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‘Voice’ finalist Mary Sarah wows hometown crowd

Rising star talks about her experiences on show, with country legends

By Joe Southern

Mary Sarah, who was a finalist on the last season of “The Voice,” performs a concert Saturday night before her hometown crowd at the Sugar Land Town Center. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter is making a name for herself in Nashville. (Photo by Joe Southern)

Mary Sarah, who was a finalist on the last season of “The Voice,” performs a concert Saturday night before her hometown crowd at the Sugar Land Town Center. The 21-year-old singer-songwriter is making a name for herself in Nashville. (Photo by Joe Southern)

Although most people will recognize Mary Sarah as a finalist from the last season of “The Voice” on television, she was at home and well recognized by the crowd Saturday night as she gave a free concert in the Sugar Land Town Center.

A couple thousand people packed into the plaza to hear the hometown girl sing. The young singer/songwriter may live in Nashville and tour the country performing a mix of new and classic country music but she will always call Fort Bend County home. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Richmond and graduated from Foster High School.

Sarah performed several classic country standards and mixed in some of her own original works. Prior to the show she took some time to talk with The Fort Bend Star about her skyrocketing career.

When asked about her experience on “The Voice” she said, “It was absolutely amazing.

“In the beginning you don’t go in expecting anything. I feel like when I went in I wanted one chair to turn, and especially, honestly, when I was singing, when Adam Levine first turned his chair, I was like ‘I’m done, I’m in, that’s all I need. I just needed one chair.’ And of course I wanted Blake (Shelton) to turn, but to have all four was just absolutely humbling and amazing.

“They’re amazing artists and they’ve done so many things and heard so many voices, so for them to all turn around and enjoy and listen to my voice and want to hear it more was truly amazing. It was a great way to start off the Voice journey. Then to keep going in the competition – I wouldn’t say it was a competition because we all supported each other, all of us contestants. Everyone was so amazingly talented and deserved to be there so at the end of the day we pretty much looked at each other and anybody could win. No one knew, we just did our best and helped each other through it. It was an amazing experience,” she said.

How did “The Voice” compare to singing with the Oak Ridge Boys?

“I can’t compare it! They’re so different but to have the Oak Ridge Boys hear me at 15 years old on a YouTube video and ask my family and I to come down for a show and then to actually ask me to sing on their show was a blessing and crazy and I would have never imagined it. They are a big influence in my life still. I call them all the time for advice, and to sing with them is all just such an honor. They have done so much in their lives and it is really a blessing to get to have those people and listen to their advice.”

She said she noticed similarities between working with the Oak Ridge Boys and working with other country legends on her “Bridges” album.

“Working on my Bridges project, an album of duets, that was one thing that I noticed was that every legend wanted to inspire me and inspire my generation at the same time. For them to say yes to such an album to an independent artist, an unknown independent artist, and that’s a huge thing I think that just speaks to what they want to do and how they want to inspire a generation,” she said.

Did she have a favorite artist that she worked with on the album?

“I can’t say I have a favorite because every experience was different and overwhelming and awesome. The first artist on there was actually Dolly Parton and to just have her say yes, I actually sent her the Oak Ridge Boys video and sent her a little bit of me singing and stuff and the one thing that stuck out with me, and this is probably the biggest compliment ever, I told her I wanted to do ‘Jolene’ and she said yeah, let’s do it but let’s not do it like a duet back and forth, I want to dance around your vocals. And to think that Dolly wants to do that with my (voice), it should be the other way around where I’m doing harmonies for her, and like, it just blew me away. It was an amazing experience.

“And working with Willie (Nelson) and Merle (Haggard) and I think the two biggest things with them and Ray Price was I learned so much about keeping your family around. And surrounding yourself with people that love you and believe in you wholeheartedly because its … the last thing I’d ever say is I did this thing all by myself. I can’t; I’ve got my family behind me, I’ve got a team of people that work with me and that was one thing that stuck out with me for those three that have kept that team around them for a very, very long time, too. It’s a whole team effort,” she said.

“I love my family, I love them so much. It’s amazing how this has become kind of a family thing. You know my sister (Emilee Gross) is so talented, she played the piano for, like, I think 14 years, so she’s musically talented and she’s very smart, she’s in graphic design and she does a lot of pictures for me. She is absolutely amazing. She has worked very hard at it. It’s so funny how it played into what she loves doing and it played into the music side of it, too.

“My mom’s always there for moral support. I could not do it without her, I swear, and outfits; her and I are like the fashionistas, my sister, too, we kind of like, we’re the three fashionistas, we always pick out outfits and everything. My dad, he’s been there from the beginning. He’s just so supportive of me. And I have two older brothers that also support me so much and are amazing, so I’m very, very blessed to have a family around me,” she said.

Sarah said she grew up in Richmond and always enjoyed hanging out in Sugar Land and at First Colony Mall. Her family moved to Nashville right after graduation to help her pursue her dream.

“I moved about four years ago, it was about mid-project with the Bridges that I decided to move and my family decided to go with. My sister ended up going to school in Tennessee, so it just worked out that we moved together when I was about 17 years old.

“I started singing at like 10, 11 years old and then I actually went on tour when I was 12 with a company called Kidz Bop. They did a tour across the East Coast and Midwest and it was about six months and it was a full, live rock band and thousands of people on shows and it was really a taste of what the road would be like and that’s where I really fell in love with singing and performing,” she said.

She said she was happy to come home and sing for her hometown fans.

“It’s wild, it’s so crazy to come back home and play shows here because it’s home, you know, and I get to see so many people that I’ve known throughout the years and people that have supported me from the beginning, even before ‘The Voice’ and to get to do it here in a performance it’s a blessing and amazing and humbling and I really love getting to come home and sing.”

When asked if she had any advice for up-and-coming singers, she said she is never lacking for advice.

“I’ve been through a whole lot in my music career and I think the one thing I would say is there is going to be a ton of no’s, and never take it personally because usually it never has to do with you. And so my thing is when you get a no is there’s eventually going to be a yes, so you’ve got to keep going, keep going and working hard at it.

“One of the lines that I truly believe in is hard work beats talent and talent is hard work, so if you love what you do and you work hard at it you’re bound to succeed. And also, the biggest thing I think I have to get over, too, is saying the words ‘I can’t’. My mom is like you need to get that out of your dictionary and literally, like I force myself not to say those words ever and I open myself up to opportunities, too.

“When there are opportunities, the one thing that Dolly, one of the things she said, is whenever an opportunity opens, she took it, she never said no. Of course if an opportunity comes your way and it’s something you’d never want to do and it doesn’t suit you as an artist or anything, of course you can say no, but those opportunities to perform, even if it’s just small places or bigger places, always just keep your mind open and be free to try those things,” she said.

She said she really enjoys writing songs.

“There’s so many writers in Nashville, I feel like one out of every two people is a writer. I was definitely opened up to that world. I love it because I’m able to tell my stories and inspire girls my age or people my age, or even not my age, just inspire people in general, so it’s definitely a beautiful thing that I’m able to do. And I work with and write with a lot of amazing writers,” she said.

When asked what’s ahead for her, she said more touring and perhaps signing with a record label.

“I hope to be performing a lot more … I have a lot of fans asking for new music so I’m working pretty hard at it right now back in Nashville to do that. Maybe award shows and things like that. Hoping to get a CMA … big goals, big dreams, maybe a Grammy one day, I’m hoping,” she said. “If I can keep doing what I love I’m going to be pretty happy with my life.”

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