UNCG Campus Weekly

Campus Weekly is published each Wednesday when classes are in session. In the summer, it is published biweekly.

Dreamed a Dream

070710Headline_KolbyKolby Garrison plays guitar. She plays piano. And she sings. “Been singing since I was 2 – since I could talk.”

Her first memory of singing in public was in church. She was 6 years old and sang “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” Blind since birth, what struck her was the affirming sound of applause.

The biggest audience she has sung for? A weeknight “Summer Shootout” race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2008, where she sang the National Anthem in front of a couple of thousands. That time, a roar of applause.

But the rising junior had never sung in a large-scale competition, until this year. A former voice teacher called her this spring, told her about Triad Idol, and said, “You’re entering! Pick a song.”

She and 300 others arrived at auditions. They each had 30 seconds to impress the judges. She sang Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey” to advance to round two. In that round, she sang their “Need You Now” to advance into the semifinals. Thirty-nine singers in her division (19 years and older) were left; after the next round she was one of 15 who remained.

The finals were in the Carolina Theatre. It was a fundraiser for the Community Theatre of Greensboro. Winners would be the result of judges’ scoring (80 percent) and audience’s voting (20 percent).

The second contestant to compete that June evening, she handed her mother the leash for her guide dog, Sunny. She’d wanted to sing with Sunny at her side, but there was a concern Sunny might be a distraction. Sunny has been her guide dog for two years – “she’s my eyes, she’s my independence.”

Garrison walked to center stage. Mixed in with the applause, she picked out her sister from way in the back corner, hearing her shout “Go, Kolby!” And she sang “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables.

When she and all the contestants heard the result at the end of the evening, she stood with Sunny by her side.

“The 2010 Triad Idol in the 19 and older category is …..”

And she heard her name.

She accepted the large-size check. Sunny nibbled at the bouquet of flowers. And the crowd cheered and cheered.

It caps off quite a year. She had a great experience being a resident assistant at North Spencer – she notes she was the first RA that UNCG has had who is blind. It was very intense – you may get a knock on your door at any hour – but “you really learn,” she says. She had a great internship with Murphy in the Morning on WKZL 107.5 FM. “It was a blast – so much fun.” Her work ranged from producing material for the show to keeping a log of topics and timing, from answering phones to maintaining the prize info. “My disability was not a factor. It did not come into play,” she said. “Sometimes people pre-judge or make assumptions,” she added. That’s a mistake. “Ask questions. Let the disabled person show what they are capable of.”

The week after the competition, she came to campus to start planning her daily routes from her residence hall to each class and back to her residence hall. Returning to regular student life – no longer an RA – she’ll have a different residence hall, hence all new routes. She says she is the captain, and Sunny is her pilot. There are certain guidelines of etiquette that people should follow when in the presence of guide dogs in harness – such as don’t distract the dog by petting her. “She’s on the job,” Garrison says,” to keep me as safe as possible.” When she first came to campus, Garrison used a cane. The cane helped her detect every obstacle. With Sunny, she avoids obstacles.

She has become an expert on the layout of the campus. “I know the campus by necessity,” the communication studies major says. When someone asks her friends where a building is, they turn to her. “I’m the expert.”

See her award-winning performance at the 2010 Triad Idol.

Visual: Kolby Garrison is named Triad Idol 2010, and receives check while guide dog Sunny checks out the flower bouquet.

Photo courtesy Mike Micciche, Micciche Photography.