Well-dressed adults mingled in an upscale gallery, glasses of champagne in hand. Abstract paintings lined the white walls, and the whole room was aflutter with excitement. No one could stop talking about the artist of the night — a child no more than three feet tall. This was Marla Olmstead, and as her legend grew in the fine art world, so did the questions surrounding her awe-inspiring creativity. Was this little girl concealing a big secret?
Marla was born at the turn of the millennium in Binghamton, New York. Early on, she enjoyed playing in her backyard, watching cartoons, and hanging out with her parents, Mark and Laura, as well as her younger brother, Zane. Then, at age 3, everything changed.
Her grandfather passed away. Afterwards, a grieving Mark Olmstead took up painting as a distraction. One day, in an attempt to occupy his daughter while he tried to focus, he offered her a paint brush of her own.
According to her parents, there was something special about whatever she painted. The pieces, though mostly abstract, just seemed advanced for her age. On a whim, they hung up one of her paintings in a local coffee shop. This unleashed the floodgates.
Soon, coffee drinkers started to inquire about the price of the piece, which hadn’t even been for sale! Mark and Laura were in awe that someone seriously wanted to pay money for a work painted by their toddler. They sold Marla’s art a whopping $253.
Things only snowballed from here. And at first, the attention was glowingly positive. The local art gallery asked Marla to hold a show. People attended and were enthralled by her work. Her talent, guests whispered, was undeniable.
Soon, everyone wanted a Marla original. A local paper picked up the story of the child prodigy, and the kid at the center of this one captured the attention of some pretty important figures. Pretty soon, The New York Times ran a profile on her.
The story focused a spotlight on Marla. Art collectors were now bidding tens of thousands of dollars on her work. Mark and Laura were taken aback, but also incredibly proud to know that virtual strangers saw the same talent in their daughter that they did. Quickly, they would learn to regret the whole thing.
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At her peak, as many as 200 people were lining up to get their own piece by the talented tot. Critics compared her to Jackson Pollock, the artist famous for his splattered paintings. While some were skeptical that Marla was all she was chalked up to be, the main narrative was one of adoration and praise.
Then, the 60 Minutes segment happened. This should have been just another step towards fame for the young artist, showcasing her talents and feeding into her widespread acclaim. In reality? It nearly ruined their lives.
Producers approached the Olmsteads in February of 2005, hoping to run a story on Marla. Mark and Laura agreed. The show did have one request, though: to install hidden video cameras that would film Marla as she painted. The world wanted to watch the artist work!
The Olmsteads, again, agreed. So, 60 Minutes set up cameras, laid out a canvas, and asked Marla to paint. So, she did. For five hours, she worked on a piece that was supposed to showcase her skills. On the night that the segment aired, the family watched on TV.
While watching the segment, Mark was furious. Laura was terrified. The show was not celebrating Marla, but rather, held an interview Ellen Winner, a woman specializing in child prodigies.
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“I saw no evidence that she was a child prodigy in painting,” Ellen said, after watching footage of Marla. “I saw a normal, charming, adorable child painting the way preschool children paint, except that she had a coach who kept her going,” she admitted.
Viewers across the nation were shocked as Winner went on to say that the piece shown on 60 Minutes appeared to be “less polished than some of Marla’s previous works.” The implications were clear: not only was Marla not the prodigy she’d been made out to be, but she also may have had outside help.
The media went wild. Accusations flew, and the predominant line of thinking was that Mark, the amateur painter, was at least helping Marla complete her works. People felt lied to, and betrayed. The family watched as their fifteen minutes of fame turned into a virtual nightmare.
Perpetual Musing Blog
Then, an opportunity arose that the Olmsteads thought may be their last chance to redeem themselves in the public eye. A documentarian by the name of Amir Bar-Lev approached them with an interest in doing a film on the situation. Mark and Laura hastily consented.
Bar-Lev insisted he was going into the production with an open mind; he wasn’t aiming to expose the family as frauds, but rather tell an objective account of things. Still, if he was going to do it right he’d need his own proof that Marla was doing the paintings independently.
So, once again, a videographer was setting up a camera and laying out a canvas. Marla began to paint. However, after a while, the little girl began asking questions that raised some serious red flags.
Throughout the duration of the tape she asked her dad Mark if he’d draw a face on the canvas, and at one point asked him to take over control of the brush altogether. This would prove to be the last straw for the family’s failing reputation.
When the documentary aired, the Olmsteads refused to attend the premiere, claiming it was unfairly edited to portray them as dishonest scammers. Today, when a much older Marla is asked if she considers herself a child prodigy, she has an answer ready to go.
“I don’t think of myself in that way at all,” Marla Olmstead said when asked about her past. Nevertheless, she was born in the reality-TV era, where every average joe was trying to get famous. Whether it’s wanted or not, being young a talented really makes you stand out from the crowd.
Imagine walking into the first day of college and getting noticed for looking completely out of place. Well, that’s exactly what happened to Soleil Hawley, another east-coast prodigy, when she was told she was “really short”.
Without even batting an eye, Soleil turned to her peer with smart quip and simply said, “that’s because I’m 11”. Her name, which is pronounced SOH-lay, is French for sun. And just like the sun, she was truly a rising star.
Felicite Moormon Facebook
When most kids are just trying to decide where their boy band allegiance lies, Soleil was determining which classes to take to kick off her college career. This may make you think she was some kind of genius… but that wasn’t exactly the case.
Growing up in the suburbs of Oklahoma, Soleil was always marked by her insatiable curiosity. She wanted to do everything, she wanted to know everything. And what’s more, she was determined that nothing was going to get in her way.
It was that unbridled wonder that lead her to start pulling her mom’s sleeve about joining a whole slew of extracurricular activities. Painting, drawing, violin, bass, singing, poetry and even Japanese language classes were on her list.
Overwhelmed by her daughter’s grandiose aspirations, her mom, Felicite Moorman, made what she thought was an innocent joke saying, “You should go to college if you’re going to spend that kind of money and time.”
Felicite Moorman Facebook
Well, her mom’s tease was no joke to Soleil, who, at the very mention of college, perked right up. But of course, how had she never considered college before! It’s essentially a fountain of education after all.
It was fortunate that right around that time Soleil’s family relocated to Philadelphia. Being in a bigger metropolitan area meant she now had a lot more access to opportunities that would satisfy her hunger for education.
Dipping her toe into college life with her first art class was all the experimenting Soleil needed before plunging right in. She started taking every art class she could at the local community college, especially focusing on visual art and Japanese.
By the time she was 14, she started to set her sights on Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. But as she was just getting started on the application process, her dreams of joining the painting department at Penn suddenly came to a screeching halt.
Admissions counselors informed the aspiring young artist that, at a minimum, she had to have a high school diploma. Soleil was crushed, but it didn’t take long for her to shake off that initial disappointment and concoct a plan to beat the system.
Soleil Hawley Facebook
At this time, Soleil was already being homeschooled, which meant that she had a bit more flexibility in her schedule. So, at 15, she enrolled in Penn Foster, an online accelerated program. Soleil made it clear, she had places to go and no time to waste.
Soleil Hawley Facebook
And being that time was so precious, she worked eight hours a day for 80 days straight to complete the program. This, of course, was in tandem with all her other activities, including playing bass for her band, The Amp Cats.
Not surprisingly all her hard work paid off. At 16, Soleil became the youngest person accepted into the Ivy League School’s BFA program in at least the last decade. And in typical Soleil fashion, getting her foot in the door was just the beginning.
Now at 18, she is preparing to graduate. Her professors who have worked closely with her over the last three years claim that she is years beyond her age. Some didn’t even realize she was younger than the average student!
Felicite Moorman Facebook
“I always felt pretty ready for it,” Soleil says about her fast track path. “There is so much more to accomplish once you realize there is so much more to education than the frameworks we have in place.”
Her eyes were also opened up to more than just ivy league rigor as she attended school with people who didn’t grow up having the kind of privilege she did. It made her realize, as hard as she was working, many people in her position still had to work 10 times harder.
Soleil paid her way through school through scholarships, help from her parents and about $25,000 in student loans. Attending universities in America is still an extreme financial burden, something that didn’t evade this bright young star.
Knowing the cost of an education, especially the kind of education she wants, Soleil has made plans to apply for the Rhodes scholarship after she graduates. If she is awarded the scholarship it will grant her the ability to study at Oxford University in England for free.
No matter what is on the horizon for Soleil, one thing seems pretty clear: it doesn’t look like the sun is setting on this young girls’ bright future anytime soon. But for some parents, they know at an even earlier age that their child might be gifted.
Muhammad Haryz Nadzim was only seven months old when he tipped his parents off that there was something miraculous going on in his mind. The baby boy blurted out his first words way earlier than the average person, and that was just the beginning.
By his second birthday, Haryz was totally capable of reading his own bedtime stories. His skill was obvious, soon mastering all the easy readers and memorizing them. This was when they started to think Haryz might have more than above average intelligence.
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For Asyikin and her husband Mohd, discovering their son’s incredible mental capabilities was a dream come true. The pair of engineers moved from their home country of Malaysia to the UK for their careers, started their family, and found themselves with a child savant.
Metro UK / Nur Anira Asyikin
It was clear that Haryz was ready to jump with both feet into the education system. In addition to preschool, they enrolled their toddler in math classes with the popular Kumon education program. Within a few months, he made the honor roll.
Every simple math problem thrown Haryz’s way was solved with laughable ease. He was gifted. That much was clear, but everyone was curious about exactly what level of intellect they were dealing with. The Nadzims had to find out.
Instagram / Anira Asyikin
Was Haryz destined to be the class valedictorian? Or was his brain bound for much grander ambitions? The only way to tell was through a good old fashioned IQ test. Haryz, who they affectionately dubbed their “little brain box,” was ready to prove his smarts.
The Stanford-Binet IQ test is the standard for evaluating children. Since its creation in 1905, the test has developed through five editions and currently focuses on five key areas: quantitative reasoning, knowledge, working memory, visual-spatial processing, and fluid reasoning.
Haryz dazzled on the verbal and nonverbal components, making his parents beam with pride. Still, no one knew what to expect when it came to the results. Their theories were confirmed about his intellect when he scored 142, placing in the 99.7th percentile.
YouTube / Little Haryz
While it’s no longer an official classification, the former threshold for genius-level intelligence starts at a score of 140. This put young Haryz comfortably in that top tier position of highly accelerated minds, and important people immediately took notice.
Instagram / Haryz Nadzim
The Nadzim family was contacted by the renowned elite society of intellectuals — Mensa. The UK chapter of the organization reached out to recruit Haryz as their newest member. All he needed to do was complete a required visit with a psychologist.
Mirror UK / South West News Service
To join the club, an applicant’s IQ test results must be within the top 2% of the population. That’s it. Any person, of any age, from any different walk of life, is welcome. However, those under ten years old face far more scrutiny to determine an accurate assessment.
A toddler Mensa member wasn’t unheard of. Previously, the UK chapter admitted their youngest ever member. At two years, four months old, Elise Tan-Roberts joined the renowned group after putting up an impressive score of 156.
Daily Mail / David Crump
Like Elise, Haryz showed an aptitude for memory. His recognition bumped her from holding the title of the UK’s current youngest Mensa member. At age three, he already has a more impressive resume than most people will have in their lifetimes.
Vanguard Gifted Academy
While the prestige of a Mensa membership undoubtedly adds to Haryz’s already incredible potential, he’s under no pressure to perform. The number one priority for his parents is ensuring that their son’s life is well balanced.
CNN / Moho Hilmy Naim
For the most part, Haryz is just like any other little boy. As his mom explained to CNN, “He really loves painting and reading books, really anything arts and crafts. He loves playing with Legos and Play-Doh especially.”
Instagram / Haryz Nadzim
Maintaining that semblance of normality is really important for gifted children. Existing under the microscope of high expectations can take its toll, particularly when high-IQ kids start achieving early on. In Haryz’s case, being a happy kid comes first.
Daily Mail / Child Genius
It’s debated whether gifted children are more susceptible to depression, but it’s certain that having a high IQ makes it difficult to surround yourself with true peers. Finding a school that challenges them enough is hard, finding compatible friendships can be equally as difficult.
Instagram / Haryz Nadzim
Haryz is on track to use his incredible brain power for academic and social pursuits. His mother continued, “He’s not only good at academics, but he’s just like other children who love playing and growing up. We know he will give so much back to society in the future.”
Metro UK / Nur Anira Asyikin Hashim
It’s every parent’s wildest dream that their child will be born brilliant. Face it, a high IQ individual is usually granted the best opportunities. They’re compared to great minds that shaped society, like Einstein and Hawking. The world sees them as special.
Asian Town News / WENN