Show business has always been a part of me. Even before I ever had my first voice lesson, singing always came naturally to me. I started singing and making up little songs around the house when I was two. My mother had sung with a jazz band, and I grew up with big band music in my background. I started taking voice lessons at age eight, and guitar lessons at age fourteen. I grew up in the Chicago area, and I sang in clubs on weekends during my college days, and I worked at various restaurants in the Chicago suburbs. After college, I began singing five nights a week. Sometimes I worked alone with my guitar, and at other times, I worked with some really good jazz piano players. I also worked with a country music band for a while, and I spent one summer playing guitar and singing in Lake Tahoe at the Hyatt. One of my most exciting moments was performing the Star Spangled Banner at White Sox Park in Chicago.
After moving to Arizona in 1979, I kept on singing as a soloist, with a country music band and with jazz duos and trios. It was when I moved to California that I decided to add a different dimension to my career. I had wanted to take some acting classes when I was a child, but never had the chance. I started taking voiceover training and ended up falling in love with that end of the business also. I now have voiceover agents in Los Angeles, Denver, Wisconsin, San Diego, here in Orange County, and in Chicago. I now have a home recording studio, and my focus is on commercials, narrations, on-hold messages and documentaries. I plan on continuing to pursue both the music and voiceover fields.
Life is good to me and I have been very blessed even though each day presents its share of challenges. Of course, we all have them, but I have had a different set of challenges since I have been blind since birth, and because of that, have had to learn how to adapt differently than others in different situations of my life. Take voiceover work, as an example. I use speech software on my computer which reads everything to me as I type whether it be an email, a website, or a script sent to me as a Word attachment. I cannot use a mouse, I use key strokes for everything. I was able to find a recording software called Sound Forge which interacts quite well with my speech software. When someone emails a script to me, I listen to it through my speech software as I Braille the copy line by line in order to be able to record the spot in my home studio. Once that is done, I am ready to give Sound Forge the commands it requires in order to get me in the recording mode. Once I complete the recording, I do all of my own editing through key strokes and by listening to my speech give me the Sound Forge commands to help me move things around, delete and so-forth until the project is clean. I love this work even though there are extra steps that I have to take in order to get the work completed.
Now I find that there are even more challenges ahead for those of us who are blind now that we have entered this fast-moving digital age. Trying to keep up with social networking sites with my speech program has been a daunting task, but I’m determined to overcome the hurdles and make it happen. I am in the midst of getting in contact with web designers to discuss with them what is needed for a website to be made more accessible to people with low vision or no vision.
I guess I’m the type of person who is always looking for the next adventure. To me, life is a joy. I’ve learned that it’s important to live it to the fullest, and that is what I plan on continuing to do.
Does life get hard at times? Of course it does, but doesn’t it get hard for everyone? My goal is to continue to move forward with an attitude of patience, perseverance, persistence and positivity.
Tina Wilson’s story and attitude is, to say the least, inspirational. Her interview is revealing as well.
OCS: We’ve known each other for many years and I, as well as many others, marvel at your independence in getting around and becoming successful in a profession that is difficult for anyone to succeed in. Nobody hires you because you are blind, they do so because you are very good at what you do. How do you explain that?
TINA: I think like so many others in this business, I have a passion for what I do. I just keep staying with it and do not give up, but on another side of the coin, I’ve learned that people who are blind or visually impaired have to prove themselves in the job market no matter what job they are doing. Therefore, I think that makes me want to do better than my best.
OCS: You’ve been active in many organizations over the years, serving on the boards of MAOC, and MCAI-OC and even serving as president from time to time. While it obviously is a way to network, you always give above and beyond. What drives you to be so involved?
TINA: I really enjoy people and I feel that, for me, the people around me are motivators. They are the driving force behind all of the energy that I put in to projects I am undertaking.
OCS: I’ve known you with two guide dogs, Florida and Donovan. I know you’ve had seven females and now a male. How old were you when you got your first dog? What is the process you undergo to become paired with a guide dog?
TINA: I didn’t get my first guide dog until I was 29. Even though there is such a joy that comes with having these dogs, there is also responsibility, and I guess for a long time, I wasn’t sure that I wanted the responsibility. But as time went on, I realized the independence and freedom that I would receive after getting a guide dog, and that became important to me. The joys outweigh the responsibilities. For every guide dog you receive, you have to go through a very rigorous three week training class at the school, and even after you get back home with your dog, the work continues for at least another year and a half. It’s a step by step process that you go through. Then all of a sudden, one day, you feel like you finally know how each other is thinking.
OCS: You’ve told me that all your dogs had different personalities. Please tell us a bit about them and how it might have affected the way you got around and worked with other people.
TINA: With some dogs, like the one I have now, I’ve had to be a lot more strict than with some others so that they would continue to maintain good behavior if I was in a meeting for example, or in a restaurant. Some dogs will test you more than others, and some dogs will not test you at all. Most people are not aware of the fact that these dogs cannot be petted while in harness because they are on duty. Some dogs tend to be more distractible than other ones, but still can be good guide dogs.
OCS: I understand you moved to Orange County by yourself, not knowing anyone here. Please tell us why and how you set yourself up in a strange place with no friends or support network.
TINA: Actually, I originally moved here when I was married because my former husband got a job transfer to this area. But when we went our separate ways, I had family and friends help me find the apartment which I now live in, and people just have been very supportive. I am blessed to have a wonderful network of friends.
OCS: Tell us about your singing gigs. How often do you perform? Do you have special places you work at over and over again or is there a website they can go to find out when and where you are performing?
TINA: Right now, I am performing once a month on Saturday nights at Andreis restaurant in Irvine, and I will be there through November. I also sit in as a guest vocalist with Rick Sherman who performs at both the Village Inn on Balboa Island, and the Villa Nova. In order to find out more, people can visit my website: www.tinawilsontalent.com
OCS: What advice would you give to anyone trying to break into the voiceover business?
TINA: The first thing that I would say to people is, if you have a day job that is steady, keep it until you know that you’ve really built up your voiceover business. I would also tell them that you have to treat it as a business because that is what it is. I would tell them to get all of the training that they can, and make sure that their demo is as good as it can be because that will be their calling card.
OCS: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you?
TINA: When some people look at life, they see the glass as either half empty or half full. I try to see the glass as being half full and then take it from there. I believe that life is short and that there are no dress rehearsals. So because of that believe, I never stay down for too long. For me, it’s all about faith, health, family and friends.
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