The Voice's Jacquie Lee on Adult Emotions, Jack White Jams and 'Hateful 12-Year-Olds' — Plus: What Xtina Taught Her About Songwriting
Yes indeed, that’s the name The Voice‘s Season 5 runner-up Jacquie Lee says she gave to the elderly woman who lives in her stomach (the same old lady that rival coach Cee Lo Green accused her of swallowing after a rousing rendition of The Jackson 5′s “Who’s Lovin’ You”).
Yet while the 16-year-old New Jersey native is quick to joke about her soulful alter-ego, she’s super serious about the education she received on NBC’s reality singing juggernaut. “I basically got five years of music-industry experience packed into one season,” says Lee, who adds that she’s glad she didn’t wait until she was older to audition. “I feel like now is my time. I’m excited and ready to go. Why not start younger and continue gaining experience?”
TVLine caught up with Lee to talk about her epic covers of “I Put a Spell on You” and “Love Is Blindness,” her close relationship with her coach Christina Aguilera and the role that hormones — yep, hormones! — played in her making it all the way to the Season 5 finals.
TVLINE | How did you settle on “Back to Black” for your Blind Audition?
I was an Amy Winehouse fan going in. I love her music. And I like exploring the bluesy side of that song; it’s just such a cool chord progression — you hit the right note and it sounds sick. As a person, she wasn’t a great role model for kids, but as an artist she was my role model. She just poured her whole life into her songs.
TVLINE | You got to the Knock-Outs and you picked “Stompa,” which was not a huge hit in the U.S. Had you heard it prior to your time on the show?
Well, they gave us a huge, huge list of songs. And I wanted to go for one that wasn’t a huge No. 1 hit. I’d heard “Stompa” a couple times on a commercial, maybe once on the radio. Serena Ryder is an awesome singer, and I knew the chorus of it, but the first time I listened to that song, I thought [it was] Adele — in that slow intro part. And I thought, “This could be really cool.”
TVLINE | Were you afraid of the fact that viewers might not know the song?
When I pick things, I do all the research [beforehand]. But after I choose, I just try not to think. I try to go confidently in the direction that I’m going, because if you don’t, then you’re pretty much screwed either way. [Laughs]
TVLINE | For me, your Top 20 Week cover of “I Put A Spell On You” was incredible — hands down, the performance of the season. Had you ever sung it prior to The Voice?
I definitely had not ever heard of it before. Christina had given all five people on my team awesome songs, and mine was actually the oldest — even though I was the youngest member. I thought that was pretty cool that she had so much confidence in me, that she gave me such a big song to do.
TVLINE | There was a lot of talk this season like, “Jacquie’s so young. How does she convey so much adult emotion and so much angst?” So I’ve got to ask, how exactly do you do that?
Lyrics are big for me. I need to find certain points where I connect. People say, “Oh, she’s only 16.” But to be honest, every 16-year-old has feelings just like everyone else. We feel everything to the most that we can feel them. It’s a weird concept. Like, for instance, love at 16 is something that an older person might look at and say, “No, that’s not love.” But it actually is. Because it’s the most that we can love at this time. It’s what we’re capable of, it’s the highest that we can feel. Plus, teenagers have hormones. So, there’s that, too. [Laughs]
TVLINE | Did you start feeling after “I Put a Spell on You” that you might have a chance to win?
What’s weird is that I never thought ahead. We were all so busy all the time. I literally only focused on what I was doing at any given moment. And then what’s going to be the schedule for the next day. And then sleep. That’s all we had time to do. So, luckily, we had no time to overanalyze. Anything else would’ve been unfortunate for me, because I tend to overthink.
TVLINE | Top 12 week was another big moment, where you performed “Love Is Blindness,” a U2 song that had been covered by Jack White. How did that come about?
I knew that song from The Great Gatsby soundtrack, Jack White’s version of it. And I put it on my list. Christina always looked at my list and took that into consideration, which was pretty cool to me, because a coach could just be like, “No. I’m not reading her list. I think she should do this song.” But Christina always took the time. And I loved doing “Love Is Blindness” because it’s just so unexpected for a teenage girl to cover a Jack White song, you know?
TVLINE | And then you ended up performing with Paramore in the finale — so it’s like you came full circle into your rock-chick persona.
Can I just say Hayley Williams is the nicest person ever? She’s just so down-to-earth and so humble. It was insane. I had gotten our song to learn just the morning of the finale. There’s dress rehearsal going on and people are pulling you left and right. Our first rehearsal was my first time hearing the song. I was like, “Oh, crap. She’s going to think that I don’t know her song and that I didn’t do the work. She doesn’t know that I just got it this morning.” But she was so nice. She was like, “If you need anything, you can just pull me away. I’ll come. I’ll help you learn it. Don’t worry about it. It’s going to be amazing.”
TVLINE | So, getting back to the competition… Top 10 week, your rendition of “Clarity” was arguably your toughest moment on the show — in terms of both performance and feedback. To me, you looked a little nervous when the song started. What happened there, and was I misreading that?
It wasn’t really nerves. But it had been a crazy, crazy morning. I remember just getting pulled and pushed around that day. And I was just not in a good place when I stepped on that stage. I mean, it didn’t turn out awful. But it didn’t turn out amazing. It was the one week where I was really, really dreading Tuesday results night.
TVLINE | For your detractors, they latched onto that performance to make the argument, “Jacquie can’t sing softly. She can only belt.” Did you hear that feedback through Twitter or Facebook or message boards? And how do you handle that at 16 years old, getting hit with that kind of criticism?
It was really hard. I definitely heard it all. And you can’t just say, “Oh, just don’t read the comments.” Because they tag you in it. So, it’s like, “Crap.” And then it’s, “Well, thanks a lot.” There are some hateful 12-year-olds out there, let me tell ya! [Laughs] I took that criticism hard that week because I knew that it wasn’t my best performance. And it was the first time I debuted the softer side of my voice. I didn’t want it to be anything less than perfect.
But I deal with the criticism now so much better than I did then. I’ve gotten the best advice from so many people here who care about me and just want to see the best for me. Christina has been in the public eye since she was a kid. And I talked to her about it all the time. She was like, “You can’t read that stuff. It’s from jealous, jealous, hateful people. They’re not the ones getting up on stage doing it. And they don’t know who you are and they don’t know your voice.” Singing “Angel” was a way to fight back at those people. I know my voice and I know how it sounds. And one day, they’ll see it, hopefully, too. But if not, I mean, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.
TVLINE | Certainly, Christina has dealt firsthand with Internet criticism.
About every little thing. And she makes some pretty kick-ass points. Christina always knows what I’m thinking. And she always knows exactly the right things to say because she’s been through it. And she has a really big heart. So, she has given me the best advice, which is, “You cannot please everyone.” I just left it at that. You can’t stress about these things because obviously, there are going to be haters and there are going to be critics. And you know, as long as I’m happy, I’m okay with whoever says whatever. As long as it’s not you, Michael Slezak! [Laughs]
TVLINE | Ha! Never! The next week you came out and started “Who’s Lovin’ You” completely a cappella — with the camera zoomed right in on your face. Was that scary?
I usually don’t get nervous. And I wasn’t nervous for that because [Voice band leader] Paul Mirkovich is just perfect. He is literally a prodigy. And you know, I had a little in-ear, he gave me the note on the keyboard for starting pitch, and then I just had to make sure it was the right tempo and to stay on pitch. It was so cool — getting the opportunity to start off a song a cappella on that stage, on national television. That’s insane.
TVLINE | One thing that bugged me in your package that week was the way they zeroed in on your choreography session — and how they’d mapped out the point where you dropped to your knees and engaged someone in the audience. I worried it might make people question your authenticity, or make them think you mapped everything out too much in advance.
I worried about that, too. That’s why any choreography that’s given to me, I usually just take it in, then disregard it. I just do my own thing really. But that one number, I was told specifically to drop down to the floor. And that was the first time that I’d ever done that. So, it wasn’t that authentic, to be honest. But the performances after that, they got much better because of that experience. And that’s what I think Christina was trying to do — she just wanted me to experience that feeling, get me to do it. And that’s what pushed me to the next level and got me out of my comfort zone.
TVLINE | For the semi-finals you covered Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” and you said before how it was a deliberate choice to show people that you could successfully cover something softer. Was that the obvious song choice for you guys? Or did you debate other tunes that week?
That week was tough. We sat there and brainstormed for hours. I don’t know even know how “Angel” came up. Someone just said that they liked the song. And of course, I hear “Angel” and I think Sarah McLachlan’s commercial [for the ASPCA]. But then I just think how amazing her voice is, too, and the tone of her voice. But never in a million years would I ever have singled out that song and been like, “Yeah. That’s totally me.” That pick was so risky and scary for me. Coming from “Clarity” and all that negative feedback, I couldn’t really tell what was good and what was bad anymore. During rehearsal, Christina and I were both really tired — we’d been at it for hours. And I just hit a note in that song and she smiled. And that’s when we both knew. We were like, “This is it. We’re locking it in.”
TVLINE | It’s such a pretty melody, but at the same time, the lyrics are pretty dark. Emotionally, how did you approach the song?
It’s interesting, the juxtaposition of the lyrics and sweet, nice-sounding tone. I am in love with those lyrics. Because I’m all about deep, deep poetic lyrics. And “Angel” can seriously speak to so many people. It’s about how artists in the industry, they get lonely and they turn to things like drugs. It gives you this specific imagery, and at the same time, “Find comfort here.” Like, “I’m here. Don’t go stoop down to that.” It really hit home for me. Because I’ve already experienced how this industry can be so lonely — even when you’re surrounded by so many people.
TVLINE | Speaking of crazy, amazing performances. I have to take a little sidebar and ask you about the Michael and Janet Jackson results-night mash-up you did with your teammate Matthew Schuler and Coach Christina. That was an absolute blast to watch.
That was my favorite performance ever. Ever. That was seriously so much fun. We had one rehearsal for that. We had the songs for like a day. [Laughs] It’s insane the amount of work, focus and concentration. I freaking love Schuler. And this was like seriously like the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life. The whole setting, the dancers, the vibe. When you’re a kid growing up listening to Michael Jackson, I bet you a bajillion people would want to be on stage feeling like a bad-ass, performing his songs. My mom was so jealous. She was like, “I wish I could sing. And I wish I was you right now!” [Laughs]
TVLINE | So you make it to the finale. How difficult was song choice that week?
Christina knew right away which two songs to do. “We Remain” was perfect because I secretly always compared this competition to The Hunger Games – since it’s do or die. And the message in that song was perfect for where we were standing. Then, the Jennifer Hudson-Jennifer Holliday song, it was some big shoes to fill. And Christina knows that I work well under pressure. So, it was pretty obvious what I had to do it.
TVLINE | Really?
I don’t know why. I just don’t. I’m weird. But I will say, I was so happy with that performance. Sometimes I’ll go to YouTube and read some comments, which I’m learning not to do. It’s a daily struggle. But either way, I was proud. And I’m happy. It was the biggest, biggest song that I was ever given.
TVLINE | So, the obvious final question is — what’s next for you?
I’m going to keep the momentum going, hit it while it’s hot, and work my ass off pretty much for the next year. Just writing and trying to get songs on the radio and choosing the right label. I don’t want to be one of those artists, and I won’t be one of those artists, where people look back on Season 5 and ask, “Who is she? Where did she go?” I’m going to make a name for myself.
TVLINE | Do you write at all?
I do. I love songwriting. It’s actually another passion of mine. I write singer/songwriter stuff. And I am really, really excited to get back to that. Plus, now I have a cool method of writing that Christina taught me. Just literally, pick out lines from my journal and start from there.