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Brittany Kennell challenges herself on The Voice: ‘It’s fun to put yourself in different situations’

Melody Lau

The Voice only premiered five years ago, but in that short time the hit reality show has become a television phenomenon, even dethroning the long-standing enterprise of American Idol as the best singing competition in the U.S. Now 10 seasons in, the show finally introduced its first Canadian contestant this year, Montreal native Brittany Kennell.

While Quebec does host its own version of The Voice called La Voix, Kennell (who currently lives in Nashville) decided to head west to Los Angeles to audition for music’s biggest names, Adam Levine, Pharrell, Christina Aguilera and Kennell’s personal favourite artist, Blake Shelton. The results worked in her favour as Shelton ended up turning his chair for her, even comparing her timid but powerful vocals to his pop star girlfriend, Gwen Stefani.

This isn’t the first time Kennell entered a competition. Last year, the country singer entered CBC’s Searchlight competition, advancing past the first two rounds with her song, “Speed Queen.” The Voice marked the first time she has entered a competition since her Searchlight entry. Kennell continued to fight for a spot on The Voice after joining team Blake, but was ultimately knocked out of the competition this week after performing a cover of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.” Post-competition, Kennell posted a lengthy message on Facebook to her fans, saying she “got more out of it than I could have ever imagined.”

With such success on two major competitions already – remember, winning isn’t everything as musicians in contests have gone on to major success regardless of their resulting ranks (Jennifer Hudson, One Direction, Carly Rae Jepsen) — Kennell is bound to find success in whatever she tackles next. CBC Music spoke to Kennell over the phone a week prior to her elimination to talk about The Voice, Searchlight and her competitive spirit.

How has your experience with The Voice been so far?

It’s been amazing and the best part of it has been the outpour of support from Canada. It’s been so cool to just see everyone rallying for me. I didn’t know what was going to come from it going in and it’s been an extremely positive experience.

How did you end up auditioning for the show?

It’s so funny because this is actually the third time that I auditioned for the show in the course of the last four or five years. So third time’s the charm! It was really on a whim, it was not planned at all. It was something I chose to do as a challenge for myself because it’s fun to put yourself in different settings and situations. Especially with the one-on-one audition process, I’m not familiar with it at all. I kind of just did it so I could get some experience with that type of performance.

Can you walk me through your first audition for the judges and what was going through your mind?

It was very crazy. It was a long day and there are so many of us there auditioning that it takes a little while to go through everyone. But when the time came, the doors opened and it’s so quiet but you get on stage and start and from that point on I was pretty present, like I knew what I was doing. And when Blake turned around, I was gone. It was a blur, you just kind of black out at that point and you’re feeling so excited about what you achieved but at the same time you’re trying to stay focused on your performance so there were definitely a lot of feelings all at once.

Your parents were also there by your side, how did that affect your performance?

Having them there helped me calm the nerves a little bit. It was really nice to have them right there where I could really see them.

How is it working with Blake on his team?

He’s hilarious, he’s so fun to work with and he’s a very genuine, light-hearted guy. He also just makes you feel very comfortable, we don’t feel nervous. We’ll walk in and he’ll be like, ‘Hey, little buddy, how are you doing!’ You just connect with him right away because he’s so welcoming.

Gwen Stefani was the mentor on Blake’s team, and the judges seem to think you sound a lot like her.

Yeah, that’s pretty crazy, I’ve never heard that one before, but it was obviously such an honour because I love Gwen Stefani and I look up to her a lot.

What was the biggest thing you learned from Blake or Gwen?

I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from the show has been confidence and just learning to get into the song and the feeling of the song. Also I learned to not be afraid to belt and try different things. I’ve been known to be more of a quiet singer and these have been the biggest vocal performances I’ve ever done in my career.

You’ve competed in a lot of sports growing up but do you feel like a sense of competitiveness comes out when you’re doing something like The Voice?

I’ve definitely been a respective competitive person. I love competition, but I’m not afraid to lose too. My parents put us in so many sports growing up that that nature came out in the battle rounds, for sure.

How did you transition from sports to music?

Well I’ve always done piano lessons, it was something that was there throughout all my sports, but it was not until later like, college that I started to take music more seriously. Sports kind of died out after high school, I just couldn’t find a sport that I could settle on but music was always there. Songwriting was always a huge part of me growing up. I was initially in journalism but I wasn’t sure if that was what I wanted to do so I applied to McGill University to become a high school history teacher and I got in there. My mom, though, was like, ‘You should check out Berkeley’s songwriting program' and I ended up getting in. It was like a sign for me that this is what I’m meant to be doing and from then on I’ve had a lot of faith in that decision and in the career I’ve chosen.

Who are some songwriters you look up to?

Shania Twain was my first concert so she’s definitely someone I look up to. Bruce Springsteen is a huge influence for me with storytelling and songwriting; he’s probably one of my favourite artists.

You live in Nashville now but do you hope to ever return to Canada?

I love Montreal so much and I really hope that my career leads me to a place where I can actually base myself in Montreal and then just travel to Nashville, New York, Los Angeles and tour around the world.

You also participated in CBC’s Searchlight competition, how was that for you?

Yes! It was so cool for me. I’m always just looking for any route to get me back home so it was just a great contest for me to get involved with the Canadian community without having to move back right away. It was a good way to reach out to new artists and see what’s going on in Canada and just be part of the community. It was really cool going through and checking out the other artists, just seeing what artists were doing up there.

Do you have any advice for current Searchlight contestants?

Just try to utilize the outlet as much as possible. Reach out to fans or reach out to artists that you see on there and just use the whole community of Searchlight as a way for you to have leverage in your career. It’s just a great opportunity.

How important is social media for you now?

Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize how powerful social media was. I mean, I’ve been on it before a while and I’ve used it. I’ll post here and there, Twitter once a week if that. But now it has become a huge way for me to reach out to fans and to connect with them. Twitter was how I locked down a gig singing for the Montreal Canadiens so social media is a huge source for artists to connect with each other and with fans.