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‘The Voice’ and School Choice: One young singer is thriving thanks to education options

• Kate Wallace

When Shalyah Fearing, now 16, drove up to Atlanta from central Florida to try out for the season 9 of hit TV show The Voice in February of 2015, she had no idea how she would fare next to the 10,000 hopefuls who stood in line with her.

After waiting through a three-day process, she made it to a second audition and was optimistic, but eventually was sent home and told she might get called back.

“I took that to mean the process was over,” Shalyah said. “I was disappointed but happy I made it as far as I did.”

Life went on, and Shalyah had moved on from the idea of appearing on the show. But six months later, a phone call came. It was a producer asking if she would come to Miami and try out again for season 10. After another round of grueling auditions, Shalyah was asked to come to the set of The Voice to audition live for the show’s famous cast of judges.

Shalyah’s mother, Crystal Thomas-Fearing, was required to accompany her daughter for all show-related activities because she is a minor. This would be no easy arrangement to make, as Crystal had been homeschooling her children for the last 10 years.

Crystal and Shalyah Fearing

Crystal Thomas-Fearing with her daughter Shalyah

Crystal, a Massachusetts native, moved with her husband and then-two children to Florida to be close to family back in 2005. The family initially enrolled in their local public school, but Crystal’s oldest son struggled there. Crystal and her husband looked at their options and decided that homeschooling was the best choice for their family at that time.

Ten years later, the Fearing family is larger. Shalyah and her older brother are enrolled in Florida Virtual School part-time and are able to manage their own academics, but the Fearings felt their younger children needed to transition from homeschooling and find a different educational option.

The Fearings once again reviewed their choices. They were worried their children, accustomed to individualized attention and moving at their own pace, would get lost in a public school’s larger classes and limited access to one-one-one instruction. The Fearings knew of a local private school which offered smaller classes and more customized learning in the area, but the cost of tuition for Shalyah’s younger siblings would have been impossible to cover.

That’s when they heard about Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Program. They applied and were immediately approved. This option empowered the Fearings to select a localShalyah Fearing quote private school where their kids could receive the individualized attention they need.

Now Crystal and her husband can rest assured that their children will be ok while Shalyah pursues her dreams. “Our whole family is chipping in to help me,” Shalyah said. “I couldn’t do this without them. They are my biggest support system.”

As for Shalyah’s studies, being a part-time Florida Virtual School student has empowered her to stay on top of her academics while she competes on the show. “All she needs is a laptop and an internet connection, and she can learn,” Crystal explained.

Shalyah says the flexibility virtual school provides allows her to move at her own pace and study topics that interest her without having to choose between pursuing music or completing her education.

“The schools up north were great,” said Crystal. “But we wouldn’t have had the opportunities up there that we do here [in Florida].”

What a difference 20 years can make. One of Shalyah’s top Voice competitors, Tamar Davis, who grew up singing alongside Destiny’s Child members Beyonce Knowles and Kelly Rowland, gave up pursuing her music career in order to finish school. There was no way to do both in the 90’s.

It’s easy to imagine how Davis’ life might have been different had she not been forced to choose between school and music. Shalyah is grateful to be a student in today’s era of choice and flexible approach to education.

“I feel so fortunate and blessed,” said Shalyah, who was originally chosen to be coached by Christina Aguilera, then had one setback after losing a head-to-head battle with Davis, but continues to compete as a member of Pharrell Williams’ team.

What’s next for the young singer, regardless of what happens with The Voice?

“I want to study classical voice at Julliard in New York City,” she said. “If you sing classical music, you can sing anything.”

Looks like the sky is the limit for Shalyah. We will be watching!

About the author

Kate Wallace @kstreetfla

Kate serves as the Director of Community Engagement (North Florida) for the Foundation for Florida's Future (AFloridaPromise). Prior to joining AFloridaPromise, Kate served as Legislative Coordinator for The Fiorentino Group, a Florida government affairs firm based in Jacksonville. Previously, Kate served as government affairs assistant for the Washington office of Triadvocates, an Arizona government relations firm, and as staff assistant for the Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., federal government relations office. As a college student, Kate interned for the White House in Vice President Dick Cheney’s Office of Domestic Policy and for former Florida Congressman Adam Putnam’s Capitol Hill office. A central Florida native, Kate graduated from University of Florida in 2007 with a B.S. in Public Relations. Contact Kate at