Blind singer Rachael Leahcar on hitting the high notes in more ways than one
In the very first season of The Voice Australia in 2012, singer-songwriter Rachael Leahcar wowed judges and created an instant fanbase around the country. She came third overall, and since then she has released three Top 10 ARIA charting albums.
On the show’s second episode, Rachael’s breathtaking rendition of Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose moved all four coaches to turn their chairs for the chance to adopt her as one of their finalists.
The judges didn’t know that Rachael was legally blind, and that they were listening to the voice of a talented singer who has a special connection with sound.
Rachael – who chose Delta Goodrem as her coach – now says, “I’ve always loved music – it’s a place that I felt like a normal person.
“Because I was so in tune with my ears, I picked up on sound a lot. Music was something I could feel empowered with.”
Blind auditions and special connections
Rachael’s aunty had initially suggested she audition for The Voice: “I heard blind auditions and I thought I was going to be great.
“I really liked the idea of the coaches not judging me for anything but my voice. I didn’t want to be taken advantage of because of my disability, which, of course was part of the story, but I’m glad I could raise some awareness.”
Rachael says she had a special connection with Delta because hers was the first album she ever bought.
“And my brother remembers me singing along to Delta while he was trying to play video games.”
Rachael, 27, was born with Retinitis pigmentosa which is a degenerative, genetic eye condition.
“I have tunnel vision, short-sightedness, night blindness … and it deteriorates over time. But, it hasn’t really stopped me from doing anything I’ve ever wanted to do. Sometimes, much to my parents’ dismay!”
When she was younger, Rachael didn’t have a solid concept of what others could see.
“So, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. You deal with whatever you’re given. I’m alive and happy and healthy and have so many things to be grateful for.”
During her primary school years, other children would ask Rachael questions about her eyesight which helped to normalise her situation and gave her a chance to educate her friends.
“Kids ask all the questions, so I would answer. And I’m glad that I could give them that opportunity to learn about someone different from them.”
In high school, Rachael had a “great” circle of friends.
“There were times where people would be stupid but I just recognised it for what it was. I learned to laugh at myself so others couldn’t laugh at me. If a bully is laughing at you and you’re also laughing, it’s not a lot of fun for them.”
Managing her disability with guide dog, Ella
Rachael performed “everywhere possible” while she was young, and aged 12 she was accepted in the South Australian Public Primary Schools Choir, the music program at Brighton Secondary School.
“My dad usually travelled with me and he’d take me up on stage if there were steps. A lot of the times I’d need a bright white ‘X’ just underneath my feet so I didn’t move too far away from it and fall off the stage.”
Recently Rachael released a new single, ‘Can Do’ in support of Can Do for Kids, a charity for children who are blind, deaf and sensory-impaired.
“They supported me a lot, and I’ve never really sung about my disability. This one was kind of a little bit of insight into it and how I imagine the world.”
Although it’s a tough, COVID-19-affected market at the moment, Rachael is this year aiming to perform as many live shows as possible – while also continuing her studies in a Bachelor of Disability and Developmental Education.
As she continues to hit the high notes and reach new heights of fame and success, Rachael’s keen to acknowledge one of her closest allies who has literally helped keep her on track – her guide dog, Ella, who has been with her since Ella was two.
When she started studying, Rachael says she had one over-arching concern.
“The thing that scared me most wasn’t the exams or the assignments. It was finding a seat in a big auditorium … because I’m regularly late. So I was scared that I would get in five minutes after the lecturer had started and need to whack everyone’s legs to find a seat with my cane.
“But with Ella, she would just walk in quietly, put her nose on a chair, and I’d sit down like everyone else.”
Ella – who is now nearly 10 – is “just incredible”, she says.
Rachael’s can-do attitude has helped shaped her view on life which she says is to take every opportunity as it comes – and this includes celebrating the “little wins” or “whatever works for you”.