Kevin Sharp - Why Not Me?
Today, Kevin Sharp is putting the final touches on his second album. He's hoping to follow up on the success of his gold-selling debut album, Measure of a Man
, which turned out to be one of last year's biggest surprises. The album spawned hit after hit - "If You Love Somebody," "She's Sure Taking It Well," and the highly successful, "Nobody Knows."
With a bottle of root beer in his hand, Kevin and I retreat to an out-of-the-way room, just off from the main lounge area of the studio he's recording at. He has a visible limp that stems from a recent broken hip, which is now "mostly metal." He attributes the injury to an overzealous jump during one of his shows. He's dressed casually, decked out in blue jeans, a dark shirt and work boots. In addition to his trademark bald head, he wears a ring that conspicuously dangles at the end of his necklace. It never comes off.
"Actually it's a C.T.R. ring," he explains, looking down at it with a sort of mild reverence. "It just basically stands for 'choose the right.' It's a Christian belief that my mom raised me with. It's not a Republican thing," he laughs. "It's just to do the right thing in life and do-unto-others-as-you-would kind of thing."
"Recently, a little boy at a concert came up to me and handed me this one when I was on stage and so I switched them," said Sharp, who has a genuine love of children. "And then I had the little Make-A-Wish logo added on. So, those are two very important things to me. It's kind of like my little guardian angel in a sense."
To fully appreciate his "little guardian angel," it's important to understand just how much he's relied on his faith and his family.
Kevin was raised in a family of seven brothers and sisters and numerous foster children. At one point there were 14 people living under his parents' roof. As the second to the youngest, Sharp jokingly says that it wasn't until he reached high school that he finally stopped getting hand-me-down clothes. "There were times when it seemed like there were too many of us," he says. "But the wonderful thing about it was the fact that there was a huge built-in support group. It's very nice to have people you can confide in. We all need to be carried once in a while."
Sharp, who always dreamed of being a singer, was on stage by age 3, when the Sharps formed a family musical unit to perform at church functions. He was 7 when they moved from rural Northern California to Weiser, Idaho. His love of performing continued to grow.
He was auditioning for musicals at age 10, and by the time he was in junior high, choral groups and choirs were part of his weekly routine. At 15 his family moved again, this time to Sacramento, California. Although only 5' 8", his superior athletic ability helped him make friends quickly and overcome the adjustments of being a "country kid" moving to the city. Throughout high school he was a football star, a wrestler and a weight lifter. In 1989 he joined a light-opera company in Sacramento to perform in regional productions of Broadway shows.
It was during this time that he began experiencing bouts of mysterious fatigue and severe spasms of pain in his left leg and lower back. By the time he was a senior in high school there were days when he couldn't walk or get out of bed. Doctors told him he was suffering from a sports injury. The doctors were wrong.
During the end of his senior year he was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer that had spread to his lungs. He even faced the prospect of losing his leg. Uncertain whether he'd live six months, Sharp was introduced to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a national charity which grants wishes to children facing life-threatening illnesses. He asked to meet producer/composer/performer David Foster, who has shaped hits for everyone from Whitney Houston to Natalie Cole. He chose to meet Foster because, "anything that ever touched me he had something to do with."
Their relationship would sustain Sharp through two grueling years of high-intensity chemotherapy and radiation, and experimental drugs. He recalls those two arduous years. "I was really scared and angry and it took a little while to get past that. But after a while, after I had time to really think about it and get past the fact that I was misdiagnosed for so long, I came to a realization." He pauses. "In fact, I started to write a book called, 'Why Not Me?' Why should this be somebody else? Why would I want someone else to go through this? Once I started asking, 'why not me,' things changed and I kind of knew that no matter what happened, things were going to be okay. Although it didn't take away all of the fear and all of the tears."
However, according to some stories written about Sharp, it was during this bleak time that he attempted suicide. This is one subject he'd like to clear up. "I don't think there's anybody in this world that doesn't contemplate suicide, whether they are serious or joking, because life is hard. But the cool thing about it is that it's all worth it. There was a time when I was really depressed and I made a cry for help, but I have never tried to take my own life like an article or two have said. I'm not a suicide survivor. At that time, when I made a cry for help, they sent me to a psychiatric ward, which the press wrote about. What they didn't print was that I was released an hour later because the psychologist said, 'There's nothing wrong with this guy. He has cancer. He's depressed. He's not a danger to himself.'"
Miraculously, Sharp went into remission in 1990. However, his battle wasn't over just yet. He spent 30 days straight without sleep, trying to overcome his addiction to pain killers which had made his life bearable. He also had to overcome the physiological effects. "I had to learn to live all over again," he says. "I had for so long accepted the fact that I might die. For the longest time I was in bed and nurses and my mom and family members took care of me because I couldn't do anything. In some ways I feel it was harder to accept that I was going to live than to accept that I might die."
He used music as his crutch and slowly began to embrace life. He was inspired by songs like Garth Brooks' "The Dance" and Barry Manilow's "Please Don't Be Scared." By 1993 Sharp was making music of his own as he became the lead singer in the Great America theme park in California. He gradually built up his career by performing at high schools, private parties and restaurants. He started a singing telegram business and also sang at funerals. He submitted his tape to TNN's "You Can Be a Star" and was invited to audition. Finally, he turned to his old friend David Foster for advice. Foster agreed to listen to Kevin's music and wondered how he would let his friend down easy. "He agreed to listen to a tape I had and took me for a ride in his car. Later, I found out that he'd planned to let me down easy and tell me to go home. But after he heard the first song, he got very emotional. I could tell he was relieved. He was so afraid that he was going to have to tell me he didn't like it. He hugged me."
Through Foster's connections and Sharp's raw talent, Kevin signed a record deal with Asylum Records and released his first album. His first single, "Nobody Knows," a former pop hit for the Tony Rich Project, hit the top of the country charts and stayed there for weeks. Hoping to use his newfound celebrity, Sharp became the spokesperson for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He even bears the scars of his loyalty with a tattoo of the foundation's logo on his chest.
"You want to see it?" he asks smiling. He points at the tattoo, which is a wishbone with a ribbon on top. He still seems to be having a hard time accepting the fact that he has a tattoo. "I'm not really a tattoo person," he says bluntly. "It originally started out as a kind of a fun, joking thing about the first single. If it made it into the Top 5 several of us at Asylum were going to get a tattoo. Then it went No. 1 for four weeks." Being true to his word, he carried out his promise. He credits his mother with coming up with the choice of tattoo. "She had mentioned the logo and as soon as she said it, I knew it was meant to be."
It's not only apparent on his chest that he believes in the Make-A-Wish Foundation, but also in his eyes as he describes granting one boy's dying wish. "A kid by the name of Matthew gave me something that will probably be the most valuable thing that I will ever get in this life...no award, nothing could match what Matthew did for me. He wanted to meet the guy that sang, "Nobody Knows." He didn't even know my name. The song touched his life, and he was only eight years old. He had no idea that I had had cancer. For a kid to pick me," he says, shaking his head slowly. "And he passed away two days later. To want me to be a part of his life at such a difficult time." It's obvious the experience is still fresh in his mind. One that he's still dealing with.
If Kevin Sharp's life sounds like it's something straight out of Hollywood, well, it soon will be. "The folks at CBS and Warner Brothers are part of it," he says. "I'm very scared and really excited all at the same time." Originally, Fred Savage of "The Wonder Years" was cast to play him. However, that has since changed and the lead role is still up in the air. When asked by the movie studio who he wanted to star in the movie, he had an interesting response. "I thought of people like Kirk Cameron, but another one was Will Smith. I was very serious. I would love it if Will Smith played me. Everyone looked at me like I was crazy. They all went, 'He's black, Kevin, you are not black.' And I go, 'It's acting. He's playing a role.' I love his acting. But after a while I thought it might confuse a few people when they go to a shot of the present time, the real Kevin Sharp, and everybody goes, 'Wow, it's like Michael Jackson.'" He laughs.
No doubt, the last part of the movie will include his new love interest and fiance, Tracie. "I met her at Fan Fair," says Sharp, who divorced his wife, Monique, last year. "A lot of people are giving Neal McCoy credit because her sister is married to him." The two haven't set a date for the wedding yet. "We originally were planning on doing an elopement kind of thing. But," he says with a smile, "she has seen some dresses she likes and has started to think about having a full-blown wedding. I'm happy either way. I'm just happy."
It's apparent that Kevin has a lot to be happy about. "Sometimes it kind of hits me that I'm doing what I love and it's like a dream come true. It's usually when I'm in the car or riding on the bus in between cities and I'm looking out the windows and I go, 'Man, I'm really doing this. This is a real thing.' It's like living a dream. Maybe I did pass away and this is heaven and I get to fulfill a dream."
"It has been the best year of my life," he says of 1997. "From the music to meeting Tracie. There have been so many people who have made that happen. I kind of feel that I can give back to everyone what they have given me. Just saying thank you to everyone is probably the most important thing I want to get across in 1998. Because if it all ended, I would have a lifetime of memories to live with."