From left to right, Worth the Wait members Jacy, Mia and Tara (Mama T) perform on the singing competition The Voice. Photo courtesy of Trae Patton/NBC.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Local fans of The Voice might have recognized familiar faces this past season, as one Gadsden-Centre rooted family rose to fame on national television. As the group envisions its future, trio Worth the Wait’s Tara Matthews-Ryan and her daughters Mia and Jacy reflect on the experience that changed their lives.
Raised in a musical family, Tara recalls harmonizing with her sisters just as her own father sang and played instruments with his siblings before her. Singing in church was akin to breathing for Tara and her family, with some of her earliest memories including her family gathering together and harmonizing with one another. Her father encouraged music in their household, providing a stage (complete with guitars and a PA system) for performances in each house Tara lived in growing up.
“Growing up, you think to yourself, ‘Oh, it would be so awesome if I had a family that also enjoyed music,’” said Tara. “You’ve got to be careful about what you put into existence, because you get what you ask for a lot of times. I prayed that I would have at least one child that would enjoy music – then my trio came.”
While all of Tara’s children treasure a love for music, her daughters Sadie, Mia and Jacy share the same kindred spirit as their mother and an undeniable passion for song. Growing up attending local schools like Mitchell Elementary, Mia and Jacy cannot remember a moment in their lives that does not involve music, and Tara discovered Jacy’s talent for harmonizing when she was just two years old.
Although performing and the girls walked hand-in-hand, at 15 and 13, Mia and Jacy had never experienced an audition environment before The Voice. After a friend messaged Mia to join him in Nashville for the show’s blind auditions, the girls considered a trip to Tennessee as the perfect getaway – unaware of the unprecedented success that awaited them upon their arrival.
As auditions neared, Sadie chose to step away from the trio to dedicate herself to caring for her son. While Mia and Jacy pondered auditioning as a duo, when they practiced their prepared song for Tara, Jacy was overcome with emotion. She told her mother she had been praying and felt that Tara should fill Sadie’s spot in the group. Tara felt the same, and when the mother-daughter trio rehearsed their audition for the first time, a sense of wholeness was restored.
“We were used to doing that third harmony, whether it was me singing or Sadie,” said Tara. “I couldn’t let them down. At that point, I was like, ‘If I don’t do it and they don’t make it, I’m always going to wonder what if I stepped up and at least gave it a shot.’”
Tara never had to wonder after that moment, for the result of the trio’s blind audition sparked a series of performances that boosted the family to fame. From the instant Mia led the group in Linda Ronstadt’s “When Will I Be Loved,” celebrity coach Gwen Stefani whirled her chair around to discover in shock not one, but three incredible voices performing on stage. When Jacy and Tara began harmonizing, coaches Kelly Clarkson, John Legend and Blake Shelton turned their chairs as well – earning the trio a four-chair turnaround within seconds of their singing.
“I kind of blacked out,” said Mia. “There’s four huge celebrities just staring at you and it’s so distracting. I don’t really remember much, just thinking, ‘Okay, we’ve got to get through the song!’”
The surprised trio finished the song with all four artists eyes on them, with Jacy covering up her nervousness with an impromptu twirl that never aired. Although a short snippet of the coaches’ comments filtered across televisions nationwide, Clarkson, Legend, Shelton and Stefani spoke to the trio for almost 40 minutes about joining their teams. Ultimately, the trio went with Shelton as their mentor for the exciting journey ahead.
“Honestly, what we were thinking about was girl power,” said Jacy. “Kelly Clarkson or Gwen Stefani – either one of them would’ve been awesome. But in the moment, once Blake started speaking to us and we actually got to conversate with him in person, it naturally felt right.”
“Blake is just like someone from here,” said Mia. “He’s so down-to-earth. He’s so chill and funny. We call him Uncle Blake.”
“He’s definitely a Southern guy,” said Tara. “He likes to laugh and cut-up and we do as well, so we’re drawn to those types of personalities. We got along great with him.”
Though the girls established a small following as the Petticoat Trio, a name that unearthed the raw essence of music and represented returning and remaining true to their roots, the group brainstormed other possibilities for their trio’s official title. Out of the blue, the perfect name fell into their hands, and Worth the Wait was born.
“Number one, it’s taken awhile for us to come up with this group,” said Tara. “They’re good girls. Especially in this day and time, the world tells you it’s not really cool [to wait] – just do what you want to do. If it makes you feel good, go for it. But some things really are worth the wait. That’s kind of a message. With them being young ladies, it’s just something I think there needs to be more of. Not saying that it’s anybody’s business what somebody else does, but I do believe we need more of that – girls representing that if you work hard, it’ll be worth the wait and if you save yourself, it’ll be worth the wait. Once Sadie does finally come back fulltime, it will be worth the wait for her, and she’ll be able to stand behind that meaning as well. It represents quite a few things for us, and they loved it.”
The following months proved nothing like what the family could have imagined, with Tara, Mia and Jacy learning the inner workings of Hollywood and reality television.
“There’s so much that goes into it,” said Mia. “It’s not just singing. We would have four three-hour wardrobe sessions, just trying on different outfits, taking pictures of them and trying to match [each other]. Then we had band practice, then we’d meet with our coach and have staging and vocal lessons. There was so much going on!”
From rehearsals to creating a style board for outfit inspiration, from juggling memorizing choreography while completing schoolwork, Worth the Wait proved their ability every step of the way. Despite the show maintaining its standard format, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the contestants experienced a season quite different from the rest. The combination of COVID-19 and the girls’ ages as minors allotted more breaks throughout the day, which alleviated some stress and helped Tara, who was overcoming knee surgery and other health issues.
“When the Lord has things in store for you, all those stumbling blocks and road blocks are removed,” said Tara. “There couldn’t have been a better time for us to have done this. With COVID the way that it was, musicians didn’t really have much paid gigs. Because of my health, the way that this worked, they gave us some down days because we were there so long (five months). It was definitely a destiny thing. To be a part of it, and to be able to have this experience with my girls is literally priceless. How many people get to do that?”
The trio shared that because the production crew was learning the best methods of running the show right alongside contestants, a deep bond formed between them unlike any other season. They commended the crew and staff, who went above and beyond to provide any necessity they could have requested. All contestants resided in a hotel with one another, eventually all on the same floor, which Mia described as “a big family.”
“We were isolated for a couple weeks when you first get there, but we had each other,” said Tara. “These other contestants were alone. It was a struggle. There’s no way around getting close to people who are longing for some sort of human interaction and miss their families. I would get a text that would say, ‘I need you Mama T,’ from one of the contestants, and we would just show up at their room and they would sob and let it all out.
“A lot of them would say, ‘We miss our mamas,’ and I became kind of a mama to a lot of them with emotional support. We weren’t even supposed to touch each other, but we’d all been together for so long, if they needed somebody to hold them while they cried, I would do that. Because we had each other – they didn’t have anybody else.”
Throughout the show, Worth the Wait delivered knockout after knockout of powerful performances that impressed the coaches (and audiences back home) as they flourished. Covering iconic singles like Little Big Town’s “Little White Church,” Martina McBride’s “I’m Gonna Love You Through It,” and The Judds’ “Love Is Alive,” secured their spot in the competition week after week, but one performance stood apart for the trio from the rest.
“‘Delta Dawn’ [by Tanya Tucker], our knockout performance [was our favorite],” said Jacy. “That was us.”
A simple yet seamless merging of the band, original staging and the consistent melodic blend of Mia’s country twang, Jacy’s soulful vocals and Tara’s strong harmony produced a performance that represented the true essence of Worth the Wait. “Delta Dawn” earned standing ovations from coaches Legend, Stefani and Clarkson, who clapped along with the beat as the trio sang and cheered them on as they watched. Worth the Wait won that knockout performance, propelling them into the live playoff, where viewers voted to save their favorite contestants.
The live playoff introduced new challenges for Worth the Wait, which had grown accustomed to using floor monitors as opposed to earpieces. Because the show does not typically support several groups harmonizing, balancing the trio harmonizing with the band proved tricky. Mia shared she could hear herself singing, while Jacy could not hear herself at all.
“I was definitely more nervous, just because I would get into my head and think, ‘This is on national television in front of really big celebrities,’” said Jacy. “If it was in my hometown at a church, I’d be perfectly fine. Of course, I’d be a little nervous, because I still get nervous when I sing in front of people, but once I get on stage I’m good and ready to go. In front of coaches, you have to remember dancing and staging and the words, and you can’t really hear yourself…it’s different.”
“Before we walk on stage, our nerves were at the peak,” said Mia. “As soon as you start singing, there’s no going back.”
Tara described the show’s live schedule as a “hurry-up and wait.” For their live performances, the girls had two rehearsals: one in the morning and one before the show started. While the girls were dressed and ready to sing since early morning, much time passed before they actually performed, leaving them with several hours of schoolwork and calming their nerves.
Although Worth the Wait battled until the wildcard instant save episode, where they competed in a four-way knockout against three other contestants for a place in the finals, the trio’s journey ended on December 1, just two weeks shy of the finale.
Despite the group’s elimination from the competition, Tara, Mia and Jacy felt a peace about their time on the show and grateful for the extraordinary opportunity they shared. Any disappointment they felt stemmed not from the lack of ‘winning,’ but from their separation from the lifelong friendships they formed throughout the course of the season.
“I wasn’t crying over the fact that we got eliminated and it was over,” said Jacy. “I was crying because I didn’t want to leave the people, the contestants.”
“Getting the experience to bond with other contestants through music was very therapeutic,” said Tara. “All the memories that stand out the most are the ones made with other contestants.”
“We weren’t supposed to sing with any of the other contestants and we weren’t allowed in each other’s rooms because of COVID,” said Mia. “But we would sit in the hallway outside our doors or in the stairwell, and we would all get guitars and sing and jam out for hours. We called them our ‘secret stairwell sessions’.”
The bond contestants fashioned with one another developed from the sense of understanding shared between them. Tara noted that their season took place during major events circulating nationwide, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, which affected several black contestants on the show who felt conflicted and trapped from supporting their community.
“One of the things we were really big about is diversity,” said Tara. “We weren’t how people believe your typical Southerners should be. They learned that about us – that we’re compassionate and we care. The things that were going on in the world, we were still discussing them and dealing with them, just on a smaller scale and in a different way.”
As they supported and encouraged one another, Mia, Jacy and Tara learned and grew themselves, developing as artists, discovering their strengths and molding their talents to improve.
“There’s so much that we learned,” said Mia. “Kelly [Clarkson] told me how good I am, and I just don’t know it. I’ve got to know what I do, but I need to believe in myself. I was kind of holding back, because when there’s 50 men around with these big cameras, lights and microphones, it’s kind of scary. It was definitely [about] being more comfortable with what was happening; just being comfortable with who we are and what we do. They’re just them, and we’re just us.”
“Usher told me that I need to be a little more confident in my voice,” said Jacy. “That’s one thing I’ve been working on is my own confidence [because] I would kind of just rely on Mom…especially getting told by Usher!”
“I have always told them they are much more talented than they know,” said Tara. “You don’t understand how gifted you really are. To be there and watch these famous vocalists and musicians see it, and recognize that ‘Hey, it’s not just Mama saying we’re pretty good,’ and have people being able to watch that [is so rewarding]. Seeing their confidence grow and knowing how invaluable these lessons are, learning them at such a young age [is priceless].
“When I was their age, I was performing too, but I wasn’t near as mature about it. I really respect that about them. They’ve taken this whole situation so well and it hasn’t changed them negatively. They are still themselves, they are still real, they still have the same friends – but musically speaking, they’re very mature beyond their years. Being able to be by their side and seeing this happen is a dream come true for a mom who only wants to see all of her children succeed and be happy.”
While music forever remains their passion, since the girls’ experience on the voice, Mia and Jacy discovered that their love for singing is much more than a hobby, but their hope for future professions in life.
“When I think about what my future career is going to be, I can’t think about anything but music,” said Jacy. “I can’t really explain it. It’s just something I love to do, and it’s something I want to always do. It’s where I find joy. When I’m sad I write songs, when I’m happy I write songs. It’s just how I express myself.”
“In middle school, I thought it’s kind of an unrealistic dream [to pursue music],” said Mia. “I’m going to have to go to college, and there’s so many things I’m going to have to actually do, and singing can just be my hobby. But once I actually got out there, I realized this is all I want to do. This is it. I have no plan B now – it’s only music. I’m going to do it, no matter what happens. Not only do I just love doing it, my confidence has grown so I have confidence knowing that I will be able to do it.”
Throughout the course of Worth the Wait’s time on The Voice, the flood of support from the Gadsden and Centre community, the trio’s family and friends and fans nationwide overwhelmed the group with endless encouragement. From congratulatory messages on the Pitman Theater’s marquee in downtown Gadsden to Centre awarding the group a key to the city to Sadie remaining the trio’s biggest advocate, rooting for them along the way as she awaits her chance to sing with her sisters again, Worth the Wait’s impact on their local community arose as an outlet of hope in uncertain times. The trio reiterated the gratitude they felt for the continuous love displayed that gave them the extra boost they needed to press forward.
As the group travels forward, Worth the Wait emerges as pioneers in the music industry, demonstrating that harmony is not associated with one genre alone. While they represent inclusivity as individuals through their welcoming, genuine and understanding natures, Tara, Mia and Jacy hope to emerge inclusive as a group – developing a blend of bluegrass, country, pop and Southern gospel genres that share the same roots: to spread a message of inspiration to its audience.
“A lot of the commercial songs are not necessarily songs that bring hope to others,” said Tara. “Our goal is to continue bringing strong messages to the world in a way that hopefully has never been done before, through harmony, family and not just strictly being a Christian band. You can be mainstream and still deliver songs of hope and faith. We believe that those lines should be blurry – they should not be so departmentalized that you can’t deliver songs of hope and faith and heartache with only being in one genre of music.”
The Voice was only the beginning for Worth the Wait. With the trio’s mission of affecting lives and spreading joy through their music, Tara, Mia, Jacy (and Sadie) expressed their excitement regarding the days ahead. Tara shared that as they continue songwriting and recording music, fans can anticipate an album within the year. Regardless of whatever the future may hold for the band and its remarkable members, audiences worldwide can rest with assurance that the greatness to come will prove worth the wait.