Walking Her Way
Brynn Cartelli knows that most of the 13 people who emerged victorious on The Voice before her had seen that triumph be the defining moment in their life. She is determined not to let that happen to her. With several hit singles out already, like “Walk My Way” and “Grow Young,” she is making strides in her quest to make The Voice just the start of her career.
When Brynn Cartelli walked on stage to do a soundcheck on March 8, she looked up and saw Bruins and Celtics banners and 20,000 seats that would soon be filled with people waiting for her to open a performance that would also include Grammy Award winner Kelly Clarkson.
All of a sudden, it dawned on her where she was: TD Garden in Boston, a place iconic artists like Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran had sold out countless times. A place where she used to go to watch her favorite artists, such as the two just mentioned, perform. A place where she sat a few months ago to see Sam Smith sing.
“I forgot where we were because I was in my dressing room all day getting ready,” she told BusinessWest. “I looked at my guitar player, and I was like, ‘holy crap.’”
There have been quite a few ‘holy crap’ moments, and at least a few other instances of maybe forgetting where she was, since Cartelli burst onto the scene — and into the nation’s cultural consciousness — with her stunning win on NBC’s The Voice roughly 15 months ago.
“I forgot where we were because I was in my dressing room all day getting ready. I looked at my guitar player, and I was like, ‘holy crap.’”
Since that triumph at age 15 — yes, she was the youngest winner in the show’s history — life has changed in all kinds of ways, essentially because music went from being something she did well to something she essentially does for a living.
Now 16, Cartelli is finishing high school online, and she flies back and forth to Los Angeles and Nashville regularly while recording an album she hopes to release during the first half of 2020.
Those recording sessions have been mixed with a host of live performances — such as the one at the TD Garden and several shows at the recently concluded Big E — and myriad other developments to create a hectic, exciting lifestyle marked by a seemingly endless run of learning experiences for Cartelli and her family.
“The process is amazing,” said Brynn’s father, Damon, owner of the Fathers & Sons auto dealerships. “We had really no idea what to expect; we’re still learning stuff.”
The learning curves involve everything from hiring an agent (more on that later) to filling — and then living — a crowded schedule; from building a wardrobe to building what is becoming a recognized brand.
But for Brynn, one of the biggest challenges — and opportunities — lies in moving beyond The Voice and no longer being defined by that singular moment, as proud of it as she is, and also forging an identity through her music.
“I like telling stories through my music,” she told BusinessWest. “I use music as a diary. My fans are growing up with me as the story grows up. If a song feels like mine, I’m really happy about it.”
For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Cartelli and her parents about the journey thus far and where the opportunity-laden road ahead may take them.
Achievements of Note
Many aspiring musicians and singers make it a stated goal to try out for shows like The Voice or American Idol. That certainly wasn’t the case for Brynn Cartelli.
This despite the fact that she had been singing for as long as her family could remember, and friends and relatives had been pushing the family to find an outlet — and a larger stage — for the emerging talent.
“People have been telling me for a long time, ‘you need to do something with her,’ and we didn’t know exactly what that meant,” Brynn’s mother, Deb, told BusinessWest. “It just didn’t feel right to push her, so the fact that this happened the way it did is really a testament to her gift.”
“I like telling stories through my music. I use music as a diary. My fans are growing up with me as the story grows up. If a song feels like mine, I’m really happy about it.”
By that, she meant The Voice experience came about “organically,” as family members like to say.
The story begins at the Sandbar restaurant (formerly Jetties) on Nantucket in 2016. Cartelli got up to the mic and sang a few songs for the crowd. Unbeknownst to her, a bartender recorded her performance and posted it to Facebook. It quickly went viral around the island. After meeting up with a local blogger, Cartelli was encouraged to post the video on YouTube, and did.
Then, the e-mail came.
The writer claimed to be from NBC’s The Voice, said Brynn, adding that she and her parents were all initially skeptical. But after doing more research, they realized it was not a scam.
“It took a little bit of convincing and looking into it to realize that it was an actual casting agency for The Voice,” said Brynn, adding that she traveled to New York City for a private audition.
She made it all the way through to the show’s so-called blind auditions — judges face away from those performing and focus only on what they hear — but did not “turn any chairs,” meaning the judge’s chairs, which one must do to get on the show.
A few weeks later, however, representatives of the show called back and asked if she’d return for another audition for season 14.
The rest, as they say, is history.
“We did not go searching for this,” said Deb. “Even when she didn’t get through the first time, we kind of thought, ‘OK, that’s fine.’ She had this great experience, she left with her head high, and ultimately that’s a great life lesson no matter what you’re doing.”
The experience was rewarding on a number of levels, said Brynn, adding that it gave her a taste of the business and an opportunity to meet and learn from people with similar goals, ambitions, passion — and talent.
“It was the first time I’ve been around a lot of musicians, singers, and songwriters, so it was the first time I felt like I was in a group of people that were like me,” she told BusinessWest.
Brynn certainly made the most of her second chance, and, as noted earlier, is now determined to move beyond The Voice and make it more than just one line on her résumé.
“I was super happy to win the show, but now I hear that phrase and I want to not just win the show; I want to make a career,” she said.
A Different Tune
This next stage in her life, as noted, is one that’s been marked by countless challenges and learning curves. One of the first involved building a team to help her manage her goals and career, and especially an agent.
After winning the show, Cartelli decided she wanted to hire Clarkson’s husband, Brandon Blackstock, as her manager, so she spent months trying to break out of contracts she signed when coming onto The Voice in order to make sure she had a team behind her that she could trust.
“After the show, when it seemed like I disappeared for a while, I was really just stuck in contracts,” she explained. “I took a lot of that time to really learn what kind of music I wanted to write and put out and what kind of sound I wanted.”
Elaborating, she said this was hard to do at first. Being a young girl in a room that was oftentimes filled with businessmen, it was difficult for her to tell them what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it. But now that she has found her core group, she is confident and ready to move forward.
“We finally found a really great group of people and a really great label [Elektra Records] and team that supports my vision entirely,” Cartelli said. “They want to win with me; they don’t want to just win for themselves. They want to see a career happen, not just a couple songs or an album.”
But for now, much of the focus is on that first album, which translates into a considerable amount of travel, specifically to L.A. and Nashville.
That’s one of the many adjustments she’s has to make, and she credits the team she has behind her — led in many ways by Clarkson, who rose to fame as the winner of the first season of American Idol and was a judge for the 14th season of The Voice — with helping her navigate a host of challenges.
“She’s been so incredibly giving and such a good example of someone who passes it down,” Cartelli said. “She knows a lot of the same things I know of what it’s like to come off a show and have to try to build a career that makes you not just defined by the name of the TV show. She’s such an amazing mentor, you can’t not love her.”
Cartelli and her parents said NBC and The Voice have also been in her corner, ready to help whenever she needs it.
“You hear some horror stories about Hollywood, but the people that we encountered have all been great,” Damon said.
Meanwhile, the local support has never wavered, and a few recent performances made Cartelli feel grateful for all the support she’s received throughout her journey so far. She most recently performed at the Big E on Sept. 13-15 and drew fans in from all over New England to see her.
During her stint on The Voice, The Big E held watch parties so fans could gather to see the local star take the stage. While Cartelli was in L.A. for the show, she remembers being amazed at the pictures and videos of local supporters she saw from back home. Now, as she sang on the stage live and in person at the Big E, she reflected on a journey that wouldn’t have been possible without her fans.
“It was really nice to use that as a thank you,” she said.
Now, it’s full speed ahead for the potential future superstar.
Cartelli admits she feels like she’s been home a little too long and is “itching” to get back to L.A. to record more music, but is taking her time with the process.
“I’m definitely taking my time and making this album really special so the people who voted for me get more than just a trophy,” she said. “I want them to get someone that they feel proud of.”
Cartelli’s parents joked that, while they know how talented their daughter is, they never expected her to actually win the show — or make music a career.
“I don’t think either of us had any expectation that it was going to go the way it went,” Damon said. “This whole road, everything seemed like it was aligned; everything is falling into place.”
And with the way the stars have aligned for Brynn already, it certainly seems like this is the path she is meant to take.
Indeed, Cartelli is doing what she loves and gets to share her music with more than just a crowd at a restaurant. She said she is constantly reminded of why she is passionate about singing, like the moment she realized she was about to perform at TD Garden — and never gets tired of the rush.
“I know I have to keep doing this so one day, it’s not just me opening up for someone,” Cartelli said. “Maybe one day, I get to design my own stage and have my own thing.”
With her attitude, passion, and determination, there is little doubt she will be seen headlining her own tour in the near future.
Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]