“I think I know who you are.”
It was unfathomable…he was talking to me.
“I figured it out right before the call, so you’re stuck,” the voice on the other end of the phone chuckled warmly.
Twitter was my downfall. Or maybe it was Facebook that had given me away. Or perhaps it came down to those Christmas cards I sent. However it happened, my favourite singer knew who I was.
On the cusp of evening, I sat at my dining room table, clutching the telephone with a shaking hand. I was speaking to American Idol season eight finalist, Scott MacIntyre.
A long-time fan of the show, Scott redefined my obsession. Almost immediately, he became an integral part of my life. Idol concert dates, Tweets, and excessive Last.fm play counts have defined the last three years of my life.
This week marks the release of Scott’s inspirational biography, By Faith, Not By Sight. The book follows Scott’s life story, tackling a number of subjects, such as growing up with a visual impairment, his early foray in music, his impressive educational accomplishments, going through kidney failure and a successful kidney transplant, as well as his life during, and post-American Idol.
Earlier this week, I had the honour of speaking with Scott about the release of By Faith, Not By Sight, his music, and living his dreams.
Shannon Boyce: You have a lot going on at the moment. You’re taking part in the Women of Faith One Day tour, and your biography By Faith, Not By Sight is out this week. Do you ever have time to sit back, relax and do nothing?
Scott MacIntyre: You know, not in the last six months; the last six months have been really crazy. It’s funny because it coincided exactly with the time that I’ve been married! I’ve literally been working on the book from morning until night, for months and months. It’s kind of crazy, but it makes it all worth it, because I get to wake up every morning and I do what I love. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
SB: When you began this process, did you think of writing your life story as an exhilarating or daunting task?
SM: When I started, I thought it would be really exhilarating, and by the time I was done I was like, “Oh my, what did I get myself into?” I really honestly wanted to do a book for quite a few years. I can remember thinking about it when I was twenty-one, but I just didn’t have the audience back then. It’s been an idea kind of growing and lingering in my mind for many years. After Idol, I realized that it was actually a possibility, so I started talking about it and started talking to publishers. It was a long journey to actually get the book deal, but I am so thankful I ended up with Thomas Nelson. They really got the story right away and they were honestly just as excited as I was, so that was great.
SB: What made you decide to call the book By Faith, Not By Sight?
SM: We probably bounced around a hundred different ideas. I think choosing a title for the book was one of the hardest parts of the whole process, because I wanted to give the essence of that story to the reader just in that title alone. I think By Faith, Not By Sight is the theme of my life. Since I was really young, I had to step out in faith and trust that certain things were possible, even when I couldn’t see how. In the book I talk about learning to run on the beach on my own, learning to ride a bike, jumping off a bridge into a swimming hole at a resort we used to go to…those were all leaps of faith. I think each experience in my life has led me to be more confident each time I try something new.
When I started getting interested in music, I had no idea how I was going to learn to play piano if I couldn’t see the sheet music. When I went on American Idol, I didn’t know how I would ever connect with you, or people like you, if I couldn’t even see the television cameras. I didn’t know how that was going to work, but it didn’t stop me. When I’ve been in some of the tougher moments in my life, where I’ve dealt with heath challenges or my disability has gotten in the way of things I want to do, sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to accomplish my dreams - ordinary and extraordinary things alike. Sometimes it’s hard to see how they will actually become real to me, but in those moments that’s when I learn to trust that they are possible. That belief guided me all the way there.
SB: That kind of view of the world is one of the many things that make you such an inspiration.
SM: I think attitude is so key in people’s happiness. You are dealt the life you are dealt. A lot of times you can do something to change your circumstances, and change the world around you, but sometimes there are just things that are completely out of your control. That’s when you have to decide: are you going to be miserable about it or do you want to look for the blessings within those things? A lot of people ask me, if I could have my sight back would I want to? The honest answer is no. How I see the world and how I’ve grown up seeing the world, has been a really powerful motivator for other people around me.
SB: Can you describe how it felt to hold your book for the first time?
SM: I’ve probably read the book over twenty times. After sitting at a computer and typing it, to being on calls discussing it, and going through all of the editing steps and stages, and selecting pictures for the book…to actually hold it in my hand was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. There have been a lot, but it’s really cool when you finally get to hold it and feel the book. All your months of hard work actually put onto paper…it’s just an incredible feeling of accomplishment.
SB: I was going to ask you about the re-release of your album, Heartstrings…
SM: Heartstrings is being re-released in Wal Mart with two new tracks. I Am Hope is one of them; the other is Bottom of the Well. I think my favourite song on the tour is Bottom of the Well. It’s just so catchy, and when you hear the studio version, I think you’ll really enjoy it. I also get to do I Am Hope. People really enjoy that song because it’s so moving and it ties directly into the book and what I’m trying to do, spreading the word about organ donation.
SB: You’ve recently partnered up with Donate Life America. Can you talk a little bit about that?
SM: Donate Life America does work all over North America. I think to date there are a hundred million people they’ve registered as organ donors, and they’re going for twenty million in 2012. It’s really exciting for me, because organ donation has affected me so personally. I wanted to help spread the word to others about how it can change lives. It’s a way that you can literally give the gift of life to someone when you pass on, and they can enjoy life even after you’re gone. By registering now, even though it doesn’t affect you, you provide so much hope to people like me who were actually in danger of losing their lives.
A big part of my book talks about one of the struggles I went through in my life that I’ve never talked about much in the media, and never on Idol. Blindness was only the beginning for me. At nineteen years old, it was a really interesting time in my life. I remember graduation day from Arizona State University - I was literally on top of the world. I was graduating at nineteen years old, I was a Marshall scholar, a Fullbride scholar, and all of these awards had been given to me. More importantly, I felt like I had really overcome my disability and I was living a full life in spite of it. I gave the commencement speech to the graduating class and talked about going out into the world and encouraging my fellow graduates to reach for their dreams. Everyone stood up at the end of the speech, to my surprise. It was an amazing moment. I finished that speech and walked out into the parking lot. My dad had had to take a cell phone call, and I was just getting out to the car when he got off the call. At that very moment that was when we all found out, amidst that day of celebration that at 19 years old, I had end-stage kidney failure.
SB: What was your reaction to the news?
SM: My first reaction was that it felt like a speeding car had slammed into me and forced me to the ground. It was really a lot to take in. I was confused and I was scared. It was like suddenly the future I had just encouraged my fellow graduates to embrace, was very dark for me now and very uncertain. I ended up going to England to study for one Masters degree and they just agreed to watch it, but when I got back it had gotten a lot worse. I remember it got so bad eventually, I couldn’t even play the piano in my own living room. I honestly felt like my dreams were dying. I knew I was supposed to do something with music. I knew that these talents for music, songwriting and singing, they weren’t just for me; they were supposed to be for me to share, because if no one’s enjoying it, there’s no point to it. Eventually I started emergency dialysis and was tied to a dialysis machine three times a week, for hours and hours on end. I just didn’t see any way I would be able to tour again, or even perform, let alone do anything like American Idol. Amidst all that despair, the wife of my former piano instructor from Arizona State University donated her kidney to me and saved my life.
SB: It’s incredible what one person can do.
SM: Yeah, isn’t that amazing? What you do, whether it’s registering to be an organ donor or actually giving a kidney to someone while you’re still living, like she did, it really can go far beyond that one person. In my case it went to millions of people. It was less than a year later that I auditioned for American Idol. I was just grateful to be on any stage, let alone the American Idol stage.
SB: Your most recent blog post talks about the writing process - about writing on a TV tray and editing the book until 4am. Can you talk about the writing process a little bit and maybe what was hardest to write about?
SM: There was one moment amidst all this where I actually almost did lose my life. It was when I first started dialysis. I actually coded on the dialysis machine and there was an emergency panic situation. My parents were both there, and they will never forget that moment that they almost lost their son. I think everything having to do with the kidney failure was difficult to write about, because it’s so fresh in my mind. Sometimes having been on American Idol, it kind of puts a barrier between that life that I knew and the life that I know now. Writing the book really brought back a lot of those memories and just reminded me of what I’ve been saved from.
And as for the TV tray! I actually didn’t get a picture of it, which I’m kicking myself for now. I thought about recreating it but I couldn’t live with myself knowing that it’s not the real picture. I literally wrote most of the book on a little tiny TV tray with foldable legs in the corner of the living room. I think at the end of the day I am almost 100% happy with the book, which is saying a lot. Usually with a lot of projects, you’re kind of happy with the outcome or you think you could’ve done this better or that better…I think By Faith, Not By Sight, is my best work to date and I’m very, very proud of it.
SB: Do you plan on writing another book someday?
SM: I do, absolutely. I’ve actually been thinking about that the entire time I was writing this book. When I do a CD, I’m usually planning three or four CDs ahead of where I am. Not necessarily because I have the all right songs yet, but I’m always thinking of the big picture, and it was the same with the book.
SB: You’ve been a part of the Women of Faith One Day tour. What has that been like?
SM: This is the first time they’ve done the Women of Faith One Day event and it’s really incredible. You have music from me, comedy from Ken Davis, and then Sheila Walsh is an amazing storyteller. We’ve just kind of put together this tour, but Women of Faith does all sorts of events, so I’m sure there will be more with me and them in the future.
SB: Speaking of the tour, have there been any memorable moments?
SM: Ken Davis tries to high five me on stage every time we do the question and answer period and I never see him, I don’t know why! (Laughs) It never dies, the high five will never die.
SB: So, you’re going to be a mentor for Audition Star at the Atlantis Resort this summer. Are you excited about that?
SM: Yes, that’s going to be really cool. I get to do it with my friend Fred Bronson, who’s a very good friend of Idol, Kimberly Locke, and a couple of the people from the show. We’ll have several people from the show, and we’re going to talk all about what goes on behind the scenes, how people are styled, and how they’re coached vocally. We are also going to simulate the competition and give people the chance to win a real audition for American Idol. I’m looking forward to it. And we’ll be hanging out on the beach in the Bahamas, so!
SB: Is there any place you’ve never been that you’d like to go?
SM: I would like to go to the Philippines. I hear there’s a lot of American Idol fans down there.
SB: Will anything new be happening with The Glutes?
SM: The Glutes are in motion! That sounds wrong. (Laughs) Todd, my brother, and I just talked about that the other day. I still love the Glutes; I love the music, and think there’s something I would still like to do there in addition to everything else that’s going on. We just have to find the right time when we’re both in the same place. You’ll see something in the future.
SB: Do you have a favourite song from Heartstrings?
SM: My favourite would be, if you count the new two bonus tracks, Bottom of the Well. Besides that, I think one of my favourite songs still is I’ll Take Tom. I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t write a Facebook song because it might be slightly more marketable.
SB: I was going to ask you about that. You’ve written a Myspace song and the 12 Days of Twitter song, last Christmas. You seem very aware of the importance of social media. Do you think it’s important to use that to interact with people on a more base level?
SM: I do. I love staying in touch with the fans because it’s a way to stay connected after the Idol experience and the tour experience.
SB: Lastly, is there anything else that you still want to do that you haven’t? Any venture that you haven’t quite gotten to yet?
SM: Someone the other day asked me, what would my dream be if I could do anything I wanted to do. For the first time in my life, I took a second and thought about it. I am doing exactly what I’ve always wanted to be doing. I’ll do it in different ways over the years - I’ll release new music and new books; I’ll always be giving new speeches and writing blogs and all of that, but I think it all comes down to communication for me. Whether it’s a CD or a book, a speech or a concert, it all comes down to whether it means something to people around me. I feel like music without meaning is somewhat empty. If I can put a piece of myself in every song, in every page of a book, then I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. As far as future projects, I would love to do either a television movie, feature film, documentary…something along the lines of what the book covers.
Our conversation comes to its end, and my voice chokes with emotion as we say our goodbyes. There is no moment as sacred to me as this. Not just because my dream of interviewing Scott MacIntyre is now a reality, but because I went after it.
I took a leap of faith.
I took a leap of faith.
To purchase a copy of By Faith, Not By Sight, go to MacIntyreBook.com and also find out how you can get a phone call or private concert! You can also find his book through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and in Wal-Mart stores!
Scott's Facebook Page
Scott's Twitter Page
Scott's Official Website