A video of a 13-year-old Toronto girl singing All of Me has gone viral. This is because she's singing with real heart and because she's able to sing, period.
Madison Tevlin has Down syndrome. People with DS can have speech and language challenges; memorizing does not come easy. They also, as Madison's vocal coach Marla Joy noted, may have "low, monotone, gruffy voices." One study published in Down Syndrome Research and Practice noted that few people with Down syndrome can sing at all.
But Madison kills it. Here, watch:
The majority of comments on YouTube were complimentary, encouraging and supportive. Parents of kids with special needs found Madison inspiring. "My daughter also has Down syndrome, she just turned 1 last week," wrote one Stephen Ferguson. "When I see beautiful, talented young women like Madison, it gives me so much hope for the future!"
Inevitably, the ignorati critiqued Madison's singing. "I'm not going to cater to her because she has a disability," noted one commenter. "I understand it was hard for her to do, but that doesn't make it good." Mused another, "Why are we treating her differently just because she's got down syndrome?"
News flash: This isn't American Idol. It didn't seem like Madison or her family set out to snag a Grammy. And besides, it's entirely small-minded to judge a girl with Down syndrome by mainstream standards. Kids and teens with special needs do things in their own unique way. Madison put real feeling into the song and made it hers. She gave it personality. Her voice sounded sweet and pure. She sang in rhythm, clearly proud of herself. What kind of pitiful person would take this teen down? Forget whether or not she's totally in tune. Love her perfect imperfections or leave her alone.
Then there's the fact that Madison's singing is remarkable considering her challenges, as the captions on the video make clear. Praising her doesn't mean giving her a special pass—it's recognizing achievement. Last summer, Max sang Let It Go in a session with his music therapist. He belted it out with enthusiasm, articulating words as best he could. It would be laughable for anyone to compare Max's version to the original. And yet, it was an amazing performance in its own right, as I'm sure Idina would agree. (I don't know about Madison, but Max is available for performances if you can pay in chocolate ice-cream.)
So, yes, Madison gets props because she is a person with Down syndrome singing like this—and also because she clearly has abilities. If people can't find the beauty in her singing or get what makes it so great, well, then, their mindset is off-key.
Image of Madison Tevlin: Screen grab, YouTube video