A star is born, and she hails from Space City — just ask the pop star judges on NBC’s hit reality television program The Voice.
Sarah Grace, a 15-year-old, blues-influenced singer, recently tried out for the show, outshining around 40,000 hopefuls to get to the blind audition stage. Her performance of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain,” aired on the Season 15 premiere, and to say she crushed it is an understatement.
The first performer featured on the broadcast, three of the four judges pressed their famed red buttons for a chance to coach her. The first American Idol winner, Kelly Clarkson, swiveling her chair around from the get-go. Country star Blake Shelton also tapped his buzzer, as did another American Idol star, Jennifer Hudson.
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It was Burleson, Texas-raised Clarkson’s enthusiasm that won out in the end, even if the other judges ribbed her for complimenting Sarah Grace for her “stank face.” Clarkson bestowed her with a bright red Team Kelly jacket, which she proudly wore to school the day after the show. She’s a big fan of Clarkson’s music.
“I wanted a coach who I would have fun hanging out with and collaborating with, and a coach I felt like I can learn from,” Sara Grace says, taking a break from class to speak to CultureMap. “One of the most important things is she is a Texas girl and I’m a Texas girl. I knew she was from Texas, so I knew going in that if Kelly turns, then I’m going with her because us Texans have to stick together.”
Sarah Grace came into the audition more than prepared. She works on her many musical talents at the Houston High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, focusing on trumpet. She also counts years of performing and being mentored by established musicians in the tight-knit Houston blues scene as a huge benefit.
Her band, Sarah Grace and the Soul, plays local clubs and events regularly, appearing at House of Blues just last week. It’s a family affair, including her younger sister Reagan Kimberly on drums, joined by friend Daniel Holder on bass.
The group was named as one of Houston’s Top Bands Under 21 by Houston Press, and was sent to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis twice by the Houston Blues Society, the first time being when Sarah Grace was a spritely 11 years old.
“I didn’t know I was going to like the blues when I first heard it, it’s a little outdated for me,” Sarah Grace admits. “Then I realized how easy it is to connect with the blues and how supportive the people are, especially in Houston. Houston has a great scene — they took my sister and I under their wings when were very, very young.”
Sarah Grace credits her grandmother’s love of Janis Joplin as well as her blues background and deep appreciation of multi-genre act Lake Street Dive, and singer-songwriters Sara Bareilles and Susan Tedeschi for her selection of her audition song, “Ball and Chain.” She’s been performing the tune as a show closer with Sarah Grace and the Soul for the last three years.
“I definitely wanted to do a blues song for my blind [audition],” she says. “But I also have a lot of rock and roots influence in my music, so Janis was the perfect song to go with, because ‘Ball and Chain’ was originally by Big Mama Thornton, which is a classic blues artist. To be able to pull from classic blues and then a little more of the rock side, it was a real treat.”
In other words, she knows what she’s doing, so the audition was no big thing for someone who’s been a working musician for most of her formative years.
She will return to Los Angeles in a few weeks for the next round of taping for of The Voice, as one of the final 48 contestants. She will work with Clarkson on a duet with another member of Team Kelly, matching jackets and all.
No doubt, Houston will be watching when she's back under the bright lights, on the big stage.