Arts & Entertainment People

Ali McManus’ ‘Unbreakable’ Spirit

January 2, 2019

Ali McManus, a 22-year-old Bloomfield Hills singer-songwriter with a rare bone disorder, discusses her music career and new video featuring Steven Tyler.

By Taylor Morris

Ali McManus, a 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Bloomfield Hills, is constantly raising the bar with her always-positive, “never give up” attitude. Even though McManus has spent most of her days in a wheelchair since she was 7 years old, and has a lung capacity of only 30 percent, it doesn’t stop her from achieving her goals and doing what she loves.

Last year, McManus debuted her first album “Unbreakable” with the help of legendary music producer Jack Douglas. Douglas is well-known for working with Aerosmith, John Lennon and Alice Cooper. He says McManus’ pure, authentic voice and magnetic personality can light up a room. 

“I can’t put into words what the experience was like for all of us watching Ali flower in the studio,” Douglas said in a statement. “…She’s a natural — a true artist with old soul sensibility and a powerful message to share with the world.”

Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus

Producer Jack Douglas with Ali McManus.

Most of McManus’ music relates to the hardships and obstacles she has faced. In her new album “Unbreakable,” some of the lyrics include, “I am what I am, and I love where I stand. Yeah, I can’t stand for long, but I’m goin’ strong, I’m unbreakable.” Her vocals are commonly compared to Stevie Nicks and Dolly Parton, says McManus’ mom, Julie McManus.

In her recent video, “Roll This Way,” she performs a rendition of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” The video even featured Steven Tyler, who pushes her in the wheelchair while singing the lyrics.

Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus

Singer Steven Tyler with Ali McManus.

When McManus was born, she was three months premature, weighing 2 pounds, 7 ounces and given only a 50 percent chance of survival. She defeated the odds, but when McManus turned 6 she started experiencing pain throughout her body. McManus was eventually diagnosed with a rare bone disorder, osteoporosis and scoliosis. Her diagnosis resulted in 11 surgeries, steel rods to fuse and straighten her spine (which was at one time 145 degrees), a full body cast and more. 

Ali McManusPhoto via Julie McManus' Instagram

McManus got involved in music when she was around 7. She always participated in choir, but it wasn’t until she landed a solo in her choir class that she knew music would be a big part of her life.

“That was really the first time I realized that I could sing, and my family realized I could sing. They came up to me afterward, and they were crying. I was young, so I was like ‘Did I do that badly?’ ” McManus laughs. “…Ever since I saw how you can affect people with music, I really stuck with it and knew ever since then that it’s what I wanted to do.”

At 13 years old, she spent nine months at Shriners Hospital for Children in St. Louis to straighten her spine. Although McManus was in recovery, it didn’t stop her from performing and making music.

“Even though it felt like I was away from my music, my mom hired a vocal coach to come in and work me with me at the hospital,” she says. “My grandpa surprised me with an electric keyboard, which was awesome. … I was like the entertainment at the hospital.”

Aside from the electric keyboard and piano, McManus also plays guitar. She says Ed Sheeran is the reason she was inspired to learn to play and she even got the same guitar model as him. 

Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus

The road to recovery for McManus has been long, and though she isn’t there yet, she says she hopes that one day she will not need her wheelchair. 

“I don’t see myself as a person in a wheelchair,” she says. “I see myself as a regular person who just happens to sit down all day.”

In October, McManus attended the American Music Awards in Los Angeles where she met a handful of her favorite celebrities such as The Chainsmokers, Vanessa Hudgens, Shawn Mendes, Post Malone, Kelsea Ballerini, Lil Dicky and more. “It was my first red carpet,” she says. “…I’ll never forget that.”

Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus
Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus

Ali McManus with Post Malone at the American Music Awards.

Ali McManusCourtesy of Julie McManus

Ali McManus with Vanessa Hudgens at the American Music Awards.

Besides singing and songwriting, McManus is a motivational speaker. She speaks messages of resilience and positivity to diverse audiences around the U.S. She has spoken at middle and high schools, trade groups and business conventions.

She’s now working on new music for another album with Douglas. She says her goal is to share her music with as many people as possible and to show people that no matter what’s going on in your life, you can still follow your dreams. “I’ve just always been able to look at the positive of situations and try to find the light of it,” she says.

McManus also gives back her time. She’s a performer and Youth Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Dick Wagner “Remember the Child” Memorial Fund and T.J Martell Foundation.

Ali McManusDavey McLeod/SEEN

Ali McManus received the Marion “Kit” McDonnell “Life Without Limits” award in October 2018. She won the award for refusing to let her disabilities define her and using music to spread her message of being unbreakable.

Her mother says they always try to have fun, no matter what situations they face. She adds she’s proud of her daughter and the accomplishments she has made in her health and career. 

“For her to always have that smile on her face and to get that recognition from people around us, that’s cool,” Julie McManus says. “We just don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m proud of her for keeping her head held high and not worrying about what people think of her. She knows what she wants, and she’s going for it.”  

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