Apparently, I’m the only person who didn’t loathe 2016, but I’m thankful for it for one reason: my fandom.
There were a lot of difficult things that happened this year. We can make a list of the things that went wrong and the people we lost (and let’s not even start on the Presidential election). But when I look back on 2016, I’m going to look at it as the year of The Voice and Chicago Med, and I’m going to smile like I haven’t in a long time.
This was the year I said goodbye to one fandom and began my journey with another. I’ve been with The Voice since its very first season five years ago. I’ve been on almost every red carpet and at almost every press event, and up until this fall had been in the studio for at least one live show for the last eleven seasons. Some of my closest friends I met through the competition. I even launched the first fan blog for the show, which went on to become a question on the syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire last October. I was all in and then some.
And then there was my friendship with Adam Levine. He went into the show as my hero, but for the last five years he’s been my mentor and my friend. I’ve shared so many moments with him that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It’s an incredible blessing to say that not only have I met my hero but he’s stayed by my side, and that twice a year we get to hang out and cheer each other on.
But times changed and The Voice eventually stopped needing me the way it once did. What were interviews and parties turned into group interviews and press conferences, and outlets just weren’t interested, and those moments I used to come home and talk about were fewer and farther between. I went into this year knowing that it was probably going to be my last covering the show on a weekly basis, even as it hurt because without this fandom I probably wouldn’t have a career.
The fandom gave me one heck of a parting gift, though. In late April, I drove up to Los Angeles to participate in the Season 11 press mixer, not realizing until I got there that it was a karaoke night. And that’s how I ended up standing on stage belting out “This Love” alongside Adam Levine:
How many people get to say they shared a duet with a three-time Grammy winner? But more than that, this song was my dream come true. For five years I’d been playing Maroon 5 songs on Rock Band and joking that I wanted to sing karaoke with Adam Levine. I got to stop looking up at him as my hero and look him in the eye as my partner. He told me that was the most fun he’d had singing “This Love” in a long time. He had the room chanting my name when I came onto the stage. And after it was all over, I went out into the parking lot and cried.
It was the last thing I had waited to do, and I’d done it. It was as if the fandom was saying it was okay for me to move on. And so I did.
This year I joined the One Chicago family, first through Chicago Fire and then Chicago Med. About the same time I was doing karaoke, I started meeting friends on Fire. By May, I was visiting them in Chicago. And by October I was on a plane headed back there officially being welcomed into the fandom, enough so that in December, I joined the casts of all four shows for the WhirlyCruz Cup charity event and I was just another one of the team.
One of my best friends, Philip Winchester, is the lead on the upcoming Chicago Justice. My other best friend, Jeff Hephner, is recurring on Chicago Med after spending a previous season on Fire. I’ve gotten to know at least a half-dozen other people across the franchise. And after that little hospital incident, I’ve even become friendly with Colin Donnell, whom I guess you could describe as the Adam Levine of Chicago Med. To me, anyway.
And let’s talk about that because it’s another moment I’m going to hold onto for the rest of my life. You have no idea how much freer and brighter life feels now without three decades of fear playing through my head. I’m not being held back anymore thanks to one set visit. Like Adam shared that stage with me, Colin shared that hospital room with me and it meant the world to be equal with someone else that I look up to. The only way this could get any better is if Colin and I share a scene together someday (or hey, I’ll settle for another karaoke night).
But that’s just a new goal to set for the future. At the end of WhirlyCruz, Jeff and I were talking and he told me he was glad I’d fallen in with the One Chicago family. And so am I, because I get to go into 2017 supporting two of my best friends, countless more friends I’ve made, and cheering on another hero.
Fandom has given me so much this year. We all throw around in our various circles this idea of fandom as family but it really is true. I’m not grateful for these experiences because I got to have them with famous people. I’m grateful for them because I shared them with my friends.
And even outside of those rooms, the encouragement and support I’ve gotten on Twitter, in emails and even from random people has been appreciated. For all these highs and even those terrible lows I have fandom to lean on. And not just to lean on, but to have these crazy wonderful things that happen and remind me that life can be pretty great no matter what else wants to go insane.
Even today, I’m writing this while waiting for a doctor’s appointment to treat bronchitis that might have turned itself into pneumonia. I said I’m not going back into the hospital unless it’s one with Colin Donnell. So what did I get for Christmas? An Arrow jigsaw puzzle with Tommy Merlyn front and center. Even in the worst of times, my fandom is there for me. And for that, I’ll always be thankful.
Image: Trae Patton/NBC