The Voice's Amanda Brown on Grace Potter Covers, Distracting Dancers and 'Dream On'
When Amanda Brown covered both Aretha Franklin and Whitesnake for Top 6 performance night on The Voice, her coach Adam Levine raved about her versatility. But the 27-year-old former background singer for Adele says she hopes to to make it par for the course to fuse soulful vocals with edgy rock sounds as she embarks on her post-show career.
“It’s funny: Two of my favorite artists are Tina Turner and Prince, and either of them would be able to pull off ‘Natural Woman’ and ‘Here I Go Again’ back to back without anyone questioning it,” says Brown. “Those songs represented me — and I want people to prepare themselves for a mesh of those worlds with regard to my original music. I’m not saying I want to complicate things, but I like the idea of challenging mindsets and challenging contemporary thoughts about what music should be.”
TVLine caught up with Brown to discuss her entire Voice “journey” — from her Battle Round against Trevin Hunte to her epic “Dream On” cover to Blake Shelton’s Top 6 results-night prediction that she’d be going home.
TVLINE | I’m not going to lie: I was ready to call 911 and report a robbery the night you were cut from the competition.
[Laughs] I guess a lot of people thought that I was one of the contenders for the win, but I really didn’t have any expectations. I never imagined I’d make to the Top 20, let alone the Top 6, so I’m happy. And now I’m ready to go and make some music.
TVLINE | Well, it’s good that you’re taking the classy approach. Leave it to lunatics like myself to rail against the outcome.
[Laughs] Well, that’s why we have people like you. You do all that for us.
TVLINE | So let’s talk about your Battle Round performance of “Vision of Love,” which is where most people first realized what a great vocalist you are. Did you realize going in that Cee Lo was thinking about you as cannon fodder for his front-runner Trevin [Hunte]?
I wasn’t aware of Cee Lo’s thought process until Trevin and I both got into the rehearsal room for the first time with him and Rob Thomas. I felt very confident with that song because I grew up listening to Mariah Carey. Cee Lo heard me sing it, and he was like “What? I had no idea you could sing like that.” So it was a bit of a bummer to hear that he was throwing me under the bus, that I was going to be tossed aside after my battle with Trevin. But then the other coaches got to hear me sing, and I ended up having the opportunity to get stolen by Adam. We developed an awesome relationship, so it all worked out.
TVLINE | A lot has been said about “Dream On” being the big moment of Season 3, but to me your rendition of “Paris (Ooh La La)” from the Knockout Rounds was right up there with it.
Yay, I’m glad you said that! I’d never performed the song before, but I’m a huge Grace Potter fan. The first time I saw her was at Coachella this past April, and I instantly fell in love with her voice and her music. I felt like “Paris (Ooh La La)” would not only showcase my vocals, but give me a chance to have fun on stage; that’s usually the deciding factor. I like to feel the music in my body, so when I hear a tune and I have an initial, physical reaction to the music I usually know “Okay. This is the one.” I feel like it’s 10 times easier for me to move while singing than have to stand completely still and sing.
TVLINE | Your first live performance of the season — “Dream On” — was incredible. Nowadays, we don’t see many mainstream black female artists doing rock music. Was it your intention to declare to the world that this was your genre of choice, or did it just happen to be on your list of possible covers and it got cleared that week?
Song choice can be a bit difficult when you’re on this kind of show. I’m an alternative artist, and some of the music that I wanted to perform wasn’t really the best choice for this venue. I had to choose music that would be popular, that people would respond to in the context of a competition, but I also had to do music that I enjoyed and that represented me as an artist. “Dream On” is a song that I’ve been a huge fan of for a really, really long time and it fit how I see myself as a soulful, edgy, alternative artist. It literally was a dream come true for me to cover it.
TVLINE | You followed that up with Florence + the Machine’s “Spectrum,” which felt like a step back in momentum. I heard rumors that you were sick during that performance. What exactly went wrong?
I was actually really sick that week, but you have to be able to perform despite whatever you may be feeling. It probably wasn’t the best song [choice] for me, either. And adding to that, I was standing on top of that [tall pedestal] and really couldn’t move. So yeah, there were a number of elements that came into play during that performance that really didn’t showcase me in the best light. But at the end of the day you live and you learn, and I felt really honored to make it through even knowing it wasn’t my best.
TVLINE | One thing I noticed was that after “Dream On,” you were always positioned at the beginning or middle of the telecast. You never got the end-of-show pimp spot. Did that bug you? Did you ever feel like “Hey, when do I get that advantage of performing toward the end of the show and being closest to people’s minds when voting starts”?
It didn’t bug me. We work with the producers, and a lot of times it comes down to staging, and how long it takes to move certain sets from one spot to another. Plus, I also feel like opening up the show is a huge thing, too. It’s the first thing that people see and it sets the tone for the rest of the show. I feel like that’s just as much of an honor as being able to close the show.
TVLINE | All right. So I’m the only one in this conversation who’s hanging on to conspiracy theories! [Laughs]
I try to stay very positive, so that’s what you’re going to get out of me. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Okay, let’s move right along to Grace Potter’s “Stars.” To me, that was a risky move, tackling a song that a lot of the audience had never heard. Did you and Adam debate the pros and cons of that choice?
No, we didn’t debate about it at all. It was off of her new album, and I hadn’t heard it yet. Adam played it for me, and maybe a minute or less into it, I’d fallen in love with it. Honestly, as soon as he said “Grace Potter” I was ready to say “yes,” but then I drew a personal connection to the lyrics and the music, and to me that rules over anything else. I know it’s a huge competition, a national platform, but at the end of the day the most important thing to me is doing music that I really feel passionate about. And it ended up being one of my best-selling songs, so it’s a decision that paid off.
TVLINE | Speaking of daring choices, you and Adam reimagined “Someone Like You” as a booming rock ballad — and adding to the pressure, you used to sing background vocals for Adele. How did that rendition come about?
I only wanted to do that song if I could change it up and make it a little bit more my own. The first couple of ideas we tried didn’t really work. So the band just started jamming in rehearsal, and I tried to go with my instincts [vocally], and eventually it formed into the final product. Again, I get a feeling in my body about whether or not something is going to be right for me, and I definitely felt that in the rehearsal — once we got the arrangement right. As for Adele, she is such a cool, cool woman that I don’t think she would’ve been offended in any way.
TVLINE | I didn’t feel like the judges’ feedback really acknowledged the creativity and fearlessness you’d shown.
There are always going to be people that maybe aren’t as enthusiastic about what you’re doing, but if it feels right for you, you just have to go with it.
TVLINE | In my humble opinion, the iTunes version of “Someone Like You” didn’t capture the rocking sensibility of what you did on stage. Did you have to record it before you’d fully finalized the live arrangement with the Voice band?
I really can only say that I went into the studio, did a couple of takes, and that’s as far as I was involved in the iTunes recording. We don’t have anything to do with what happens to our vocal after that or how the music is mixed. I’m not a huge fan of that. I’m used to being hands-on in the studio, so that was really a difficult aspect of being on this show. But there are so many people who work on The Voice, and so many parts to what we do, that I understand their method to the madness. It has to be that way.
TVLINE | Those tumblers in the foreground during your Top 6 performance of “Here I Go Again”…I felt like they were very distracting, and may have hurt you in terms of voting. Were you digging them?
I love [The Voice Performance Producer] Jerry [Slaughter], and we both discussed certain ideas. It’s just hard because every single time I did a rehearsal or sound check, I was seeing [the tumblers] from the perspective of the stage, and it felt great. But I was not seeing it from the audience point of view. I know some people didn’t love the dancers, but I totally stand by Jerry and the initial dream that we had when we were planning the performance. Don’t forget, some artists get to put together tours, and they go overseas to Europe and they test out all of their ideas, and then they come back to the U.S. and all the kinks are worked out. It’s rough when you’re performing something for the first time and all of your ideas are out there for scrutiny.
TVLINE | Okay, so here’s a question you may or may not want to answer. The night you got eliminated, Blake Shelton was asked about whether he thought America was going to save you or Nicholas David, and he said something about how America responds to uniqueness and originality, and therefore would pick Nicholas. That upset me. I found you totally unique. When was the last time we saw a black female artist rock out on a reality singing competition? How many contestants would be daring enough to tackle song choices like “Spectrum” or “Stars”? Plus, you completely reinvented “Someone Like You.” In light of that, I was wondering how you felt about Blake’s comment.
I didn’t really feel anything about it. Blake was asked a question and he answered it, and good for him. It’s a difficult question, especially when two people are standing up there waiting to find out if they’re going to go home. That was his opinion and he’s definitely entitled to it. For me, I try not to think too much about what other people think, and at the end of the day I can only be myself.
TVLINE | On that note, what can we expect from you in the future, musically speaking? I hate to ask something like “Who are you going to sound like?” but what artists might you end up alongside on an iTunes playlist?
I definitely don’t like to compare myself to anybody. I am a huge admirer of lots of people. Grace Potter is definitely one of them, and I feel like she breaks the mold in a lot of ways. She’s this soulful, edgy female rock artist that writes her own music and is really dynamic live on stage. So I would love to be in the company of someone like her once I release my original music. That said, I’m inspired by everyone from Tina Turner to Paul Simon to early Mariah Carey. So there will definitely be hints of that in my original music. You might hear anything from live African drums to a killer electric guitar part. It’s going to be more on the experimental side but it’ll be fun. I certainly hope people enjoy it!
Were you an Amanda Brown fan this season? Did you think she should’ve made the Top 4? And which of her performances was your favorite? Sound off in the comments, and for all my Voice news, interviews, recaps, and exclusives, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV