The Voice's Judith Hill on Reworking Bieber & Xtina and Coping With Front-Runner Pressure
It’s a little unnerving to be pereceived as a front-runner in a reality singing competition, says Judith Hill. “It creates a weird pressure that you didn’t really sign up for,” says the woman whose ouster at the end of The Voice‘s Season 4 Top 8 results telecast caught many fans off guard.
Of course, given Hill’s status as Michael Jackson’s backup singer and duet partner while preparing for his ill-fated “This Is It” tour — combined with a sensational Christina Aguilera cover that earned a four-judge turn during the Blind Auditions — it would’ve been hard for her to fly under the radar.
And while, vocally, Hill set an awfully high bar coming out of the gate with “What a Girl Wants,” she says she tried to “show growth in other ways. Once I got to the live rounds, I really tried to put on a show, really connect with the audience, get into working the staging and the hand gestures, and really create memorable moments that people could remember.”
TVLine caught up with Hill to talk about those memorable moments, her sometimes outrageous outfits and even an unexpected YouTube moment with her erstwhile rival Karina Iglesias.
TVLINE | Any discussion of your Voice journey has to start with your epic Blind Audition to Christina Aguilera’s “What a Girl Wants.” Had you ever covered that before? And how did you come up with that particular arrangement?
I’d never sung it before, but obviously I love it. I just decided to take the verses and turn it into more of a soul rendition, while still being a song that everyone recognized. What I did every time, before rehearsals, I sat down and arranged [my song] and charted it out and handed it to the band. So I always came into my rehearsals with [the arrangement] already done, because we don’t have much time to come up with really, really special arrangements. I did my homework. And I have to say, I love my mom because she was also one of the people that I collaborated with a lot during the season.
TVLINE | You also had a really fun Battle Round performing “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” with Karina Iglesias. You went in as one of the big front-runners, but both of you really killed it. Tell me about that experience.
The Battle Round was a blast. Karina’s an amazing talent and she pushed me to step up my game, to bring a very aggressive, fun energy — which is needed for that song. But it was also challenging for me to find ways I could create musical moments and really make it my own within the Battle. The good thing is we were able to feed off each other’s licks and really create this dialogue on stage. It wound up being a musical experience in spite of the competition aspect.
TVLINE | I saw on YouTube that the two of you posted a video where you covered the song in Japanese and Spanish, respectively (embedded below). When did you shoot that?
I was on the treadmill at the hotel and came up with this really random idea. So I texted Karina: “Let’s do it in Japanese and Spanish,” and she’s like “You’re joking, right?” [The guys from] Midas Whale shot it for us a couple days before the Battle aired, and we put it on YouTube the day after our performance. Everyone really liked it.
TVLINE | For the Live Playoffs, when you did “Feeling Good,” at one point you put down the mic, then turned and stomped away. Does that stuff come to you spontaneously or do you think about where you’re going to be physically on the stage before you begin?
A little bit of both. I have a general road map: “Okay, right here is where I’ll be at this point and that point,” but then as the song goes on, you get into the character of it and certain things come out. For “Feeling Good,” I felt like I should really milk that particular moment — whether it be stomping, walking away or just shaking my head. Creating a pause is important for the drama of that song, and it is a very dramatic song.
TVLINE | The following week you went in a very different direction with “You’ve Got a Friend.” Was that strategic on your part, to make sure you were serving up different moods?
Yeah. I really was excited, itching to do that, because writing and singing are a big part of my life. I’m so glad I got a moment to show that to people, because that’s a different type of singing that happens when I get on the piano and just play and sing. Carole King is one of my all-time favorite songwriters. That was the most stripped-down Judith Hill moment this season, and I was really, really happy with it.
TVLINE | You got voted out after you reworked will.i.am and Justin Bieber’s “#thatPOWER.” Reading online comments the day after, a lot of people thought the song choice was your downfall, but I liked that you took that record and turned it into a big funk moment. Did you have initial concerns about choosing “#thatPOWER” or any regrets about it afterward?
At that point in the show, I had been singing a lot of big soulful ballads. I felt like, especially coming off the Michael Jackson cover ["The Way You Make Me Feel"], I wanted something very celebratory and uptempo. Plus, I love the lyrics to that song: “I’m alive, I can fly, I’m living every moment. Power.” The word “power,” it just jumped out at me, like, “Oh my God. That is how I feel right now. Just owning it and saying I’ve got the power.” I also thought it was perfect for me to create a musical experience on stage — to bring the funk in and celebrate rhythm and all the elements. I didn’t really think so much “Oh people might hate this song in its raw form or whatever.” It’s a great song. Maybe people weren’t as familiar with it, but I went in feeling confident, and I have no regrets about it. I’m a little bummed that I didn’t make the finale, but at the same time I’m happy I ended on the note I ended: It was really a blast of high energy, a good way to go out.
Were you a Judith Hill fan during Season 4? Shocked she didn’t make the finale? Sound off in the comments!