You might recognize Ddendyl, 25, (who goes by just her first name professionally) if you’re a fan of “The Voice,” as she survived several cuts during the current sixth season of the hit NBC singing competition. She knows all too well about what it’s like behind the scenes of these massively popular shows, and the actual reality versus what they show on television.
The audience first saw Ddendyl, a blues singer who frequently performs at Seasons 52 in Bethesda, when she dazzled the judges with a smoky version of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me” during blind auditions.
For those who have never seen the show, here’s how it works: In the first round known as the “blind auditions,” singers stand on stage while the celebrity judges/coaches – in Season 6, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Shakira and Usher – have their backs turned. When a coach likes what they hear, they push a giant button and their chair swivels around. Each coach gets a team of singers, and the goal is to have their singer eventually win the whole competition – therefore, if more than one coach turns around, they try to convince the singer to choose their team. The winner is narrowed down through several elimination rounds, including the “battles” and the live shows, which incorporate viewer votes.
Shakira immediately swiveled around when Ddendyl started singing – she was the only coach to do so, so that meant Ddendyl was automatically on her team. What followed next was a thrilling, nerve-wracking, confusing, overall exhilarating adventure for the next few months, as Ddendyl navigated life – and potential stardom – on one of the most popular shows in the country.
We recently sat down with Ddendyl in D.C. and asked her about life on the show, including how you maintain career momentum after the madness of reality TV. Right now, she’s recording an EP and performing around the country with her friends and “Voice” contestants Jeremiah Briggs, Clarissa Serna and Sam Behymer; she’ll perform at Hill Country in D.C. with Graham Wilkinson on May 31.
As “The Voice” wraps up Season 6 on Tuesday night, here are some of the most fascinating, behind-the-scenes facts about “The Voice,” before, during and after.
“The Voice” staffers make calls to managers and agents all over the country to locate the best singers to try out for the show in endless rounds of pre-television auditions.
What sets “The Voice” apart from other reality shows (besides those giant spinning chairs) is the fact that you won’t find any bad singers. No humiliating auditions here: The show goes after people who have genuine musical talent.
“’The Voice’ really gets people that have had that struggling musicians journey, and I think that’s a really special thing,” Ddendyl said. She knows the route: A classically trained singer since age 5, she’s seen the ups and downs in the music industry. Moving to Los Angeles for an agent who promised her singing gigs; heading to New York City four years later when she landed a record deal; then on to D.C. when the deal fell apart. Though she’s been working steadily as a lounge singer in the District, she’s always wanted to break out at a national level.
So last summer, when a music manager friend from Los Angeles was contacted by “The Voice” producers for any recommendations and brought up Ddendyl’s name, it seemed great — though Ddendyl had a few reservations. She had also auditioned for “American Idol” and “X Factor” in the past and wasn’t sure if she wanted to jump into the reality TV world.
If producers they don’t think you’re right for this season, they could bring you back again.
Ddendyl had actually already tried out for “The Voice” in Season 5 during one of pre-television screenings. She met with producers, but when it came time for executive callbacks in Los Angeles, they told her, “We’re not going your direction this season — but please come back.”
She’s very glad she did — “I said, all right, I’ll give it another try, but whatever. But if this is a no go, this is the last time I’m doing any of these things, ever.” She jumped on a Megabus from D.C. to New York City and auditioned once more, impressing the staffers with her piano skills. She performed a bunch of songs for three people, and then did an interview on camera. After all, they need good backstories for those taped intro packages. “It’s a TV show, they gotta sell something,” Ddendyl joked. Whatever she did worked — she got the call to come out to Los Angeles for executive auditions, and after that, the big one: She was chosen to audition for the televised blind auditions.
The blind auditions that last approximately three minutes on the show? Yeah, that process can take up to a month.
Producers cull a huge group of singers to come to Los Angeles for blind auditions, where they put them up in a hotel while they wait for their turn to sing to the backs of the coaches’ chairs. That takes a few minutes on stage, but there’s lots of smaller details that add up to a month’s worth of work: Tons of rehearsals with and without the band, working with a vocal coach, doing online videos, photo shoots, intro packages with family interviews. “I had no idea that reality TV was filmed kind of like a drama,” Ddendyl said. “So everything is filmed in segments and that’s kind of the longest process of it all.”
For Ddendyl, producers loved her dad — he plays the bagpipes and is generally a delightful character. “My parents make great TV,” Ddendyl admits. They couldn’t stick around for the entire time Ddendyl was waiting for her blind audition, so the show flew them to L.A. at 2 a.m. on the day it arrived. (And made sure her dad brought his bagpipes.)
Not everyone who comes to the blind auditions gets to actually try out.
Unfortunately, it’s just a fact — as the auditions go on, coaches’ teams fill up, and they run out of spots. Luckily, Ddendyl got to go toward the middle of the process, but she was disappointed to see some new friends not even be able to perform.
The audience is really loud during the blind auditions.
Though you can’t hear it on television, the crowd watching the auditions is actually really noisy. As soon as Ddendyl knew she would at least make it on one team (Shakira turned her chair around right away, and it’s not like she could reverse course), she was so pumped by the live audience that she just started rocking out to entertain the crowd. “The button got hit so fast that I was just trying to have a good show,” she said. “The whole crowd was on their feet during their audition, clapping with me, and every time I hit a high note they were cheering. It was amazing.”
Shakira had high praise: “I love the quality of your voice,” she said, and other coaches agreed Ddendyl’s voice was quite unique.
They’re called “battle rounds” for a reason — preparation is extremely intense.
If you make it past the blinds, you’re on to battle rounds, where the judges match you up with another competitor on your team for a duet and then send one person home. It’s as nerve-wracking as it sounds. The wait time is lengthy, too — it takes a couple of months after the blind auditions until the battle rounds start, because the coaches are busy with the current season.
When Ddendyl arrived back in Los Angeles, the prep for battle rounds was intensive. Though on television, you see the singers diligently rehearsing with their celebrity coaches and various star mentors that make guest appearances (Chris Martin, Miranda Lambert, etc.), that’s only a small part of the practice. “What they don’t show is all the coaching that comes from the staff: The vocal coaches, the band director, the producers, everyone has notes for you,” Ddendyl explained.
Some celebrity coaches only play a small part in the, um, coaching.
Whenever Ddendyl met with Shakira for rehearsal, it was just to film for the show’s taped segments that appear to introduce each battle round. “We coached with her a few times and then the majority of our growth was left to us on our own,” Ddendyl said. (In addition, of course, to the vocal coaches and producers.)
She made it through two battle rounds before getting eliminated, and in the first one, she and her partner Lindsay Pagano sang Carole King’s “I Feel the Earth Move,” using every spare second they had to rehearse vocals and camera blocking. Ddendyl won and was partnered with Deja Hall for the next battle: Once, they squeezed in some rehearsal time in a random janitor closet that happened to have a piano.
Getting voted off a reality show is as not-fun as it looks.
Though Ddendyl is grateful for the experience, she’s still disappointed she was eliminated — especially about the reason judges chose Deja Hall after their battle round, in which they sang A Great Big World’s “Say Something.”
In a word: Age. Ddendyl’s still bothered by that, but she knows it makes sense from a business standpoint. “Deja’s got a beautiful voice,” Ddendyl said, and given that she’s only 16, “She’s a blank canvas. I’m sure to a celebrity coach looking for the next Bieber, that looks great. She’s very ‘mold-able.’ Someone like me? Not really. My voice is doing what it’s going to do.”
Sure enough, Usher chimed in to praise both singers, but added: “I just feel like there’s so much yet to be discovered in your voice, Deja; I would pick you.” Shakira looked torn, and said both singers “killed it.” “Ddendyl’s so artistic and your voice is just so special…it’s probably the most unique voice that there is here on ‘The Voice’ right now,” she said. “And, Deja, your voice is earthly and at the same time heavenly.” In the end, she chose Deja, saying she had made the most progress and was curious about where it could go. (She was eliminated two weeks later.)
The voting public wasn’t happy about Ddendyl’s loss: Viewers sent scathing messages to Shakira. As one blogger put it: “Shakira, apparently determined to build a team that’ll be obliterated in the first few weeks of voting, chose the milquetoast teen who’s clearly not ready for primetime over the potent stylist with a cool tone and exquisite phrasing.”
Some celebrity coaches are better than others about actually spending time with the contestants.
Ddendyl said she wishes the contestants had more time to spend off-camera with their coaches and mentors; she never heard from Shakira again (not even backstage) after she was eliminated. As a result, Ddendyl was envious of her friends on Usher’s team — she heard stories about how Usher would take them aside for one-on-one conversations to talk about their careers and seemed truly invested in what kind of artist they really wanted to be. After all, it’s up to the coaches how much time they want to spend outside of their obligations for the series.
“Of course, it’s a TV show,” Ddendyl said — she knows the coaches are busy and might not have time for long conversations. “But when you watch it and you think, ‘Oh, I would want to be on that,’ you have an expectation of what it’s going to be like.”
You get really close to fellow contestants and people backstage.
When Ddendyl was eliminated, some of the backstage crew was crying — when you spend so much time in close proximity to people, you can’t help but bond. Ddendyl still regularly keeps in touch with fellow contestants (including her roommate, Music Box) and is performing with some of them. But it’s also behind-the-scenes people — producers, hair and make-up artists, and the guy that keeps track of everyone’s schedules.
No matter what happens, being on a reality singing show is an undeniable boost for your career.
Her battle round video with Deja has nearly 1 million views, and her audition (“Stand By Me”) has about 373,000. Her personal YouTube singing videos have also skyrocketed, and after the show she got about 100 new Twitter and Instagram followers a day — it helped that she continued live-tweeting the episodes.
As for translating into a national career, she’s continuing to perform in the D.C., New York and Philadelphia area, while also lining up gigs in other cities across the country. Charities have reached out for her to be a spokesperson. She’s in the middle of recording her EP.
Overall, she’s still glad she had “The Voice” opportunity, which is wild to look back on — she got to the televised rounds, and she knew that alone would be the key for her career to take a jump.
“You can’t pay for this kind of exposure,” Ddendyl joked. “You’d never be able to afford it.”