By Katie Mercer @KatieMercer_BM
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Videographer / director: David Johnson
Producer: Katie Mercer, Ruby Coote
Editor: Dan Cousins
Many talented performers turn to Youtube to express themselves, but among the Adele covers and earnest acoustic versions of indie classics, Courtney Blackmore cuts a unique figure.
Born with cystic hygroma - an extremely rare condition that causes growths in the chin and neck - the 20-year-old sends a message of defiance to bullies every time she hits ‘upload’.
Courtney, who lives in Sonora, California had to have years of speech and language therapy as her tumour is so large that it prevents her from closing her mouth.
Yet despite this, Courtney has a pitch-perfect singing voice and has amassed a legion of fans online because of her beautiful voice.
Courtney said: “Singing is one of my outlets.
“If I was being bullied or going through a rough patch, it is the way I found to express myself.”
Courtney has already undergone 20 different surgeries on the huge tumour on her face but she now says that she is comfortable with how she looks and will not have any more surgery unless it is an absolute medical necessity.
But her unusual looks have meant she has struggled with a lifetime of bullying and although her Youtube videos are popular, cruel jibes are often found in the comment section.
Courtney said: “I have had people ask me, ‘Why do you upload? You know you are different. You know you are going to get hate.
“But for me it’s an expression of me and it doesn’t matter what people say. It is my choice and if people don’t like it, they can just click the next video”.
Courtney’s mother, nurse Katrina Blackmore, admits that she was worried when she found out her daughter would be sharing her life online.
“I worry about her, I’m always worried but when she said she wanted to go online I did have a hard time with it,” Katrina said.
“I talked to her about the sorts of people that are out there and the reactions she might meet but she just told me, ‘Mom, I got this, I can handle it and she does.
“I have a much harder time with it than she does.”
Courtney’s father, Larry said: “The nasty comments are just another form of bullying in my opinion.
“They are made by those who don’t understand what people with differences are all about. They need to understand that not everyone is perfect – not even themselves.”
Courtney says she can easily brush negative comments off.
“It can be kind of hard with YouTube comments because there are times when I want to reply back and I have done in the past, but I just try to remember that if they are going to be hating there really is no point replying because that’s what they want – they are hating to get a reaction.
“In person and on Youtube, I just brush off negative comments because I am so used to having them now that I have just learned to shake them off”.
Katrina and Larry found out that Courtney would have cystic hygroma before she was born.
Katrina said: “I was around 31 weeks pregnant when we were told, ‘there’s something wrong with your baby’.
“I just cried and cried. I’d never heard of cystic hygroma before, didn’t know what it was, what it meant, whether Courtney would live or die. It was a difficult time.
“But having Courtney, although it has been hard sometimes, it has been the most positive experience you could ever have imagined.
“When I see Courtney sing, I feel excited that she can do that. If I sing, it sounds like all the dogs in the neighbourhood are going to join in so to hear her sing is amazing. I don’t know where she got her beautiful voice from but it’s a thrill to hear her sing.”
Katrina and Larry say they never treated Courtney any differently to any other child while she was growing up and they encouraged her to pursue a variety of different interests including swimming, horseriding and skiing.
During her school years, Courtney was subjected to bullying by her classmates and she admits that during the ordeal, she wished that she looked ‘normal’ and worried that she might never find love.
She said: “I was afraid there wouldn’t be someone that would want to be there for me throughout all the hardships and all the things I have to go through. I didn’t know if there would be anyone who would accept me and love me for me.”
But two years ago Courtney met Chad. The pair fell in love and are now planning a wedding.
Chad said: “My first impression of Courtney when I first met her was: she’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s talented, she is amazing and a tough little cookie.
“We like to ride horses together, go to the movies, go for walks and go swimming. We do everything together.
“I love everything about this woman. She is a real fighter and no matter who looks and stares at her, she just turns the other cheek. I support her no matter what.”
Courtney said: “It’s been really, really hard to accept myself and accept the way I look. “I always wanted to look ‘normal’, but there really is no normal.
“I’ve realised that it’s ok to be different, it’s ok that I look different. For me, this is normal and that’s ok. I am fine being who I am.”
Proud Mum, Katrina said: “I think she is very brave for getting up everyday and facing the world.
“She inspires other people with her singing. They realise that even though you look different or even if you have a birth defect, you can go out there and sing just like she can. You can go out there and accomplish something, just like she can.”