“Do you have a guitar? I should play a song for you.”
Andy Cherry is seemingly always eager to express himself through music, not just so that he can be heard but perhaps so that others can be given permission to feel something and experience a moment. An hour later he would be on the scenic rooftop of our apartment building playing a beautiful and heartfelt rendition of “Blackbird” by The Beatles, a song about overcoming struggles and learning to embrace yourself.
However, for now, we sit behind Voodoo Doughnut Too in East Portland to talk about his recently aired audition for NBC’s The Voice, the realities of rejection, and the power of community. Sitting next to him is his supportive and equally sincere wife, Michelle; Andy is just as comfortable joking about his disappointments as he is diving into the realities of his struggles. “There’s times in my life where I definitely felt like I was struggling with depression. I never got clinically diagnosed, but WebMD lets you know…. ‘If you don’t want to get out of bed and you’re gaining lots of weight you may be depressed. Did something bad just happen?’… Why yes, that makes a lot of sense… I take things really hard. And it’s hard not to feel personally rejected when something professional happens. Especially when it’s (under) your name. It’s not like I can hide behind a band or something. You Google my name right now and it’s ‘Andy Cherry doesn’t make it on The Voice.”
His recent brush with musical fame and its harsh realities were not a first for him. As recently as 2012 a major Christian music label released his debut studio album Nothing Left to Fear. While others may have viewed him as a success story the reality wasn’t as pretty. The pressures were building and the industry, Christian or not, was full of pressure. “All of a sudden I hit a wall. Records weren’t selling. I was on the road for months at a time, away from my family. It didn’t really feel like ministry (serving others) to be doing the same thing like every single day. It just felt like entertainment and nothing more.” As his record deal crumbled he began to consider careers like sportswriter or bartender. However, his wife Michelle knew better, perhaps better than Andy himself, and encouraged him to keep pursuing music and suggested auditioning for The Voice.
“I felt really guilty because I was the one who encouraged him to do this thing in the first place,” Michelle explains as she stares deeply at Andy, “I just believed in him so much. I definitely carried a lot of weight with the whole thing, feeling that I helped lead him into something that ended up being sort of hurtful at the time.” Andy lovingly moves the iPhone mic being used to record the interview closer to her as she continues, “So there was definitely a period of time where I just had a lot of guilt and I felt like I just had to help him work through things but the reality of it is that we were together during that and we’re still together now. And if anything, the really nitty gritty stuff ends up bringing us closer.”
Andy builds on her thoughts, “When you’re talking about relationships, I think that there are certain people who become part of your foundation. You can strip everything back. You can take away jobs. You can take away status. You can take away other relationships. You can take away money and things… you boil everything back, but it’s not just you anymore. It’s somebody else that’s part of your foundation as well. So you’re not building back up from the ground by yourself.” While Andy and Michelle built each other up after the recording of The Voice audition there was still almost 4 months of having to keep the results secret. “Friends are asking ‘soooo, how’s the voice?’ and I couldn’t legally say anything. You almost have to continually promote this moment that isn’t going to be what you want it to be.” It was possible that his moment of disappointment wouldn’t even make it to air, but the Tuesday before the premiere he received an email that it would indeed be shown. “I was already on to the next chapter so I didn’t want to trudge through that again.”
Andy still looks shocked by it all as he explains, “I couldn’t even keep up with all of that. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram…all kinds of people. That really affected me. I was like sitting there. I’ve been playing music and being apart of church stuff for a better part of 12 years. That’s a lot of different places, a lot of different lives and avenues.” They were all sending love and encouragement from all parts of the country. However, it wasn’t all about The Voice. The televised moment brought up memories of what Andy meant to them. They were people who Andy hadn’t seen or necessarily thought about in years, but he had make an impact on them. “I had spoke to them at some point, somewhere, and they wanted to let me know how much they appreciated that. They wanted me to know how much it meant to them. I got people who were like, ‘you played for our camp 8 years ago and we just wanted to say how much we love you and don’t worry about it.’ It was like hundreds and hundreds of those things.”
Michelle explains, “It wasn't even about ‘you did a good job and we’re so sorry.’ It was, ‘so awesome to see you on television, you’re such a great guy.’ They were talking about his character, not about how he can sing or how talented he is.” Strangers were also able to get a glimpse of Andy’s character and the strength of their marriage. “People were saying ‘I want what you guys have’. So, what if he’s not on Team Gwen. Who cares? At the end of the day, what resonated with people was who he is as a person. And he still gets to keep being that guy. There’s nothing that’s going to stop him from being that guy. I just felt so blessed people got to hear him say such wonderful things on the show. Millions of people got to hear him talk about how much he loves his wife. I think that’s a really wonderful plug for marriage. Marriage, community…it’s amazing, try to find it.” Michelle catches her breath with a joyful sigh, “That was really awesome.”
More successes and disappointments are surely to come for both Andy and Michelle, but they are confident in their relationship and the community support they have found. Andy has accepted a ministry job in DC and is still determining the best next steps in music. No matter what comes, Andy has learned the importance of knowing that everyone’s life has made an impact. He knows his circumstances are something that most people will never encounter, but he believes the lessons he learned are universal. “My encouragement to everyone really goes back to what Live Again is based on, you really have no idea the amount of lives that you’ve touched just by being you. You have community whether you believe it or not. At times you may think that you’re a failure. You may think that you’ve accomplished nothing, but like just being alive, being in a room with somebody one time, just being yourself over many years, has affected somebody. It has changed their journey. Just because you’ve intersected with them means that their path is different forever. So, whether or not you think you’re alone, you’re not. And whether or not you think that what you’ve done hasn’t mattered, it has. The only unfortunate thing is really it’s hard to find those people who will step up and say that you matter because that may require putting yourself out there, making yourself vulnerable to tell someone that you care about them and that they mean something to you. But the only way that you’re able to find those people is to be one of those people.”
Michelle reiterates the notion being willing to engage in community and allowing yourself to be vulnerable while admitting, “I know personally that that’s something I’ve struggled with. So, I’m very thankful that I have Andy in my life because he’s the one who really pushes me and encourages me. He gets me out of my comfort zone. So, I think if you’re able to just find one person who can help you get outside of yourself then that really does make a huge difference. It can really open you up to a lot of wonderful experiences and people. That initial step can be really challenging I think, but seeing the reward in that is pretty special.”
Andy ties it together with a knowing smirk on his face, “It’s like walking out the door in your underwear. You're just out there for the whole world to see, but once you become in community with somebody they give you the clothing of relationship. They help protect you.”
Michelle shakes her head with a laugh, “So, step one-go outside in your underwear.”
Andy jokingly justifies, “Someone will notice you.”