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Lynda Sayyah in studio Lynda Sayyah

The lure of a dream

The room is dark, filled with chatter, alive with anticipation. Then the stage lights flare, the music starts to pulse, the audience leans forward just a bit, ready to share a moment of electricity, energy and passion. And Lynda Sayyah is at home.

For 45 powerful minutes, the willowy brunette from the suburbs north of Indianapolis leaves behind the girl who loved Power Rangers and then high school musicals to prowl the stages of the city's music clubs. Her style is part Mariah Carey, part Christina Aguilera, but always shaped by her own vision. Whether her songs are about love, destiny or passion, for those moments, the world is reduced to Lynda, and those who came to share her dreams.

Dreams on the road

Those dreams have taken Sayyah across the country — she's performed in such renowned venues as the Roxy Club and the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles with the Indianapolis-area musical group The Franchize, and has a national tour planned this fall — and far from the IUPUI classes she attended while earning a degree in English (BA 2005).

"I really enjoyed my time at IUPUI," she says. "The teachers were really great, and I was doing well. But I've always dreamed of being a singer, and that's a very time- and age-sensitive thing.

You're only this young once and I didn't want to half focus on music and half on school. I knew I had to fully commit to performing if I wanted to have a chance to succeed."

She still has strong ties to the campus; she has worked with IUPUI faculty and students on music videos for her MySpace page, and stays in touch with her campus friends and colleagues as much as possible.

Those relationships and the other friendships she has from the city's club scene or her days at Hamilton Southeastern High School are important to her; they "keep me grounded. They're my support system," she says.

Sayyah

They fill a void normally occupied by family. But Sayyah's exotic good looks (her unique blend of German and Palestinian ancestry has helped her find periodic modeling work) and sense of style — key elements of her stage presence — have cut her off from her Muslim family. Their cultural beliefs frown upon such displays; her family contacts are limited and "I couldn't really sign professionally until I was 20 or 21 and out of my parents' house," she sighs.

As with many artists, though, the pain of one part of life can serve as the foundation of creation. In her song A-Ya-Ya, Sayyah's lyrics capture her commitment.

Early performances

Singing, writing music and performing have been part of Sayyah's life for almost as long as she can recall.

"I remember the first song I ever wrote was about the Power Rangers when I was in the fifth grade," she laughs. She sang solos in school performances "in the second grade" and the experience left her wanting more. "I thought it was cool.

"I was in musicals and plays all through high school, and I loved it," Sayyah adds. "It was acting and singing and performing with a whole group of people you know. When you're on stage, you're putting your heart out there, and you don't know how people will react."

A long the way, her musical heroes included Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera — all "powerhouse singers." Sayyah's own style — "it's always being refined" — is a blend of rock and pop "with an edge to it."

She does some cover songs (pieces associated with other performers) in her normal 45-minute sets, but "95 percent of what I do is something I've written. At first, I thought I had to write everything I sang, but that's unrealistic." Inspiration comes from real life, she says. "Relationships, my family situation, everyday things — you never know where an idea will come from!"

Creating a song isn't a simple or easy process, no matter how heart-felt. "I'm like the most fickle person," Sayyah laughs. "I'll get it done, then a little later I want to do it all over — and differently."

Path of creativity

Writing songs has taken her "as little as 15 minutes and as long as four days," she adds. But writing is just step one toward a performance version of a song. Collaborating with other musicians and producers takes more time and energy.

Lynda Sayyah

Sayyah in the recording studio

"Sometimes you butt heads," she admits. "But if you trust them and they know you and your style, it works out. And when you work well together, when you're vibing off each other, that's the best feeling!"

In the studio, she works regularly with producer-performer Christopher Ray (better known to fans as C-Ray), while on stage she has worked often with Nate Davis, lead singer of The Franchize. "Singing with Nate is like second nature to me," Sayyah says. "When we get on stage, it's like we know what each other wants to do, where we want to go with a song."

In fact, Sayyah's first professional gig was with Davis and The Franchize. "I was supposed to do one show, but wound up performing with them for three or four years," Sayyah laughs. Now she and Davis plan to tour south of the Mason-Dixon line together this summer.

While the Indianapolis music scene is heating up, with an ever-growing number of clubs and performers, it's still not L.A. or New York, Sayyah says.

"You can't make it as a performer from here (in Indy)," she notes, "but you have to start from here." Indy is "where you develop your style, a buzz. If you can do that, you have a chance."

Laying it on the line

That "buzz" is elusive, and Sayyah knows performers live — and die — by audience reaction.

"I'm not sure people realize how much courage it takes to put yourself out there to be judged," Sayyah says pensively. "For some, judgment can hit them hard. I've seen it happen."

There are practical concerns, too. Making a living often requires "picking up shifts" at area restaurants until another round of musical gigs come along.

"This is a seat-of-the-pants, feel-your-way-along business," she says. "Not a lot of people realize that it isn't enough just to perform well: you have to be a business person, too. You have to be eloquent, to represent yourself and your business well." While the stage is Sayyah's "home-away-from-home," it can be an emotional roller coaster.

"You're telling people who you are by your songs, especially when you've written most of them," she says. "You have to be thick-skinned when people don't really like what you're doing.

"This is not an easy career," Sayyah adds. "You're sacrificing so much. You're giving up family, or education, or getting married, just for a slender hope to be that one-in-a-million success."