It’s stupefying to believe that The Voice has been on for 10 years. NBC debuted its singing competition in spring 2011, and in May 2021 it crowned 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 interview with The Voice season 3 alum Nicole Nelson. You can also click below to view any of the previous retrospectives:
Nicole Nelson (season 3, 2012)
Nicole Nelson represented Team Adam during The Voice season 3—the first season where the show’s popularity was really in full force. NBC had just made the decision to go to two cycles a year, so this was the first time it was airing in the fall, something the network would stick with until 2021.
Chances are you remember Nicole from her wonderful rendition of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” during her blind audition, which turned all four chairs. She wound up being eliminated in the knockout rounds, losing a spot in the live playoffs to future breakout star Loren Allred (who provided the singing voice for Jenny Lind in The Greatest Showman just a few years after this season). Here, Nicole talks to me about the incredible advice she got from Adam Levine and her season 2 connection you might not know about.
Brittany Frederick: What do you remember most from The Voice season 3?
Nicole Nelson: I feel like I remember every little second of it, from the moment that I got the first call to leaving the show. It was such a vibrant, alive time in my life, and I just remember everything! Most importantly, I remember being blown away by how much talent there actually was there. When you watch a show like The Voice on TV, especially during the audition process, it seems like some people just don’t have the goods—but to be honest, everyone on season 3 was talented. And if anybody got up on that stage and didn’t blow people away, it’s because they were nervous and/or didn’t have the real-life experience to pull it off in the moment.
The levels of talent was incredible. Avery Wilson. I mean, Avery Wilson! I remember the first time I met him in the hotel lobby. He came up to me and just introduced himself; he was only a little bit taller than me at the time. I think he was like 16 years old. I was like, this kid is amazing. He just blew me away. His personality, his intelligence, not to mention his voice. I loved him immediately, and we became close during the months we were filming. Behind the scenes we would hang out and we would play each other our favorite Whitney Houston and Donny Hathaway songs. I would share my stretches, breathing techniques and tips for preparing for the stage, but he already had all of the goods. He was born to do this.
I was older than a lot of the kids there. I had experience already, and I was a musician full time for 10 years when I went on the show, so I loved to share wisdom with them, to encourage and to remind them: no matter what happens here, this is not your last chance. Don’t let that get in your head. That’s just a story. This is a great opportunity, seize it, know your power, learn from it, be grateful, be humble, but don’t think this is it for you! This is a long life, a wide industry, and you can have a full and long career if you choose. There are countless different ways to share your gift, and do what you feel is your purpose.
BF: So you were giving a lot of advice; is there a piece of advice that you got which has stuck with you?
NN: The best advice I ever got the whole time I was on that show was from Adam [Levine]. Mostly when we were kind of talking for real, off camera. We had to do a photo shoot at one point, the whole team was coming together for it, and there was such a swarm of activity around him. I think he was also filming a movie and guesting on a TV show at the time. It was crazy.
He had a couple of assistants around. One personal assistant brought him a coffee and then walked away and was on a walkie-talkie. And then another assistant with the show immediately came over and she was like, “We need to take your coffee.” And he was like “I didn’t even take a sip yet!” There was this whole hectic scene around him. Makeup artists, producers, photographers, videographers, swarming kids, a big crowd outside just trying to catch a glimpse of him. It was so intense.
I was like, how do you stay so seemingly sane and grounded? And he said “Honestly, this business is a cauldron. It brings out either the worst, or the best in you, and sometimes both, depending on the day. You have to check yourself and reset constantly. You need to regularly remind yourself who you really are and why you are here.”
Another time, I had just seen him play the morning show with his band [Maroon 5] and he crushed it. This was something I struggled with as a performer—very early morning gigs. (groans) So I asked him how he manages to be so ready for the stage at the crack of dawn like that. And he said, “If I have an early show I get up three hours before the call time and I start moving and rehearsing the set. Just dive into the music. Keep playing the song or set over and over until you’re sick of it, right up to the moment you hit the stage. Once I get up on stage I’m warm, even if it’s an early morning show.” I thought that was such practical advice. It changed the way I approach every show, actually.
Brittany Frederick: Is there anything about your time on The Voice that you would have done differently in retrospect?
NN: I don’t regret any of it. It was all actually perfect in hindsight. My entrance and my exit from the show was perfect. There was a little bit of drama, of course; it’s TV. But I wouldn’t change any of it.
It’s pretty crazy. Television is this whole other thing. There’s so much work that goes into it, and the music part is only 90 seconds. It’s a whole other animal. I had a lot of fun though. I enjoyed the schedule and how strict that was—how I wasn’t the one arranging and dictating everything. I just had to show up and do my part and not really worry about anything else.
I’ve been an indie artist for my whole life and it’s a lot of work that people don’t see. But I consciously chose this life… I walked away from two major record label deals that I was offered, because I felt like they didn’t see me for who I really am. I would much rather be an artist on a regional scale, and be true to myself fully, than be a worldwide lie. No disrespect intended towards those who choose that path; everyone has different goals in life. Personally, I’m okay with not being hugely famous. I’m very okay with not being a pop star. I prefer to have the freedom to follow my muse wherever she takes me.
BF: What got you on the show in the first place, then? Was there something that made The Voice appeal to you?
NN: Everyone in my inner circle was pretty shocked when I made the announcement that I was going to be on The Voice. At the time, I had just moved from Brooklyn to Vermont. I didn’t even own a television. I was completely going in a different direction with my life, which was focused on health. Mental health, physical health, vibrance, true artistry—I just wanted to dive more deeply into who I could be as an artist and as a woman. And when I got the call, I was like, wait. A reality show? No, no, no. I’m not going to do one of those shows. Ha!
But then I heard that my friend Jermaine Paul, who I went to high school with, was on it. He and I used to sing together all the time in the halls between class or during lunch. High schools can have good acoustics! (laughs) I realized from watching him on season 2 that The Voice wasn’t like other shows. It seemed to be actually about talent. So I softened around the idea of doing a show like this.
And I’m so glad I did. I really loved it. I really fell in love with the cast. Most of us still keep in touch on social media and see each other when we can. I did a show with Amanda Brown in New York at Rockwood [Music Hall]. I just called her and was like, I’m coming to New York. Can you come sing with me? She’s such a powerhouse…It really felt like there was a family vibe. I will always hold a very special place in my heart for the Season 3 cast.
BF: What are you currently working on? Especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, has that changed or altered some of your plans musically?
NN: It definitely screwed up my plans. My band had just finished an album which was supposed to drop in the summer of 2020. We had been booking a tour around the release and it was great. We had signed a distribution deal for it with Sony Orchard and we were coming off an EP release that did really well; we picked up some great dates with Mavis Staples and Melissa Etheridge and Norah Jones and all these really huge artists who we admire. It was such an exciting time momentum-wise. We were like oh my God, this is happening. And just when it was all about to happen, everything came crashing down.
We were dealt some personal tragedy too. In the spring of 2020 we lost Dwight’s dad, and then a few months later we lost my mom. It was such a whirlwind, and in the middle of so much social, societal turmoil. The kind of wild changes that only come by force, which I feel like a lot of people can relate to. Everything I was doing came to a halt and then you look to discover what is really important. We are in a completely different playing field right now. We are currently creating a new version of our world.
One of the positive outcomes is that we developed much deeper relationships with our people online. That was never my thing. I’m like, look, I am a live artist. I am an analog human. The screens are fine, we can do that, but people… come see me live! That’s when we have the energy exchange. But the pandemic really opened me up to finding alternatives to truly connect.
So we invested in some high-end gear, mics and lighting, and we’ve been building an awesome soundstage right here in our basement. Rehearsals non-stop have kept me sane and grounded. So in 2021 we get to finally release this music that we are so proud of, and we are tighter than ever.
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.