When Maelyn Jarmon was 2 years old, tubes were inserted into her ears to treat ear infections, but the tubes ultimately damaged her eardrums, leaving her totally deaf in her right ear and with only 80 percent hearing in the other. “I was so young when it happened, and [my parents] were extremely upset,” Jarmon tells Yahoo Entertainment. “My mom, I remember her calling the doctor up and being extremely upset. And then I had reconstructive surgeries, and they were more invasive they were supposed to be. It was a hard time.
“Eventually, we all got used to it. And at that point we were like, ‘Well, we’ve done all these different surgeries, and we've tried to fix this, and nothing has taken — so maybe I am just meant to be deaf in one ear.’”
But when it came to singing, the now 26-year-old alt-pop stylist not only didn’t let her deafness stop her, but she thought of it as more of an advantage, or “superpower,” than a disability. And clearly she was right, because the superpowered singer, who was the frontrunner throughout The Voice Season 16, made it all the way to the show’s winner’s circle this week.
“Maybe because I've lived with [hearing loss] my whole life that that's part of it,” says Jarmon, explaining how she hears and processes music differently from other vocalists. “But I do think that there's something to it, in the sense that you see a lot of artists plug their ear to hear themselves better, and it's kind of like I'm doing that all the time! … And sometimes when I haven't been able to hear myself, which has happened during my career, I go based on feeling, rather than what I'm hearing. That was something that I could tap into, so I do really feel like it can be a superpower. I go off of vibrations a lot of the time and I really pay attention to those. I can tell a key based on the way it vibrates, so I think that helps me with pitch as well.”
Jarmon credits her parents, who have been so supportive of her career that when she was 17 they actually moved with her from Frisco, Texas, to New York City so that she could pursue her musical dream, with giving her confidence. “They never treated [my deafness] like a disability; it was just something that I had,” she shrugs. In fact, Jarmon’s deafness was such a non-issue that it was rarely even discussed.
“I’ve never talked about it as much as I have for the past two months!” she laughs. “It's just funny, because not even some of my friends don't even really know about it. It’s not something that I share all the time, unless I'm having a hard time hearing somebody. And the only time it really affects me is speaking, honestly. Everyday life is when it affects me, but with music, it really doesn't. … It is just something that I have, and I don't think that defines me in any way. It maybe makes me a little different, which is not a bad thing! But I think it just adds, to rather than completely takes over, my story.”
That being said, now that this part of her story has been shared with the world via The Voice, Jarmon is excited by how many viewers have been affected. “I have had so many people reach out to me and it's been inspiring for me, because I just didn't even know that it would touch people so much,” she gushes. “And the ones that really have touched me on that are the parents that have kids with hearing disabilities. Because you can tell your kid all day that it's ‘going to be OK,’ but you don't really know that as parents. So to see someone who has the same impairment doing what I'm doing, and then be able to tell their kids, ‘Look, see? It’s going to be OK, and you're going to figure it out” – that has been amazing and overwhelming. I'm so happy.”
Jarmon also reveals she’s been speaking with charities and organizations, saying, “I absolutely would love to start reaching out to deaf communities and working with those kinds of charities, as well as other charities; I'm really doing more research and making sure that I'm educating myself, because now I do have a responsibility with this platform.”
While Jarmon says no one ever discouraged her from pursuing a music career because of her disability, there were people that discouraged her “just because they do it was a hard road and, and that very few make it. There are a lot of people with big dreams and I was one of those kids, and I had a few people say, ‘You know, there are very few exceptions.’ So, I did have some of that growing up and when I first moved to New York.” And she admits that there were times when she wondered if she should just give up. “I always knew that music was always going to be part of my life, but that there was a time when I thought, ‘This is a lot of work, and I don't know how to break through.’ I was in a really low place and thinking I might go back to Texas for a while, maybe become a music teacher. Maybe I would enjoy that. You know, if I can't do this, maybe I can give my knowledge to other people.”
However, after she was scouted on Instagram by a Voice casting agent who took notice of her post an original untitled song, Jarmon decided to give the show a try, despite her skepticism.
“I never thought that my voice would be wanted in a competition like this, and I'm not sure why,” she says. “I'm not like a big belter, and I thought that was mainly what people liked on these kinds of shows. But I thought, ‘Why not? Why not give it a go? I'll only regret not trying and, and always wondering’ — which is the worst. So I took a chance. It was very casual; I didn't tell very many people about it, just my boyfriend and parents. But I remember my first audition just going so well, and feeling so comfortable, that I walked out of my initial audition, the very first one, and I was like, ‘You know what? That was such a great moment that no matter what happens, I'll be happy.’ And I kept going.” And once she got on the show, she actually turned four chairs, eventually joining John Legend’s team.
As for what happens next in Jarmon’s career, she knows she still has a tough road ahead, but she’s going to keep going. While the last three champs have made professional inroads — Brynn Cartelli and Chevel Shepherd are working with their coach, Kelly Clarkson, and Season 13’s Chloe Kohanski is dropping her first single, “To Be Young,” on Republic Records this Friday – many Voice winners have struggled after the show, often due to a lack of support. Says Jarmon matter-of-factly, “I think the truth is, a lot of people thought that [The Voice] would ‘make’ them, so they went into it with the mindset of not having to put a whole bunch of work in afterwards. And you know, it doesn't set you up like that. You have to put the work in. You have to be willing to do it. And I am. I am ready to hit the ground running. The last few winners have started to break that [curse] anyway, so hopefully I can continue on with that.”
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Want daily pop culture news delivered to your inbox? Sign up here for Yahoo Entertainment & Lifestyle’s newsletter.