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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REMEMBER WHEN you were a high school senior? Imagine being that age and having a handful of national celebrities lavish you with praise, knowing that their fawning remarks will be broadcast on primetime television. Wonderful isn’t it? There’s one catch though: you can’t tell anyone about it.

That was Bria’s situation in the fall of 2013 when she returned home after a taping for The Voice. Sworn to secrecy, she waited for producers to call with news of when her audition would air. Finally they announced she would appear on Feb. 24, 2014 on the season’s first episode. The results were still classified, but she could let people know when to turn on the TV.

In the weeks leading up to the first episode, NBC used excerpts from Bria’s segment in promotional teasers for the show. Her friends could barely contain themselves, and they threw an impromptu viewing party on the big night. Bria’s performance was saved for the end of the show, the clean-up hitter of the night. When the screen filled with Bria’s face, pandemonium broke out in the room. “It was just crazy,” Bria says. “Everyone was yelling at the TV and cheering. Some of them were crying because they knew how hard I’d worked.”

The video of Bria’s audition went viral, racking up more than 1.6 million views on YouTube. “[The audition] is still such a blur,” Bria says. “I don’t really remember it, and I have to look back at the video to remember. It was so amazing, so surreal and absolutely insane that that happened.”

What came next would be more intense yet—one-on-one coaching sessions with her mentor, Usher. He suggested she exercise patience in some of her songs and demonstrated how lingering on an emotional lyric can infuse it with soul. But more important than mechanics was his insight on life as a singer. “Usher taught me to let my guard down and to open myself up to people and show my flaws,” Bria says. “I have learned to become more vulnerable and let people in, to show people that I’m not just this tough badass.”

Although Usher was her official coach, Bria interacted and chatted with the other celebrity coaches as well. “Everything is normally a blur when I talk to them,” she says. “I’m just like, ‘Oh, I’m just chatting with Shakira.’ It just seems so surreal. But they’re such sweet people all of them, and there couldn’t be a better panel of coaches.”

The working schedule in L.A. was a bit of a surprise, but Bria was one of the few performers prepared for the long hours. “Sleep is not something you get a lot of,” she says. We do reality, hair and makeup, camera blocking, stage rehearsals, vocal lessons, all sorts of stuff. And it’s all packed into a week. One day I was working from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m.”

After the blind auditions, pairs of singers were put on stage to face off against each other in “Battle Rounds.” The singers did a joint performance, weaving strands of the same song together, one stepping back while the other sang her portion and then vice versa, back and forth, back and forth.

In the first Battle Round, Bria and her opponent sang Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” with Bria being named the winner. The song in her second Battle Round was “I’ll Stand by You” by the Pretenders, with the similar outcome of Bria winning.

These rounds were hyped as cage matches. Even the stage was altered to fit this theme with lighted ropes circling the stage to make it look like a boxing ring. After each vocal battle, the singers’ coach would pick a winner and host Carson Daly would lift the victor’s hand in the air.

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