She's got talent, all right.
Mandy Harvey, who opened the Carpenter Cabaret series the other night, won the Golden Buzzer on "America's Got Talent" — I don't know what that means, I've never seen the show, but it sounds like a good thing — and one can see why.
She’s a unique artist, with an extraordinary voice. She can do breathy, she can do lyric soprano, she does a very good sultry, and she can belt with the best. Sometimes she sounds like Judy Collins, most of the time she sounds like herself. And she projects lyrics with intelligence, expressivity, and boundless enthusiasm.
Her program is an appealing mix of striking original material, ’60s pop (Spiral Starecase, the Carpenters, the Turtles), and golden oldies like “Call Me Irresponsible” and “Witchcraft.”
Her band, also, is really terrific. One could wish they had more solo opportunities, but each of them got at least one, and what they did have was in every case memorable. Alfred Sheppard’s piano solos were beautiful, and tastefully crafted. Will Thomas is one of those guitarists who can make his instrument talk, and the contributions of Dan Navarro on bass and drummer Dave Hamar were perfectly judged, each note counting for something. And as an ensemble, in support of Harvey’s exquisite vocals, they were ideal.
And then you notice. Harvey signs as she sings, a combination of American Sign Language and balletic choreography. She will also mime instrumental interludes, and another sign language interpreter is on hand for spoken introductions or when her hands are busy playing tenor ukulele. Half of the audience, instead of clapping, wave their hands in the air to applaud. What’s going on?
Well, she’s deaf. She lost her hearing in college, and somehow, through rigorous training and an indomitable spirit, managed to teach herself to sing perfectly on key. Her story, and her journey, are an inspiration. She has gone several steps further, hooking up with an organization called No Barriers and working with the differently abled all over the world.
She makes a practice of overcoming fears, whether taking students mountain climbing in Nepal or jumping out of an airplane in a bear costume (don’t ask). She used to be shy about playing the piano in public, so she taught herself, and the other night sat down and accompanied herself, very nicely, in a little ABBA. People don’t clap because she can’t hear it.
This is her third visit to the Carpenter stage, and she has developed a large and devoted following here; the evening was as much a love fest as a concert. And I know curmudgeonly critics aren’t supposed to fall in love with a performer, but you know how it is.
Mandy Harvey wins the Golden Buzzer, as a singer and as a human being.