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Brittany's 'The Voice' Blog: Meet Season 2's First Battling Artists!

March 6th, 2012 12:00pm EST

Chris Mann Here's the latest on and around NBC's The Voice: they battled it out, now hear what some of last night's artists had to say! Plus, on tour with season 1 champ Javier Colon...

Last night The Voice moved into its second phase of competition: the battle rounds. Six battles sent six hopefuls packing. If you missed any of the action, you can read my recap here. But I had the opportunity to talk to many of the competing artists before their battles aired, and here's what Chris Mann, Monique Benabou, Cheesa Laureta, Angie Johnson, and Jesse Campbell had to say!

Chris Mann

Team Christina / Twitter: @IAmChrisMann

Where to start with Chris Mann? My initial reaction to his sound could only be described as shock and awe. If there's anyone in season two that comes close to the instantaneous spark I felt when I heard Javier Colon, Chris is that person. His voice has so much depth and power, and in singing opera, he brought a whole new genre to The Voice that I didn't even realize I was missing. Yet as he proved in last night's battle rounds, he can handle more popular music just as well.

As talented as he is, I also really enjoy him as a person. The Voice has a unique ability to find those artists who are both great musicians and great people, and Chris is one of those individuals (as are many of his colleagues). I really enjoyed spending time with him. Plus, he's also a writer and producer, so I'm sure about the only thing he doesn't do is make julienne fries.

"I definitely was concerned about how the show, how the coaches, how America was going to respond to me," he said. "There was some discussion right before the audition about whether I should change my song, and I didn't even consider that. If I'm going to do something different, I want to do something really different. I couldn't be happier...and watching their faces totally confused, I got a kick out of that."

The former Glee singer wasn't necessarily warm to the idea at first, though. "I found it really hard to put myself out there to do one of these shows because it's about you and who you are, and I never thought I was that interesting," he admitted, before adding, "The Voice doesn't think that I'm too old to be relevant, and that's where Idol can suck it." The statement brings to mind Beverly McClellan from season one, who's in her 40's and made it all the way to the final four.

Chris doesn't know how far he'll go in the competition, but calls it "my dream coming true. It's already totally amazing. One thing that has happened that I didn't know would happen was that I'm getting a lot of messages from people all over the world who are aspiring young singers who never thought there was a place for them. I didn't know that I would ever become a role model but that's happened and I'm really thankful for that."

Like many of the artists, he's connected to social media (check out his Twitter). "I love being online. I have a very active social media presence. I like to talk to people and if people are going to support me, I want to know who they are and thank them for that," he explained. After the show's post-Super Bowl premiere, "my name trended number one in the world. I was blown away by that. As somebody who has been working for eleven years to get a break, it was kind of a relief."

He believes Team Christina is the season's strongest team, "which is kind of cool and kind of sucks at the same time" since he has to compete against his own teammates. In fact, the person he knocked out last night was one of his favorite artists: "I love listening to Monique," he told me. "Monique has such a good spirit as well." He also enjoys listening to teammate Sera Hill.

Beyond that, you'd be foolish to think that he just listens to classical music. "I don't listen to classical music as much as I should. I listen to a lot of Top 40. I listen to a lot of pop music," he said. "I love to listen to Jamie Cullum, The Killers, Muse, of course Adele. I was on the bandwagon a long time ago. I listen to a lot of British music." Oh, and he loves Maroon 5. Too bad Adam didn't push his button...

It's clear, however, that Chris is in good hands with powerhouse vocalist Christina. He's a serious contender for the title, and even if he doesn't win, he's certainly broadened the audience's horizons and blown out some stereotypes about opera and classically trained musicians along the way. I've certainly discovered another new favorite artist.

Download Chris's solo version of "The Power of Love."

Monique Benabou

Team Christina / Twitter: @MoniqueBenabou

Monique might have lost to Chris in last night's battle, but she certainly left an impression: not only is Chris a fan of hers, but she's picked up quite a few others. "I think I'm in love," read one tweet.

It's not hard to see why. She's definitely emotional, in the sense that she has a big heart and brings a very selfless attitude to the table. All the attention The Voice has brought is still very new to her; before the show, she'd only done one local interview for her music. "I didn't anticipate this big. It's bigger than anything I expected or ever experienced. It definitely was something I had to take a step back and process," she said. "It's really humbling and it's really cool. This goes out to our fans and they're the most important in this whole experience. I personally make music for my fans so it's important to me." (She was already on Twitter connecting with her fans before show producers asked the artists to get onto the social networking site.)

It might have been a huge change, but Monique has "definitely enjoyed" being a part of the show. "The friendships that came out of this alone were amazing. I have a few lifelong friends," she said. "The chance to work with such great talent and then to work with your coach, that's a whole other level. It's surreal that I was working with Christina Aguilera. It was surreal that I got to perform for those four coaches."

Her biggest challenge was adjusting to the schedule that making a television show demands. She walked me through a typical day during the filming of battle rounds: "We would go fitting with wardrobe at 8 [AM], then you have to go to your choreography at 12, then you go to band rehearsal across the street, then from there you go back to wardrobe because there was a problem. Then [you're] meeting at 7 [PM] with the whole group and with lawyers. There was not a lot of downtime at all."

Still, she came through it with flying colors, as her battle round duet with Chris left many people excited by her talent. Monique says she'd "love to get signed" to a label, as she, like many musicians, aspires simply to make a living doing what she loves.

When you see the best of Monique, though, is when she talks about the many causes about which she is passionate. "I want to songwrite for people," she said. "I really want to do a lot of international music and work. I want to travel the world. I'm all about healing and healing through music. I write music that has substance while still being commercially viable. I want to help people. All I had growing up was music and God, and my family telling me, 'You have talent.' I want to give back through music to those people who need some kind of help. I'm no one's savior, but give them something to hold onto."

One of her goals is to start a charity in honor of her niece, who has Asperger's Syndrome. "the fastest way that she learns is through music. I feel that there should be more programs in schools and more aid to schools that do specify in that," she explained, while also expressing her support for breast cancer foundations, anti-domestic violence programs, and anti-bullying efforts. It's clear that she has an eye toward making a major difference in the world, and I admire her immensely for that. Here's wishing her all the best with that goal and with her music.

Download Monique's version of "Mr. Know It All."

Cheesa Laureta

Team Cee Lo / Twitter: @cheesyfbaby

There's no one artist on The Voice right now that's funnier than Hawaii native Cheesa Laureta. She is so full of life and laughter that it's infectious. She might have serious pipes, as she demonstrated last night when she bested Angie Johnson, but she's much less serious when you get the opportunity to meet her. You know those people who make a party more interesting just by showing up? She's one of those people.

Talking to Cheesa is like talking to that old friend you haven't seen in months. In the course of our conversation, topics range from Purrfect the Cat to free pancakes at IHOP. She handles the whole experience that is The Voice with a laugh and a smile. We should all take a cue from her and just enjoy life more.

"I was like, 'Oh, my God. This is amazing,'" she said about her initial impression of the show from season one (for which she auditioned). Like her battle partner Angie, she was a Javier Colon fan. "He's dope. I love him. I love artists like that, that are able to stay humble."

Now it's her turn in the spotlight and "it's crazy. It's very surreal. I never thought I would get this much support," she confided.

Watching her blind audition and seeing the reactions of the coaches was good for a few laughs, if only because Cee Lo's near-last second decision to hit his button made her friends nervous. "Cee Lo didn't turn around until like the end of my song," she explained, laughing. I was like, 'He did like me! He just forgot!' I had people calling me like, 'Did you make it?' I'm like, 'I did, keep watching.'"

Speaking of her coach, "he comes up with the craziest things," but he's also taught Cheesa to "be yourself, trust yourself. If you don't believe in your talent nobody else will."

"I've made so many great friends. A lot of people became my best friends. It's great to learn different things from different perspectives," she added. She particularly enjoyed listening to Jamar Rogers and Lindsey Pavao.

At the end of the day, her goals are simple: "I just want people to respect my music and respect me, and for me to grow throughout the show. There's a lot of growing that I can do." The Voice is now her opportunity to learn from her coach and the other artists around her.

As for what's on her playlist? "I really love R&B, soul and neo-soul. I grew up on the divas: Whitney, Mariah, Celine Dion, Aretha. Journey, Chicago, my dad would blast those." So not only would she be the life of the party, she'd pick out some pretty good music for it, too.

Download Cheesa's solo version of "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

Angie Johnson

Team Cee Lo / Twitter: @angiekjohnson

She can sing Pat Benatar and take you in a fight, but she's also an incredibly sweet person that you'd love to hang out with: the Air Force's own Angie Johnson is versatile. While serving our country in the Air Force and currently the Air National Guard, Angie simultaneously kept up with her passion for music, but she had no idea that one YouTube video would land her an audition for The Voice. "I literally last summer was in Afghanistan," she told me. "I literally last summer was in Afghanistan. That's been my life. All of a sudden I'm pulled out of all of that into Hollywood."

Contrary to what you might think, The Voice isn't Angie's first attempt at a music career. The Missouri native left active duty with the Air Force to pursue her singing dreams in Nashville. Like many artists, she spent years working for the big break that never came, and in 2011 resolved to let her dream go...until August, when someone posted that YouTube video that came to the attention of The Voice's own Carson Daly. All of a sudden, Angie had a second chance and it was a big one.

"I don't think that I really had my head wrapped around how big this was going to be," she said. "Season one was kind of the experiment. Season two was like, 'Hey, we all liked the show last season and this should be really big this season.' After it aired and I saw how huge it was, the fact that it was after the Super Bowl, I was just like, 'Holy crap.'"

For the former intelligence analyst, it was a bit difficult to keep mum between her blind audition in August and the airing in February. "It was super hard, to the point where like some of my family was made at me because I couldn't tell them things," she said laughing. "And also just the excitement...wanting to tell people, [and watching it on the TV when it was happening. I'm watching it thinking, 'Push your button!' even though I know that they don't. I'm like, 'Why didn't you push the button?'"

Unlike many artists from season two, Angie had been a fan of The Voice in season one. "I watched the whole thing," she told me. "I really liked Jeff Jenkins, of course Javier [Colon], Xenia was probably one of my favorites. I liked Nakia. I loved everybody. That's the thing about The Voice is everyone is talented, except for a select few everyone's a pro, and it's not a show where the forum is everyone gets made fun of." If given the chance, she'd like to sing with Javier sometime. Paging Javier...

Although she won't be the champion of season two, she found that being on the show was constructive. "If anything, it's probably given me a different perspective on the entertainment industry, and it's actually a good one," she said. "A lot of us take the entertainment industry for granted and don't think of the hard work that goes into making a TV show or an album. I'm really glad that I was exposed to that."

It also reunited her with someone she'd met before. "I really like listening to Anthony Evans, but I liked listening to him before he was on The Voice," she told me. "I actually own one of his albums and when I saw him before the competition, I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, it's you.' He used to lead worship at my church." She's also a fan of Team Adam's Karla Davis.

Now back in Nashville, Angie has plenty of plans for her future. "I'd like to have a single on the radio. I've always wanted to hear myself on the radio," she said. "I'm putting a tour together with my own band. I'm thinking about doing a little memoir. There's a lot of things in the works." So those of you disappointed that she wasn't picked should take comfort in knowing she's not planning on going anywhere.

Angie's biggest message is for us to support our troops. You can keep in touch with her by visiting her official website, or on Twitter and Facebook. I certainly wish her all the best going forward with what should be a great career.

Download Angie's version of "Heartbreaker."

Jesse Campbell

Team Christina / Twitter: @singjessesing

Jesse Campbell was the first season two artist to get all four coaches to turn their chairs for him with his memorable rendition of "A Song For You." It was an impressive feat, moreso if you knew that he doesn't necessarily obsess like others might in that position. "I pretty much like to fly off the cuff and just go with the flow," he told me. "Not really too much preparation other than vocally. I just let it come out naturally."

He's incredibly reflective when it comes to his experience on The Voice, grateful for the benefits but not too focused on whatever the end of the line might be. He's just happy to be here. "It has been like a dream come true," he said. "I'm one who believes that we are always dreaming. I liken this whole experience to an amusement park, because I love amusement parks. Every challenge or thing we're given to do, there's infinite possibilities, new experiences. Every moment here, it's another experience that begets experience. It's only going to lead to bigger and better things."

What has he learned from his time in the competition? Look no further than the battle rounds for his most treasured lesson. "Lionel Richie and Christina gave me the best advice as it relates to singing with someone," he explained. "I've sung solo most of my career. I learned to basically do what you do. Don't overdo it. Trust in your talent, and when you finish your part, then gracefully hand it off to the next person, even if it's a competition, because you're still selling the song together." There's no doubt that he and Anthony Evans did a fantastic job of that. (Too bad we aren't able to download it.)

Jesse also embraces the warm environment behind the scenes, saying, "It's a family environment, no doubt about it, from the contestants all the way up to the top producers. They care about your well-being. They do what they can. Everyone is really genuinely concerned and caring for one another. It's a wonderful situation. We even have performers here that were a part of other reality singing shows, and they talk about how The Voice is by far the best of all of them."

His favorite fellow artist is Lindsey Pavao. "I really like Lindsey as a person and as an artist. There are a lot of great singers but I really, really enjoy Lindsey."

He hasn't set specific future goals for himself, not wanting to take away from what he's enjoying in the here and now. "I look forward to the future but my goal is to enjoy the moment," he told me. His long-term goals are "to use what I've been given to inspire people. I plan on maximizing every moment."

He's encouraged people to try out for the upcoming third season via his Twitter feed, so I asked him if he had any specific advice to anyone who might consider it. His advice was simple but true: "Be yourself. Don't try to be anybody else. Do your best, and in doing your best, it may or may not be what they are looking for, but in who you are, that's what's makes the difference. Just don't be attached to the outcome."

A single father to an eleven-year-old, he's also got advice for those who might be in a similar situation. "I love being a dad, and I love singing, but it really just got to a place where I had to do something for me," he said. "I really encourage parents to take time out for themselves, however you can do it." Now he's on his way to potential stardom, with the love and support of his daughter all the way.

Download Jesse's solo version of "If I Ain't Got You."

Read on for an interview with season 1 champ Javier Colon as I sat down with him before his recent tour stop in San Diego!

The number-one Voice-related question I get asked is, "What happened to Javier?"

The Voice's season one champion has been a lot busier than you think. He went into the studio and recorded his first album for Universal Republic, Come Through For You, while making plenty of TV appearances and releasing a Christmas EP. Now, he's out on tour in support of the album. As he visited San Diego last week, I sat down with him and asked him to catch us up on his exploits.

"Since the show, I went into the studio to work on my new album that came out in November," he explained before his sold-out show at San Diego's premier live music venue Anthology, where Beverly McClellan also played in November. "During that process, I was doing a lot of fun things. I got to sing with Stevie Wonder and Michael McDonald and Darius Rucker at this amazing event, I performed at Rockefeller Center for the Christmas tree lighting. Now I'm on tour with my band, basically going out to thank all the people that watched the show and voted, and build a fan base. I believe in the old school approach of trying to build fans one at a time."

That includes being on his Twitter account almost every day, interacting with anyone who wants to say hello, and staying after his show to talk and take pictures with his fans. Winning The Voice has definitely not gone to Javier's head: he's still the same humble, approachable, family-oriented musician that we fell in love with a year ago.

In his eyes, the show has been every bit the career platform that it promised to be. "It's been a huge, huge boost," he told me. "If I look back on where I was a year ago, I'm definitely moving in the right direction. I like to push myself to be the best that I can be and to grow as much as I possibly can and that's what this is about. It's about growth and just trying to move forward. I'm happy that we're making progress. Progress is definitely being made. I'm in a much better place now than I was a year ago by a landslide, but that doesn't mean I'm done. I'm not going to stop until I try to get every person on this planet to hear some of my music."

Two of the pieces he loves most are from Come Through For You. "One of my favorite songs on this new album is a song called 'OK, Here's The Truth,'" he said. "It tells a story. I like to storytell. I don't think it's done enough in regular pop music, and I think it should be something that any genre of music can do. A song called 'Echo' talks about my struggle of going off to do what I love and leaving my family behind in the process. That's one that's near and dear to me."

During season one, Javier spoke with me about wanting greater creative control on his albums, and he feels that with The Voice, he's been able to achieve that, as well as a level of success that he is happy with, no matter what the numbers or critics might say.

"I am very happy with how the album came out. There was definitely some give and take between the record label and me. That's part of the process. You have to have some folks that keep you in check and give you some constructive criticism. We came up with what I think is a really great album," he said, reiterating that he considers his success to be judged "on progress. I judge it by looking back and seeing where I was to where I am now. I've been to San Diego once as an opener for someone else. It wasn't my show. I couldn't draw this many people to come and see me and now I can."

Still, he's not going to settle any time soon: "I'm not set for the rest of my life, so I have a lot of work to do. I want to make sure that I secure [his family's] future and use this opportunity to the best of my ability."

Judging by his performance Thursday night, there's no doubt that he's meeting that expectation. Though it was very clear from the show that Javier had vocal talent, his set Thursday night may have surprised people as it fully displayed his versatility. Unlike many artists who stick to their current album and maybe a few hits, Javier played new material, older material, covered songs from Michael Jackson, Peter Gabriel and Bonnie Raitt, and even did a spot-on rendition of a song performed by Ernie and Aaron Neville on Sesame Street.

Through it all, he was constantly engaging the audience, whether it was getting them to sing, talking lovingly about his family, or just cracking up the room with self-deprecating quips. Not only does he have that real talent but he also has a very genuine personality. The show was a great reflection of everything he's musically capable of and also let the audience get to connect with him as an individual. I sang along, I laughed and I even cried. Shows like this are what we go to concerts for: to not only hear the artists, but to share an experience, a moment, a feeling with them.

Javier has three more stops on his current tour: tomorrow in Seattle, Thursday in Spokane, and March 13th in Fargo, ND. For information on those dates and for future tour updates, visit his official website.

And last but not least, turn the page for your Voice calendar for the week...

Here's what's happening with your Voice artists this week. Take note: Blake Shelton, Dia Frampton and Javier Colon are all coming to you on the same day, Spokane!

March 6, 2012

Dia Frampton at The Complex (Salt Lake City, UT) (tickets)
Rebecca Loebe at Goslin Presents (Savannah, GA)

March 7, 2012

Javier Colon at Neumos (Seattle, WA)

March 8, 2012

Nakia at Texas Film Hall of Fame Awards (Austin, TX)
Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton at Spokane Veteran’s Memorial Arena (Spokane, WA)
Javier Colon at The Knitting Factory (Spokane, WA)

March 9, 2012

Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton at Key Arena (Seattle, WA) (tickets)

March 10, 2012

Rebecca Loebe at The Red Cat (Birmingham, AL)
Beverly McClellan at Pride South Florida (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton at Taco Bell Arena (Boise, ID)

March 11, 2012

Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton at Rose Quarter (Portland, OR) (tickets)

March 13, 2012

Blake Shelton and Dia Frampton at Rabobank Arena (Bakersfield, CA) (tickets)
Javier Colon at Fargo Theatre (Fargo, ND)

I'll see you next Tuesday, but for updates on all things Voice 24/7/365, visit my blog BigRedChairs.com. You can also follow @bigredchairs on Twitter and visit Facebook.com/bigredchairs.

(c)2012 Brittany Frederick/Digital Airwaves. Appears at Starpulse with permission. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted.

Related: Adam Levine, Blake Shelton, Carson Daly, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, Christina Milian, Glee, Javier Colon, Maroon 5, The Voice, Starpulse Exclusives, Recaps, Television, Music, Rock Music, R & B, Rap/Hip-Hop, Punk Music, Country, Pop, Reality, Interviews, NBC, Indie Music, Power Pop, Alternative, Blues, World Music

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