Chelsea Mayo of Farmers Branch has never been to New York City before. And that’s not her only first this weekend: she’s never been on a plane either.
The 18-year-old R. L. Turner High School grad heads to Broadway this weekend as one of three finalists for the Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge hosted by the National Endowment for the Arts. There, she’ll workshop her original song, “Say Goodbye,” with professional musicians.
Mayo wrote the music and lyrics for “Say Goodbye,” but it isn’t the first song she’s written. She grew up playing violin and taught herself guitar and piano. She’s written songs for church and for herself, but she has found it hard to express her passion.
“When everybody around you is trying to be a doctor and go into the medical profession and be scientists,” she says, “it’s not really fun to tell them you want to be a musician. And my mom wanted me to have a lot of money when I grew up, and that’s understandable. But I would rather do something that makes me happy.”
For Mayo, that something is music. When she first heard about the competition, she locked herself in her room and wrote song after song, searching for the perfect melody. And she didn’t tell her mom what she was doing.
“Well she’d been wondering why I was in my room all the time. I was like constantly in my own little world for a couple of weeks. She was like, you need to go out more. You need to stop practicing all the time.”
But she didn’t stop. She understood where her friends and family were coming from — they just wanted the best possible life for her — but she was determined. So she channeled her feelings into a song. She says the song came from a “place of not feeling supported in my dreams. I kind of just used those feelings and wrote them down.”
She borrowed a microphone and recorded the final version in her room. If you listen very closely to the original track, you can even hear her brother entering the room. The judges were impressed — and so was her mom, when she broke the news.
“I told her, ‘Okay, mom, I entered a songwriting competition, and I won and I’m going to New York.’ And she just started crying.”
Win or lose in New York, this contest is just the beginning of her musical career: starting in the fall, she’ll study music business at Dallas Baptist university. But if she does win this weekend, she’ll get a $5000 scholarship, and her song will be published. If not, she wins $2500. And she still proved to her parents — and to herself — that she just might have a shot under the bright lights.