When Katelyn Read was growing up, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears were household names and some of the major recording artists she heard on the radio.
So when Aguilera was the first coach to respond to Read’s blind audition on NBC’s “The Voice,” it was more than surreal, Read said.
“It was just a shock to see her in person,” said Read in a phone interview Wednesday, following her successful audition that aired Tuesday night.
“That’s Christina Aguilera in front of me, and she’s looking at me,” she recalled her thoughts on stage. “From that point on, you’re watching yourself.”
On the competition, now in its eighth season, coaches Aguilera, Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and Pharrell Williams have their backs to the stage during singers’ auditions. As the audition proceeds, coaches turn their chairs around if they want a singer on their team.
Sometimes no one turns around. Sometimes more than one turns, leading to a fierce bidding war between the superstar coaches who will guide the singers throughout the competition as they try to snag a recording contract.
Aguilera was the only one who turned for Read, but that’s all the Cary resident needed to advance in the competition. She moved on to the Battle Rounds of the show, which will start airing Monday at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Lowell Oakley III of Durham also is a contestant on the show. Oakley, who is a freshman at Elon University, appeared on the season premiere and won over Pharrell Williams with his rendition of the jazz standard, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Oakley graduated from Durham Academy last year, according to Elon University.
For Read, a singer who’s trying to launch a career later than some, her experience so far has been more than she ever expected.
Read, who moved to Cary in 2013, always has liked to sing, impressing her friends in college with her voice, guitar playing and stripped-down acoustic songs.
But Read, 25, didn’t consider pursuing a singing career until about two years ago. She got pregnant at 19 and dropped out of college as a sophomore, deciding to become a stay-at-home mom.
“I just put everything on the backburner,” she said.
She also had been living in Parkersburg, West Virginia, which Read says is a small area with few singing opportunities.
In recent years, her husband, Chris, started encouraging her to consider pursuing her dream. Chris and her father, Sherman Dye, run Tropical Smoothie Cafes in the area.
With her daughter, Raeleigh, now 5 years old and attending Thales Academy, it seemed like the right time. She has performed at Sola Coffee Cafe in North Raleigh and has a show scheduled at Deep South in Raleigh on March 13. She also has written five songs for an EP, “She Can Feel It,” which was released last year.
After preliminary auditions for show producers, Read found herself in Los Angeles about to step on the glitzy “Voice” stage to sing Anna Nalick’s 2005 song, “Breathe (2 a.m.).”
“The whole day before, I was relatively calm,” she said. But when she had the microphone in hand and was about to walk out on stage, she said, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been so nervous in my life.”
In 90 seconds, she had to impress at least one of the judges enough to turn around. Read said she tried to maintain a sense of confidence.
“I’ve always felt at home on stage,” she said. “It’s harder to get to the stage than to be on the stage and sing.”
Within seconds, Aguilera turned to watch Read perform. Not only was Read surprised to see Aguilera in person, she didn’t expect the singer with the big voice to pick a singer with a simpler sound for her team.
Read says she’s inspired by performers such as Amos Lee, Ray Lamontagne, the Civil Wars and up-and-coming British singer James Bay.
“I try to point my music in the direction of folk, blues, with that singer-songwriter simplistic-type feel,” Read said.
While Read says she knows the competition favors singers with bigger voices and stage presence, she’s hoping her unique tone and style can break through the sea of powerhouse singers.
“Those are all impressive, but that’s not who I am or what I’m aiming to be,” she said. “Trying to be true to myself and my style of music, that’s my goal, that’s my plan.”
Aguilera seems to have the same goal, Read said. She told Read she liked her tone and how she handled her audition song. They’ve worked together to prepare her for the upcoming Battle Rounds, which pits two singers from the same team against one another. Aguilera gave Read some solid advice in their work sessions, Read said.
She can’t reveal the outcome of the show but said so far she’s gained more than she ever thought she would. Her online following has doubled on Facebook and Twitter, and as she live tweets the episodes, the support from her online family only seems to grow.
She said she learned from other singers on her team, too, who represent a variety of genres and styles. Her goal is to take the competition step by step. As long as she’s singing and writing music, Read will consider that a success.
“I feel like a much better singer and a much better performer because of the show,” she said. “All of the people who work on the show, it’s just a positive place to be. It’s a delightful surprise.”
Banov: 919-460-2605; Twitter: @JessicaBanov
▪ “The Voice” airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on NBC.
▪ Learn more about Katelyn Read at www.katelynread.com or follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
▪ Learn more about Lowell Oakley at www.facebook.com/lowelloakleymusician.