In 2014, Marrialle Sellars stunned on “American Idol.” As part of her audition, she played guitar accompaniment while her deep voice wrapped around Bruno Mars’ “Grenade.” Her sound was powerfully clear with a few soft cracks that related the pain of a lover whose devotion isn’t returned.
Eight years later, Sellars calls the audition one of the best experiences of her life. It also led to a stressful week that she cites as the reason she doesn’t want to try out for another TV show. Sellars made the Top 30, and of that group, she was one of 20 the judges selected to sing during what was called “Rush Week” before she was cut.
Looking back now, Sellars said “Idol” and the world weren’t yet ready for a variety artist — the label she has bestowed upon herself to make clear that she doesn’t fit a predetermined one. That recognition is also the root of her growth as an artist, one who is well-rounded enough to play and unite different genres effectively.
“American Idol” “couldn’t put me in one box because I wanted to do everything,” Sellars said. “I still had a lot of room to grow. I had the potential to be whatever and whoever I wanted to be.”
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Her music will resound Friday by the Orange Bridge over the downtown canal, when she’ll perform for Art & Soul, an annual celebration of Black artists organized by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. The musician’s songs will tackle mental health and her feelings during the pandemic, among other topics, aligning with the 2022 theme of Black Health and Wellness.
Sellars is one of four featured artists — including poet Chantel Massey, choreographer Karome Walker and artist Shayla Williams — who are part of this year’s Art & Soul.
Sellars might not have discovered the depths of her talent had she not wrecked while riding a miniature pocket rocket-style motorcycle as a kid. When her mom declared the hobby over, she also helped set her daughter on a new path. You’re good at singing, Luzviminda Sellars told her, so go with that. Her dad agreed.
So around age 11, Marrialle, who grew up on the east side, started singing in earnest. She played bass and took cello lessons and then learned the guitar from YouTube videos. People kept saying she was good. Her dad, Fredrick Sellars, pushed her further.
At one point, she sat her parents down to perform Kelly Clarkson’s “A Moment Like This.” She’d practiced it over and over until she thought she’d nailed her ability to belt it.
Fredrick “was like, ‘That’s really good. You can do better,” she said. “He was a stickler for getting things to be almost perfect. So that’s what I did. I sat down again, I tried again, kept working on it, kept working on it. And now it’s just kind of like my habit. So if something doesn’t sound right to me, then I’ll just keep practicing it even if everyone else around me likes what I’m doing already.”
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Sellars and her sister Zenaida Sellars sang together after their father passed away — downtown on the street, on YouTube, on Facebook. The duo’s work didn’t go unnoticed, and Luzviminda’s boyfriend at the time recommended they try out for a TV show. That’s when Marrialle made “Idol.”
With influences over the years that include Mahalia Jackson, Michael Jackson, Bill Withers, Adele and Billie Eilish, Sellars puts together her own sound. She’s recorded an acoustic EP called “Naked” that includes stripes of pop, R&B and country.
As Sellars moves into the future, she likes the sense of being an independent artist who performs original music.
“If I want to do something that’s, like, off scope from what I would normally do, I’m going to do it” Sellars said. “I’ve gotten a little more confident in making my own choices and standing by my own choices.”
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2022 Art & Soul: If you go
The fourth installment, called Black Music Day, will run from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. June 24 at the Orange Bridge at the intersection of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail and the Canal at West Walnut Street. Admission is free.
Along with Sellars, performers include the Art & Soul Band — with Brenda Williams, Brandon Meeks, Richard “Sleepy” Floyd, Steven Jones and Rob Dixon — Bashiri Asad and Yvonne Allu.
Find more information and the full schedule at indyarts.org/about/art-soul.
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