FINDING HER VOICE

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Brian Sager

How fifteen-year-old Brynn Cartelli went from singing on the streets of Nantucket to being crowned the winner of The Voice.

Simply put, Brynn Cartelli is a phenomenon. The newly minted winner of NBC’s The Voice has ascended to stardom in a way that most musicians would never dare dream of — and it all began on Nantucket. Two summers ago, Cartelli was performing on Jetties Beach with islander Billy Voss when a bartender at the then Jetties restaurant posted a video of her playing to Facebook. The clip garnered tens of thousands of views, including from the producers of The Voice, who contacted the then thirteen-year-old and asked her if she would come to New York for a private audition.

“I thought it was fake,” Cartelli laughs. “My parents and I thought it was a scam.” But after the producers insisted repeatedly that they were the real deal, Cartelli went to the audition. She got through the first cut, and then flew to Los Angeles to audition in front of the show’s producers. There she beat out over a hundred other contestants to earn herself a blind audition in front of the four celebrity judges. But things didn’t go quite as she planned.

Judges on The Voice listen to auditions with their backs turned towards the singers, so they can judge them strictly on their voices. If they like what they hear, they slam a button and turn their chairs to the singer. “I didn’t get one chair to turn,” Cartelli says. “I’ve had other auditions where I got a ‘no,’ but this was definitely a bigger ‘no’ for me.” Yet, a week later, the producers called her back and said they wanted her to try out for the following season. This time, Cartelli turned two chairs and ended up choosing Kelly Clarkson as her celebrity coach for the rest of the season.

“It’s crazy behind the scenes of the show,” Cartelli says. “You are filming almost every single day. You’re doing interviews — talking and talking and talking — and then the very next day you’re expected to be at the top of your game, singing your song seven times.” She took it all in stride, enjoying the friendship of her fellow contestants, and gradually emerging as one of the show’s central stars. Her breathtaking performances wowed judges and millions
of viewers around the country. Then on the show’s season finale, standing shoulder to shoulder with her chief competition, Cartelli was crowned the winner. She is the youngest person to ever win The Voice, earning herself $100,000 and a recording contract.

While many other winners of shows like American Idol have fizzled out after takeoff, most people agree that Brynn Cartelli has officially arrived, and we haven’t seen anything yet. With striking beauty, an electric stage presence and a giant voice well beyond her years, Cartelli has been dubbed a “unicorn” in the musical world by Clarkson. And Clarkson would know, having launched to fame in the same way after winning American Idol in its first season more than fifteen years ago.

While Cartelli’s skyrocketing career is indeed an outlier, those who first witnessed her playing on Nantucket knew that she was something special. Her earliest performances took place on the streets of downtown. “Outside of the Juice Bar was a great place to play,” she says. “I played there a lot. That’s really where I started.” Jetties, Cisco, the Boat Basin, private parties around the island — wherever she was asked to play, she played.

The first time I heard Brynn sing, I knew I had to figure out a way to meet her,” says Holly Finigan of Nantucket blACKbook, who, after connecting with her over Instagram, eventually had the young musician play at her Happy Place boutique last August. “I have this video of her singing The Indigo Girls “Galileo” and that line ‘How long ‘til my soul gets it right / Can any human being ever reach the highest light’ really stuck with me…’ It’s been a true joy to watch her highest light continue to come forth from the cobblestone streets of Nantucket to the stage of The Voice.”

Born and raised in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, Cartelli began playing piano at the age of five. “My parents never had to make me practice,” she laughs. “They would actually have to try and get me off the piano.” Her parents introduced her to classical, country and soul. From the piano, she began taking voice lessons and picked up the guitar in middle school. “Then all of a sudden my music career started happening very fast,” she says.

Now a bona fide celebrity, Cartelli’s life has changed dramatically. She’s now writing her first album while working with a private tutor to try and get her caught up in the schoolwork that she missed while she was on the show. “It’s hard for me to personally let go of who I was before The Voice,” she says. “As much as I’d hate to admit it, I’m really not that person anymore. I’m a fifteen-year-old girl, but I don’t live a fifteen-year-old life.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Cartelli’s love for Nantucket. She and her family have been vacationing here since 2009, and bought a summer home in town last Stroll. They were on Nantucket last month and will be here again in August. As has been the case for many artists before her, the Grey Lady still serves as a muse for the young musician.

“I was sitting in my living room after I won The Voice, writing a song for Nantucket,” she says. “It all hit me that everything that happened on Nantucket led me to where I am now.” When asked if the song would appear on her album, Cartelli said no — it’s too personal. Instead, she wants to perform it live on the island for all those people who made her career possible and helped her find her voice.

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