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Alumni Profile: Sally Grayson ’98

Sally Grayson ’98 competed on “The Voice of Germany” in fall 2016. She plans to release a new album next summer. (Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sally Grayson)

When a talent scout approached Sally Grayson ’98 about auditioning for “The Voice of Germany,” she wasn’t sure the opportunity was right for her. The pop-centric focus of most reality TV singing competitions contrast with the unique “underground rock n’ roll” style she had crafted as an artist. But when she was eventually voted off the show after her third and final performance in front of “The Voice” judges, Grayson exited the stage with a heart full of gratitude.

“I was sad at first because I really had such an incredible experience being on that show and would have loved to perform there a couple more times,” she writes in a Facebook post. While being on “The Voice” was a journey all its own, Grayson’s departure from the show marks the beginning of another exciting chapter in her career.

The last 14 years have brought Grayson their fair share of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. The Michigan native has lived in both India and Germany, was a speaker for “TEDxStuttgart,” and—most importantly to her—has made a living doing what she loves: creating. But her career as a musician and artist began long before she left the States. While at Bethel, Grayson—an art major with an emphasis in painting—made discoveries about the world that would permeate her work.

“[Bethel is] the place where I developed my worldview, and a place that influenced so many of the decisions that I made afterword,” Grayson says. As a freshman, she got involved with campus ministries and began taking frequent trips to downtown Minneapolis, where she would interact with people from many different walks of life. For her senior exhibition, Grayson painted large portraits of some of the homeless people she had met during these outings.

“I think she’s one of Bethel’s art students who had decided quite a long time ago that she was going to figure out how to love Jesus in an original way,” says Professor of Art Emeritus Dale Johnson, whom Grayson says imbued her with the confidence to believe in her artwork. “She’s always been able to be connected to the larger concentric circle in the culture.”

It’s no wonder that Grayson—who spent such a large portion of her college years connecting with people from different cultures—would eventually opt for a life overseas. After moving to Germany in 2004, Grayson married German artist Markus Merkle. She also started a band called Black Swift. With the release of the band’s first full-length album, “The World Howls,” in 2014—which included noteworthy collaborations with artists such as Switchfoot’s Jerome Fontamillas—Grayson garnered a noticeable fan base, and got the attention of the talent scout who reached out to her about “The Voice.”

After a little persuasion, Grayson auditioned for the show in 2016, advancing through initial rounds in Stuttgart and Berlin before being invited to the filming of the infamous “blind auditions” in front of the show’s judges that fall. This leg of the competition involved Grayson singing live for the judges, who were seated in large, red swivel-chairs with their backs turned to her. During a blind audition, if judges like what they hear, they press a large buzzer on their chair, at which point they are turned around to see the person singing. In doing so, the judge also indicates that he or she would like the singer to continue through the competition on his or her team.

Grayson received three buzzers and chose to be on Team Fanta—led by German celebrity judges Michi Beck and Smudo. Her audition was aired on television, along with some clips filmed of Grayson and her family at their home. She then went on to compete in round two—the sing-offs—which aired live in Germany on November 27. Team Fanta declared Grayson the victor of the singing battle, giving her the opportunity to perform in the semifinals. But of the 10 members from Team Fanta who performed in the semifinals, only three advanced. Though Grayson was sad not to be chosen, her focus quickly shifted to her plans for the future: completing and releasing her second full-length album.

“I wanna do a really high quality record—even more high quality than my last one,” she shares. Grayson plans to begin recording in a studio in February, but the completion of her project will depend on the support of her fans to donate to her crowdfunding campaign. She hopes that with the additional recognition she’s gained through her participation on “The Voice of Germany,” she will be able to release the record by early summer 2017. Regardless of the timing, she looks forward to continuing to write music that authentically shares her encounters with the world. For Grayson, God has been at the center of those experiences, but she believes that her music can influence and inspire people from many different faiths and backgrounds.

“I’m not preaching. I’m just singing from my heart,” she says. “And so I write about all different things, but there’s often the aspect of just desiring to connect with God. Desiring that wholeness that I feel like only God can give us.”

Learn more about Sally Grayson by visiting her website.

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