own realistic ways. What do you hope readers will take away from these portrayals?

JN: As Finch’s counselor says, sometimes we can only see what people allow us to see. People are very good at hiding in plain sight. I’m guilty of this too—like Violet I tend to smile a lot on the outside when I’m hurting the most. Recognizing that, we need to pay attention to the people in our lives. After reading my book, a teacher in New Zealand suddenly noticed that one of his students was acting a lot like Finch, and it turns out that the student was in fact suicidal and struggling with issues he didn’t understand.

We need to learn to be more aware, but I also hope readers will reach out. Speak up. Let someone know how you’re feeling, or if you’re close to someone who is battling mental illness and you’re worried about that person, reach out and speak up for them. I’m hearing from many, many teens who are either struggling with their own mental health issues or know someone who is, and the first thing I tell them is to talk to someone they trust, whether that’s a parent, teacher, counselor, sibling, or friend. Being isolated only makes things worse, and you really, truly aren’t alone.

RO: Violet creates the magazine Germ, “Because people my age need somewhere they can go for advice or help or fun or just to be without anyone worrying about them. Somewhere they can be unlimited and fearless and safe, like in their own rooms.”

First of all, I love this description (partly because it reminds me of ReachOut) and the fact that germmagazine.com exists in real life! Did you have a place (real or fictional) that felt like this to you when you were a teen?

JN: I think that place was my own imagination. I’d been writing stories from the time I could form words on a page, and my two amazing parents always encouraged me to write and to express myself. I also had a close-knit group of friends that were like my real-life ReachOut/Germ. Sometimes we wrote stories together, and it was a way to deal with the things we didn’t feel we were able to talk about or discuss with each other. During my senior year of high school, my two best friends and I were dealing with our own private, individual struggles, and we poured it out on paper in what became a long, sad, angry, often funny, very chaotic stage play. It saved us. Reading was also an outlet because books reminded me I wasn’t alone, no matter what I was going through.

RO: The internal monologues of Finch and Violet speak to the struggles of so many teens who may feel isolated by the darkness of their thoughts and the fear of unleashing that on those around them because of stigma. What has the response been like from teen/young adult readers who relate with your characters? Has anything surprised you in their reactions?

JN: The response has been emotional and overwhelming, and while I anticipated some of that, I had no idea just how emotional and overwhelming it would be. The thing I hear most from readers is that this book saved their lives in some way, big or small. They’ve thanked me for making them feel like someone gets them, and for reminding them they aren’t alone. One girl wrote to say she had been to the drugstore to buy sleeping pills because she wanted to die, and for some reason my book was sitting there next to them. She picked up the book and started reading and forgot about the pills. Hours later, after she finished, she wrote to tell me that she wants to be here in this world to find her own bright places and that she’d enrolled in a counseling program at school.

One thing I learned firsthand from my own experience:  losing someone to suicide is different from losing someone to cancer or a car accident or a stroke—or any other “acceptable” way to die.  There is stigma attached to mental illness and suicide, and if I was made to feel that way after losing this boy I knew, imagine how hard it was for him to find help and understanding when he was alive. I want readers to know that it’s important to talk about it, that help is out there, that it gets better, that high school isn’t forever, and that life is long and vast and full of possibility.

ReachOut Interview: Nathan Adrian, Gold Medal Olympic Swimmer

by RO_Meredith Interviews, Sports

nathan adrianNathan Adrian is an American swimmer and three-time Olympic gold medalist who currently holds the American record in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle events. Nathan was kind enough to chat with ReachOut volunteer Pippa Scott  about his Olympic journey, graduating from University of California, Berkeley and how he managed to achieve his dreams.

What made you want to start swimming competitively?

Nathan Adrian: Honestly, competitive swimming was just kind of in my blood. My brother and sister had always done it. I grew up in an area where there were a lot of distractions and a lot of negative distractions that could bring me down, and so my mom wanted me to get involved in some extra curricular activities outside of school to keep me going and keep me focused.

Congratulations on recently graduating from UC Berkeley. It is very inspirational that you managed to find time to train, study and be social. How did you maintain a sense of balance? Was it difficult?

Nathan: Yes (laughs) it was extremely difficult! Everybody has their own story and struggles through school, but the reason I was successful was because I was able to compartmentalize my time. When I was really focused on school, I was really focused on school and when I was really focused on swimming, I was really focused on swimming. The little time I had for being social I was definitely being social and interacting with my friends versus doing any one of those activities with another on my mind. It’s not going to work out well for you if you are going to be in the water training hard but reviewing chemistry problems for your test that’s upcoming in two or three days.

That sounds great in theory, but how did you train your brain to be able to keep everything so separate. I know for even myself sometimes it is hard on a more basic level to be doing one activity without checking my phone constantly! It can be very difficult…How did you manage it?

Nathan: You know, in theory you're right. It does sound great and you know there is no perfect theory other than the fact that that is what I wanted to do. There were still thoughts in the back of my head even during practice like "Hey, maybe I shouldn’t try as hard because I’m going to be so much more tired, and I won’t be able to study later." At the same time, in terms of studying I knew I couldn’t study in my room because I knew I wasn’t efficient in doing it - I would go and bother my roommates or do this or do that. When I really wanted to get something done, I would have to get a cup of coffee, go to the library, or go somewhere quiet wherever it was just me and my studies or working with a study partner.

What does it take to become a gold medalist and how can aspiring athletes get there? Is it a case of mainly being very disciplined and knowing what you can and can’t do like you just mentioned?

Nathan: Yeah, that is tough. I mean there are really a lot of things. One of them is going to be support from around you. Not that that is completely in your control, but you can definitely control the type of people you surround yourself with. I’m fortunate in that I have a ton of people who are really positive. If people dream big or have high goals we don’t cut them down for it because of that. Instead we say, "I like the fact you have these great goals. Let’s figure out a way we can help you achieve them." We do that in a group so that’s something that’s really special about being here. Then besides that you just need to have a huge amount of desire, dedication and a lot of discipline. Just take a combination of them and being able to do things you really don’t want to do at the time. I mean getting up at 5 a.m. for practice 5 days a week is not something I necessarily wanted to do all the time, but I knew I needed to do it to be good.

And once you reach your goals, the payoff is so great you are willing to do it all again?

Nathan Adrian: Absolutely! The funny thing is that I have been more excited to train right now then I think I have been in years. The fact that I was successful just makes me want to get back in the water and start to improve myself that much more and see how far I can really take myself in this sport.

Yes, congratulations again on all your successes at this year’s Olympics! It inspired so many people and that must be a real motivating force in propelling yourself forward?

Nathan: Yes, exactly! It’s great!

With all of that pressure to win, I imagine that could put a great deal of stress on someone. Were there things you did to help relieve your stress and to become more relaxed?

Nathan: Yes, absolutely. You know, what’s funny is that some people see swimming as a huge stress, but exercise is such a stress reliever helping you to release endorphins. I really do believe in that and feel it especially going into a practice and being really stressed out about school or outside situations, and then to get a good swim in or work out, and then afterwards it just kind of clears my mind. Those stresses are still there, but after I can figure out how to conquer them and what I can do about them.

Swimming with so many other great U.S. athletes like Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte, did it ever make you feel intimidated or were you to focused on what you needed to do?

Nathan: I had a lot of pressure on my shoulders in the 2011 World Championships. I actually came up short on that. I didn’t do quite as well as I had hoped or a lot of people thought I would do, but I quickly realized that that was because I had let other people’s expectations get the better of me. I’m the most comfortable swimming for myself and going in there trying to be the best that I can be because I know there is nothing I can do to control everybody else. There is no point in worrying about what’s going on outside your lane in swimming. So swimming in 2012, it really was an internal focus, feeding off of that positive energy of my teammates and trying to utilize that.

Is there anything you do routine wise before a race that helps you get focused or relax? Are you superstitious at all?

Nathan: (Laughs) No, I don’t really adhere to any strict routines. I think any superstitions, to be completely honest, would just end up hurting me. If I had a lucky rabbit’s foot, or if I had anything like that, I would totally forget it because I forget things all the time. I’m really forgetful and then I would think I’m not going to be able to do my best because I didn’t have it. So I don’t necessarily believe in that. Talking with other people in the ready room or my teammates before the race is really beneficial to relax. Sometimes they don’t even have an event that day but they are nice enough to give their time to help other people relax. There is a lot to be said about having a laugh before a race!

You mentioned earlier that a strong network of support helps you. Is there anyone in particular that inspired you to become an Olympian?

Nathan: I was able to train with Gary Hall, Jr. in 2007. He was the Olympic champion in 2000 and 2004 in the 50 m freestyle, and I was really appreciative of how open he was and friendly and down to earth of a guy. There was this huge persona that was put on him by the media and then you meet him and he is just the nicest and most generous guy that you’ve ever met. So I really enjoyed that!

That ties in nicely with my last question. Since you have been in the media spotlight has it changed your relationships with friends and family, etc… at all? Have you noticed a shift?

With my closest friends, absolutely not, I love that and it really shows the character of who my friends are. Outside of that, there is a little bit of a change but it is nothing I blame anyone for. It’s just kind of the natural ebb and flow of this professional swimming life. It’s probably going to settle down in about a year or so, and then hopefully in 2016 it will be there again. When I look at relationships that I have with people and if they change…it’s not really something I see as a positive or necessarily a negative thing - it’s just kind of a thing. It’s kind of a side effect of me being able to achieve my goals. I’m also thankful to my coaches, the people surrounding me and ultimately to my health that I’ve been able to achieve them!

ReachOut Readers, tell us what helps you reach your goals in comments!

Also check out these fact sheets on maintaing good health and relieving stress for more infomration on topics covered above!

Benefits of activity and exercise
Stress
Managing expectations
Putting your goals into action
R
elaxation
Time Management

Photo courtesy of the USOC

About Pippa
Pippa ScottPippa began volunteering for ReachOut towards the end of 2011. In addition she has worked the past ten years in the entertainment industry in London, Vancouver, LA and NYC. This work includes PA to British Film Director Ken Loach, working for various renowned agents and publicists, and serving as entertainment columnist for The University of Manchester's Student Direct Newspaper.

Interview: Lee Hirsch, Director of “Bully”

by RO_Meredith Interviews, School

bully posterIn the new documentary "Bully," director Lee Hirsch takes on the painful but pervasive issue of bullying in schools. Through a small, brave sample -- a Sioux City, Iowa teenager tortured for being different, a lesbian high school student in Oklahoma, families who lost their bullied children to suicide -- of the many young people affected by bullying, the film seeks to be a comfort to those who may feel alone and a call to action for all. We spoke with Lee Hirsch to learn more about the selection process, his ratings battle with the MPAA, the movie's message to bystanders and more. Go see the film in theaters now and also check out our resources on bullying below this post!

What drew you to the issue of bullying?

Lee Hirsch: It was a very personal story, I was bullied as a kid and you carry those memories. As a filmmaker, I know you have to find stories that carry you, that are meaningful to you. This was something I’d been thinking about for many, many, many years. I kept picking it up and putting it down, not knowing how I could do it, or what I would say, or to what extent I would delve into the landscape of my own memories, and finally I felt ready to do it.

Once I started, I realized how much need there was. I wasn’t aware of the statistics when I started. I wasn’t aware of how broadly this impacts people. And I think that’s one of the powerful messages of the film: So many people share this story of having been bullied, having witnessed it, carrying those memories, feeling like they didn’t have a voice around this issue.

So it all really came together, and I felt like this was an important thing to do. That’s how it got started.

How did you find and ultimately select the kids and the families you followed in the film?

Lee Hirsch: A lot of the families we learned about through local news stories. Some we found, and I’m going to keep this broad because we filmed many more families than the ones in the film, like Kelby, her mom had written into The Ellen Degeneres Show about the abuse she was going through and how desperate they felt and how difficult it was. [Ellen's] producers agreed to put us in touch.

Alex is really the main story you experience in the movie. We met him because we had been given access at his school. We had been looking for access and talking to schools about being given access to film inside the school for a year. We met him on orientation day and it struck me that he might be a student who was bullied.

There were different ways, but we found these amazing kids and families that we ultimately selected and filmed for this project.

One of the most disheartening realities you capture in the film is the roadblock that some victims and parents encounter when approaching school administrators and other authority figures about bullies.  Do you see this as a generational disconnect or something else? What is it that you felt these adults weren’t understanding?

Lee Hirsch: I think that the broader question is how can adults really step up here. We’re asking a lot of youth, we’re asking youth to step up, to be upstanders and not to be bystanders. They need partnership from their teachers, from school support staff, from administrators.

I think that there are wonderful, wonderful, wonderful teachers and administrators across our country. And I think that there are some that don’t get this issue, that don’t connect to it, that don’t have the empathy, the training, they’re overwhelmed. They feel like they’ve been given mixed messages about what’s a priority.

I hope that the conversation is a powerful one in the education space. I’m speaking to you right now from Washington D.C. where I’m about to screen the film for a very exciting crowd hosted by the NEA (National Education Association) and the AFT (American Federation of Teachers). We’re really engaged in this conversation in how do we support educators to take this on in a new and more powerful way, to give them the tools that they need. To give them the resources and the push.

On ReachOut we’re currently running a contest asking teen programmers to help empower bystanders to speak out against bullying, so I was just curious what message do you hope the film sends to those young people who see bullying happening around them?  How can they help?

Lee Hirsch: What I’m hearing back is that they’re seeing their own agency. They’re seeing that the things that they may not have identified as bullying matter. They have the power to step in and find really creative ways to be upstanders. They're seeing that they themselves are the changemakers.

We actually have a cool initiative we launched with Ashoka asking youth to come up with responses to the film that create and foster empathy in their schools. This is where we’re most hopeful. We don’t force feed answers in the movie. I have a huge amount of faith and respect for youth. As creative as they are at bullying, I think they can be just as creative in finding solutions. That’s one of the best things that’s happening with the movie right now.

I know you recently resolved the ratings issue with the MPAA by making some slight modifications to language used in the film. Could you comment on that whole episode?

Lee Hirsch: We were given this rating that felt absolutely wrong. We decided to fight it, the kids in the film asked me to fight it. Alex Libby, now 15, went to the MPAA and argued really powerfully for why this rating was wrong and why kids needed to be able to see this and hear the language they hear every day of their lives. I felt that, in particular, there was one scene that I refused to cut because the language was so critical to conveying the experience of being bullied.

And then all this incredible activism happened that I had nothing to do with and couldn’t have dreamed up. Katy Butler and her strength and her courage and her petition on Change.org and the half a million people that ultimately signed on to that. The thing that I would say is they didn’t just sign the petition, they wrote their stories, they wrote letters, they shared it on their Facebook walls. They got the conversation going and they weren’t just talking about the MPAA, they were talking about why bullying is important and why stepping up is important.

How do you respond to the criticism the film simplifies the link between bullying and suicide?

Lee Hirsch:  I don’t think that film simplifies the link between suicide and bullying. I think the film tells the story of five families and two of those families lost their children and those children were seriously bullied. We have 25 partner organizations and some of the smartest people in the world have vetted this film. I don’t think we do that.

We have to talk about bullying and suicide. There is headline after headline after headline. There is tragedy after tragedy. There’s always going to be people who disagree with you, but I believe that what we’re doing is making a difference and it’s a positive difference. That’s really what’s important here.

Right. The important thing is starting a conversation that gets at the complexities of the issue.

Lee Hirsch: And that’s why we have the resources and the viewing guide and the educators and the partnerships and all these organizations that work in the space are engaged and a part of this process because it’s an important conversation. What I'm hearing from hundreds of people now is that they’re seeing this film with their kids and their kids are talking about it with them for the first time in their lives. There are real positive outcomes now from this film and that’s where my focus is.

So what comes next? How can those moved by the film take action?

Lee Hirsch: We want them to engage on our website at bullyproject.com, which is getting better by the day. We have major youth initiatives under the students section of the website. We’re honing that more and more with our youth partners. We want them to step up, let us know how they’re doing it, be creative.

We also set a goal that we want a million kids to see this film. So we’re working on figuring out how to do that. We want to keep cooking!

For more information on bullying and bystanders, see these fact sheets:
What to do if you are being bullied
Cyberbullying
What to do if someone you know is being bullied
Bystanders role in cyberbullying

Have you seen the movie "Bully"? What did you think?

Interview: Meg Haston, Author of ‘How to Rock Braces and Glasses’

by RO_Meredith Books, Interviews

This week, we caught up with author Meg Haston to discuss her latest book, How to Rock Braces and Glasses, making it through middle school and the key to giving good advice as host of gURL.com video series "How to Deal."

We'll also be giving away a free copy of the book to the first three people to leave a comment on the ReachOut website about a trial or triumph from middle school. You must be in the US to receive a book and please use a real email address when you register to comment (we will not distribute or use for marketing purposes). Good luck RO fans!

What inspired you to write "How to Rock Braces and Glasses!"?

Meg Haston: Everyone’s middle and high school experiences are different, but the one universal truth is this: we will all, at some point, feel insecure. When our queen bee protagonist Kacey Simon has to get braces and glasses and no longer looks perfect on the outside, we start to see the insecurities she feels on the inside. I loved the idea of writing about a girl who seems to live a perfect, charmed existence—and showing that even that girl has times when she feels like a major geek.

How much, if any, of the story was drawn from personal experience?

Meg Haston:The story isn’t autobiographical—I was never the most popular in school and I hope I never treated anyone the way Kacey treats people at the start of the book—but I can absolutely relate with the insecurities she feels when she gets braces and glasses. I had both, but I definitely didn’t rock them!

In the book, you explore how "queen bee" Kacey copes after falling in the ranks of her middle school hierarchy. What message do you hope tween and teen readers will take away from Kacey's story?

Meg Haston: I hope that readers will see that how we treat others truly matters—when Kacey falls from grace, she’s forced to take a look at the ways in which she’s been really hurtful to the people around her. And I hope that readers will take away the message that being able to rock anything—braces, glasses, whatever—comes from having inner confidence and believing in yourself.

Can you tell us a little about your upcoming gURL.com web series "How to Deal"? What made you decide to take the leap from writing about an advice columnist to dispensing genuinely helpful insights to teens? What type of topics will you be tackling and how do you develop your responses?

Meg Haston: I’m SO pumped about my upcoming “How to Deal” video series with gURL.com. My background is as a mental health therapist, so shooting these advice videos for gURL feels like an awesome way to dispense some really helpful advice to teens in a cool way.

I’ll be tackling issues that most of us have faced at some point—from how to deal with pushy parents to how to deal with unavailable crushes. When I sit down to develop my responses, I think about what I would say to a girl coming to me as a therapy client with any of these issues. My responses will include a mixture of what I’ve learned and experienced as a therapist, and what I’ve experienced as a teenager dealing with some of these same concerns.

"How to Rock Braces and Glasses!" is also being adapted as a TV show on Nickelodeon. Are you involved? Did you have any specific requests for howthe story and/or characters were translated to the screen?

Meg Haston: Yes! The Nickelodeon show How to Rock will air on Saturday, February 4th at 8:30 PM. I’ve seen the pilot episode and it seriously rocks! My role is as the author of the books, so I’m not involved with the television side of things. But it’s beyond exciting to see these characters that I spent so much time with as I wrote the book come to life on the screen.

As you know, ReachOut is all about helping young people get through a tough time. What helped you get through a tough time as a teen?

Meg Haston: I think the number one thing that has helped me through tough times, both as a teen and as an adult, are the strong relationships I have with family and friends. We’re social creatures—we’re not meant to go through difficult times on our own. When we’re struggling, it’s okay to reach out. It can be tough to ask for help, but having a safe, validating support system is so important.

About Meg Haston:

Meg Haston survived braces and glasses in middle school; whether she rocked them is debatable. She did go on to rock other things, including but not limited to: slap bracelets, a B.S. in Communication Studies from Northwestern University, and an M.Ed. in Professional Counseling from the University of Georgia. HOW TO ROCK BRACES AND GLASSES is her first novel,and she's currently at work on a sequel, coming in Fall 2012. She lives in Jacksonville, FL.

Interview: Delilah, NBC’s “The Sing Off”

by RO_Meredith Interviews, Music

Today's guest post is from ReachOut Council member Chloe, interviewing the all-female a capella group Delilah from season three of NBC's "The Sing-Off."   This is the latest in a series of interviews Chloe has been doing with entertainers on what's gotten them through a tough time. This time around, Chloe was lucky enough to sit down with all eight group members (Amy Whitcomb, Candace Eve, Geena Glaser, Hannah Juliano, Ingrid Andress, Johanna Vinson, Kendall Young and Laina Walker), so for clarity’s sake answers are attributed to each individual. Also, be sure to check out Chloe's bio at the end!

Chloe: How long have you been performing for?

Laina: I’ve been singing since I was a little girl. My grandmother started giving me lessons when I was eight years-old. She started training me in classical when I was eight, and I would do recitals with her that she would have for her students and ever since then, I’ve done random little shows. I performed in middle and high school, and then I’ve performed with Noteworthy (BYU’s female acapella singing group) for two years.

Ingrid: For only about three years, actually. I was actually a sports person in high school, and I wanted to pursue that in college. But it wasn’t until my senior year that I realized was more than just a hobby for me and that I would much rather want to do that than sports. I just started my senior year of high school, and I’m still learning like, how to get over stage fright and stuff. Most people think that I’m the most comfortable person on stage, but I actually get SO nervous.

Chloe: What inspired you to pursue a career as a performer?

Kendall: There are a lot of seeds in my life that led me to follow this and love it and keep pursuing it. I was just always encouraged that this was a gift that I had, and it’s a way of communicating for me. I feel I communicate better through song and music than I do through having a conversation with a person. I feel like when I’m talking, I’m not getting through all of the emotion behind my words. I think that’s why I knew that I needed to sing.

Laina: You know, part of the reason I haven’t started my major until now is because I kind of went back and forth about it. I knew I would be performing my whole life but I didn’t know if I wanted to major in it. Eventually, I just came to the conclusion that it’s something that I absolutely love to do. I know that it’s not going to be easy, but anything worth doing is going to be hard. I was really lucky to have supportive parents and they’ve been there for me since day one and their support has been a huge deciding factor in choosing music as a career path. I think that eventually I would like to do teaching, but until then, I want to take advantage of as many opportunities that come my way.

Chloe: Who in your career/personal life do you look up to or admire? Why?

Amy: I really look up to my mom, and I think I always will. She is very selfless and very service-oriented and her life is serving others and she has always set such a great example of that. If I am starting to get a little too self-indulgent and selfish, I remember my mom and how happy she is because she serves other people. I also really look up to my friend Catherine. She was a mentor to me in college and she’s still chasing after her dreams and she’s so talented and so humble and her humility and determination and passion has really inspired me.

I also really look up to Lady GaGa because of her complete devotion to her fans and because of the strong objective she has for performing. She never has an unmotivated performance. She has a reason for every performance and that objective is deep in her soul and it’s really apparent. She is 100% nuts, but I love that about her. She’s probably the performer that I most look up to.

Geena: I think my mom and my sister are two people that I’ve always admired and looked up to. My sister actually is a singer too and she started the performing thing first so I watched her do that and, not followed her in any sense because we’re very different in what we perform, but she opened that door for me. And my mom is just an incredible woman and has always reminded me to stay strong and has always been really really supportive.

Chloe: You've been on "The Sing Off" twice now. How are your experiences on the show similar and different from one another?

Candace: Season one with Voices of Lee was different because it was a guinea pig experience for everyone that season.  I was way more nervous just because I didn’t have a clue what it all meant and couldn’t fathom who was watching.  It just had the whole “new” experience feeling.  Season three with Delilah felt so magical for the way our group came together. A lot of it is unexplainable to outsiders. We all realize the special bond that has happened every single rehearsal, conversation with each other, stepping out on that stage each and every show. I know that God brought us together, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen every day.  We are very fortunate.

Ingrid: What’s different is the whole approach that I’ve been taking with the show. Last season, it was really new and we did more of what they wanted, it was more of a timid approach. It helped me realize that it’s better to stay true to who you are as a musician rather than conforming to modern music and what it wants you to do. This season it was more of the attitude that “We’re going to go in here and perform what we want and take a song that’s popular and put our own spin on it”. This year I felt more in control musically and I felt more confident in what we are singing. This season was also a big learning experience for me because I hardly have any friends that are girls unfortunately and so I went into thinking “Wow, I’m going to be with seven other girls” and so it really helped me appreciate being more of a girl and having that bond, and it was an empowering feeling. I am definitely a different person after hanging out with all of those girls.

Chloe: Given that you are all very close to your faith and beliefs, do you feel any kind of pressure or conflict to conform your values and morals when it comes to being mainstream?

Amy: That’s a really good question, and that’s actually something that I’ve really been struggling with, and yes. Something that I’ve realized within the past few months is that I’ve always known who I am. I’ve always had a good grip on who I was and who I wanted to be and the entertainment industry, as much of a gift and blessing music is, it can be used in a lot of bad ways too. A lot of times people are just unnecessarily vulgar and it really starts to wear on me. Basically what I have realized is that even when I’m confused, I do know what is me and it’s a matter of recommitting to that every day. I think it’s a matter of staying spiritually strong and sticking to the things that have gotten me so far.

Kendall: I feel like music is not mine. Whenever I sing/perform/write a song, I always think of it as something that the Lord is doing through me and I’m just there to give it to other people. It’s always just about giving for me. On the Sing-Off, I didn’t feel any pressure to sing certain things and perform certain ways, it was really nice. There were a lot of other people who loved Jesus as well, so we bonded together and would talk about things and it was great to be able to talk to other people about those sorts of things. Everything that I do goes back to him, and it’s the whole reason why I sing.

Chloe: Who in your career/personal life do you look up to or admire? Why?

Amy: I really look up to my mom, and I think I always will. She is very selfless and very service-oriented and her life is serving others and she has always set such a great example of that. If I am starting to get a little too self-indulgent and selfish, I remember my mom and how happy she is because she serves other people. I also really look up to my friend Katherine. She was a mentor to me in college and she’s still chasing after her dreams and she’s so talented and so humble and her humility and determination and passion has really inspired me.

I also really look up to Lady GaGa because of her complete devotion to her fans and because of the strong objective she has for performing. She never has an unmotivated performance. She has a reason for every performance and that objective is deep in her soul and it’s really apparent. She is 100% nuts, but I love that about her. She’s probably the performer that I most look up to.

Geena: I think my mom and my sister are two people that I’ve always admired and looked up to. My sister actually is a singer too and she started the performing thing first so I watched her do that and, not followed her in any sense because we’re very different in what we perform, but she opened that door for me. And my mom is just an incredible woman and has always reminded me to stay strong and has always been really really supportive.

Chloe: In your career, describe a tough time or a personal struggle that you've gone through.

Hannah Juliano: When it comes to music, The Sing Off is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’ve never been more exhausted. Your voice gets tired, your emotions run dry, you’re constantly being inspired, and your mood just goes up and down each minute because it feels like one day is three weeks long

Chloe: In your personal life, describe a tough time or a personal struggle you've dealt with.

Geena Glaser: When I was about 10 or 11, I was diagnosed with Scoliosis, and I was told that I was going to have to wear a back brace for three years during middle school, which is probably the worst point in your life to have to deal with that. So I wore a back brace for those three years, which was plastic and went from like, right under my bra to right below my belt. It was really uncomfortable and painful actually, and it was mentally hard to deal with because I was self-conscious about it. I wore really baggy clothing and I didn’t want anyone to touch me because I didn’t want anyone to know, so it was a lot being in middle school and being so concerned about appearance and just being hyper aware of what people thought about me. I had this huge secret that I needed to keep from everywhere just for my personal sanity. It was something that was really rough for me.

 I had some really wonderful friends [who helped me get through it]. I’ve had the same best friend since I was in first grade, and she was really great about it. She just made me feel comfortable, she didn’t make me feel self-conscious in any sense and it was just part of who I was and that was fine. She kept me grounded in that. My mom was really wonderful in the same sense. She just kept me grounded as well and didn’t let me stray from being me. It’s so easy to get caught up in middle school with all of the drama and whatnot, but it was nice to have people there to remind me that everything was going to be okay.

Chloe: Who/what helps you deal with day-to-day life?

Jo: My friends, absolutely. A couple of years ago, I had a really tough time. I couldn’t find a job and I was just struggling and it was my rock bottom. The only reason I got through it was because of my friends. They were there for me emotionally and pulled me out of a lot of intense situations. I don’t think I would be who I am and be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for them. If not for my friends being the most incredible support system, I would not be where I am and doing what I love. I feel like the universe gave me all of the best people, and I love it.

Hannah: It’s so cheesy, but the girls in Delilah. I couldn’t have done any of that experience without them. There’s just so great and supportive. You’d expect it to be really difficult being in a group with seven other girls, with emotions and attitudes, but we don’t have any of that. We worked so well together and we are so much more than just a group for a t.v. show, it’s more than that. We really wanted to inspire people and change people’s perception. So those girls, my best friends, my family. Those are the people that I really lean on. I’ve got a really good support team, I got very lucky with that.

Chloe: What message or advice would you give to others trying to get through tough times or personal struggles?

Candace: First of all, just know that YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY ONE FEELING THIS WAY. You’re not the only one who has ever felt this struggle or challenge in your life. That’s not to take away from the uniqueness of your circumstance or situation, it really just means that you’re not alone. You are really not alone. I believe that God works through our family and friends and even strangers to impact our lives in a positive way. Everyone is different. But, I believe God’s power is the same and sufficient for everyone.

Jo: Take things a day at a time. Setting a goal for yourself is a wonderful idea. If you know that things will be better because you will make them that way in like six months or so, that’s something to work towards and focus on and I think that it really helps. If you’re kind of just wallowing and you don’t know when it’s going to end, you have to take things a day at a time and force yourself to push through. Know that you are the only person that is in charge of your life and you can use the people around you and their love to motivate yourself. People can only help you if you can help yourself. You need to have faith in yourself and that things will get better and the only thing that will hold you back is if you don’t try.

About Delilah
A conglomeration of singers, mostly from the first two seasons of "The Sing-Off." This talented all-female a cappella group includes Amy and Laina of BYU Noteworthy and Candace from Voices of Lee from season one. Kendall from Eleventh Hour and Hannah and Ingrid from Pitch Slapped of Berklee College of Music joined the group from season two. And rounding out the group is Johanna and Geena, two members of Divisi, the all-female a cappella group from The University of Oregon.

About Chloe

Hi there! My name's Chloe and I'm originally from New York but currently living in South County,  Rhode Island. I'm a freshman psychology major and a Non-Violence and Peace Studies minor at the University of Rhode Island. Although I am studying psychology, I have a real passion for musical theatre and performing and my ultimate dream would be to perform on Broadway one day. In my spare time, I like to read, sing, dance, shop, hang out with my friends, and have a good time. I am so excited to be a part of the Youth Council and happy to have the chance to get involved in helping out others!

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