HOW COMPETING ON A REALITY TV SHOW CHANGED THE LIVES OF THESE D.C. MUSICIANS
At some point in our lives we make a decision that in scriptwriting is called, “the point of no return.” For three D.C. musicians, their choice to compete on two of NBC’s popular singing shows, The Voice and The Sing-Off, was the “point of no return” in their musical journeys.
Before Orlando Dixon had the opportunity to compete in season four of NBC’sThe Voice, where he advanced one battle shy of the live playoffs, he was far from certain about the road ahead.
While there were many high points like performing with Smokey Robinson and Philp Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire, Dixon also experienced a good deal of setbacks like failed record deals and tainted working relationships.
“When the opportunity [to try out for the show] came along I knew the timing was right,” Dixon said.
The chance to compete in a singing reality show competition was one he could not pass up; Dixon knew the amazing opportunity that was in front of him. Dixon went into The Voice tryouts fully aware of what could happen and for him, the audition process required a lot of thought and strategy. He realized that the song he chose to sing was extremely important. This audition would be his first impression on not only the judges, but the show’s audience as well.
“[The song choice would represent] myself musically but also artistically. Now keep in mind that at the time, I was still figuring that out for myself,” said Dixon, “but I knew I was being given the opportunity to do it in front of millions of people. I wanted to make sure that my story and journey came across as authentically as possible.”
For some contestants, getting involved with a reality TV show was a little different.Afro-Blue, the premier Howard University a cappella jazz ensemble who competed on season three of NBC’s The Sing-Off, didn’t have much of an idea what they were getting into when they decided to try out for the show. Cedric Dent, Take 6 member and friend of Afro-Blue director Ms. Miller, suggested that the group audition after receiving an email from The Sing-Off’s casting department.
“[We] didn’t know much about the show beforehand,” said Christie Dashiell, member of the jazz group. “Sure, a few of us had heard of it, but other than it being a reality TV show competition, we sort of went in blindly. I think that worked out in our favor, as we didn’t really have a chance to get too nervous or anxious about it all.”
While The Voice contestants went through two rounds of callbacks singing current pop songs in front of the judges, the audition and preparation process for Afro-Blue was pretty easy; they submitted a video.
“We basically came together for a couple days to rehearse,” said Dashiell, “and at the end of the two days made a video and sent it in. We heard back from the producers that we made it about one month later.” Afro-Blue went on to become one of the top four groups in the competition.
Owen Danoff, who competed on the latest season of The Voice, already had released his first full-length album, Twelve Stories, before trying out for the tenth season of the show. The Voice was Danoff’s opportunity to promote himself, grow as an artist and learn from some the music industry’s great minds.
Once the musicians were chosen as contestants for the new season of the singing competition shows, they immediately began what Danoff described as ‘an artist boot camp.’
“I worked with a vocal coach and with staging coaches to improve singing and performance technique, learned how to handle myself in interviews, and spent time collaborating with and receiving feedback from the amazing Voice band and my coach Adam Levine,” Danoff said. “All of these tools are partially in place to ensure a great show, but they also provide invaluable experience for the artists that can be applied to post-Voice life.”
The competition process for the contestants was rigorous. They rehearsed continuously and received advice from their coaches along the way.
Dixon, who was a member of both Team Usher and Team Adam, learned a lot about performing and developing as an artist from his coaches.
“The biggest piece of advice I got from both Usher and Adam (and Pharrell too, who was not a coach but was Usher’s advisor at that time), was to fully tap into the qualities that make ‘Orlando who he is,’” said Dixon. “Not just artistically, but on a personal level as well. Hearing that prompted me to really look inside myself to find my own voice.”
The ‘boot camp’ was fast paced, challenging and demanding both physically and mentally. The contestants also had to also juggle relationships during a period that left little time for communication with friends and family.
For Dashiell, there was little time for communication with the outside world during the competition. However, the intensity resulted in extremely close bonds between the contestants.
“Our schedule was jam packed with individual rehearsals, group rehearsals, choreography, press, camera blocking and obviously filming,” she said. “[It] was tough. We also couldn’t really disclose too much about what we were doing, due to the nature of the show. It’s like you’re going through one of the most amazing times in your life, but you can’t share it with your folks.”
Creating relationships with the other contestants was easy to do. But at times the experience was emotionally straining as well.
“There’s [this] internal competition among the contestants,” said Dixon. “By that, I mean you are bonding with other vocalists who you’re actually competing with. Mentally, that can hang you up because you don’t want to see people you’ve built a relationship with go, but it’s inevitable in that kind of situation.”
For Dixon, the competition proved to be a useful push toward identifying his strengths and putting them in the spotlight. “You learn what makes YOU unique in a competition like this, and how to fully embrace that in your artistry,” he said.
Each second of the crazy, high-intensity experience was well worth it to the contestants. Since competing on the shows Dixon, Dashiell and Danoff have all not only received many more musical opportunities, but they grew and evolved as artists.
Danoff, who reached the top 11 on The Voice, credits the show for helping to grow his fanbase. He’s about to release a new single called “Love on Your Side” on July 8 and tour across the U.S.
“I had always been a little skeptical about singing shows and wondered how things like artistic integrity and the wishes of the contestants factored in behind the scenes,” he said. “I can’t speak to how things are on other reality shows, but I was shocked at how respectful everyone on The Voice is towards the artists on the show. The show really does have the best interests of its artists at heart, and behind the scenes.”
Dixon has had the chance to work with a few of his favorite artists like Jason Derulo and the Zac Brown Band since The Voice. He was also the recipient of the House Studio Artist Grant in 2014 and has released his first studio album, Listen.
“The great thing about this show is it is a great training ground for the opportunities that come afterwards,” said Dixon. “I am grateful to be forever associated with something that changed me, and that changes lives and careers.”
Dashiell is still recognized as “the girl from The Sing-Off” and believes the show did nothing but help her move forward in her career.
“So many opportunities have come my way simply because I was a part of the show,” Dashiell said, “so I’m forever grateful for Howard, Connaitre Miller (creator and director of Afro-Blue), Afro-Blue, and The Sing-Off. I’m thankful that that’s a part of me and my journey.”
When it comes to whether they would go through the process again, however, all three musicians had varied answers. Dixon gave a firm, “YES!” when asked if he would ever do The Voice again, but Dashiell was a little skeptical.
“Being on The Sing-Off as a member of Afro-Blue was one of the most exciting, difficult and rewarding experiences of my life,” Dashiell said. “Not sure if I would ever do something like it again, but I’m so glad I went through the experience.”
Like Dixon, Danoff had overwhelmingly positive things to say about his experience. “I had thought, on and off, about auditioning for The Voice since season three, and I urge anyone else who has toyed with the idea to take the step and audition,” he said.
Being a contestant on a reality TV competition was hard work, but each of the artists found that it had a lasting effect on their careers. “It’s hard for me to imagine not having the things I’ve gained from my time on The Voice, whether it be the boost my career has gotten, the growth I’ve experienced, or the friendships I’ve made with the amazing artists who were on the show with me,” said Danoff. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had and I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”