By PEG DeGRASSA
When 22 year old Audra McLaughlin of Glenolden was growing up, she was always singing and memorizing songs. She’d sing at family parties, during car rides, at school and everywhere she went. People would tell her mother, Joan, what a great voice her daughter had and that she needed to do something with it. Who knew that advice would foreshadow what would happen to Audra and the whole McLaughlin family in years to come.
Local resident Audra McLaughlin has lasted through round after round on NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ under the guidance of singing coach and country music star Blake Shelton. Local residents are watching with the rest of the nation as Audra, right before their eyes, is blossoming from a great singer with extraordinary talent into a superstar brimming with confidence and blockbuster stage presence.
Viewing parties have been going on all over Delaware County on the nights when ‘The Voice’ airs. Facebook and Twitter feeds light up, congratulating and praising the success of this genuine hometown success story.
Born and raised in Delaware County, Audra graduated from Glenolden School and then Interboro High School in 2010. From childhood on, Audra sang at St. George’s Church in Glenolden, was in the school choir throughout her elementary and high school years and has sung the ‘National Anthem’ every summer for as long as she can remember at a Delaware race track.
Audra continued to hone her singing skills as a teenager by entering the Yachtstock Rising Stars singing competition in the Interboro School District. Her mom Joan said the competition was run by “great folks” like Steve Kurtz, George Spicer and Bill Polen, who increased the singer’s confidence level and stage presence with the unique local performance opportunity.
As the years went on, Audra was in two area bands, sang at local theaters and at nearby restaurants like Barnaby’s in Holmes on Wednesday nights and Cantino’s in Ardmore on Friday nights. She sang to earn extra money for voice lessons, which she was taking at the Let There Be Rock School in Folsom.
Although Audra has had voice lessons since she was 8 years old, it was her voice coach at the Let There Be Rock School whom mom Joan credits for making it all happen for her daughter in the last several years..
“Melissa and John Daley from Let There be Rock School (www.delcorockschool.com) in Folsom have been very helpful with Audra’s music career and the path that led her to ‘The Voice,’” Joan explained. “Voice Coach Melissa has taken Audra to a level in her singing that she never thought she had. Audra has said to me on many occasions during her journey on ‘The Voice,’ that she wouldn’t know what she would have done without Melissa coaching her on the side and just being there for her. She has been a great teacher and a friend. Life can get tough when you are away from your home and without friends and family.”
Joan also expressed gratefulness for the wonderful team that works on ‘The Voice.’
“Everyone on ‘The Voice’ show has been really great,” Joan stated last week. “I have had the pleasure of meeting with some of these folks and I was genuinely impressed how they really care about the contestants on the show.”
Things began to happen quickly for Audra after her teachers at the School of Rock submitted a YouTube video that the singer had made in her family’s basement to the producers of ‘The Voice.’ The show got back to them within two weeks and asked if she wanted to come in for a private, industry audition in New York, and it all snowballed from there.
Audra had taken some time off from her studies at Delaware County Community College to concentrate heavily on her music, so the opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time.
When ‘The Voice’ airs each week, Joan says there are viewing parties all around Delaware County to root for their hometown contestant on Team Blake. The McLaughlin family, although they did attend two viewing parties at the Let There Be School of Rock in Folsom, is usually rooting together at home.
The show only allows two people per contestant in the viewing audience, so most family members are watching on the East Coast and not the West. Audra’s parents have watched Audra perform live every time together. Mom Joan switched it up last week and stayed home so her son Billy could accompany dad Patrick and have a chance to see his little sister shine.
“He was so excited to go and I was really happy that Billy got to experience this special time with his sister,” mom said.
In her initial round on the show, after belting out her own rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s song “Angel from Montgomery,” all four judges turned around in their chairs to see who the contestant with the amazing voice was, and the family “literally freaked out” at such excitement and good luck, according to mom Joan. Due to Audra’s love of country music, she didn’t hesitate to choose Blake Shelton as her coach and mentor.
As for Audra, since the very first day it all began, she’s having the time of her life.
“She’s worked so hard for an opportunity like this,” her mother elaborated. “She practiced countless hours in our basement, writing music, playing guitar, singing. I am so very happy for her. She always said to me, ‘Mom, this is what I want to do. I want to be a singer. I want to walk down the red carpet some day.’ And I often worried because I thought how could we even make this happen for someone coming from a small town where things like this just don’t normally happen. And then The Voice came along. We really are still pinching ourselves. She actually did get the chance to walk down the Red Carpet with stars last week. She really did get a chance to make her dreams into reality.”
When she’s back in Glenolden, trying to live a normal life during the week, thousands of miles away from her daughter in L.A, oan worries, as only a mother can, if Audra is getting the proper rest and drinking plenty of water. Audra told me she ‘loves every minute of it and that she has worked for this chance her whole life.’ But I still ask her every time we talk, ‘Are you sure you’re OK? I know it is very hard, intense work, even though Audra has always been a hard worker both in school and with her music.”’
The McLaughlin family has been overwhelmed by all the support they have received from their community. People have recognized us and came up to us in restaurants, at doctor’s offices and the bank to offer well wishes and support. Delaware County residents are making lawn signs, T-shirts and signs in their schools and windows of homes and businesses vocalizing their support for Audra.
One of the questions often asked of Joan is if she had the chance to meet Audra’s coach on the show, Blake Shelton.
“I not only met him, but I got to hug him, too,” Joan exclaims enthusiastically. “Audra can not say enough about Blake. He is as awesome on stage as he is off stage. He is really down-to-earth and a funny guy. He has been guiding her in the right direction, teaching her all aspects of the business with vocals and on-camera stuff. He’s been terrific!”
“This show has given me the opportunity to live out my dream,” Audra said in a telephone interview last week. A former victim of bullying, McLaughlin is involved in local anti-bullying campaigns and hopes that her time on “The Voice” will be an inspiration to children who are going through what she did in the past.
“Audra was one of the fortunate kids that had a great support system with both her family and teachers, especially when she was struggling with her disabilities and the bullying,” her mother said last week. “She really wants to help others so they won’t have to go through some of the obstacles that she did.”
Surrounded by a close-knit family, Audra lives with mom and dad and brother Billy. She also has a brother Jeff. Her maternal and paternal grandparents, who were all big influences in her life, also hail from Glenolden. Francis and Margaret McLaughlin have passed away and are with Audra in spirit, but Caroline and Mike Pellegrino are proudly rooting for their granddaughter with the outstanding voice.
When all is said and done, Joan says that Audra hopes the end result of being on ‘The Voice’ will be a recording contract, hopefully in Nashville, and that she looks forward to sharing her music with the public. She has loved country music for as long as she can remember.
“My husband Pat and I were blessed with great kids,” Joan reflected last week. “With the way things are today, we are very fortunate and grateful that we were able to pass to our children the great values that our parents raised us with. I am so happy that the world will finally get to hear the special gift with which God blessed Audra. I love when people come up to me and say how pretty Audra is and what a good singer she is, but the very best thing someone can say to me is that I have a really nice family. It doesn’t get any better than that.”
(The Voice airs weekly on NBC. For more information on Audra McLaughlin, visit www.audramclaughlin.com)