Chapel Hill native battles, odds, anxiety into ‘America’s Got Talent’ quarterfinals

08/10/2014 11:45 AM

08/10/2014 11:46 AM

A friend suggested she record a six-second video of her singing on the social media app Vine last year.

He thought she had a great voice.

Anna Clendening, 21, now a contestant on “America’s Got Talent,” said she just wasn’t feeling it. Most people used Vine to make funny videos, the Chapel Hill native said.

“Just try it,” he told her.

So two weeks later her brother Evan recorded a video of her in pajamas and a blue snap-back hat singing an acoustic cover of Sage the Gemini’s song “Gas Pedal,” playing her guitar.

The video went viral. It produced 119,300 likes, more than 94,000 revines or shares and 3,198 comments – people telling her they loved her voice.

“Someone found it with hundreds and thousands of followers and revined it to their page,” Clendening said. “And another person did that, and another person did that and it took off. So I just kept singing and posting stuff, and then the follower count just kept going up and up.”

She now has 1.2 million people following her on Vine and 54,000 on Twitter.

“It wasn’t like I was trying to gain these followers. I was just doing what I loved and people started following me,” Clendening said. “But it is humbling. (My followers) are not just a number to me.”

While some people know her from Vine, others saw her audition on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” In July, she advanced to the quarterfinals at Radio City Music Hall, and Wednesday night she’ll learn if she’s made the semi-finals.

Dealing with a disorder

Life hasn’t always been easy for the 21-year-old singer. In fact, it still isn’t. On Vine she’s not afraid to be herself. She’s the same in person, cracking jokes or embarrassing her younger brother in public.

“He hates it,” she said with a laugh.

But what some don’t know, is that Clendening was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when she turned 14 and at one point spent months secluded in her bedroom. It got so bad she dropped out of UNC Charlotte and moved back to Chapel Hill with her parents.

While employers tried to contact her, she was laying in bed having a panic attack. She couldn’t pick up her phone. The slightest noise would make her mad.

When asked how it felt watching his daughter go through that tough time, Michael Clendening replied, “like hell.”

“Anna and her mom would text back and forth more than talking just because that was the best way to do it for a while,” he said.

“It was like walking on egg shells,” Vickie Clendening said.

The key to getting through it was “patience and love,” Michael said.

Anxiety is a way of life for Clendening, who has talked about it on Vine and the TV show. Clendening says she doesn’t want to be a sob story because of her disorder. She wants to help others.

When fans see her, they run up for an autograph and tell her she’s an inspiration. She enjoys talking to them, but said it can get hectic when big crowds surround her, or people run up from behind and surprise her.

That’s when her heart starts to pound, her breaths become short and she starts to shake.

The backlash

“You’re faking it.”

“You’re faking it for a good story.”

“You faked it for attention.”

Those are some of the negative comments she says she receives from critics. Some viewers expect her to make depressing videos instead of happy ones.

But Clendening doesn’t pay much attention to it.

“It’s not something you can see,” she explained. “It’s not something you can feel. If you don’t have it, then you really can’t understand it.

She has the right people around her help her through tough times. Posting videos on Vine also helps.

Aside from family, she has her best friend and manager, Isabel Komuves, whom she randomly met on Vine one day.

They texted, called, and hung out. Komuves helped bring Clendening out of her comfort zone, and Clendening helps bring Komuves, who is usually shy, out of hers.

“Two weeks later we went to Atlanta together, which I don’t travel – at least at that point – and she got me to fly to Atlanta with her, and we just became best friends because of vine,” Clendening said.

They both laughed.

“At this age, I feel like girls meet their best friends in their twenties,” said Komuves, who is also 21.

She said people mistake them for a couple all the time. Anna’s Twitter fans call them “Annabel.”

America’s Got Talent

Singing comes naturally to Clendening. “Singing was something that always came natural to me. It’s something that has always gotten me through stuff,” Clendening said.

Her parents knew she would be talented at 2, when she would hum herself to sleep.

She doesn’t feel the pressure when she sings. It’s getting ready to sing that can make her nervous.

After singing in front of hundreds of fans and the three judges for “America’s Got Talent” for the first time in late June, the crowd rose for a standing ovation.

Howie Mandel, one of the judges, ran up on stage to give her a hug. Mandel, who said he too suffers from anxiety, called her performance amazing. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she covered her mouth.

She received four yeses to advance to the next round.

But in the next episode Clendening was seen breaking down before her performance because of the pressure. She didn’t want to let her family and fans down.

She sang her way into the quarterfinals.

If she doesn’t win, it’s OK, she says. She’ll still keep singing and playing music.

“I really don’t look it as a job or a career. I just look at it as something that I like to do.”

“It is a way for me to express myself and I notice that people cling to it,” she continued. “It’s a way that I can help other people because it has helped me so much.”

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