The Rise of Bria Kelly

Behind The Scenes Of The Smithfield Singers Wild Top 10 Run On NBC’s The Voice



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AT THE AGE OF 7, Bria sang in public for the first time in the chorus of her second grade production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

“Even then,” says Smithfield resident Kim Norman, “there was this real powerhouse voice coming out of this tiny person.”

Bria was content to blend into the background, but in third grade her chorus teacher urged her to sing a solo. The audience loved her. And she loved them. This, she decided, is the career path she wanted to follow.

Once Bria turned 12, she turned to vocal coach Mark Bzdick to refine her rough edges, to develop breath control and musicianship. “She had one of those very rare things with a student who had a much bigger voice than she was ready to handle yet,” says Bzdick. “At that age, it’s very important that you don’t start to manipulate a voice, that you let it grow naturally. ... I reined her in so that she had good vocal health. ... If there were any kind of tension or stress on the voice, I would point that out to her. She had the natural talent, and she was a very hard worker, a really good student. I couldn’t be prouder of her right now.”

Her parents aided with the technical and logistical aspects of performing. Bob, a retired mechanical engineer, educated himself on all the hardware a band could need so he could “run sound” anytime his daughter performed. He and Jan also served as Bria’s booking agents, scouring the region for venues.

“I kept telling folks there aren’t a whole bunch of opportunities for 12-year-old kids to perform,” he says. “Of course, there are always bars—”

At this, Jan interjects with a laugh, “And she’s done them!”

“—but that’s just not the right place for a kid.”

The bars she did play at tended to be on the Southside, and gigs would typically run past midnight. With taking down the gear and travel through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, she often wouldn’t get home until 2 or 3 in the morning. Stressful demands for a child still in middle school.

“One night at [Virginia Beach’s] 15th Street Raw Bar and Grill,” Bria recalls, “I was so tired I just sat down on Tyler’s base drum, and I just sat there like this.” She lowers her head and sweeps her hair across her face, pantomiming holding a microphone to her mouth behind the blonde shield.

Usually though, Bria would sing the National Anthem at the beginning of sporting events. Her first gig ever was for the Norfolk Admirals when she was 11 years old. New to the booking game, Bob emailed a recording of Bria to the team’s website and waited to see what would happen.

“Someone literally got ahold of me within a day and said, ‘Can she come in this weekend? We’d love to have her.’”

Since then, Bria has sung the National Anthem for scores of teams, including the Washington Redskins, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Baltimore Orioles. She posted her performances online, along with acoustic versions of her singing covers and a few of her own songs, which led to other opportunities. She performed as the occasional opening act for bands and pop stars playing in Hampton Roads, such as Taylor Swift and Rascal Flats. Being a teenager from a small town in Southeastern Virginia, it seemed she had hit the big time. But things were about to get a whole lot bigger.

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