Senior Pearl Obioha belts her rendition of “Listen” by Beyoncé in the 2016 Terriers Got Talent Show, a performance which won her first place, in the Auditorium. However, Obioha has recently developed a vocal condition known as nodes, which have affected her singing (Photo by Annie Aguiar). (HHS Today)

Nodes may silence singer Pearl Obioha

April 10, 2017

Update: Obioha won the 2017 talent show

Her voice is her passion. Senior Pearl Obioha is living her dream – singing, dancing and performing for Hillsborough, she is doing what she loves and pursuing her passion every day.

Obioha is a household name around campus. She has sung the national anthem at more than five basketball and football games, performed at the NOPE candlelight vigil and participated in six coffeehouse performances. She is about to perform in her sixth musical put on by Hillsborough, having choreographed four of them already. She’s competed in three talent shows, winning first place each time.

However, aft er being diagnosed with a condition called vocal fold nodules, or nodes, her voice may be silenced. Nodes are growths that may develop on vocal chords due to repeated vocal abuse. If left untreated, they can swell and become hard and calloused.

Obioha was born in Nigeria and moved to the United States. when she was 7. “It was diff erent: everything was bigger, louder, brighter,” she said. “I got picked on a lot because I didn’t know what was ‘cool’.”

However, Obioha’s heritage remains an important part of her. It inspires her to perform. “In Nigeria, I got all my music from my older relatives, and they were pretty old stuff like ‘N Sync, Backstreet Boys [and] Westlife,” Obioha said. “So seeing them on that stage, I wanted it to be me.”

Enamored by the bands she listened to with her family in Nigeria, Obioha began putting on performances of her own, singing and dancing for her family whenever she got the chance, until her family encouraged her to pursue her talents.

“My dad started pushing me to do it in front of others, too,” she said. While her voice may be hindered by her condition, becoming an award-winning performer didn’t come easily. “I always sounded OK, but it took a lot of hard work and practice to get to where I am now,” Obioha said. “[Before I go on stage], I always sing the song in my head a couple times, then once out loud.”

While her talent takes serious practice to perfect, Obioha still makes sure to enjoy her time on stage. “I just remember to have fun with my performance,” she said. “I never go on stage without doing the little vocal exercise that Sharpay Evans does on High School Musical,” Obioha explained of her eccentric vocal warm-up, which is best described as ‘brr brr brr MAH!’

“I belong up there,” Obioha said of being on stage.

However, aft er being diagnosed with nodes a few months ago, she isn’t sure if she can ever get back on that stage. Nodes may develop as little growths on vocal cords from repeated vocal abuse. They can become much worse over time if left untreated, becoming hard and swollen. Obioha was diagnosed with the condition a few months ago, in the midst of practicing a new musical for Hillsborough, and before the yearly talent show.

With such a recent diagnosis, Obioha still isn’t sure how her diagnosis will affect her performing long-term. “I still haven’t fully acknowledged that I have it,” she said. However, she is beginning to see it affect her performing already. While the condition has started taking a physical toll on her voice, it also has affected her mentally when she performs. “It’s made me a lot less confident to the point where I’m uncomfortable being up on stage sometimes,” Obioha said.

During arduous times of coming to terms with her condition, Obioha looks to all of the people who inspire her to remember how she got where she is and help her stay hopeful.

“My inspiration comes from singers like Beyoncé, Céline Dion and Lauryn Hill,” she said. “And definitely my close friends … my musical theatre teacher, my family [of course], and just a lot of people at Hillsborough and most importantly: God.”

Obioha counts on close friends like Savannah Puleo to help her stay positive about her voice. “Not only is she an amazing singer, but she’s an amazing friend with such a kind heart,” Puleo said of Obioha. Obioha also looks to another of her inspirations, teacher Jeff Pittard.

“She’s a great performer,” he said. “I’d like to have her in my class more than I do.”

While she is still learning how to live with her newfound condition, Obioha is trying to remain hopeful that it will not interfere with her passion of performing. “I love music and what I do; I just hope and pray I can continue to do it for you all,” she said.

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