It started with the bedtime music. Back when Scott MacIntyre was a toddler, his parents would tuck him in and turn on a cassette recorder playing church hymns or Disney tunes.
However, instead of lulling him to sleep, the songs would wake him up.
"I'd sneak out to our old upright piano to play the melodies I heard on the tapes,'' said MacIntyre, 24, who has been blind since birth.
Fast forward. Go past the midnight serenades at the MacIntyre home in Redondo Beach, Calif., past college at Arizona State University and graduate study at Royal Holloway, University of London and the Royal College of Music.
In 2009, MacIntyre made history as the first blind competitor in the finals of American Idol.
On Wednesday, MacIntyre, an accomplished pianist, guitarist and drummer who now lives in Arizona, is scheduled to appear at Ruth Eckerd Hall as keynote speaker during Tea for Tots 2010. It is a fundraiser for Largo-based Lighthouse of Pinellas, which has provided services to meet the needs of the blind and visually impaired for more than 50 years.
Most people have 180 degrees of vision in the center of their field, but Scott was born with about 2 degrees, said his father, Doug MacIntyre.
Scott has a saying, "You are the only person that can keep you from reaching your dreams," his dad said. "He never has let this disability stop him from setting significant goals.''
It hasn't stopped him from celebrity status either.
Since his appearance in the eighth season of American Idol, MacIntyre took part in the national "American Idols Tour Live!," joined rock icon Alice Cooper at his annual Christmas Pudding concert in Arizona, and released a CD, Heartstrings, which debuted at No. 18 on iTunes Pop Album Chart. This summer, he also completed a solo tour for Heartstrings, which took him to Tokyo.
MacIntyre credits Lighthouse, which has facilities around the country, for much of his success.
"Sometimes all it takes is an organization empowering an individual to use their skills,'' he said. "There are a lot of blind individuals out there, and Lighthouse does amazing work.''
MacIntyre began taking classical piano at age 6. Sometimes finding a teacher to work with a blind student was a challenge.
"My parents and I always looked for piano teachers who were willing to venture out,'' he said.
He would ask the teacher to put music on tape, recording the left hand and the right hand separately.
"I trained my ears to hear as much as my eyes would have seen,'' he said.
For Jessica Tomlinson, a former client of Lighthouse of Pinellas who also has been visually impaired since birth, MacIntyre's method is a familiar one.
"I play the piano after listening to the music on a recording as well,'' she said. Tomlinson, was a finalist in 2007 during Florida's VSA Young Soloist Competition, designed to foster fine art for people with disabilities around the state.
"I remember seeing him on American Idol, knowing he was blind, and I felt so proud and encouraged … someone with a similar disability that can achieve so much, and I hope his success encourages other visually impaired pianists in their career as well.''
Along with MacIntyre, Tea for Tots also will include a presentation of the Beacon Award to Sara Randall, 81, and her late husband, Harvey J. Randall, who died in 2002.
The longtime volunteers in the Lighthouse of Pinellas Children's Program are remembered for spending many years portraying Santa and Mrs. Claus at the annual Lighthouse Family Breakfast with Santa.