The Voice's Kat Robichaud on Crowd-Surfing for 'Sail' and Gender-Flipping a Gay-Marriage Anthem

kat robichaud The Voice - Season 5At a certain point in her trajectory on The Voice, Kat Robichaud decided it was time to take a page from MTV’s The Real World — to stop being polite and start getting real.

“I have always been different. In middle school and high school, I was a huge fan of Marilyn Manson — I still am — and I took a lot of s*** for that. And it is really stupid when people take s*** for the music they listen to,” Robichaud explains.

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Jump ahead to her stint on NBC’s ratings juggernaut, “and I just wanted to be a badass. I am sick and tired of playing it nice and pretty and trying to appeal to Middle America by doing a slow song,” she continues. “You’ve got to draw the line at some point and say, ‘Regardless of the outcome, the show is going to be over in a few weeks, and I have to accumulate the right fans that are going to support me for who I am — not how they want me to be or who they think I should be.”

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Robichaud says she’s happy that her renditions of AWOLNATION’s “Sail” and Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” showcased her high-energy performance style and gave viewers a glimpse at what her post-Voice career will look like — original songs with “a very glam, cabaret-esque, rock and roll vibe.”

TVLine caught up with the singer to discuss the aforementioned performances, her controversial Mary Lambert cover and the trade-off between on-stage physicality and pitch-perfect vocals.

TVLINE | Let’s kick things off by taking about your rendition of “I’ve Got the Music in Me” at the Blind Auditions. You brought your high kicks and high drama to the stage right from the start. Are those moves that you map out ahead of time, or do you just get on stage and do what comes organically?
I have been crowd surfing, doing those kicks and moving like that for years, so none of it is calculated or planned. With “I’ve Got the Music in Me,” I’d never done it before, but I’d been to a drag show and seen a drag queen perform it and kill it, and I’d always wanted to do that. [Laughs]

TVLINE | For Top 20 week, you covered “She Keeps Me Warm.” Was there any debate about whether you ought to be changing the pronoun from “she”? Did you make the tweak so the song would be authentic to your own experience as a straight woman?
You know, I’m a gay rights advocate, and I was really hesitant to change the lyrics from ‘she’ to ‘he,’ so I changed it from ‘she’ to ‘you.’ I didn’t want it to be gender specific, but a lot of people were like, ‘You took the meaning away from that song.’ It’s very rare to have a successful charting song that [deals with] gay subject matter. But the whole reason I changed it was because I’m not gay, and I thought that it would be disingenuous. And you know, if I had sang ‘she,’ there would have been an equal amount of people that would have been annoyed by that. I did consult with my gay friends back in North Carolina, and they were like, ‘Change it and make it your own.’

Honestly, that was maybe my least favorite performance, just because it was a slow song, and I like doing upbeat rock and roll. But I completely understand why Cee Lo gave it to me. If I had gone upbeat, would people have been annoyed and said, ‘God, we’re really getting sick and tired of this. Kat needs to show off a different side!’?

And originally, we’d planned for half of the song to be Mary Lambert and the other half was supposed to be Macklemore’s [“Same Love,” which samples “She Keeps Me Warm”]. As it turned out, we couldn’t get the Macklemore version cleared, and it was too late to change the song at that point. So, I was supposed to have this giant moment at the end where I was singing Macklemore’s lines — ‘No law’s gonna change us/ We have to change us/ Whatever God you believe in/ We come from the same one.’ It was going to be this James Brown Gospel-type thing. After that was taken out, it made no sense for me to be screaming and soaring on lyrics like, ‘What’s your middle name?/ Do you hate your job?/ Do you fall in love too easily?’ That’s a tender moment. And so I was really careful about the integrity of the song. And I love that Mary Lambert got attention for that. She Instagrammed that she was crying, that she was super moved by me doing the song. I admire Mary Lambert. I love her. So that’s really cool, too.

TVLINE | You came roaring back the next week with “Sail,” which to me, was your high point of the season. Did you feel like you had something to prove going into that performance?
I would have been very upset if I had gone home after the Mary Lambert song, because it wasn’t really me. You know what I mean? So yes, I wanted to prove to Cee Lo that he saved me for a reason. I told them that I wanted to crowd-surf, and it was just epic and really fun, and I was also a little bit angry.

TVLINE | You gave such an intense look into the audience before you crowd-surfed, and then you just dove into the audience, while managing to stay on pitch. That can’t be an easy thing to do.
It takes a lot of practice. I’ve been crowd-surfing for years, so I knew what to expect. That’s something also that you get from performing and running around on stage. You know, there’s a reason that Pink is able to do all those acrobatic tricks and still sing as well as she does. It takes practice and learning how to control your vocals while you’re in motion.

Plus, there were people placed in the audience that night who knew I was going to do dive, who were ready to catch me, because it is live television. The last thing the producers want is for me to just completely eat it; that would look bad. But [in the past], I definitely have thrown myself into crowds of drunk women that had no idea that I was coming, and I have eaten it. [Laughs] The Voice is a singing competition, so it had to be planned so that it didn’t affect my vocal, but it was still exhilarating and fun. I’m just so thrilled that the show was so supportive of me to allow me to do that.

Kat Robichaud We BelongTVLINE | How did you feel about ‘We Belong’ and how that turned out? It was possibly the most elaborate staging we’ve seen at any point in Season 5 from any contestant.
I was absolutely thrilled and so ecstatic about doing the performance, and all of my friends and fellow contestants were just blown away. Tessanne [Chin], and this means a lot coming from the strongest vocalist on the show, she said, ‘I look up to you. I want to be a better performer because of you,’ which is really nice of her to say. And the thing is, if I had stood there and sang the song, I would have sounded better, I would have hit the notes better, it would have been a more controlled performance. But then I would have been sacrificing the performance. Do you know what I mean?

Like I said, I am a huge fan of Marilyn Manson. He’s somebody that certainly understands how to perform. David Bowie and Freddy Mercury are the same way. And then one of my favorites, Amanda Palmer, who completely gets into the performance aspect of it. You see people like Lade Gaga — if she sits at a piano and sings, she is going to sound a hell of a lot better, but how much fun is it for her to run around and do all those wardrobe changes? She sounds a little bit out of breath sometimes, but you know she can sing.

So, yeah, maybe I do sacrifice a little bit of my vocals for the performance, but that’s what I wanted to do. A lot of people have said, ‘It’s called The Voice for a reason!’ I understand, but this is who I am. This is what I do.

TVLINE | So you leave with no regrets?
This show is so supportive. [After my elimination], they flew me out to New York and they put me up in a very nice hotel and I got to be on the Today show and MTV. And eventually, I’m going to be back to do some more group numbers for the finale, with a huge afterparty for the Top 20 and the coaches. It is just going to be so much fun. And also, it’s crazy, when I think about the talented people going home before me — not to toot my own horn — but talking about Jonny [Gray] and Josh [Logan] and Austin [Jenckes], and in the Top 20, Nic Hawk is one of my favorites. I couldn’t believe that he got eliminated as early as he did. And Stephanie [Anne Johnson] and Shelbie Z, these people are so amazing. A lot of it comes down to song choice. And after me, there’ll be two more incredibly talented people each week in the same place as me. I have nothing but wonderful memories, and I think it’s going to be very, very beneficial to me and my career.