'The Voice' Season 14 winner Brynn Cartelli on her never-seen first audition: 'I blacked out that whole thing'

Brynn Cartelli wins <em>The Voice</em> on her second try. (Photo: Trae Patton/NBC via AP)
Brynn Cartelli wins The Voice on her second try. (Photo: Trae Patton/NBC via AP)

Brynn Cartelli was a frontrunner throughout the just-wrapped 14th season of The Voice, and after she triumphed on Tuesday’s finale, the Washington Post called the 15-year-old pop singer’s win a “game-changer” for the show, due to her unprecedented marketability and commercial appeal. But Brynn almost didn’t get to play the game at all. She actually first participated in Season 13, going through the entire preshow process and eventually even giving a Blind Audition for the coaches — but she turned no chairs. That unsuccessful first Blind Audition never aired.

“I honestly don’t even remember what I sang,” Cartelli laughingly tells Yahoo Entertainment of her Season 13 experience. “I blacked out that whole thing.”

At the time, Cartelli, who’d spent weeks preparing for that moment, was sad, mainly because she’d already grown close to several of that season’s advancing contestants, including Brooke Simpson, Red Marlow, and runner-up Addison Agen. But her disappointment didn’t last long. “The show called me after my [first] Blind Audition, like a week after, saying, ‘We want you back!’” she recalls. (Producers had initially approached Cartelli after seeing an acoustic performance of Justin Bieber and MØ’s “Cold Water” that she’d posted to YouTube in 2016.) “And that month, I went to the executive callbacks, and then later to the [Season 14] Blinds. And now, here I am.”

Cartelli chooses not to speculate too much about what went wrong in Season 13 — “I don’t know exactly what it was that they didn’t turn around for then; I don’t know what they did turn around for this time,” she shrugs — but she does believe everything was meant to be. “I feel like not turning a chair was really good for me, because [my coach] Kelly [Clarkson] wasn’t there. So the stars really aligned that Season 14 was my season. That was where I should be. I feel like there was a place for me because Kelly was there. I couldn’t even imagine what would have happened if I had turned a chair last season. I don’t think I would have gotten as far as I have on this one. It’s really weird to think about ‘what if.’”

At the time, that season’s panel, which included Jennifer Hudson and Miley Cyrus, gave Cartelli some constructive criticism that she took to heart. “What I got out of it is, I learned that I have to find my own sound. I can’t just sing karaoke; I can’t do anything to try to sound like other people. I have to find what I naturally sound like, and emphasize that,” Cartelli explains. So, during the break between Voice seasons, she went to Nantucket for the summer and “did shows literally almost every single day. And that really, really changed how I went about music. It made me mature in my voice, in my style, in my writing. So I came back, and I felt I had more experience under my belt, that I had more awareness.”

Still, while Cartelli believes her previous experience on the show gave her a slight advantage, because she “knew what to expect and how to be prepared,” she was going up against older, much more seasoned performers, like professional backup singer Kyla Jade and touring musician Pryor Baird — “So it wasn’t like, going into the second time, I like, ‘OK, now I’m going to get it!’ It was just, ‘Let’s try.’”

And with her coach Clarkson’s guidance, this time Cartelli made it all the way to the winner’s circle — not just on the strength of her Season 14 cover-song performances, but also with her catchy debut single, “Walk My Way,” which was co-written by Best New Artist Grammy nominee Julia Michaels (with whom Cartelli performed on Tuesday’s finale and totally held her own), Justin Tranter (Justin Bieber’s “Sorry,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Imagine Dragons’ “Believer”), and Selena Gomez/Lady Gaga producer Nick Monson. Clarkson played a big part in choosing a strong first single for her young protégé. “That definitely was part of the plan,” says Cartelli. “There’s a lot of strategy going into it, and that was 100 percent something Kelly and I talked about a lot. We wanted something that people will grab on to and remember.”

Cartelli is a prolific songwriter herself, although — as the youngest winner in Voice history — she is still figuring out her “pop/soul,” “storytelling” sound. “I still am not completely sure, but I have a good idea of what I want to sound like and what I want to do,” says Cartelli, who is now signed to the show’s affiliated record label, Republic, and hopes to get to work soon on an album that will feature her originals. “I am a very driven and hardworking person, and I am independent, and I feel that I have really good instincts. I know when something is going to work for me and I feel when it’s not, so I am going to carry that into the music.”

And as Cartelli launches her career, Clarkson will be there for her (just as coach Alicia Keys was hands-on with Season 12 winner Chris Blue), to keep the post-Voice momentum going. “She wants to help me put out music and get me those connections as fast as we can, just because the wait is what kills people,” says Cartelli. “So we want to do that as soon as possible. Obviously, Kelly has a ton of connections and a really great team of people, and she is definitely, definitely getting me as much exposure as I can. She’s really helping me with that, and it’s been such a blessing to have someone like her pushing and supporting me.”

So clearly, as Cartelli attests, everything really did happen for a reason.

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