The Voice's Caroline Pennell on Tackling Bieber, Rocking 'Royals,' Accepting Cee Lo's Laid-Back Coaching: 'Everyone Else Was Standing Up'

Caroline Pennell The Voice InterviewDon’t send out a search party for the nervous teenage girl who started giggling when Cee Lo and Blake Shelton turned around during The Voice‘s Season 5 Blind Auditions. Caroline Pennell says that person is gone forever.

“It’s crazy, the transition from being on that stage and having it seem like such an incredible, unreal thing to having it feel normal,” says Pennell, explaining her inner transformation over the last few months — a transformation that carried her all the way to a Top 8 finish. “That’s my normal now, and it’ll always be normal, and having that newfound confidence is so valuable.”

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Pennell says that her experience performing on The Voice — and watching the EP she self-released before entering the competition make it to the iTunes Top 40 — has further motivated her to try to make a go of it in the music biz — not that she’s in a mad rush to map out her exact plan for chart domination.

“Right now, I just want to think about my room and my bed. College will always be there, and I’m fortunate enough that when the time is right, when I feel ready, I can go,” she says. “But I’ve found myself through this whole process; I have a better idea of where I want to head, and I’m just looking forward to assembling a team that has the same vision.”

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TVLine caught up with Pennell to talk about the highs and lows of her Voice experience, Cee Lo’s relatively muted on-air feedback and her flawless duet with current Top 5 contestant Tessanne Chin.

TVLINE | What made you choose Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Could Happen” for your Blind Audition? And how important was it for you to put your own spin on it?
I love Ellie Goulding, and that’s what I sang the first time I met the show’s casting director. And yeah, I felt like it was important to make every song your own. If I’ve learned anything from being on this show, I just try and sing songs in the way that’s easiest for me to sing them. [Laughs] If that means carrying out a new melody or phrasing — if that makes it unique and different — then that’s the best of both worlds. So, I’m very lucky in that way, that by accommodating my own needs and maybe my laziness, that kind of helped me. [Laughs]

The Voice - Season 5TVLINE | You really identified yourself as a major contender in the Battle Rounds duet with Anthony Paul on Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me.” Did you have any initial hesitation when Cee Lo gave you that track?
I definitely had a fear, just because there’s always a stigma that comes with pop stars like [Justin] with such a large following. There are so many people who love their songs, and so many people who don’t. But there was an advantage in that it was current, and people like to hear current music, especially a different version of something they know all the words to.

TVLINE | You gave the song an ethereal quality, brought the lyrics to life in a way that made me feel I was hearing it for the first time, but you didn’t abandon the R&B groove, either. It wasn’t like you turned it into Enya.
As artists, all we can do is try to make the song mean something, because if it doesn’t, it’s just noises. [Laughs] When anything is slowed down, it sounds different, especially the contrast of a male singer to a female singer. It definitely worked out in my favor in that scenario, and it’s actually a beautiful song. A lot of the songs on the radio that are backed by that heavy pop beat have good content. It all means something.

TVLINE | For Top 20 Week, Cee Lo gave you The White Striples’ “We’re Going To Be Friends.” Was that a song you were already familiar with?
I love the White Stripes, and I actually knew that song, so I was very happy with it. I felt like it was a good pick for Week One, because sailing into the live round, you want to stay familiar. You don’t want to jump into a whole new genre; it was very sweet.

TVLINE | You followed up with Avicii’s “Wake Me Up,” which is more uptempo but kind of has the same light and airy vibe. Did you and Cee Lo ever discuss going a different direction — like a song about heartbreak or maybe something angrier or edgier — to avoid complaints that it was too much of the same thing?
I didn’t really feel that way because it was an uptempo choice. I was a little worried afterwards. We never know what America wants. They don’t even know what they want! [Laughs] The reaction is always different. It doesn’t matter what you do. There are going to be people who have their opinions and love to share them in every format possible. Yeah, I was a little worried, because some people wanted me to revert back to my old ways, but that being a TV show, you have to push yourself; it’s good TV.

TVLINE | I always hoped you’d cover another poppy or R&B song — like a Justin Bieber-type situation — and turn it into a Caroline track. Did you and Cee Lo ever consider that?
We talked about so many things. Later on in the competition, the last two weeks, it was all about the song, and it was just a matter of debate, and then it became a matter of time. For every song we wanted to do, we didn’t have five minutes to really talk about it, but that’s just the way it was. It makes you feel a little bit better because I know in real life, you have more than a week to prove yourself.

TVLINE | Let’s say you had made the Top 6 and had total creative control: What would you have sung?
It probably would have been “Human” by Christina Perri: It just came out and it’s so good. I heard it and I was like, “Oh my God, I need to sing this!” I wanted to sing it [for Top 8], but it literally came out four days before. So either that or “You and I” by Ingrid Michaelson.

TVLINE | Tell me about “Leaving On a Jet Plane,” because that was your choice. I liked what you did with it, and it surprised me when Cee Lo gave you somewhat negative feedback, telling you he thought the band overpowered you in places. I didn’t think that was the case at all. Did his critique take you by surprise? And were you surprised when you wound up in the Bottom 3 after that performance?
Yeah, I was surprised to be in the Bottom 3, just because up to that point, I hadn’t been given a reason to feel like I had anything to worry about. I hope that doesn’t sound bad! After that, I realized that it could have been anybody, and I learned to understand that it has to be somebody. We can’t all just stay there forever, and live at the Marriott forever. [Laughs]

[The song] was a collective choice. I know it’s hard because everything has to be a story [for TV], but it was a collective choice. If there was more time, maybe things would have gone differently. I just tried to move on after that week and tried to put myself on equal ground with everyone else, because it’s hard to be in that mentality of the Bottom 3; it is not a very good feeling. And yeah, I was surprised at Cee Lo’s comment, but then again, I get it. It’s TV, and we can’t be nice to everyone. I talked to him about it, and said, “I need you to stand up, because everyone else is standing up.”

TVLINE | You needed him to stand up physically?
Yeah, literally and metaphorically, I guess. But I get where he was coming from. He wasn’t too keen on the song choice, and it’s hard because when something is collective, there’s a storyline that kind of sticks, but it is what it is.

TVLINE | It’s funny because Blake is literally on his feet no matter what his contestants do. Cee Lo is much more laid back than that. I sometimes wonder, though, if Blake’s enthusiasm in itself translates into votes.
There’s so many contributing factors. Over the weeks, we learned together what makes America happy.

TVLINE | How difficult was song choice in your last week on the show, when you wound up with “Dog Days Are Over”?
I love the song, and it wasn’t vocally straining. It was just mentally straining, not the song itself, just the whole concept of worrying about going home, and having to be this new bigger, better, bolder singer. You have to move and grow according to America’s wants and suggestions and comments and opinions, which can be kind of hard. [Laughs] But I was very, very happy with it. I had so much fun. That’s the most important thing.

Tessanne Chin Caroline Pennell ROYALSTVLINE | I thought one of your other highlights of the season was your Top 10 results-night duet with Tessanne on “Royals.” Do you guys get a lot of time to work on the group stuff, or is it basically like, “Here’s a song, get it together in your spare time”?
Yeah, it’s pretty much in your spare time, get it done, and also you have no spare time, so good luck! Group songs you might get Saturday, it could be Sunday. We were just excited to sing together, but [at the time] I was still in shock mode of being in the Bottom 3. I wasn’t really sure what was happening, so that was a nice distraction. I got to have fun and sing with Tessanne. Hopefully that contributed toward being saved that week.

TVLINE | Looking back at your whole Voice journey, is there any one moment or performance you wish you could re-do?
You know what? I don’t think so, because I have so many good memories from this show. Maybe if I could go back, when we got to watch Ellie Goulding rehearse, I would have ran after her, and been like, “Oh my God, I love you!” That’s probably it. I’ll always wish I could have stayed a little longer, but I think it was my week to go, and everybody left there needs to be there, and they deserve to be there. All I can do is cheer really loud from home.

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  1. A says:

    She was my favorite this season

  2. Pete says:

    I’m going through withdrawal symptoms without a new reality check. D:

  3. MAB says:

    I just love her. I just bought her EP. It is awesome. I hope she makes it in the music industry. I just love her voice, it is so soothing.

  4. Mike says:

    I found it funny that she kinda throws CeLo under the bus on the “Leaving on a Jet Plane” song choice. Because they really did make it seem like it was her choice and her choice alone. She kept repeating the phrase “collective decision”. And I feel she really got screwed on the “last chance” vote. Matthew probably would have been gone(as he should have been for “It’s Time”). So I’m definitely against it for next year.

  5. Just a comment about the “Instant Save”… it really only applies to folks on the East Coast. By the time those in the West view the program a box comes up on the screen saying the voting for the Save is already closed. Basically the East Coast determines who stays or goes.

    • Marcie says:

      Actually, I live in California and all I had to do was go on Twitter at 6:45 pacific time and watch what was happening. Then if I wanted to save someone, I could. It wasn’t that hard and was just at the end of dinner, so no problem. That said, I don’t like the Instant Save because I don’t believe all 3 were bottom 3.

    • LB says:

      Carol, it’s not just the East Coast. The Central time zone also watches the show live and can use the instant save.

  6. Sara says:

    I am so sick of reading comments like this. It isn’t just the “east coast” it is people all the way through Texas (the east and central time zones). Population-wise it includes probably more than 65-70 percent of the country. And you DO have the option to participate by watching the Twitter feed. It isn’t ideal, and yeah, you get spoilers, but you still have the option.

    • Sara says:

      That was a response to Carol’s comment, not the article. Apparently I forgot to hit the “reply to this post” button. Whoops!

      In response to the article: I liked a majority of what Caroline did and I can’t wait to see what she does in the future.

    • Timmah says:

      Realistically though, only a tiny percentage of West Coast viewers are going to think about when the show is aired live and remember to log on to Twitter at that time.

    • Guest says:

      I think I heard somewhere that 80% of all American TV viewers are in the eastern and central time zone.

  7. Flygrrl40 says:

    I just want to comment on how articulate and emotionally astute this young girl is! I had to scroll up to try and verify if she was really a teenager! As an instructional designer, I have to delve into people’s learning styles and “types” of intelligence. Clearly Caroline has a high degree of emotional intelligence, intra/interpersonal intelligence, for sure!

    Very cool.

    And well done, Caroline! I enjoyed your work and wish you the very best of luck going forward!

  8. Terry says:

    What?!?! You mean you can already have released a CD and get on the Voice?!?!? Well heck, that’s the way to do it then, release your music then get yourself on national TV for a few weeks and sell a bunch of records. I’ve always thought the sooner you have music out once you’ve been on one of these singing shows, the better. Fans are so fickle and lose interest in their favorites so quickly once they’re not on TV anymore.

    • Daw Johnson says:

      Cassadee Pope was part of Hey Monday, which had a major record deal and a single that got Top 40 airplay. So, yeah, this is not an amateurs-only show.

    • DarkDefender says:

      It actually never was an amateurs show. From season 1 they told us it was a second chance for most and/or a new direction/better platform for others already exposed to the industry.

      • christina says:

        I think Caroline was one of the best on the voice this season and im responding to one of the comments about cassidee pope i dont think she diserved to when like you saidbshe was in a very popular band called hey monday nick or terry should have on they diserved it more than her she was exceptionally good you here somebody with a voice like hers everyday nick and terry had such a distictive sound they were different same as caroline she has been my favorite since the blind auditions.

  9. Wings says:

    I like how she told Cee-Lo to stand up for her. That must have been pretty hard for her to tell her coach.

    She was my favorite in the comp and I wish her well.

  10. Tiff says:

    Great interview – I miss Caroline a lot, and I really felt like Cee-Lo threw her under the bus with his song choices. I know she says it was a collective choice, but I really felt like a lot of the choices for her weren’t the greatest, and that’s Cee-Lo’s fault.

    I would have loved to hear her sing another Ingrid Michaelson song…I think it’s interesting that she was talking about vocal straining in Dog Days, which is quite a big, epic song. I would say that Dog Days was her biggest song, but not her best – I think nerves and that feeling of being Bottom 3 really got to her.

    Her EP is really pretty great – I’m listening to it now, and it’s really impressive for a 17-year old. She’s a great singer, she makes great melody and stylistic choices. I’m looking forward to hearing more from her.

    • Caroline had a choice of which coach she wanted. People have watched the show long enough now (hopefully) to know that CeeLo’s choices are not usually best for “his” artists. One of the reasons,IMO, that Blake has done so well as a coach, is that he is able to match artists with songs and plan from week to week how to help his artists progress. Adam has gotten better with that from watching Blake and that has paid off this season. Christina still needs to learn how to do this better and NOT make it about HER.

      • HTGR says:

        That said, CeeLo has made the finale every other season, so it’s not that bad of a track record and he even had the critic’s favorite in at least two of those season’s.

  11. HTGR says:

    It was a shame she left so early.
    She sounds pretty intelligent and with a sneaky little sense of humor there hah.
    I will have to track down that EP and give it a listen.

  12. Dani says:

    If The Voice had single eliminations, it would have been nice to exit interviews like Idol. Caroline would have been so funny to watch in an interview. I hope she gets signed.

    • M Morris says:

      They do have exit interviews. They are posted on YouTube. But Carolines is heartbreaking to watch. She is in tears the whole time. Such a sweet and extremely talented girl.

      • Michael Slezak says:

        M Morris, I believe, is referring to NBC video. TVLine does not have video exit interviews with The Voice finalists.

  13. aravis says:

    Oh, Caroline, I miss you so!

    I hope Tessanne wins the show, now that Matt’s gone!

  14. Paula says:

    Michael: Do you have outtakes of this interview. I would love to watch it. I miss some Caroline in my live. She was the best in my opinion and Cee Lo only screw her chances of winning. I don’t want another Blake win because I believe in variety, but if she had chose Blake she probably would have end in the finale.
    He is overall the best Coach.

  15. TC says:

    I have no interest in watching The Voice anymore now that Caroline is gone. She was, by far, the most interesting and original contestant of this season. I’m not sure what America was thinking by eliminating her last week. Regardless, she has proven in her interview that she’s over it and I for one am looking forward to buying her music once it’s released.

  16. leighann says:

    This week’s episode was really great and Javier Colon, season 1 winner, sits down with Back9Network’s Jenn Bosworth to discuss what happened this week and to predict what he thinks will happen next week

  17. According to her Twitter, Caroline is performing with Ingrid Michaelson!

  18. darcy the slutty twin says:

    I just love her. I can’t stop playing “The Way I am” on my Nokia.

  19. sam says:

    she’s really awesome! she should have a record deal :)

  20. Eileen says:

    Thank you, Michael, for doing this interview with Caroline. IMHO she is one of the top favorites of any singing show I can count on one hand – the rest being Adam Lambert, Kelly Clarkson, Haley Reinhart and Pentatonics. I guess I would also add Allison Iraheta and Carrie Underwood.

  21. Sonja says:

    Caroline was my favorite also. She is so unique. I wish her well and definitely don’t think she should be gone off the Voice yet!

  22. waterbug says:

    I think she will be one of the ones we hear from later. And I rarely make that prediction.

  23. khamp says:

    The Voice lost some of its magic this season when Caroline was eliminated. It wasn’t that I thought she would win – it was that I eagerly looked forward to hearing her every week, and now I can’t. No one else fills that role for me.

  24. Ais says:

    Since Caroline got eliminated, I stopped watching the voice.

  25. Lucy M. says:

    Caroline’s EP is amazing — I have it on constant rotation.

  26. Robert says:

    Cee-Lo ruined Carolines chances. He was the wrong coach for her. Caroline should have gone into the top 4. Maybe not win for her songs and voice is not appreciated by everyone. I cannot wait for Caroline to go out on tour. Her voice is awesome. We’re going to be friends rendition is soul reaching.

  27. Stevie says:

    I know her!!! She’s the cutest little thing!!!!!!! It’s my boyfriends little cousins girlfriend – they are so sweet!!! LOVE YOU GIRL!!!!! You go!