Local music fans may recognize Emily Keener from open mic nights at the Winchester, the Barking Spider or Brothers Lounge. But now, the 17-year-old Northeast Ohio native has made her way to your living room TV screen as a live show contestant on NBC’s popular singing competition, The Voice, starting April 11. Keener grew up listening to classic rock and her father sing and play the guitar in her Old Brooklyn home. At 11-years-old, Keener taught herself guitar and began to write songs. She released her first album, A Book of New Beginnings, at just 14 years old and released East of the Sun with popular local folk band the Womacks in 2015. Then a friend of a friend presented her with the opportunity to audition for the show and Keener nailed a four-chair turnaround with Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" and chose Pharrell Williams as her coach. We caught up with Keener to chat about the show, her musical style and working with the biggest names in the music industry today.
Q: How did it feel getting Blake Shelton, Pharrell, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine to turn around during your blind audition?
A: I was freaking out on the inside. I walked into it not even expecting one chair. I just wasn’t sure how to handle it in that moment. You kind of view them as figments of your imagination, they’re so untouchable that you can’t even fathom being a few feet in front of them, having them truly appreciate what you’re doing. There are no words to explain how that kind of approval feels.
Q: Why did you pick Pharrell, and how is he as a coach?
A: I love his mind and the way it works. He just has this deep understanding of music and an amazing ear that allows him to look deeper into an artist. He always makes sure every person feels like they matter; that’s the type of person I want to be working with. My favorite moment with him was after knockouts. He told me he wants me to stay true to myself no matter what anybody says [or] what happens in my life; he wants me to continue down the route I’m going down as a musician and person. That told me I have what it takes to keep going. I think I have a lot more to give.
Q: How do you differ from the other contestants?
A: Everybody on the show is so incredibly talented. The first few times I was coming into contact with these contestants I was extremely intimidated. I’m one of the youngest people left in this competition, so [they] have a lot of years and more experience on me. I spend a lot of time by myself practicing [and] I think I’ve gained a lot more confidence.
Q: How was it working with guest adviser Miley Cyrus?
A: Her knowledge [and] her talent is so intense and in your face. She is unapologetic, confident and fun. She knew all about Joni Mitchell too, [and] thought it’d be a great idea to start off with just me and the guitar making it more meaningful, softer and intimate. That small touch did so much for the performance and really made it. She was digging who I was as an artist. It was really cool to have that affirmation from her.
Catch Keener on The Voice during live shows Monday and Tuesday at 8p.m.