After a summer spent singing in disguise and a fall spent creating music from her closet, Israa Darwich says she’s more confident now than ever before. Darwich, a senior majoring in public relations at Wayne State University, recently competed in Fox’s “Alter Ego” singing competition television show and debuted her first EP, “Slip Away.”
Based on the premise that talent cannot always be judged by outward appearances, contestants sing backstage while motion capture technology projects digital avatars that appear on stage to represent each performer. “Alter Ego” is hosted by Rocsi Diaz, with musical judges Alanis Morissette, Nick Lachey, Grimes and will.i.am.
Darwich, who also plays the piano, ukulele and guitar, was scouted by producers who had discovered her music on Instagram. Following an audition process, she was invited to compete in the show’s first season at the TV City Studio in Los Angeles during the summer of 2021. As her chosen avatar, “Night Journey,” Darwich ultimately placed fourth in the competition, among 20 contestants.
“After competing on the show, I feel more confident now than I ever have,” Darwich said. “I was able to prove myself wrong about what I could or couldn’t do. I packed to come home right away and ended up staying through the finals. It was truly a life-changing experience.”
Choosing an “Alter Ego”
Darwich worked with producers and designers to create Night Journey, whose figure dons an elaborate, cage-like skirt with combat boots. Her musical performances included songs by Selena Gomez, Jewel, Alessia Cara and Nelly Furtado.
“I knew I wanted to be a warrior,” Darwich said. “My avatar was designed to be a blend of strength and vulnerability.”
As a contestant, Darwich got to work with her first vocal coach and develop friendships with other performers on set.
“The whole vibe was friendly and supportive,” she said. “Even though it was a competition, we were still rooting for each other because we all really believed in the concept that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.”
Sharing her story
Darwich said the platform and anonymity offered by the show were a welcome opportunity to share her own personal mental health journey in a way that defied many common stigmas. Darwich lives with bipolar II disorder, which is characterized by extreme emotional highs and lows, and spoke about the importance of mental health as Night Journey.
She said that her main focus — present in Night Journey — was to draw light from the dark, noting that a lot of people go through silent journeys and that even in the darkest times, there is hope.
“Having lived with this, I know that the future always has something for you to look forward to,” she said. “And I think that’s something everyone could be reminded of more often. Mental health is so stigmatized, and so I thought that it was a perfect topic to bring to the show, which is based on an appreciation for one’s truest self. You don’t always see a mental health condition.”
Darwich said that music has been a form of therapy and a creative outlet for her for years.
“Music has helped me to overcome so much,” she said.
As an Arab American Muslim woman, Darwich said the show also provided an opportunity to rethink representation in the media. She was featured in The Atlantic.
“You don’t see many – if any – women who look like me on television,” she said. “So being able to be myself and have that level of visibility was huge. It’s taught me — and I hope others — that you can do it, even if you think you can’t.”
Mixing on her own, finding her own
Following the show, Darwich released her second EP, “Slip Away,” in November 2021. Her first EP, “Skeletons,” was released earlier the same year. She describes her music as indie and taught herself how to master and mix her own songs in a closet.
“It was a lot of trial and error,” she said. “I’m continuing to improve and excited to grow as an artist.”
Beyond growing as an artist, Darwich said the experience has also helped her grow professionally and academically. “As a public relations student, it’s really helped me to gain experience doing interviews, being around cameras, thinking about presentation and visualizing a mission, and public speaking. I know I’ll use those skills,” she said. “Most importantly, I’ve learned that when you have self-doubt, you can push through.”