All you can see from where you're standing on stage are four large red chairs. Lights dot down the middle of the platform, illuminating and naming who sits behind the throne-like seats, royalty waiting to be catered to hand and foot. Your goal is to just get one of those chairs to turn around. Just one. Because if you do your whole life could change. And for a select few it does and for some, it never will. But it didn’t start this way.
Imagine always knowing, almost from birth, what you wanted to do with your life. You know
deep down you were born to do something, but what? Taylor Brown (which is a pseudonym at her request) knew, and it was to sing. “My mom joked that I had been singing since before I could talk. It was a way for me to express myself when I didn’t know how. Music had always had a major influence in my life and I looked up to musical artists as role models. I wanted to be someone for younger people to look up to”, stated Brown. Brown grew up in midwest suburbia, with her mom and their two dogs. In high school she was very active in her choir, winning multiple awards and participating in small groups and solos. Knowing she always wanted to be in the spotlight and pursue her dream, she took a leap of faith and auditioned for The Voice.
The Voice, which first aired in April of 2011, was an overnight hit. With a star-studded cast
including Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Christina Aguilera, and Cee Lo Green, there was a
favorite judge for everyone to pick from. Currently, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, and Nick Jonas are judging the 2020 season. Picking such a diverse group of artists had been done before with other singing shows such as American Idol, but never with such a unique twist.
Instead of singing in front of the coaches, and for all of America to see, each singer who was
lucky enough to make it to the final round faced four swivel chairs that were faced backward so the judges couldn’t see. It was the first ever blind audition. And that’s what attracted so many people auditioning and the millions of people who watched religiously on Tuesday nights.
Cassidy McNeal, a senior college student, studying vocal education, auditioned for The Voice when she was just in high school as well. “I really love the Voice because it celebrates the individuality of different artists. I think the coaches are an interesting concept compared to American Idol just having judges”, claims McNeal. Like Taylor, Cassidy could always remember wanting to sing: “I do not remember a time where I was not singing. Singing and music have always been a major part of my life. I listened to a lot of music growing up and loved to put on a show. I think watching singers on TV inspired me a lot. In middle school I started learning guitar and that also encouraged me to sing and perform more”. After performing at a JingleBall fest in front of a crowd of thousands, it gave her the confidence she needed to audition for The Voice.
While shows like American Idol, paved the way, and inspired so many young musical talents,
the real inspiration lied within themselves. Cassidy and Taylor both shared the love of singing, but they also shared a drive. A drive that is seen in athletes, politicians, and entertainers alike.
The drive to do something with their lives. And not just anything, but something they loved to do. And what they loved to do was a process, to say the least. Scoring an audition with the judges isn’t what TV makes it out to be. It’s a long tedious process and most don’t even get to see the celebrity judges, let alone make it to the second round of auditions. Yes, you heard that right, multiple rounds. “I was sent to the second round callback audition. That was in a recording studio in St. Louis and I was not greeted by Nick Jonas,” McNeal sadly sniffed.
Here’s what the first round of auditions look like: “When you audition for The Voice you are
given a specific time to show up. They developed that system to organize the process more.
You still have to show up early so I usually come by at least two hours before. When it’s time for your specific time group to go, the producer will come out and have you scan your paper with your QR code. You have to register online before you can audition. Usually you will make friends with a few other people while you’re there because you are insanely bored.
Once you are let into the building you have to have your bag checked and then they put a wristband on you. It takes a while to get through these lines. Finally, you are put into rows of chairs for the final waiting period”, said McNeal.
And what happens next is even more intimidating. You must audition in a group and you only get 45 seconds. Each person has a chance to step up and sing their song individually, but you must do so in front of a producer. If and only when, they give you the green light can you go onto the next round. Most people don’t get that green light. “I only made it to the first round. My first time auditioning, I sang “Think of Me” from Phantom of the Opera because I thought it could show off my range. The second time, I sang “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood because I thought that a lot of people would go pop in Chicago and I wanted to stand out. The third time, I sang “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele because I thought most people would go country in Nashville and I wanted to stand out again”, declared Brown. And that’s one of the hardest parts about the audition process: picking the right song.
After watching The Voice the most common thing I heard from the judges was: “That wasn’t the right song choice for you”. And here’s the thing, if you're musically trained you will know what the best song is for you, but if you're not? Good luck. Most of the artists who have auditioned for these types of shows have some training, whether that be through private lessons, or just singing in their church choir. And having a backup choice just might save you like it saved McNeal: ‘At my St. Louis audition I was asked to stay in the room after everyone left because they wanted to talk to me. They asked me what my three songs for callbacks would be and had me sing another. After receiving my callback, I was taken into a room where I filled out a bunch of paperwork. My callback was the next day at Shock City Studios. There were fewer people there. I got signed in and waited around till it was my turn to sing. This time, there was a producer and a cameraman in the room. I had a very large TV camera pointing at my face. I sang my song and they said to try again next year. It was fun and very cool,” expressed McNeal.
While variety and versatility seem to be the one thing that can be tools to help you move on up further in the rounds, everyday ordinary people have gotten an audition with the coaches. And that right there is why this show is so appealing to audiences around the world. This show, at its core, is an underdog story. The way the whole show is set up attests to the fact that they want to help contestants reach their dreams. It’s about their voice, and their voice only. Anyone can achieve their dreams, no matter how you look, or how old they are. That’s why they have blind auditions on the final round to be admitted to the show. With four chairs turned around, no biases or stereotypes are made. No snap judgments are made on the clothes you wear or the way you did your hair that day. This way the judges hear you for who you are, and not see the imperfections you see in the mirror.
Instead of just offering judgments on contestants singing, the celebrity coaches offer valuable advice on how to better one’s singing. Contestants are given the choice to pick a coach if that said coach turned their chair for them. And not only that but mega mentors are brought on all the time such as Taylor Swift and James Taylor who offer a different perspective on things like stage presence and theatrics. Ultimately, the show offers a $100,000 prize for winning the competition, and a recording deal as well. A pretty good deal if you ask me.
Today, the girls are in the exact predicament that they want to be in. Cassidy is pursuing her
vocal education degree and plans to become a music teacher. “I am still pursuing my dream,
however, it has been paired with my new plan to become a music teacher. I am currently in
school for vocal music education. That keeps me pretty busy, but I try to attend an open mic
night at least once or twice a semester. I also post covers, and original songs on my Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube accounts. I play gigs whenever I can. Luckily. Teaching music allows me to continue performing and sharing what I love”, exclaimed McNeal.
And Brown has taken the same route: “I’m chasing my dreams, but the dreams are different
thanks to my high school choir teacher senior year. I realized I don’t want to be a performer - I want to provide people with a way to express themselves through a medium that is healthy and accesses different parts of them than other things”. Taylor is currently a performing arts
coordinator at a residential adolescent treatment facility.
While the two girls may have not found themselves in the spotlight, they found themselves
fulfilling other roles, and ultimately helping other people. Taylor loves her job as a performing arts coordinator, and after knowing her personally, I couldn’t picture her doing anything else considering how big her heart is. And as for Cassidy, finding little ways to express herself has meant the world to her, and ultimately, she gets to share with other people the love she has for music. The Voice might not have taken a chance on them, but others along the way did. It gave them the confidence and strength to pursue other avenues in the music industry. And you never know, a helpful hand could change someone's life.