In the country music world, it can take a decade for aspiring singers to get a song on the radio — for Danielle Bradbery, it took about a month. In June 2013, she was crowned the fourth season winner of NBC’s “The Voice” (as a contestant on Blake Shelton’s team) and landed a record deal. Shortly after, she found herself in a recording studio in Nashville, and released her debut single, “The Heart of Dixie,” in July. The next week, she turned 17.
That’s the advantage of reality singing competitions — they put your career in the express lane. The downside is that in the whirlwind to release your first album and capitalize on the fan base from the show, singers often have little control over their music. Plus, many have to work to shed the stigma of a “reality TV singer.”
Bradbery, now 21, found herself in that situation. “The Heart of Dixie” was a hit and propelled her self-titled debut record to success in 2013. But she didn’t choose any of those songs on the album herself. And as the years passed, she struggled with figuring out her identity as a singer. She knew she would be frozen in people’s minds as simply the quiet teenager with the powerhouse voice from TV. So as she threw herself into her sophomore album, which was released last week, she wanted to make sure that her real personality and musical inclinations would come through — so much that her album is pointedly titled “I Don’t Believe We’ve Met.”
“A lot of people obviously looked at me like, ‘Oh, this is just another ‘Voice’ winner,’ ” Bradbery said by phone from New York, where she was prepping for an appearance on “Megyn Kelly Today.” Tuesday night, she’ll return to her roots for a performance on “The Voice.” “I knew I had a lot more to say — I knew there was a lot more to me I wanted to figure out. And just grow as a person, too.”
So two and a half years ago, she started working with Nashville writers such as Emily Weisband and Josh Kerr, as well as collaborators in Los Angeles. As she sharpened her skills, she ultimately wound up co-writing seven out of 10 tracks on the album. And although Bradbery was deemed the “country contestant” on “The Voice,” and is on the Nashville-based Big Machine Label Group, she wanted to incorporate other genres that influenced her growing up. While “The Voice” coach Adam Levine has criticized record labels for “mismanaging” winners after the show, Bradbery didn’t have that experience, as the label was supportive as she experimented with different sounds.
“I didn’t just grow up on country,” she said. “Country will always be my base; I love it so much. But I also love so many more genres, such as R&B, pop and things like that.”
That led to the pop and R&B-leaning tracks such as “Red Wine + White Couch” and “Sway,” the lead single from the record. Bradbery also took on powerful ballads, such as “Human Diary,” about how exes take all of your secrets with them after a breakup, and “Potential,” about actually being in love with someone’s, well, potential.
Bradbery recently revealed that “Worth It,” which she’ll perform on “The Voice” Tuesday, stemmed from discussing her concerns and insecurities about her career with her co-writers, Molly Reed and Jeff Pardo. Bradbery added that the song, which she wanted to have “a ballad-y, Alicia Keys vibe,” is about standing up for yourself in any situation.
“I have those moments, even to this day, I’ll be like, ‘Ugh, I should have said this in that situation,’ ” Bradbery said. “So we steered it to being a little bit of everything — like, a relationship, work or what the listener wants to apply to it in their life.”
Now, Bradbery hopes that getting so personal will help people move on from their image of her as a 16-year-old on “The Voice,” and start seeing her as an artist that’s still evolving — especially because she was so young when she appeared on the show.
“It’s funny just to see those pictures and interviews and the way I dressed and I’m like, ‘Oh, God, everybody can see that,’ ” Bradbery said, laughing. “Every person goes through awkward years, and usually they can do it in private at home. But mine was kind of documented.”