I AUDITIONED FOR THE VOICE.
Yep. You read that right. I auditioned for NBC's hit show, The Voice. But, before I dive into that experience, we need to rewind 10 years. I was 19. I was a sophomore in college. After being encouraged by my family, I decided to audition for Season 7 of the FOX series, American Idol. Auditions were being held in Charleston, SC so my Mom and I drove down together. We waited in the long line all day, we entered the venue with thousands of other hopefuls, and I waited to audition. Many people know (but most don't) that the first initial audition is in front of producers for the show - NOT the three celebrity judges. Let me set the scene for you...
Mid-August 2007. North Charleston Coliseum. Numerous folding tables in a line across the center of the room with 2-3 producers sitting at each one. Contestants approach the tables in groups of four, sing a song acapella, and wait for a response from the producers. Remember, I mentioned numerous tables? Right... so, while you're singing - so are TONS of other contestants at the alternative tables! Not to mention everyone simply talking to each other while they patiently wait in line. It was NERVE-WRACKING. Various thoughts ran through my mind. "What if I forget the words?" or "What if I start my song in the wrong key?" Finally, It was my turn. I took a deep breath, introduced myself, and sang "Broken Wing" by Martina McBride. Then, I was asked to sing a second song. I chose "Independence Day" also by Martina McBride. When I was done, I took a step back and waited. The producers discussed among themselves and agreed to advance me into the competition. I was on my way to "Round 2" in front of the celebrity judges: Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Paula Abdul. A couple days later, I had to come back for the 2nd audition and I sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow". Randy & Paula were both on the fence about my performance. They weren't WOWed but they didn't hate it either. Simon was very receptive and positive. The three deliberated and agreed to send me to Hollywood. Apparently, they handed out 23 of the infamous "golden tickets" that day... and one of those 23 was mine!
"They handed out 23 of the infamous golden tickets... and one of those 23 was mine."
BUT, before I went to Hollywood, I went back to school. While I anticipated the "Hollywood round", a producer called and said that a TV crew wanted to visit my hometown to film me with my family. A week or so later, a film crew showed up. We explored Wilmington together, we went to the beach, they filmed me with my family - interviews with my parents about when they knew I wanted to be a singer, why they believe in me, what I was like as a child, etc. We ended the night with a taco dinner around the table... all while being filmed (not weird at all.) The crew headed out the next day and I was back to counting down the days to the big Hollywood trip.
So, when you "go to Hollywood" - you're not actually in Hollywood. You're in Pasadena (which I loved by the way.) Over the course of five days, you're rehearsing and auditioning for Simon, Paula, and Randy as they eliminate talent to create the final Top 24 for TV. I went through two more performance rounds before being eliminated in the Top 50. Flash forward to January, the "Charleston" episode airs on TV. A part of me thought, "Well I didn't make it to the end, but at least I'll get some cool TV time!" Oh, was I wrong. Not one teeny, millisecond of TV time. All the filming, the cheesy walks down the beach with my family, the taco dinner - nothing. For all you know, I've made every bit of this story up because there'd be absolutely no way to go back and watch any of it for proof. But, you trust me right?
So, then what? Well, I went back to school. And I was a normal kid in college. And it was AWESOME. And I'm SO incredibly thankful that I was given that opportunity. See, if Idol had worked out then for me - I wouldn't have a college degree. I wouldn't have all those memories at football games with my sorority sisters. I wouldn't have met my husband. I wouldn't have started a band. I wouldn't have moved to Nashville... God always has a bigger plan y'all.
"Part of me thought, 'Well I didn't make it to the end, but at least I'll get some cool TV time!'
Oh, was I wrong.
Ok, so let's skip ahead five years... It's 2012. I've been living in Nashville for a year. I'm engaged and planning a wedding. People are still saying, "Why don't you try out again? You're older, more experienced now..." So, I did. I didn't tell anyone. Not even my parents. My fiancé, John and I loaded the car and made the 8hr drive to New Orleans so I could audition for American Idol... again (Season 12). It was sort of the same process as before. Wait all day, a big coliseum, sing for producers, advance to the next round, go home, come back in a few days to see the judges who were Randy Jackson, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj, and Keith Urban. Here we go again: It's the big day. Judge-ment day, if you will. These days are VERY long. From about 9a to 9p, you're held in a banquet room waiting and listening to people practice their song ALL. DAY. LONG. While you're waiting for your turn to see the judges, people are passing by. Some with golden tickets, some with broken hearts. The air is thick with tension and hope. Noon rolls around and I haven't auditioned yet. Two o'clock. Four o'clock. Nothing. Seven o'clock. Still waiting. I am literally left waiting with only one other person out of what began as hundreds. Finally, it's about 8:30pm - and it's my turn. I walked in confidently but something immediately felt "off". Something felt wrong, a negative energy. It was a really weird vibe... like I never stood a chance because they had made their up their minds before I even opened my mouth. But, I sang my song ("Stay" by Sugarland) and I was proud of my performance. Randy, Mariah, and Nicki weren't impressed with me and offered ZERO feedback. It had been a long day and I'm pretty sure one of them yawned. I could tell Keith was really listening but in the end, he too said no. He asked if I was a songwriter and encouraged me to focus on that.
"It's my turn. I walked in confidently but something immediately felt 'off'..."
Just like it, It was all over. I honestly believe it was a no-win situation. Sure, someone could have walked in and out sang me and received a yes. But, like I said - it was like their minds had been made up before I even walked in the room. They were over it and I'm pretty sure they were sick & tired of listening to people sing all day (understandably). Some speculate they're only allowed to send a certain number of people on to Hollywood. Maybe, thats why they said no. Maybe they had to say no because they'd reached some quota. Maybe they just really didn't like me. I don't know, and it doesn't matter anyway. You can imagine the phone call on the way home, "Mom... Dad? I'm in New Orleans... and well, I just auditioned for American Idol... again." I also didn't get any TV time again only this time, I was incredibly relieved that I didn't. Now, no one had to know what I went through unless I decided to share it.
Okay, so now it's January 2017. As in, eight months ago. The Voice is holding auditions right here in Nashville. Since The Voice aired on NBC, everyone has asked, "Well, what about The Voice?" The question of auditioning for these shows has been buzzing around me for years. I find it heart-warming because when you're asked this, people are essentially telling you that they think you're good enough to make it on a show like that - which is so complimentary of them. However, when you've auditioned and been denied twice, the question tends to hit an annoyed nerve. 10 years ago, Idol was fun experience and one I'm grateful for. Being rejected in New Orleans with what I see as unfortunate odds, I hadn't exactly been jumping to try out for another TV talent show. I had watched The Voice and actually preferred it to the process of American Idol. I liked Blake & Adam's banter. I thought the show really focused on talent vs. ratings, and the "coaches" seemed very encouraging to the contestants. I was a fan. Well, here it was in Nashville. I didn't have to travel anywhere. No hotels. No expenses. The opportunity was in my backyard. What did I have to lose? This was sort of the mentality I adopted and so I went online, filled out my artist profile, chose my audition date/time, and waited for the big day. Again, I didn't tell anyone. Not even my parents. John and I woke up bright and early. We waited in the line that wrapped around the Music City Convention center. Same process as before: a big room, lots of people, two producers sitting at a folding table - I've come to know what to expect and part of me found that comforting and humiliating. This time, I'm in a group of 10 hopefuls. We all take our turns singing. I stepped up and sang my song, "All I Ask" by Adele. I chose this song because I knew I sang it well. It showed off my wide vocal range, and I was able to really make it my own by staying true to my country music roots while singing it. It was something I was confident singing too. In the past, I'd always auditioned with whatever everyone told me to sing. I asked for too many opinions and while they were great choices and I believe I did well, this time - I wasn't asking. I wanted to sing what I wanted to sing. I nailed it and was full of pride when I was finished. Then the news came, "Unfortunately, we're not going to advance any of you today but you should come back and try again next season."
"Same process as before. A big room. Lots of people. Two producers sitting at a folding table - I've come to know what to expect and part of me found that comforting and humiliating..."
My heart sank. I was incredibly disappointed... and I didn't think I would be. But, I was crushed. I had put all my eggs in this basket and didn't even realize I had done it. Now, let me explain: It was January. This time of year can be VERY slow for musicians. You're just coming back from the holidays. This is when lots of artists head into the studio to start recording before the demands of spring/summer tours return. It isn't festival season so work is limited and times can be tough. Not to mention, winter in Nashville is UGLY. It's not a winter wonderland and it isn't sun-kissed tropics. It's pretty much gray, dreary, and cold - sending everyone in town into a seasonal depression. We didn't have any work lined up for the year yet and I'd just received a BIG rejection. So, I was pretty emotional about it. I thought it was all over. I thought this was a sign that I had been chasing the wrong path all this time. A direct message from God. So, I fell into a deep, dark, but temporary - pit of sadness and doubt. Oh. AND I had to call my parents and share the secret I'd kept from them. Again.
It's now May. May 5th. 3:30pm on the dot. Five months after my last disappointing experience. My phone rings and I didn't answer it because I didn't recognize the phone number. The caller leaves a message: I'm a "talent producer for NBC, calling to talk to about you potentially auditioning for The Voice." He mentioned he'd seen my YouTube Cover Song Series and thought I had great potential. He even said he believed that I "deserved a shot." Here we go again. I called him back and very briefly told him about my past experience with TV talent shows when he asked. He explained that if I was interested, the audition process would be different this time. No long lines. No waiting. No big coliseums. No groups to audition with. I'd get one-on-one time with a producer, I'd have to prepare 3 songs, and I could bring someone to play guitar for me if I wanted to. He said there were two cities that I could travel to for the audition in June: Atlanta or Charleston. Charleston. It had been 10 years since my first American Idol experience and I was about to come full circle with it again, 10 years later. I was married now. I was a full-time professional singer making a living touring. I'd lived A LOT since being that naive, 19 year old. I'd paid my dues playing tiny dive bars and experienced arena stages with big names in the business. I'd recorded and released two records on my own. Everything in between those 10 years had prepared me for this moment. I was ready - This. Was. It.
"I'm a talent producer for NBC, calling to talk to you about potentially auditioning for us..."
On June 2nd, I walked into a tiny studio in Charleston with John and his guitar. When we walked into the audition room, there were cameras, bright lights, and one producer at a folding table. I introduced myself and John started playing. I sang, "Goodbye Time" by Blake Shelton and Keith Urban's "Love Somebody Like You". I didn't get to my third song before the producer stopped me and said, "Well that was easy! I'm going to put you through the to next round. Great job, thank you." It was all a blur. In fact, John had to repeat back to me what exactly happened because I was so focused on waiting for the word "no" that I had missed the "yes". Yes. I got a "yes"! I was ecstatic. We walked out and I went on to an interview where a producer asks you questions about yourself - your hometown, your family, your music background. I told them everything. I told them about how I was doing this full-time in Nashville. That I'd experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows. I told them how I'd shared the stage with a few Voice alum (The Swon Brothers & Craig Wayne Boyd) and how I'd played big arenas one day and dive bars the next. I was the poster-child for chasing this dream. I was raw. I was real. I was honest. I was confident but I was humble. And I KILLED it. When it was all over, the producers told me that I'd hear back from them about going to LA to perform for the "blind auditions" by July 21st. It was a LONG waiting period, seven weeks to be exact. It was like I'd had an AMAZING first date. We laughed, we had a good time, we bonded, and I was waiting for them to call me back for another. Only they didn't. I got an email on July 21st, "Unfortunately you were not chosen to move forward in the competition this time around."
But why didn't I get the call? Why didn't I get the invite to LA? Why didn't they think I'd be good enough for TV? Most of all, why did God put this open door in front of me, just to slam it closed again? I don't know and it may take YEARS before I ever begin to see or understand why. Sometimes I want to know. I want answers from the big time "talent producer" who called me and I want answers from the big man upstairs. But honestly, the answers to those questions wouldn't change anything. The outcome would still be the same. Every single time I stood in front of one of those producers or judges, I did the best I could. I sang the best I knew how. I was myself in interviews and in front of cameras. Whether or not they liked it or I was good enough doesn't matter because I am who I am and I can only give my best. What matters is that I only temporarily let it affect me. I cried. I wallowed in self pity a little too. But each time, I got up and said, "enough is enough" and I made plans to keep keepin' on. These experiences (and these producers - who were all very nice, by the way) don't define my talent or who I am.
The biggest lesson? Oh, I've learned a lot. One thing I am confident of is these TV talent shows - are a lot like game shows. Sure, there are a LOT of talented people who make it on TV. There are a lot who don't. There are a lot who make it on without an ounce of talent. And sometimes, the MOST talented person doesn't always win! It's a shot in the dark. It's entertainment. And the experience does not make or break you. It's the people you meet and the journey that do. I've learned that you will have some incredibly loyal people surround you and comfort you when crappy outcomes like these happen - thank God for them. I've learned that we need to hear "no" sometimes because it forces you to do some soul searching and figure out what you want, what you don't want, and what's next. I've learned no one is going to make your dreams happen for you. You can win the TV show. You can get the record deal. But if you aren't honest with yourself or confident in who you are and what you're doing - it will never work. I've learned that not everyone is going to like you or think you're great and the best thing you can do is to determine what you think of yourself and what YOU like about you. But most of all, I've learned that the outstanding plans and the ambitious dreams that we have for ourselves are nowhere near as glorious as the plans that God has for us... and I can't wait to see where we're going together next.
Season 13 of The Voice premiers Monday, September 25 at 8/7c on NBC.