America knows she can sing, but now Erin Willett is out to prove that she is more than just a voice — she is a songwriter.
After being eliminated in the semifinals on the NBC television singing competition “The Voice,” Willett is back in her hometown of Gaithersburg and preparing songs for her debut album.
On Saturday, she will perform an acoustic set at the Gaithersburg Book Festival and on May 27 she will open for Adam Lambert at 94.7 Fresh FM's FRESHtival at Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor.
On television, Willett showed off her powerhouse vocals in cover songs such as “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Without You,” but the 23-year-old says the type of music she wants to create on her own is more in the genre of acoustic soul.
“What I did on the show was huge production songs, so I think people will be surprised to see that my writing style isn't so big,” says Willett who plays guitar and piano. “It's more of the simple things that really convey the best message.”
While living in New York City last summer after finishing her degree in marketing at Hofstra University, Willett decided to attend an open casting call for “The Voice” with a few of her friends. Several months later, she was on stage taking part in blind auditions, vying for the attention of one of four celebrity coaches.
Ultimately, Willett was selected by coach and country music superstar Blake Shelton. At first she was nervous that their own musical styles were too different, but Shelton ended up being someone that really understood her and encouraged her in her musical journey, she says.
“I never expected to get as far as I did, so he always was there as an extra push, an extra nudge, to really understand that I was capable of getting very far and I was capable of winning, even though I didn't,” she says. “I didn't really believe in myself, so he was always there to say 'I believe in you.'”
Shelton also provided a source of personal support for Willett when she lost her father to pancreatic cancer during filming.
“Everything that happened to me and everything that happened to him around the same time, with us both losing our fathers, it kind of was this weird destiny thing for me,” she says. “It's like, this guy completely understands everything I'm going through right now.”
Willett's father, Chuck, also was musically inclined and played in a Rockville band called The Newports in the 1960s, she says. Music was something they shared and his loss was incredibly difficult for Willett, but the show provided, at first, a welcome distraction, and then a means to push herself further than she thought possible.
“It could have broken me, it could have made me completely fall apart,” she says. “I think I am stronger than I think I am.”
Willett shared her loss as part of the show, and discovered that in doing so she reached a lot of people who were suffering losses of their own.
“I never realized I could touch so many people. I never realized I could affect people going through the same thing, and people saying, 'Wow, you've inspired me,'” she says. “That was just really intense and something I really held close to my heart.”
Prior to her television debut, Willett says she was struggling to shepherd in enough people at her shows to meet the door minimum. As she progressed through rounds in “The Voice” and more and more fans began to reach out, Willett came to the strange realization that she had gained a footing in the music world.
“That is what the show taught me. I can really go for any ambitious dream because I am capable of it,” she says.
Now that “The Voice” has finished, Willett is on to her next adventure. She plans to move to Los Angeles soon to take advantage of connections she made in the music industry and is recording material for her debut album.
“Hopefully people react to it and they love my original music as much as they love me doing covers on TV,” she says.