Finalist ... Karise Eden.
Long sleeves are her signature look on The Voice. For 19-year-old Karise Eden, they are more than a fashion choice. She wears them to cover the scars on her arms - from years of self-harm. ''I call them my tribal scars,'' Eden told The Sun-Herald.
The teenager has opened up about her harrowing childhood and early teenage years. The self-harming started at 11. She left home at 13. From then until age 16 she was shunted between more than 20 refuges. ''I was just moved and moved. I went through a lot of traumatic experiences.''
But tonight and tomorrow night, Eden performs in the grand final of The Voice, Australia's most-watched TV show. She goes in as favourite, according to Sportsbet, which has her priced at $1.57 to win. Eden is telling her story now, hoping to give hope to other teenagers who have endured hardship. ''There is a way out,'' she says. ''You can get through it.''
Rachael Leahcar at RSB's Knapman House, Adelaide. Photo: David Porter
It didn't always seem that way.
The self-harm started while living on the central coast with her mother Michelle and sister Siana-Lee. ''I won't go into the actual reasons why. I guess I was just stuck in a place in my life when I thought there was nothing else. I was nothing, I felt nothing.''
In the youth refuges, she says, ''there was a lot of playing the game of who's top dog. There was a lot of violence in places like that and we were all just kids, in such a stressful situation.''
Eden was given her own place under community housing at 16, in Woy Woy. She slowly built a local reputation as a singer, performing at restaurants and shopping centres. ''It was just through word of mouth, through friends and family who knew people locally.'' And life got better.
''I broke the chain [of self-harm] when I was 15 or 16,'' she says.
She describes her relationship with her mother as difficult, but she has invited her and her sister to be in the live studio audience in Sydney tonight.
''We have a love-hate relationship,'' Eden says. ''There's a lot of bitterness but a lot of love. There's a lot of underlying, deep issues that we've never touched on. It's very mixed emotions for her because I grew into an adult without her … So I guess it's hard, us trying to figure out each other. Yeah, it is a difficult relationship but at the end of the day she's my mum.''
Eden uses her middle name as a surname. Her foster parents joined her at the first audition for The Voice.
''Eighty per cent of me - actually, 100 per cent of me - wants to run and scream to the world what happened to me. I want to just get out there and scream and plead with [other] kids.''
She has her doubts, adding: ''But they're not going to listen to me.''
Tonight, surely many will.
The grand finale screens over two nights on Channel Nine. Public voting will decide the winner.
RACHAEL LEAHCAR has just 10 per cent of her sight remaining and uses a white cane to guide her.
Although there is a cure ''on the horizon'' for her hereditary condition - retinitis pigmentosa - the teenager said she would not necessarily want her situation to change.
''Every year they discover something new,'' Leahcar said of a potential cure for the disease that affects one in 3000 Australians. ''So I have some hope … maybe even in five or 10 years there will be something.
''I'm not sure now [though]. I've become this role model for people with disabilities. I'm not sure if I want to go down that road, because I'm really happy with my life.''
The condition, that began as a loss of peripheral vision and progressed to tunnel vision, has not hampered her independence.
As well as her burgeoning singing career, Leahcar is an ambassador for the Royal Society for the Blind in South Australia.
''She is so positive and confident,'' the society's spokeswoman, Jessica Hamilton, said. ''You don't feel that she has a disability of any kind.''
Leahcar's success has attracted much interest on social media, praising her as an inspiration for visually impaired children.
The head of the Discipline of Ophthalmology at Sydney University, John Grigg, said research into a cure through gene therapy and stem cell therapy was progressing here and overseas.
''A cure is on the horizon,'' he said.
Leahcar said that more needed to be done in the community to change attitudes towards people with disabilities.
''Sometimes I'm called the blind singer and those two words have absolutely no relation to each other,'' she said. ''You can't feel sorry for someone who's so happy … I'm on top of the world.''
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