Making music and kung fu dreams come true
By Lou Fancher
Singer-songwriter Laura Michelle has come a long way from the shy adolescent girl who sang like a lark -- but only to backs-turned, eyes-closed audiences.
"Even friends and family had to face away," Michelle says, recalling her childhood performances in the family's Danville home.
Marking a gigantic leap from that time in the early 1990s to the present, Michelle, 31, recently released a music video featuring Chuck Norris that as of Tuesday had more than 7.8 million YouTube views. Her debut album, "Novel with No End," comes out Friday and includes the Norris song she says "has everything to do with my life."
Singer Laura Michelle of Danville goofs around with Chuck Norris. The movie star's appearance on Michelle's premier music video, helping it become a youtube favorite ( Courtesy Laura Michelle )
Of course, life includes death, a chapter that for Michelle opened too early when her father, James Howard Patterson, lost a 14-year medical battle. "I was 22 months old when my dad had a massive heart attack. He received a heart transplant that lasted for 14 years. In the end, when I was 15, he needed a kidney, liver and a new heart."
But before he succumbed to his condition, he and Michelle bonded over television episodes of Norris' "Walker, Texas Ranger" and through music.
"My dad couldn't carry a note, but in the car on the way to doctors' appointments, he'd ask me to sing," she said.
Her mother, Theresa Patterson, says she was always supportive of her daughter's voice, piano and flute pursuits but was never a stage mother.
"Instead of dragging her around, she was dragging me," Patterson says.
Michelle studied with voice coach Jim Bedford, who specializes in artist development at his Bedford Studios in Castro Valley. He says exposing Michelle to everything from pop to country to fast rock with funky R&B grooves expanded her capabilities. Michelle's distinguishing features of her signature sound include "going from a mellifluous flow to a bold cutting edge timbre in a song while giving dramatic intimacy," Bedford says.
Patterson, Bedford, and Scott Espinosa-Brown, assistant headmaster at Seven Hills School in Walnut Creek, where Michelle (then Laura Patterson) was a student for 10 years, point to songwriting as key to her recent, more fully-realized blossoming as an artist.
Bedford likens Michelle's songwriting to finding a road map that provides direction and a destination for her natural talents. Espinosa-Brown says that in the speech and debate class he taught, Michelle was positive, passionate and an excellent debater because she "left no stone unturned in her pursuit of truth."
Michelle says songwriting was initially terrifying. Los Angeles-based voice expert David Coury encouraged her to begin writing her own songs.
"I trusted him. People are writing their own stuff more, and it's another aspect I can take to a label," she said. "People will relate, (when) I'm writing about something in my life. I'm more real to listeners."
But along with real admirers come trolls. The Norris video had nearly 2,000 comments within days of its posting; some of them vitriolic.
"I knew people would think the toilet scene was either funny or not funny. That's my humor. I knew Chuck would be controversial. But I didn't think I'd be called the names I've been called or told to kill myself," she said.
Michelle responded to all of the commentary at first. "They were taking time out of their day," she says was her reason for replying to even the most bitter messages. But after some criticisms boiled into what she calls cyberbullying, she limited her interactions. Even so, she says the dangerous sentiments behind the most negative comments leave cause for concern.
"I have a thick skin, but kids in school that are at an awkward age -- well, there are people who've killed themselves. Cyberbullies are unhappy, and I keep telling myself that. For a middle school (student), we can tell them to save the comments so you can show a teacher, you can protect your well-being. In the long run, it will help the bully too because maybe someone can help them. Just don't brush it aside if you're being bullied," she said.
Perhaps the haters would change their tune if they knew the backstory for why she engaged Norris, whose cameo appearance in the video is admittedly brief and includes a product endorsement. The actor represents to Michelle the embodiment of surviving great loss and is "a symbol of coming into your own" and "taking back your own song," she says.
CForce, the water Norris holds in the short clip and will soon offer for sale, comes from an aquifer on his ranch. "All the proceeds from his water line will go to his Kickstart Kids Foundation," says Michelle. "I liked that message too."
Michelle moved to Los Angeles seven years ago but keeps in close contact with teachers at Seven Hills and friends in the Tri-Valley. Planning to spend the next year promoting and touring her new album and performing with her band, she says, "I want my record to become what music was to me when my dad was ill."