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Singer Chelsea Glover Talks Type 1 Diabetes

Chelsea Glover has had diabetes almost as long as she’s been singing

By Benjamin Page , ,

Drea Nicole Photography

Usually a diagnosis of diabetes stands out as a singular, life-altering event. Not so for 14-year-old Chelsea Glover, who makes up half of an on-the-rise pop duo.

Over breakfast one morning in 2010, her parents noticed that their normally cheerful 4-year-old daughter seemed lethargic and unusually thirsty. After taking her to a local health clinic, they ended up at the hospital, where doctors confirmed that she had type 1 diabetes.

But her diagnosis isn’t the only memorable thing about that day. Amid the confusion of learning about finger pricks and blood glucose levels, something else—just as life-changing, you could argue—happened. Chelsea started to sing. Her repertoire was pretty much limited to the soundtrack from Cinderella II, an animated film she had watched nearly a dozen times. So she belted out “Follow Your Heart.”

As her voice filled the hallway, the hospital staff couldn’t resist stopping by her room to see who it was with the voice that would, years later, bring Taylor Swift to tears. “The nurses were coming in, then the doctors would come in, just to hear,” says Sheila Glover, Chelsea’s mom, a high school counselor in Atlanta. “I felt like that helped soothe her. And it made us feel like, if she can sing at a time like this, surely we can get ahold of ourselves.” 

For Chelsea, it was the first of many live performances.

Talent to Nurture

Managing type 1 diabetes can be overwhelming, especially for children. In Chelsea’s case, her parents had to keep explaining why it was necessary to prick her fingers so often. She also grew frustrated with the sudden, 24-7 demands of management. Luckily, Chelsea had a unique outlet to take her mind off of diabetes. Instead of letting their daughter’s diagnosis get in the way of her ambitions, her parents saw music as a way for her to avoid diabetes burnout. “It’s her escape,” says Chelsea’s dad, Jason Glover, a truck driver. “Having something that you love to do, I think it helps with diabetes management.”

So they encouraged her to sing at family gatherings and school events. And they kept an eye out for singing competitions. At 10, Chelsea went to an open audition for the Broadway musical School of Rock and was called for a follow-up in New York City to meet the show’s composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber. She didn’t get the part, but just landing the audition felt like a validation of her vocal chops. Back in Atlanta, the Glovers enrolled Chelsea in singing classes at AGI, a performing arts school that encourages kids interested in singing, dancing, and acting.

Hello, Hello Sunday

A self-described introverted yin, Chelsea met her extroverted yang in fellow AGI student Myla Finks. A coach noticed their complementary styles—Chelsea’s smooth tone and Myla’s vocal strength—and suggested they try singing gospel songs together, eventually encouraging them to train as a duo. They called themselves Hello Sunday, a shout-out to the potential of each new week.

From 2017 to 2019, Hello Sunday worked with coaches at AGI after school and on weekends. Everyone at AGI knew about Chelsea’s diabetes in case of an emergency, but Myla, especially, became a sort of dia-buddy for her singing partner, reminding Chelsea to eat during hectic days and recognizing when her blood glucose level dropped.

“I can tell Chelsea is low when she starts acting out of character,” Myla says. “If she gets really tired and irritable.” When that happens, Myla makes sure Chelsea eats some carb, getting her a snack if necessary.

Is “Cute” a Four-Letter Word?

After two years of training, Hello Sunday’s career was about to make a major jump. In 2019, their manager encouraged them to try out for The Voice, a popular singing competition on NBC. While they were initially told they didn’t make the cut, Chelsea and Myla got a surprise call a few days after their rejection. The producers had made a mistake; Hello Sunday was moving forward after all. At 14, they would be the youngest duo ever to compete on the show.

Being on a nationally televised competition comes with a lot of stress. In addition to performing for an audience of 9 million viewers, singers are judged and coached by music icons, such as Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Swift, and face potential elimination on a weekly basis.

With so much stress placed on the contestants, the show’s producers keep medics on standby. For Chelsea, the show also required written approval to compete from her doctor.

She uses a meter to check her blood glucose three times a day, but the producers also wanted her to use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) during production to keep closer tabs on her glucose. If her levels got too high at any point, there was a chance that the producers wouldn’t let Hello Sunday compete. All of which made Chelsea more determined than ever to stay on top of her diabetes. 

“I told her, ‘You’re not just affecting yourself,’ ” her dad says. “ ‘If you get sent home because you’re not doing what you’re supposed to with your management, then you’re going to affect Myla, as well.’ ”

While filming in Los Angeles, Chelsea had some early difficulties. She was accustomed to waking up at 7 a.m. to take her insulin, so the three-hour time difference took some getting used to. Then there were the grueling demands of a major television production. The packed schedule didn’t give her time to think about food, and she had to remind herself to eat regularly.

Still, Chelsea had the help of her parents, especially her dad, who stayed in Los Angeles throughout filming. As Hello Sunday performed week after week, he waited backstage, keeping a close eye on her glucose numbers. If adrenaline had her trending high, her dad was ready with an insulin pen. If her numbers dipped from expending so much energy, he had carbs on standby.

On The Voice, most contestants have some kind of backstory to share with viewers—a personal struggle that sets them apart. As the season progressed, their manager became concerned that Hello Sunday was being seen simply as a pair of “cute kids” performing on a grown-up version of a talent show.

To help them stand out, their manager encouraged Chelsea to share her type 1 story. Chelsea’s mother was skeptical, unsure if her otherwise quiet daughter would be interested in opening up on such a public platform. But Chelsea agreed to do it, hoping she could encourage others with diabetes.

Her reveal came as they entered the top 10, the same week they sang Demi Lovato’s “Stone Cold.” It’s a breakup song, but with lyrics such as “Give me the truth, me and my heart/ Will make it through,” it could easily be interpreted as an anthem of perseverance.

The Future

Hello Sunday was eventually eliminated from the show, but not because of Chelsea’s diabetes. Her A1C actually improved over the course of filming, despite the hectic schedule. They made it all the way to the semifinal round after nine performances. “It was a masterclass in training,” says Chelsea, describing how the competition not only improved her singing, but also taught her about choreography, performing for an audience, and managing her own image.

They’ve stayed busy since returning home to Atlanta, releasing their first single, “I Like It,” and planning a summer tour.

Chelsea’s message on The Voice has clearly resonated. She’s heard from other kids with type 1 diabetes who were thankful to hear her story. But the biggest effect may have been on someone who was in the audience during Chelsea’s very first performance in that hospital room 10 years ago.

“Watching that air on the show, I got to see a side of her that was very emotional for me,” says Chelsea’s mother. “She was vulnerable to everyone, and I’m glad I got an opportunity to see that.”

 

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