Season seven of NBC’s The Voice kicked off on September 22, 2014 with two new judges sitting in the spinning chairs (Pharrell and Gwen Stefani) and two veteran coaches (Adam Levine and Blake Shelton) back in their familiar seats. The talent level of the singers hoping for a spot on one of the four teams during the first night of blind auditions was impressive, and the coaches started the season off by snagging two singers each for their teams. Luke Wade and Elyjuh Rene went to Team Pharrell, Damien Lawson and Clara Hong went to Team Adam, James David Carter and Allison Bray joined Team Blake, and Taylor John Williams and Bryana Salaz joined Team Gwen.
Following their auditions, the new The Voice team members participated in a conference call to talk about being a part of this NBC singing competition.
James, what do you hope that you’ll get from The Voice and what have you already gotten from the experience?
James David Carter: “Well, what I hope to get from The Voice is obviously, when you set out to be an artist, you obviously want to do it at the highest level possible. At least that’s what I did when I first started out, that’s what my goal was. Obviously you want to be exposed to as many people as possible, you know. And beyond this show, hopefully it’ll springboard into people knowing me enough to where they’re interested in my own music, the music that I write and that I’ve done before this show and that I plan on doing after.
Is it really difficult to make a decision on which coach to go with after having an idea of who you’d like to work with before you audition?
Elyjuh Rene: “Yes. Sometimes you go in having a mindset of who you think is the best coach for you and who you really like. We were told in the beginning not to do that because you can go up there and at the same time you go up there you can feel something totally different from what you thought before. [It’s] very difficult when there are four awesome coaches up there who want to help you become the best artist that you can be and they’re telling you great things about how much they want you and all that. First thing you’re like, ‘Okay, I already have my mind set up,’ but then they start talking to you more and more so you start falling for that person. You end up not going with the person you probably thought you were and then going with the person you never thought you would, only because they talked to you in a great way and you start to fall for it.”
Luke Wade: “You have an idea of who you think the coaches are and what you think their strengths and talents are going to be. But when you get on stage and they’re talking to you and they’re pitching themselves to you, there’s no way to predict how they’re going to react to you and to your talent and how they figured they want to showcase it or how they want to nurture it. So, that’s the thing is you can have an idea of what you think the coaches are like from watching the show in the past or listening to their music, but there’s no way to know how they’re going to feel about you and that plays a big part in who you pick, because if the person that you like the most or the person that you want the most doesn’t seem to be saying the right things or have the right perception of you, then you want to go with the person who gets you. For me, I was really torn walking on stage because I didn’t know who was going to want me the most and I didn’t know what they were going to say to me, and I was there to believe what they had to say.
I’m somebody that, I want to be the best version of myself in front of America and that’s what I want to do, and that’s what Pharrell said. He said, ‘I want to show America who Luke Wade is,’ and that’s why I’m doing it. And so that just happened to be the perfect thing to say to me and so as soon as he said that, I knew exactly what I was going to do.”
Allison, you auditioned before and didn’t get selected. Did you know right away that you were going to audition again?
Allison Bray: “Really, whenever you are on that stage, I don’t care how comfortable you are in any setting, I don’t care if you’ve ever been nervous on stage before, it is a completely different ball game. Being there, it’s kind of like an out-of-body experience. Like, even after the second time I got off stage and I’m like, ‘What did they say to me? Did I get my words right?’ It’s very overwhelming and after I went back home and it all set in, it was kind of like I’m not one to give up and the fact that I just failed on national television is going to push me even harder to come back and redeem myself.
I mean, it took a while for me to kind of figure out where I wanted to be as an artist after being turned down. Something like that can kind of make a person second guess what they’re doing and second guess if they’re in the right spot in their life to proceed with the show. I kind of knew deep down that maybe I should go back, and I came back and it ended up being a good feel for me. But right away I did not know if I wanted to come back. But it’s kind of an experience that no one else gets to have and the fact that I got to have it twice is a huge deal for me.”
Allison, what felt different when you went out there for the second time?
Allison Bray: “If you want the honest answer, my nerves, my feelings, my outlook on the show was completely the same the first time going out if not more scary and more difficult. It’s just as nerve-racking the second time as it is the first. And then you have this thought in your head, you know, ‘I failed at this once and if I fail at this again, it’s going to be awful. I can never show myself again.’
I tried to go out this time thinking to myself, ‘You worked on what they told you to work on and if that doesn’t work, then maybe it’s not your shot, maybe it’s not your time.’ So, I tried to go out this time with a little more open mindset and maybe that’s what worked out for me. But I’ve kind of learned to not get into my head so much and just go out there and do what I know to do and that’s what I did and look where I am!”
Why did you go with Team Blake?
Allison Bray: “When I went onstage I told myself that I would not be set in any certain coach that I wanted and that I would have an open mindset about who I wanted to go with if I got a chair turn. And, as they were talking to me, I really, really wanted to go with Gwen actually. She was the person, after they spoke to me, I was like, ‘Wow, you could do a lot for me. She’s a girl, that’s a good factor and she seems like she really wants me.’ And Blake’s pitch wasn’t as strong, of course, as everyone else’s because he kind of knew to himself that I would want to go with him.
So as I was thinking about which coach I was going to pick, I thought back to last season and last season Blake was the coach who had the most positive things to say about me. He was the one who was like, ‘I’m going to give you an invitation to come back and try this again but you’re going to have to work on some things.’ And the fact that he even turned around after hearing me means that he thought to himself that I improved a little bit. When everybody turned around, it’s great to hear and everything. It’s just promising that another Country artist like that wants to help out a girl like me pursue my music career. I thought about it long and hard onstage, they were probably mad at me because I was up there for a long time. But Blake was, obviously, an option for me and after thinking I got it, I really wanted to go with him.”
Clara, you were one of the contestants who seemed to be thinking one way about who you would pick as a coach going into the audition, and then wound up doing something different. Why did you choose Adam and did the poem he wrote on the spot have anything to do with it?
Clara Hong: “Well, you know, I am in love with Pharrell. I still am. The second you go with that decision onstage, because I didn’t want to over-think things… The poem was cute, it was kind of like the same thing when I guess Gwen told Taylor that she got hot for [him]. That was a nice thing. It was funny and it was cute.
At least the way I remember it, Adam just seemed so excited and really energetic and like he just wants to have me on his team. And Pharrell, I mean he was equally, he wanted me but I don’t know. I think I just felt this connection with Adam. I remember thinking, ‘Wow, this is so hard.’ I was thinking a lot about anything and everything and I just said, ‘Well I’m just going to make a decision,’ and I just went with Adam. I mean the poem was awesome though; I thought it was really funny.”
Damien, was it really hard for you to share your story onstage or was it therapeutic for you in a way?
Damien Lawson: “Yes, it’s definitely tough to talk about it, to actually relive it. I’m able to talk about it a little bit more, a lot easier, than I used to. I actually couldn’t talk about it at all for, I would say, maybe the first four months. I couldn’t even watch the news or anything. But I think after going through therapy and all that, they just kind of guided me on how to deal with PTSD so I was able to slowly talk about bits and pieces of it. I still think at times it’s hard to talk about it. So, yes it was very difficult.”
Would it be fair to say then that music is probably one of the best therapies?
Damien Lawson: “Music is definitely therapy for me. I think that just being able to talk about it also now at this point is healing as well. But music, I always go back to music anytime I’m feeling sad or anything like that. I can always listen to something and it can encourage me or just lift my spirits or whatever so, yes, definitely.”
Was it a difficult choice to go with Adam?
Damien Lawson: “I think that after just speaking with the coaches, what Adam said to me, like I said, resonated with me more than what everybody else said. So I really felt that Adam really wanted to work with me. Going into the blind audition I had an idea of who I would like to work with which was with Adam or Pharrell. But after they all began to talk, it just became clear to me that Adam was the right choice for me.
Bryana, what you’ve done musically before The Voice and why did you think Gwen would be the right coach for you?
Bryana Salaz: “Well, I’ve been moving around since I was born. I never really started music until I was 12 and that was when we were stationed in Hawaii. I just started doing local performances there and when we moved to Georgia people were noticing that I should start entering in competitions and try doing other things, bigger things. And so I would just do local competitions. But when I came to Texas, The Voice had actually found one of my YouTube videos and I had tried to post some covers up there, you know to get myself out there to see if people were responding to it. And when they invited me to come audition, that was definitely a big realization that people are listening and someone did see. It was a huge compliment.
I never expected to make it this far on the show. When I was onstage picking a coach, I’ve seen it on the show many times, I love the show and I always thought that if I go on there, it’s going to be really easy for me to pick who I want. In my head I had always had Gwen in my mind. But when I was on there, I have to say I was very, very torn between choosing Adam and Gwen, because Adam fought for me very hard. I think one thing that Gwen pointed out that made me choose her was that she talked about performance. And then thinking about it, I am a huge fan of Gwen’s career and she’s very unique and very original and that’s something that I’m trying to work on for myself is finding something that makes me unique and makes me original. I thought Gwen would be the best coach to work with to help me discover something in myself and pull out some things that even I didn’t know that I had.”
Taylor, when you auditioned it was mentioned that you sound a lot like Adam and that’s why Adam was so passionate about you. What do you think about that and have you gotten that response before?
Taylor John Williams: “No, I had actually never heard that before.”
After you picked your coach in the back of your head were you thinking that maybe you might get to work with one of the other coaches during the steal round? Is there another coach that you would consider?
James David Carter: “I’ll try to take a shot at that. I know for me, like my mindset has to be to stay with the coach that picked you. It’s like when you’re performing, you can’t second guess yourself or be thinking about another option. I actually kind of relate it to, I guess, my journey up to this point. I’ve kind of come through operating without a net basically with my music career. A lot of people might have bailed at this point but I feel like you just have to be confident in the situation you’re in and believe, and trust the fact that you’re with the right coach that you picked, obviously, coming off the blind audition moment. I think you have to be confident with your choices you made.”
James, was there a time in your career when you thought it would just never happen? What kept your faith in your music?
James David Carter: “You know, I never had a moment to where I felt I was going to bail. I think with anything in life, there’s kind of ups and downs and early on in my early 20s I had a few development deals in Nashville, some with Mercury Records and RCA Records. The timing just wasn’t right. In hindsight you look back, and in my early 20s I took it pretty hard. I took it pretty personal. I didn’t really have a great grasp on the music business and kind of how it worked and just knowing that you’re going to more than likely face more rejection and adversity than you are success. And just understanding that how much, how many things have to line up to have success in the music business, that was kind of my schooling, if you will.
But I never really had a moment. I mean, I had thoughts that crept in about what else in life could I be interested in doing. I’m a huge sports fan. You know, grew up playing sports and played football and baseball and that was my world growing up and I worked really hard at that. And then I ended up having a bad knee injury that kind of ended all that. But that thing in me, you know I still have a strong passion for sports so I was going, ‘Well, maybe I could go back to school and be a teacher and coach.’ You know, coach football or something. [But] the thought of going back to school for me is like I’d rather lay in a tub full of scissors. Honestly, to sit in a classroom again, I just don’t think I could do it. But along the way on my journey I just had moments of confirmation right when I needed it just to keep pushing and to keep grinding. To keep writing songs, keep playing shows, whatever, put videos on YouTube that people connect with or so for me I just had too many confirmations along the way to give up.”
Taylor, Gwen told you that working with you could help inspire her for her next album. What did you think when she said that?
Taylor John Williams: “It was incredible to hear her say that. You know, I don’t know how much truth there is in that as far as time that we would have together to even talk about that sort of a thing. But it was cool that I seemed to inspire her and, you know, make her want to write more. And, yes, it was very humbling.”
-By Rebecca Murray
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