Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 3, 2014

TC native makes first cut for 'The Voice'

BY MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS mdrahos@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Fans of the NBC TV show “The Voice” tune in each week to watch singing contestants vie to make celebrity judges turn around in their chairs.

But what’s it like to try to make it to the stage of the singing competition?

Traverse City native Kendra Fleet recently found out.

Fleet, 25, is a registered dental assistant and a graduate of Northwestern Michigan College and Traverse City West Senior High.

“I’ve always had the dream of being an actress or some famous singer,” said Fleet, who participated in theater arts and choir in high school. “I’d love to be an inspiration to women all over the world to let them know that no matter what anyone says, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

After moving to Murphys, Calif., about two and a half hours east of San Francisco, Fleet began playing with a band and posted videos of herself singing on YouTube. And when a former boss sent her a link to open call auditions for “The Voice” in December, she decided to give it a shot.

After registering online and receiving an artist audition pass, she and a co-worker hit the road and drove six hours to Los Angeles, where their boss sprang for a hotel room. Early the next morning they drove downtown to the convention center, where they got in line with about 25,000 other people.

“I was realizing as I drove down this strip that there were all these people,” Fleet said. “It was probably two solid miles of people. And they didn’t open the doors until 7 a.m. and even then you waited until it was your turn to go in.

“It was exhausting. There were people who were obnoxious, singing really loud. Then there were people who were insanely nervous.”

Fleet estimates she waited about four hours outside before moving inside for more shuffling in line. After following signs from room to room, eventually she was led into a room with about 10 other people who stood up to sing one at a time before a single judge. Finally the judge dismissed all but Fleet and asked her to sing a second song. This time he was more impressed.

“He told me I was the whole package: he liked the look, he liked the sound,” said Fleet, who boasts tattoos and brown hair with purple highlights to go along with her bluesy, soulful voice.

Then Fleet was brought to another room where she was told she needed to return in four days for a second audition in Burbank, Calf. — this time with a CD containing three instrumental audition songs.

“All the way home I was wondering how I was going to get time off to come back, how I was going to get a CD and how I was going to be able to afford it,” Fleet said.

Enter childhood friend Margaret Hayes, who’d kept in touch with Fleet for years via Facebook and YouTube. Hayes, 25, decided to start a fundraising campaign for Fleet on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe.

“I have a fund myself so I know how easy it is to set up a fund and I know how hard it is to ask for help. And I knew she never would,” said Hayes, an assistant branch manager at a local bank who is raising money for her own cancer treatment that insurance doesn’t cover. “Someone had to give her a push. By the time she went to bed that night she already had $1,000.”

Altogether, the campaign raised $1,635 of a $2,000 goal, in 15 days.

Fleet said the money allowed her to fly to the second audition Dec. 19. This time around, she was more nervous and distracted by the lights,cameras and a panel of 10 male judges.

“They wanted you to stay in eye contact with the camera the whole time. Honestly, that was the hardest part,” she said. “The cameraman kept pointing at the camera and telling me to smile, people were walking behind the camera. I couldn’t even focus. I was shaking and you could hear it in my voice.”

Fleet was cut from the competition after three songs but was encouraged to come back another year after getting more performing experience and stage presence. She plans to get a voice coach and to participate in community theater.

“Honestly, it was pretty life-changing,” she said, of the experience. “I’ve always had an issue with confidence and lack of self-love. I think it was this huge stepping-stone for me. I’m not one of those people who went home and bawled for two days. I’m on top of the world right now. I feel like I could do anything as long as I put my mind to it. The world is at my fingertips.”

Whether or not footage from her auditions will make TV remains to be seen when “The Voice” returns Feb. 24 for its sixth season.