It’s stupefying to believe that The Voice has been on for 10 years. NBC debuted its singing competition in spring 2011, and on Tuesday night, will crown the show’s 20th winner. The series has changed tremendously over that decade—including winning multiple Emmy Awards, going through plenty of superstar coaches, and introducing America to hundreds of artists.
But back then, when Javier Colon was named the very first Voice champion and no one had ever seen those big red chairs before, the series was groundbreaking; it shook up the reality TV format. It also had a community of wonderful people much greater than the competition. To mark the 10th anniversary, I’m taking a look back at The Voice with some of my favorite artists from across the seasons, and also sharing some of my favorite memories from the five years I spent covering the show.
Check out this first interview with one of my dear friends from the first season, Rebecca Loebe, and be on the lookout for more retrospective conversations this week and in the coming weeks!
Rebecca Loebe (season 1, 2011)
Rebecca Loebe represented Team Adam in The Voice season 1 and has an awesome distinction in show history—though she was eliminated during the battle rounds, she’s the only non-finalist that Universal Music Group included on the season’s official soundtrack album (the only time UMG put out an album for the complete season).
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Becca live on some of her many tours, and she maintains the same high spirits and down-to-Earth sound she had when I first met her a decade ago. She continues to hustle steadily as an independent artist, and spoke with me about how different she was on the show compared to her already established career and how her backstory on The Voice led to some surprising emails.
Brittany Frederick: What resonates with you most from your The Voice experience?
Rebecca Loebe: What really stands out to me now is how scared I was by the whole experience. I wasn’t super young; I was 27. There were a lot of contestants that were younger than me. But I still felt very new and fresh and shell-shocked by the whole thing, and I think that it’s because I had never really watched a reality TV show. Now that I’ve watched 100 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I feel like I’d go in with a whole different mindset of what it means to be honest on a show like that.
But I just felt like babe in the woods, and I was so intimidated by everyone—by the whole set-up, by all the PAs [production assistants], by all the other contestants, by practically the hotel staff. (laughs) I was a real shrinking violet version of myself and that’s not me. I’m a pretty outgoing, gregarious, relatively fearless person, pursuing what I want. But it was so foreign to me and I was just so scared the whole time. So that sticks with me—how I saw a side of myself I’d never seen before.
BF: Did you take away anything in particular that you’ve carried with you since—relationships that stuck or things you took forward into your career?
RL: What I took away from the experience is just the people it connected me with. Other contestants, but also people in my audience. I’ve been posting a lot about the show on social media, doing a ten-year retrospective, and it’s shocking to me how many of the folks that are regulars in my life and in my audience now are chiming in. I didn’t even know that that’s how so many people that I interact with frequently now first heard of me. Some of them are really surprising, like people who’ve become really close personal friends. It connected me with the other contestants, who I have some really strong friendships with.
BF: That’s an important point about The Voice. Though it was a competition, behind the scenes, there was the exact opposite—a real fostering of community.
RL: I blocked out the fact that we were competing against each other. I didn’t have the capacity to process that information. It was not comfortable for me to think of myself as being in competition with other musicians. At that point, I had just sort of gotten off the ground supporting myself as a professional musician. I had been trying to make music my full-time job since 2004, it started kind of working in 2009, and I was on the show in 2011. So I had a career as a musician; it was small-scale and really hand-to-mouth, but I was making it work. All of that relied so heavily on my community of musicians on the road that I just couldn’t think of these other people as competitors. It was absolutely not comfortable to me at all. So I thought of them as co-performers on this weird stage we were all singing on.
But yeah, I made really close friends. Nakia and Tje [Austin] are two of my best friends, and we’re all based in Austin. Nakia and I ate together every meal for the entire show. Nakia and I met maybe at the audition or maybe at the initial orientation, but we just really glommed on to one another and started eating meals together at the little hotel restaurant, and he was my Voice buddy.
Probably on the second or third day when we were all still pretty bewildered about everything, this guy comes up to us; it was Josh [Nelson from] Elenowen. He was trying to get the lay of the land, and he didn’t know if there were any other duos there besides he and his wife. So he came up and asked us if we were married, and was wondering if we were singing together as a duo. Nakia and I both just started cracking up and Nakia said, “No, I don’t think either of our boyfriends would appreciate that very much.” Ever since that deal, Nakia and I have referred to each other as TV husband and wife. He’s my TV husband and I’m his TV wife.
BF: What do you remember about your experiences off-screen? The ones that we didn’t see on the show, in the hotel, or that didn’t have to do with performances?
RL: My roommate during the show was a young woman named Sara [Oromchi], who has a gorgeous voice. She did not get very much screen time, which was so hard to watch because she’s brilliant. She had one chair turned around—it was Blake—so she got montaged for her blind audition. Then her battle round was against Xenia, and they were 17 and 18 years old, and they were both so nervous that their bodies were shaky. They were scared and intimidated by the whole thing, and [NBC] cut their battle round down very short. So Sara was there for the exact same amount of time as me, went through all the same trials and tribulations of being on the show and got 18 seconds of screen time. It was not commensurate with her talent because she’s really freaking good.
Sara is just a gem. She’s not working in music right now; I think she’s working as a journalist in the San Francisco area. Casey Weston is another one; [they were] seniors in high school that were already 18, but they were still seniors, so they had to withdraw from school for a month. Casey, who was just so fierce, figured out how to take correspondence classes and still graduate on time…But for Sara, her friends in high school were all at home, picking out prom dresses and stuff, ad she was living in a hotel in Los Angeles with me. That was her first experience living outside of her parents’ house. And I was just floored by the grace and presence with which she handled that experience, because I was almost 10 years older than her and I was still kind of terrified by it.
BF: But that was the wonderful thing about The Voice season 1. None of us knew what we were doing, or what to expect, and everyone faced it together and slowly became aware that it was something very special.
RL: There was something very innocent about that first season where no one knew what was coming, including the artists. No one came in with a strategy for how to handle any part of the competition. Everyone was just showing up, doing their best, and learning together what was happening—and honestly, that includes the production to a certain extent. They kept us in the hotel for a really long time while they built the set, because they wanted to get the next leg [of the competition] filmed as soon as they could, and they didn’t know how long it would take to build the set. So we were just on-calls waiting for the next phase of production to start, for them to get all of the advisors booked. And based on conversations I’ve had with artists who have done subsequent seasons, they have streamlined that enormously.
BF: What was the reaction that you experienced when people finally saw you on the show? The series became a massive hit for NBC fairly quickly and thrust everyone into the national spotlight.
RL: I was on the first episode of the first season and it got a lot of buildup. The night I played there were 12 million people watching, 40 of whom were my best friends in Atlanta, all just screaming their faces off. They had parties and invited everyone to watch. It was really funny—as soon as I came on stage, the room just started shrieking, and my best friend’s boyfriend muted the TV, paused it on TiVo and was like, “Everybody shut up or I’m not going to unmute this.” (laughs) Everybody watched and it was a really amazing experience. And then as soon as I was on there, my phone started blowing up.
All I was really seeing was email, and texts, and getting phone calls and it was wild, just the volume of communication that came my way that week. I got a thousand emails in my inbox, because I had a website. People Googled my name, found my website, and on the website there’s a button for send an email to Rebecca. It was all sorts of stuff like, “I saw you on The Voice. You were great. Check out my song.” Or “Where can I see you play?”
And a bunch of them were from people who had just heard Carson Daly call me homeless—because that was their whole angle, was that I was a homeless singer-songwriter living out of my car. Which was kind of true. I didn’t have an apartment and I was based in my car, but I wasn’t homeless. I feel badly for misrepresenting or exploiting the very real problem of homelessness. But then again, I wasn’t in charge of my story. So anyhow, I got all these emails from elderly folks who wanted me to know that next time I was passing through Boise, or Kansas City, or wherever, that I was welcome to stay in their guest room and I didn’t have to sleep in my car. It was just so sweet. Talk about reaffirming your belief in humanity.
So many strangers reached out to me, were saying so many nice things and I don’t know that the impact is still quite that big from one blind audition, because it’s happened 20 times now. I feel like I really lucked out because I got in early, I did my best, I was able to sing good songs that I could sink my teeth into and feel proud of, and I was treated respectfully by the editors. I had a good run and for the amount [of time] that I was there, it had a pretty heavy impact on my career and my life.
BF: You’ve always been very personable and connected to your fans. How many of those thousand emails from that blind audition did you answer?
RL: Every single one. I knew that my next performance was going to be the show where I got eliminated and I was determined to make as much of the opportunity as I possibly could. So I sat in a pair of sweatpants in the La-Z-Boy in my dad’s living [room] around 12 to 16 hours a day, from 8:00 AM to midnight, for four days straight. I was on my laptop and I responded to every email, every merch order, every Facebook message. I responded saying, “Hey, thank you so much for reaching out.” I would personalize them and try and engage with the people and try and point them to my website, to my music on iTunes, and to my newsletter. I really didn’t want to miss the opportunity to capture those people and to bring them into my world.
My whole goal was to use the show to enhance my career as an original singer songwriter. I wasn’t looking to win The Voice, or to be America’s next top superstar…My goal was to share original music with people who connect with music like I made. The whole time I was there, I was joking, “I’m just trying to exploit the show as much as they’re trying to exploit me. We have an understanding.”
BF: You said it earlier; you were 27 when you were on The Voice. You’re in your mid-30’s now. How significantly would you say your sound has evolved or you have evolved as a person in the last decade? What are you doing currently?
RL: I think the act of performing in such a pressure-cooker environment inherently changes the artists to an extent. And just 10 years of life and 10 years of experiences as human beings…Just like I would expect all of the people that I performed with to continue growing, and practicing, and learning, and developing their artistry, I’ve definitely been trying to do the same myself.
Patreon is sort of the center of my creative universe. What I love about it is that as an independent artist, it gives me a place to connect directly with people who enjoy what I do. It’s away from the hum of Instagram and Facebook and there’s no algorithm. I can post something and directly connect with people who have chosen to hear from me, which just isn’t the case pretty much anywhere else on the Internet; even email lists, it filters. So I love that about Patreon. I do a monthly concert for my patrons. I release all my newest music there first. I also share chord charts, and in-depth stories about my writing process, and make videos for it where it supports my YouTube series.
Yesterday I crossed 400 patrons. And it allows me to survive through the pandemic, honestly, just fine. I’ve been performing some online, and I’ve been writing, and I’ve been working on the business side of my career, and having a life and able to pay my bills, and make some art, which has been shocking to me. I would not have expected to be able to be a full-time singer-songwriter without leaving my house.
You can follow Rebecca at her website, RebeccaLoebe.com. You can also support her on Patreon and download a free 12-song album of her acoustic covers here. She’s also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. The season 20 finale airs this Tuesday, May 25, and the series will return for season 21 in spring 2022.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.