Opinion: 'Do I want to do this?' CT teen on 'The Voice' asked himself

Sasha Allen, 19, and Jim Allen, 57, of Newtown are the first father-son duo to appear on “The Voice,” on NBC TV. They spoke this week with Opinion editors Carolyn Lumsden and John Breunig. This was edited for clarity.

Carolyn: Kelly Clarkson said what she liked about your music is “the family harmony.” Were you always harmonious? Because most teens wouldn’t be caught dead in public with their parents.

Sasha: We’ve always had this natural blend while singing that, over the years, became even more unified. Now it’s sometimes even hard for us to tell our voices apart in a recording.

Obviously, we’ve sung together my whole life. It’s like being in a band and rehearsing for 20 years: It’s bound to sound good.

Jim: What’s really exciting is how working with Ariana Grande is starting to push us in expanding our range vocally and our repertoire. That song [they’re working together on] lies ahead, so I won’t say much about that. But she really is great in challenging us to try some new things.

Carolyn: How has Connecticut supported you?

Jim: Connecticut? Awesome music scene, even just among your neighbors. My friend, bassist and dobro player, Rick Brodsky, was a close neighbor when we and other local musicians joined producer Martin Blanco of Newtown to launch Flagpole Radio Cafe, a local variety show for which we created the house band. The show became a long-running favorite at the Edmond Town Hall, and we all made many valuable connections when touring acts would join us as featured guests. Among those were folk legend Jonathan Edwards. Rick and I subsequently played several tours and dates with Jonathan throughout New England.

Locally, the Roxbury Picking and Fiddling Festival also comes to mind, where we often brought the kids and, in fact, it was there that Sasha and I first performed on stage together. So, we have some deep roots in this musical community.

In addition, CT Folk [ctfolk.org] and the Connecticut Office of the Arts have been very progressive in supporting the arts.

Sasha: There’s a lot of appreciation in Connecticut for smaller artists. Throughout high school I played many shows around Connecticut, a lot of gigs organized by teenagers around the state. They were always casual, kind of strewn together, but so vibrant.

There’s so much going on, especially around the New Haven area. Connecticut might be a small, quaint place, but it has a lot going on musically.

Jim: 89.5 [WPKN community radio] is a tremendous part of the music scene and it was through that station that we got to meet Vaneese Thomas. She is an extraordinary R&B/gospel singer and arranger who sang with Aretha Franklin for years, plus Stevie Wonder and Sting and countless others. She happened to be at the station promoting her new album one day, and I called in to ask if she would consider joining us as a guest performer at Flagpole Radio Cafe. We’ve been friends ever since. She’s been wonderful to us. Vaneese coached us on our singing just before we flew to LA.

Carolyn: Sasha, you said that “I wouldn’t have been able to get through high school without music and art.” What was going on in high school that made you need music?

Sasha: After I came out as trans, I dealt with a lot of mean people in high school, from my peers to the school faculty. I dealt with teachers who were confrontational towards me in the classroom, classmates that would say vulgar things to/about me, and an administration that was actively excusing the homophobia/transphobia that was occurring within their school. The people that were supposed to care about bullying and discrimination really didn’t care much at all, and I wasn’t the only one who experienced it. That’s a hard situation to walk into every day.

Luckily, I also had some truly amazing teachers over the years, teachers who were incredibly supportive of me and every other kid that was going through something similar. They advocated for me, looked out for me, and truly cared about what I was dealing with. I wouldn’t have been able to get through those years without them.

Music and songwriting also got me through some of those hard times. It was both a distraction and an outlet. Anything I was feeling, good or bad, I could express through my writing. A lot of the songs that I wrote in high school reflected what I was dealing with in school every day.

John: Sasha, you could have chosen not to do this. You could have taken the easy way out, but you went in front of millions of people and shared your journey. Can both of you walk us through the process of what got you to that decision?

Sasha: It’s this huge platform, so as I was definitely apprehensive, I also realized that there was really no way for me and my dad to tell our story and leave that part out. We wouldn’t be able to show any home videos or old pictures of us together without acknowledging it.

Millions and millions of people watch “The Voice.” Throughout this whole process [of auditioning for this season on NBC], I was struggling with how to deal with my story and thinking, Do I want to do this? How do I want to present this? Is this a mistake to present it this way?

I ended up feeling that presenting my story on a platform of this level, as anxiety-inducing as it might be for me, could help someone else. The benefit outweighs the risk. I realized that it could help someone that’s going through the same things I went through. It could even help the friends and family of that person, or simply educate those that have preconceived notions about trans people.

Since it’s aired, I’ve seen a lot of responses from people that proved I was right, that there was a great benefit to people seeing us and our story in their living rooms. I’m really glad that I decided to be open about it. You only see so much trans representation in television, and I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to share my truth.