The first time Frisco native Maelyn Jarmon stepped on the shined obsidian floor of NBC's reality singing show The Voice, she faced the backs of four chairs, where four of the music industry's most famous faces and voices waited to hear what she could do with her vocal cords.
Jarmon has been singing since she was 13, with a deaf right ear and a left ear with only 80% hearing ability, after a medical procedure damaged her eardrums. She's faced huge sacrifices and made daring moves just to get to that spot on the stage — like moving from Frisco to New York City when she was just 17.
None of that could prepare her for the moment when she first faced the backs of those four chairs and wondered if she would get to see the faces sitting in them by the time she finished singing her rendition of Sting's "Fields of Gold."
"It's weird to see all the chairs, and it's crazy because you see that on TV and it's very different in person," says Jarmon, 26. "It's like, 'Wow, you're really standing in front of these chairs and singing for these people.' It's very surreal."
Singers Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Kelly Clarkson hit the red buttons that made their chairs spin around to see the person producing the golden somber tones. One judge took a little more convincing. Award-winning singer and songwriter John Legend, one of the few in the entertainment industry to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony — an achievement known as an EGOT — who served as a judge on The Voice for the first time, eventually spun around to greet the singer who would lead both of them to victory.
"I said to myself that if (Legend) turned around, he would be my choice," Jarmon says. "I chose him not just because he has an EGOT, but he's also a fabulous writer, and as far as like a musician, he's one of the best. I was also excited about the fact that he'd be fresh and ready to dive in and it's new for him. I was excited about the fact that he wanted to mentor me, and being the newbie, he'd be really excited to do it."
Jarmon first auditioned for the 16th season of the singing competition almost a year ago with a video submission from her Instagram page. The producers took notice and invited her to audition, a moment she almost missed since she couldn't make it to the casting call in New York. Instead, she performed her first audition for the show in Dallas. She kept getting callbacks and performing songs like Coldplay's "Yellow" and The Black Keys' "Gold on the Ceiling" until she learned she would be one of the 24 singers vying for the show's top spot.
"It was such a fast thing," Jarmon says, "but it felt like forever."
Jarmon chose Legend as her coach, and she says they hit it off from the very beginning.
"The first time we got to chat off camera was after the top 24 results and I went into the top 13 and we were picking songs together," Jarmon says. "We went to the trailer, and we were just sitting in there and singing songs from Spotify and singing together. It was a very real moment. It was just the coolest thing just to be chatting with him."
Jarmon says she considers Legend to be "a mentor."
"Everyone knows that John Legend is such an amazing artist," she says. "He's such a great person and very subdued actually. He's very even-keel, but whenever he got animated or excited, you knew you were doing something right, and he doesn't give out compliments lightly. It's very validating to be working with him and for him to have as much faith in me as he did, more than I did in myself."
The days of work were filled with long hours of rehearsing and planning for each performance and new episode. Jarmon says when she wasn't working on her performances, she was doing something else to help get the next episode off the ground.
"The schedules were crazy," she says. "Every day was filled. I never had a day off. You're not just working on songs. Sometimes they had commercials lined up for you or rehearsals and wardrobe. The farther you would get, the more rehearsals there are. It's just full."
She says she had to remind herself about the luck it took to get there, just to get through the grueling days that only got more and more hectic leading up to the finale.
"The last week was the most difficult," she says. "I had been up until midnight the night before doing commercials and the next morning, I had a satellite media tour with the radio stations. I had a doctor's appointment for laryngitis. I went from there to rehearsal with John and from that rehearsal to a different space ... I was awake and doing something from 6 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. that night on fours hours sleep."
The final showdown came down to her and Gyth Rigdon, a 25-year-old singer from Louisiana. Jarmon says she never thought about winning the contest until the very last episode.
"I went in to give my best performances, and I was perfectly proud to work with people like John Legend and learn as much as I could," she says. "Winning was never on my radar, but the closer and closer we got, I was like, 'Wow, this is getting real. There's a real chance I could win this.'"
Jarmon says she was "shocked" when she heard host Carson Daly calling her out as the winner.
"I remember it all feeling surreal again, and seeing John Legend bounce up and down was crazy because normally, he's such a quiet person," she says.
Suddenly, Jarmon was doing interviews on shows like Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight, opening up a whole new level to her career and her life.
Jarmon says she's also planning appearances and shows in her hometown of Frisco, including at the FC Dallas scarfing ceremony Saturday before the team's home game against Toronto FC and a musical performance on Sept. 21 also at FC Dallas' Toyota Stadium.
She says she also wants to do more charity work and "be a spokesperson for children with hearing disabilities."
"It's definitely changed my life, and I'm beyond grateful," Jarmon says of the show. "I definitely took away that I could trust my instincts more. I could trust myself in general more. I think John Legend really taught me that, but I also learned that I can handle a schedule like that.
"It's a taste of what life will be like and I can handle it and pull through and still have my health and my voice and learn new songs every week and challenge my brain in that way.
"It's an amazing thing to know about yourself. You don't know if you can do it until you do it."