The Voice Teams are Shaping Up
By: Lynn Barker
Whether Country, Pop, R&B or Soul, this season’s contestants on NBC’s “The Voice” are rockin’ it more than ever! How do some of them feel about getting this chance of a lifetime? When more than one chair turns around, how do the singers pick their mentor? What struggles have these talented contestants faced before making it to “The Voice”?
Check out answers from:
Team Adam - Amy Whitcomb and Sasha Allen.
Team Blake - Justin Rivers
Team Shakira - Shawna P. and Mary Miranda.
Team Usher - Jeff Lewis, Jamila Thompson and Ryan Innes.
Q: Shawna, what sorts of obstacles had you faced prior to being on “The Voice”?
- Shawna: There were a couple of things. Music Mafia was a fantastic platform for me. There was a hierarchy and I was in line to be promoted and presented as a solo artist. We were groomed and came up through the ranks and sort of paid our dues. Unfortunately the Music Mafia dissolved before I got the opportunity to shine as a solo artist. And also at the same time my mom became terminally ill. So I without question just decided to move home and be with my mom, so that changed everything
Q: Wow, that is tough. Ryan, what are you hoping Usher will bring out in you that you haven’t discovered about yourself?
- Ryan: I’m used to sitting behind a piano so I’m not really up and about and on a stage and working an audience in that type of environment. So he obviously has some chops in that department and I really hope that he can help me discover a little bit more of what it’s like to work an audience as Ryan Innes not behind a piano.
Q: Did growing up in Utah limit your work as a lounge singer?
- Ryan: Being independent and being a little older and living in a smaller market, there’s just not as much opportunity surrounding you than if you lived in LA or Nashville or New York or something. But the struggle has just been transitioning from being a server at Red Robin at the (Provo) town center for four years while I went through college.
- And when I graduated that was all I could do still. I didn’t want to teach, I didn’t want to do anything formal academic. I wanted to be an artist and play my shows. So doing that in Utah is difficult and I found an outlet through being a lounge singer where I could transition into being a full-time musician, pay my bills and kind of be on that path toward eventually being able to do my own thing.
- So the struggle has just been sticking with that and being willing to, you know, not make as much money, not have a full-time income and a budget to work off of. But honestly I love doing it and it really just kind of plays into what I want to do in the end.
Q: Amy, you sang in a vocal group in college. Did that help you for “The Voice”?
- Amy: Honestly, singing with Noteworthy in college at BYU was the first real outlet for performance, a consistent outlet for performance that I had and I think that it helped build me a lot as a musician. I started to realize how much I love singing and realize the kinds of genres I could tap into. It really did help me start to find my voice, even though I was singing in a group. It definitely prepared me by putting me on a lot of different stages so that I could be more capable on this stage.
Q: Mary Miranda, are you going to stick to singing Latin-based music?
- Mary: I’m not planning to do that but if I have the opportunity again to sing Latin music of course I will, because it’s an honor. I’m Cuban and I’m representing what I am, a Latina. So yes.
Q: What are your expectations with Shakira being your mentor?
- Mary: She’s just doing so much. She supports her team and she’s really helping me grow up in this industry. I’m just expecting the best from her because she’s a wonderful person and she’s a wonderful artist. She's a great coach.
Q: Justin from team Blake. You come from a small town in Alabama and you might not think you would have a chance in the big Country music world but other artists from the same area have made it. Did that give you confidence?
- Justin: Yes. I think we’ve had a lot of talent come out of south Alabama and (Shauna Piece) from the gulf coast as well. Just knowing that people have made it out of small towns prior to us trying to do it and have been successful with it helped to be just that much more as a confidence booster to know that it can be done.
Q: Shawna, what went into your decision picking Shakira over Adam?
- Shawna: Wow. You know, a lot of people have been asking me that on Facebook and Twitter. And my answer to that is simple. I am an artist, so rarely do I kick into a logical mindset. For some reason on that stage logic kicked in for me and I just started thinking, Shakira has sold more albums worldwide than any other coach on the panel. And she’s international and for me in the American market I have come up against roadblocks because of my age. And I just feel that she could really help me to go farther and expose me to such a larger audience.
- Also, Spanish was my minor in college. I’m not fluent anymore because I don’t get to speak Spanish enough, unfortunately, and I hope that that helps me and I can interact with my Latin family and gain a bigger audience. Shakira also just said some things to me that were very, very encouraging and mentioned my natural talent. And I just really, really connected with her. Adam is fantastic and it was a really hard decision, but ultimately I just decided to go with Shakira.
Q: What do you think will be the biggest asset for you being on “The Voice”?
- Shawna: I call my band and my followers The Earthfunk Tribe and it’s giving me a chance to expand that. People are getting onboard. It’s important to me to encourage people and to help each other through hard times. I write about my struggles and how I made it through and (with “The Voice”) I’ll have a bigger platform, a bigger audience. I also just want to take care of my mom and dad. I’m an only child and they’re getting older. That’s what really motivated me to do this.
Q: Ryan then Amy, what advice would you have for other struggling musicians in smaller markets to break out of their regional shells?
- Ryan: For me, the Provo (Utah) music scene is turning to a scene where you can’t just be a hobbyist or a weekend warrior type of musician. That’s amazing and at the same time maybe a little discouraging to some people, because they feel like now they can’t kind of play around. But, first and foremost, it’s got to be something that they absolutely love to do, that they’re doing it for the right reason and that they’re obsessed with. It (has to be) at the core of their being, so to speak.
- And two, diligence and endurance wins the race. I just say, “Keep pushing forward. Take every gig you can, no matter if you’re playing for 4 people or 400.” Make sure that you’re interacting with the people that are supporting you, because they are the lifeline. They really make the world go round for a musician and an artist.
- Amy: I would second that. It sounds cliché but one gig really does lead to another. So just like Ryan said, get in every gig because the more you experiment and the more you try and get outside your box, the more you realize and understand what you can do and what your direction is and should be.
Q: What went through your head the moment that chair turned around?
- Amy: (On set) they asked me, “If someone turned around that you would be the most validated by, who would that be?” And I said, "Adam." And so he turns around, like, eight bars in and I definitely lost my cool there for a second. I think just complete relief and excitement because I had been working towards this goal to really start setting off my solo career. In that moment, in the blink of an eye, all of that started to become a possibility and become real. And so just an array of emotions. It was like sky-diving, it was just the biggest adrenaline rush you ever felt.
- Ryan: (For me), all of that was pretty much a blur. I just had to make sure I had 90 seconds of courage and 90 seconds of keeping it together because, like Amy, Adam turned around within the first few seconds of the song. So I really tried to not pay attention to him because I had the rest of the song to try to get through and, you know, I wanted to make sure I did something well. So, I tried to pay attention more to the audience and to perform a song, have an experience with them. So I tried to just focus on that.
Q: Sasha Allen, do you see this opportunity on “The Voice” to become a recording artist as the career path you now want to take, or do you think you may return to the Broadway stage at some point?
- Sasha: Oh, I would definitely hope to return to the Broadway stage but I think that I’ll be able to incorporate both. I’ll be able to be the recording artist and also stage shoot to my Broadway fans, absolutely.
Q: What was going through your head at the time when you were deciding between the four judges?
- Sasha: You kind of think you know what you want to do initially. But then some people talk to your heart more than others. And you just kind of make a decision based on the feeling at that moment.
Q: Sasha, Judith Hill listed you as being her biggest competition this season on Team Adam. Who do you see as being your biggest rival on season four and how do you plan to differentiate your sound from other soulful singers?
- Sasha: I wouldn’t say that me and Judith are actually the same type of singer. We're both soulful, but not in the same way. All I can be is completely true to who I am and not try to do anything different from what I know how to do and what speaks to my heart. And hopefully that will speak to the world’s heart. It’s really a challenge for myself to stay true.
Q: And what kind of made you decide to pick Adam Levine over the other coaches? I mean, they were all fighting pretty hard for you.
- Sasha: It’s so funny how it all feels like a blur. I’m guessing it was just a feeling from the heart. I actually don’t remember exactly what he said, but there was a passion and a fire coming from him. And that’s all you can really ask for; somebody that you feel really believes.
Q: Jamila, can you give us a little bit of your back story, where you were before you came on “The Voice” and why did you select this show to go on?
- Jamila: I’m from Atlanta and growing up I was very athletic. I played basketball and I was really into sports but I had always had this underlying passion for music. And I would sing everything, everything I ever heard; every radio song I would sing constantly. And so I finally told my family that I wanted to do vocal lessons probably when I was around 14 or 15. From there I just fell in love with it. I did singing competitions and I just sang covers and I did really well in that. This show is definitely my first big step towards being a solo artist. And it’s huge. It’s extremely exciting. I wouldn’t have picked anything else other than “The Voice”.
Q: Jeff, you sang “You Got It Bad” by Usher. What was it like singing that in front of him?
- Jeff: It was nerve-wracking. It was a choice that would either going to get me in big trouble or end me up on his team. I like to take songs and kind of change them and I played acoustic on it. So I thought it was different enough from his version. I wasn’t trying to be him. He’s one of my influences. I thought I changed it enough and hopefully he appreciated it. I felt confident in it, but you never know. It could have backfired.
Q: Ryan, What advice has Usher given you so far and what have you learned from being on the show?
- Ryan: Man, Usher is a very wise and well-spoken man when it comes to giving advice. It’s been great to see that side of him as a coach and as a mentor. I think the thing that sticks out the most that I’ve learned from him is that it’s very, very important to stay connected to what you’re singing. That you get across your message, that you get across your story and that you use tools to do that.
- Maybe you can hit big notes and run all over the place and maybe you can showcase your voice and your talent that way, but if it’s not connected and motivated by telling a story then it’s all just kind of a circus.
Q: Amy, same question. Best advice from Adam?
- Amy: I’ve learned so much just in the short journey so far. So much from this show and from everyone around me. All the musicians, not just Adam. But what I love about Adam is his fire and his passion and he doesn’t sugarcoat anything. And at this point, you know, he’s not afraid to get really critical of me. And that’s what I need. I need someone to take me to the next level.
- We’ve been working on negotiating my breath for those high notes that I definitely have to hit. So it’s been great. It’s a match made in heaven. I’ve learned to remember that I’m unique and that I have something new to bring and that there’s always room for improvement no matter where you are in your career.
Q: Justin, I know you made it through the preliminary auditions of “American Idol”, but what ultimately made you make the decision to do “The Voice” instead? And also, let me know your thoughts on landing on team Blake?
- Justin: I did “American Idol” too this season. I figured it was my last year as far as the age limitation to give it a shot. So I just really wanted to do it to prove something to myself. But at the end of the day, “The Voice” I thought was head and shoulders above any others out there.
- And as far as being on team Blake, you know, I couldn’t be any more excited. I think were a perfect fit. It’s exactly where I wanted to be anyway so, you know, I’m looking forward to what he’s going to help me with in my musical career. And so I’m looking forward to the journey.
Q: Sasha, you mentioned that you’re a back-up singer. Obviously Jermaine Paul was a back-up singer and won the show, Amanda Brown was a back-up singer and did very well. I wonder if they played any part in your decision to audition for this show?
- Sasha: I actually know both of them very well. They’re very good friends of mine. I think watching Amanda was really encouraging. I found that people are really appreciating what she has to offer and that hopefully they’ll appreciate what I have to offer as well. So absolutely, they both did. Different friends in the industry really pushed me and said to do a live show where people can really see what you’ve got.
Q: Jeff, were there other singers that you saw on this show that encouraged you to come out and participate in The Voice?
- Jeff: I’ve got to be real, man. I had actually never seen an episode of “The Voice” before I auditioned. When I got booked for the show I actually thought I was going backgrounds for season three. And then I showed up and I found out it was not that, it was actually to be a contestant on the show and I had to re-think exactly what it was. But, you know, hanging out with all of the contestants and seeing the talent level that there was here, you don’t how talented everyone is until you get here. These are real artists. A lot of the people here even now have been signed to major and minor labels and have almost finished records.
- (On the show) they don’t really paint people in a negative light. They really are here to help artists to kind of reach their dreams. So it was a pretty easy decision once I was here for a few days and saw the talent level and got to know some of the production staff. And that was kind of what made me stay and made me continue on this journey and really go after it.