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Pittman speaks out against peer bullying

Sunday, March 4, 2012

(Photo)
Kevin House of Thayer, right, stopped in Harp's grocery store in Thayer on Feb. 5 to meet Gassville, Ark., singer Dave Pittman, who recently released his new album, "Crazy Brave." Pittman was an American Idol contestant in 2010. Photo by Steven Looney [Order this photo]
At 9 years old, Dave Pittman drew a frowny face on a goodbye note to his parents, locked himself in their bedroom and was seconds away from killing himself with his dad's squirrel rifle before putting down the gun.

Twenty-one years later, Pittman, 30, is speaking to children from Texas to Tennessee about the harm caused by bullying and how to be happy in their own skin.

"It was extremely hard for me to get through school," Pittman said Feb. 15 from Harp's grocery store in Thayer. Besides being diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in second grade, Pittman also suffered with attention deficit and obsessive compulsive disorders.

For years, Pittman was the brunt of teasing as his classmates mocked his uncontrollable facial tics and frequent throat-clearing. Witnessing her son's terror at the mention of returning to school after summer break, Pittman's mother, Perri Pittman, home-schooled him for one year.

Pittman realized he missed public school. He returned in sixth grade, ready to accept his condition and face the bullies who had plagued him in early elementary. As Pittman relaxed, so, too, did his classmates.

With the help of caring teachers and professors, Pittman graduated Cotter High School near his hometown of Gassville, Ark., and earned a degree in religion from Liberty University in Virginia.

Tourette's does not affect Pittman when he sleeps, a fact he is exceedingly grateful for, or while he concentrates intensely, such as when he's singing on stage.

Dave gained national fame in 2009-10 when he appeared as an "American Idol" contestant, advancing to the top 70 on the TV show.

When Idol judge Neil Patrick Harris addressed what later was called "the elephant in the room," when he called Pittman "crazy brave" for competing in the program despite having Tourette's.

Idol judge Simon Cowell followed up with, "I think people are going to like you."

What Harris likely did not understand is, on stage is where Pittman feels most comfortable. For Pittman, singing doesn't require an extreme act of bravery.

"I was 6 years old, in church, the first time I sang in public," Pittman said. "After that, I was absolutely hooked."

Dave also played drums in high school and at Twin Lakes Baptist Church in Mountain Home, Ark., where his dad, Bill Pittman, is the music pastor.

While Pittman was in the spotlight on Idol, he was raising awareness for Tourette's, which had been negatively portrayed on movies and TV programs as causing blasts of obscenities by those inflicted.

Because of American Idol contracts, Pittman was not allowed to post Facebook or other online comments, although the sites were flooded with comments from wellwishers and those thankful to Pittman for educating people about Tourette's.

Pittman's mother, not barred by Idol contracts, posted a response to author Brad Cohen, author of "Front of the Class," an autobiographical look at Cohen's childhood and living with Tourette's.

"We're praying for God's direction as doors are opening for Dave," Perri Pittman wrote on Cohen's site. "I wish you could meet Dave in person. He is so much fun to be around. He can imitate people and do different accents very well. He also plays drums well. People love to be around him."

Among those touched by Pittman's candid appearance on Idol, Todd Puckett, a concierge to entertainers, was watching in Chicago.

"I saw Dave, and I couldn't get to sleep that night," Puckett said. "The next morning, I sent him a random Facebook message, and he responded. I've never, ever done that before."

Puckett, founder of Concierge 365, a life-coaching and counseling agency, is now Pittman's manager and was with him in Harp's grocery. He said working with Pittman is rewarding, as Pittman is positive, fun and dependable. Puckett, who suffers from a neurological disorder himself, said Pittman inspires people to live their best lives.

In the months that followed Pittman's experience on Idol, Harris' comment about bravery lingered, prompting Pittman to seek a Nashville writer to help him pen "Crazy Brave," which is the title of his CD released last fall. The song pays tribute to those Pittman considers truely brave, a single mother working to care for her children -- and firemen who rush in to danger when others run out.

Pittman moved to Nashville in April 2011, where he is honing his songwriting skills. He also is booking appearances throughout the country to share his music and inspirational story. In February, Pittman spoke to school children in Doniphan and a dozen northern Arkansas schools.

Pittman also is planning for a motivational movie, focusing on how he overcame many barriers and continues to succeed by just believing.

"I used to think of Tourette Syndrome as a curse. Now I think of it as a blessing," Pittman said. "It has made me a stronger person -- it has made me who I am."

Besides speaking engagements, songwriting, performing and touring, Pittman is working with Disney and Pixar companies by doing voice overs for animated films. He also works with TSA-USA, a national agency devoted to helping those with Tourette's.

Pittman is single, he said, because he is too busy to squeeze anything else into his life.

Before selecting music as his career, Pittman worked in various occupations -- in construction, sales and janitorial work.

"I don't fit in anywhere else except when I am up on the stage performing. It is simply what I do best," Pittman said. "I want to be an inspiration to those who face challenges and disabilities, and to let them know that no matter what the setback, to never give up their dreams."



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