Those who have seen NBC’s Emmy Award-winning show The Voice know that the singing competition has produced and launched the careers of young music artists across America.
USC’s Karli Webster, a junior majoring in music industry, is currently competing on the show. She has made it through the blind audition and the battle rounds, which aired this week. Webster, a Southern California native, has been singing her entire life and hopes to gain as much experience and knowledge of the industry as she can throughout her journey on The Voice to ultimately become a professional singer/songwriter.
The Daily Trojan interviewed Webster to learn more about her, as well as her recent experiences on the show.
Daily Trojan: When did you start singing?
Karli Webster: I have been singing my whole life. My mom says that I was singing before I could talk. My dad was in a few heavy metal bands when I was younger, so I grew up going to his concerts. I always saw him singing, and my mom was always playing ’70s music around the house. I loved singing along with Fleetwood Mac. There’s no part of my life that wasn’t music-centered.
DT: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to make a career out of singing?
KW: Yes, but like every little kid I always wanted to do everything. I wanted to be an ice cream truck driver, a princess and a teacher. Watching my dad on stage is what really pushed me to want to sing. I saw the way that his performances were making people happy and knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.
DT: Who are some of your biggest musical influences?
KW: I’m named after Carly Simon, so she’s definitely a huge influence on me. My mom is just obsessed with her, so I grew up listening to her music — it was always playing around the house. Stevie Nicks is another [artist] that I really look up to. I’ve been told that there are some similarities in our voices — one of the greatest compliments ever.
DT: Do you write your own music?
KW: I do! The first time I wrote a song was when I was 5 years old. I wrote a song on the piano for a little songwriting competition in my elementary school and I was the only person to put words to my song. It was about courage, which I think is really funny because courage is something I struggled with in music. I’ve been writing music ever since.
DT: Who else are you listening to right now?
KW: I listen to a lot of singer/songwriter type songs. I like when artists write about their own experiences.
I listen to a lot of Kevin Parker and Tame Impala, a lot of Father John Misty, Devendra Banhart. My favorite band of all time is Fleet Foxes, and I got to see them live recently. I also love Sufjan Stevens. I think that these artists are not the typical singer-songwriters. They write music that goes a little bit deeper and isn’t like the typical music that comes and goes. The kind of artist that I want to be is one of those timeless artists, like Fleetwood Mac, that have music that you can listen to today and it still be important and current. I think a lot of pop music dies as quickly as it is created. It’s generated from wanting to be controversial, current and political, which causes it to not be current a week later. As a pop singer, I think that is an important thing to avoid doing.
DT: What was the process like in auditioning for The Voice?
KW: It is definitely a lot more hectic than people see. When you watch shows like American Idol and even The X Factor, you see the mile-long lines of people wanting to audition. That’s what The Voice is like, even though you don’t see it on TV. Back in February, I went to the open call in Las Vegas. It was the first time I auditioned for anything, and I swear I had to walk two miles to get to the end of the line. There were so many people, and the weirdest thing is that we all want the same thing. I expected people to be very competitive, but everyone was very supportive. I made a lot of friends at that open call.
After that, there are about four or five callbacks between the open call and the blind audition. There were 100 of us that they put into hotel for a month, and that’s what you don’t see. We spent an entire month hanging out and working on our blind audition song before anything was taped. A ton of friendships are formed, and the production makes a lot of cuts. Every day, you don’t know if you’re going to be cut. By the time the blind audition came, I was just excited and happy to be there.
DT: Why did you choose to sing “You’re So Vain” at the blind audition?
KW: I picked that song because I am named after Carly Simon, and I wanted the opportunity to make her and my mom proud because she’s been such an influence, musically, on my entire life. There’s no other way I would want to represent myself than with what I was raised on. If I could go back and pick another song, I would still pick “You’re So Vain.”
DT: How were you able to focus on your performance given the pressure?
KW: I did not sleep at all the night before my blind audition — I was too excited. The day of, I was extremely calm, and I can’t explain why. I think it was just because I was grateful to have made it that far. The process is an emotional roller coaster even before the blind audition.
When I got to the blind audition, I remembered that I spent a month working on this, and I just have to do it and see what happens. I don’t think anything can prepare you for when the coaches are sitting in those chairs. We do rehearsals on that stage to mentally prepare us, but then suddenly, there’s over a hundred people in the studio audience and four of the best musicians in the industry just sitting there. As soon as they turned their chairs, I almost forgot to keep singing.
DT: What was going through your mind when you had to choose between Miley Cyrus and Adam Levine as your coach?
KW: I wanted to go with Miley from the beginning. When I found out that she was going to be a coach this season, it was the deciding factor in me wanting to audition. I am obsessed with her and always have been. I saw her on Season 11 when she was a coach, and saw that she was an amazing coach and person.
After some of the things Adam said on stage, I almost changed my mind. The show makes a lot of cuts, so I was actually talking to them on stage for about 45 minutes. Miley laid out an entire plan for what she wanted to do with me, and the style of music I wanted to do. I felt like she had a strong sense of the direction I wanted to go in. Adam was showering me with all of these compliments that were amazing to hear, but I loved that Miley got straight to business. She sold me.
DT: What is Miley’s approach to coaching you?
KW: She’s very involved. What you don’t see is that she’s involved to the point of what we wear on stage. She gave each of the battle partners a clothing theme because she wanted us to look and feel cool. She’s very much involved in the entire Voice process, which is different from the other coaches. The other coaches usually show up, coach their team through the songs and go home. Miley is so invested in every one of her artists, and she wants us to be our true selves. Her critiques are all about how to enhance who each individual artist is.
I was paired with an artist who had a very different voice than mine, and instead of Miley trying to change us to blend together, she told us to do exactly what we would on our own. She gave us moments where we could each shine, and it made our battle the best experience. She makes sure each artist is represented by who they are and want to be, especially since she has that experience of people wanting to change her.
DT: What advice do you have for younger Thornton students or singers attempting to break into the industry?
KW: I don’t have a lot of performance experience, which was different from almost everyone else on the show. Most people had been gigging and had released albums. I think that lack of experience can push a lot of people away, and it can cause people to feel like they are not good enough. My advice, then, would be that experience does not determine someone’s quality of talent. If I had let that get in the way of me believing in myself, then I wouldn’t be where I am now. I would say to anyone, go for what you want even if you don’t have the experience.