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'The Voice': Q&A with 'grounded,' 'grateful,' grand Hannah Huston

by jmaloni
Thu, Mar 31st 2016 03:50 pm
`The Voice` `Knockout Rounds`: Hannah Huston (NBC photo by Tyler Golden)
"The Voice" "Knockout Rounds": Hannah Huston (NBC photo by Tyler Golden)

Behind the Screens with Joshua Maloni

Poor Malik.

The talented, easygoing Team Pharrell singer had no chance to win his "Knockout" battle with teammate Hannah Huston following her rip-roaring rendition of The Animal's "The House of the Rising Sun."

Like, none. Whatsoever.

Hannah's performance was that intense.

Each of "The Voice" coaches was mesmerized as Hannah passionately wailed her notes.

Adam Levine said, "Hannah, that was bonkers. You absolutely brought the house down. Unbelievable job."

Blake Shelton said, "Hannah, standing ovation for this girl right now. I mean, that's my critique for your performance. It was incredible. So, my hats off to you."

Christina Aguilera said, "Hannah, what was most impressive about your performance was your choices that you made. And I thought they were very cleverly placed."

Pharrell said, "Hannah, I think that your performance could not have gone any better. The energy that you present people when you sing, they're able to really feel what you're communicating while you're singing."

From her blind audition, when three chairs turned, Hannah has earned rave reviews for her performances (including covers of Allen Stone's "Unaware" and Sia's "Elastic Heart"), while also charting on iTunes.

Not bad for someone who, just a few months ago, was a preschool teacher in Nebraska.

BTS caught up with the wildly talented, incredibly humble singer this week, ahead of the live playoffs, which start in about two weeks on NBC.


"The Voice" "Knockout Rounds": From left, Hannah Huston squares off with Malik Heard. (NBC photo by Tyler Golden)

•BTS: I was thinking it's kind of weird to be talking about the season when we don't know how far you'll advance. Then I thought this whole thing is probably somewhat weird for you. How are you adjusting to the whole national TV, millions of viewers, social media environment?

•Hannah: The adjusting to national television and everything, that's a constant lesson. I think it's just very different, obviously, from what I was used to. I don't think there's any training for that moment ... when people are calling to interview you. Or you're asked about such and such and such, and put on this television show that tells a little bit of who you are and your story. I think that's just going to be a constant learning experience. All of that - it's just very, very different.

I'm used to working and teaching. It's just a different mindset, I suppose. I was planning lessons for children who were 3 to 5. My whole day was just basically jam-packed of fun and paint and boogers.

And then you go from that to thinking kind of about you, a little bit more so, with your voice and how are you being portrayed or what are you communicating in your interviews. So, the mindset has definitely changed.

I'm, obviously, trying to just really hold on to the things that my parents taught me, and the things that have been instilled in my life earlier on. It'll just be a constant growing experience.

•BTS: We saw about your teaching background. We saw a little bit about how you sort of got into the world of music. But we haven't had a lot of background as far as your musical experience. Did you have lessons? How long have you been performing? You've had some impressive performances on the show. Where does that come from?

•Hannah: So, early on I knew that I had this dream to be a singer. Everyone dreams of - well, not everybody, but I did - wanting to be a singer. When I was little, and I got my first boom box, it was, like, the biggest dream come true. And I would just sing into a hairbrush. ... You just pretend that there are people watching you, or whatever. And then, like at home, with my mom, I was singing. She loves Amy Grant. We love James Taylor ... kind of artists.

My parents always were actually, like, they'd sing at a bunch of weddings for their friends in college. So, they were musically inclined. It was never like their profession or anything. It was just something fun. And my family always, always did music. Like every holiday we would kind of gather around the piano, because my grandma has this piano player that can play anything. And we were just always singing. ... There was always singing happening.

So, it was always prevalent. It just - performing was different. I think performing is a little different, in the sense that, I mean, I grew up not shy, but I just wasn't ready to sing in front of people. That was a really big hurdle for me. And, not because I wasn't good, it was just I didn't want to; I don't know; I didn't want to be the front person yet, or the main. I don't know. I just held back. But I think that that's how it needed to happen. I think you're just shy at different times.

But then, in college, kind of after college, music really struck a chord with me - that I needed to do it. Like, I needed to write. I needed to create with people.

I always wanted to do it, but (I) just was never given the chance. I was never really taking it on, because I was studying to be a teacher. And so that was just really a lot of work. And I wanted to do really well at that, because I really care about being a good teacher. And it took years to be a good teacher.

So, my focus was just different. And then, toward the end of college, I just made it a point to write and to play. As little as it was, I just, I had to do it, because it gave such life to me. It's all my favorite things. It's all my favorite things in all my years, but I just never could give it the time of day. And that was OK. I think it was how it was supposed to be. And then. ... And then "The Voice" calls you. And then you have to go on a show (laughs).

•BTS: When we talk to "The Voice" singers, we know that you're very busy preparing for each show - and somewhat sheltered from the outside world. Have you had time to enjoy it? Or is it, "Let me get through the process and, when that's done, then I'll reflect on all of the good stuff that comes with it"?

•Hannah: I guess it just depends on your schedule, but I try to get back to people pretty quickly. ... I don't know. It's just a nice act of kindness that people do when they send you a simple praise or they just say something sweet about you. I think trying to give that back is very important to me. Because I was absolutely there - I was in their shoes - not too long ago. ... "I really want to be doing what so and so is doing," this musician, or whatever.

You want to be accessible, obviously to a point. But, yeah, as time allows, I try to get back to a few people and enjoy just that feeling that people believe in you. That people want to watch you. That people want to listen to you. Because that's never really occurred to me, besides like where I come from - my church and community's really, really supportive. But you don't know, these people who don't know you, what their reaction is going to be. Or what that's going to look like.

So, that's been really fun. I think feeling support from different places has been extraordinary and very humbling. So, trying to get back right away, as quickly as possible, without wearing myself down. But it's been really fun to talk to these people who I don't know yet.


"The Voice" "Battle Rounds": Pictured, from left, Maya Smith "Battles" Hannah Huston. (NBC photo by Tyler Golden)

•BTS: I've been writing about this show from the first season, and I don't know that I've seen the coaches react as strongly as they do after you sing each time. When you see these people, who are successful, iconic musicians, when you see them react the way they do, what does that do for your confidence?

•Hannah: I think, after each performance, at least for me, obviously you're giving everything you have on that stage, and you're overcoming nerves, and you're overcoming any lack of experience - at least for me - so there's all these obstacles. And then, there's just this pure enjoyment of singing itself that it's just unlike anything else to be singing up there. It's just really amazing.

And then afterwards, yeah, there's just this moment where these huge artists are talking to you. And I think it's beneficial regardless if it is positive or just critiquing. I think it's called coaching for a reason.

And I think I'm young to the game. And I love that part. I love being able to take away, you know, "Hannah, you could work on such and such." Or "We loved this part." I think, I don't know, I think it's the competitiveness in me. With not other people, but just with me. With myself. And growing as an artist. And becoming more, I don't know, more confident. And then just growing in the skills or the different things about singing.

But, yeah, it's really emotional after every performance, because I'm just standing up there thinking, "Oh, my gosh, I just put all this time into this song." And it's such a moment. It's such a moment. And I've been happy with every response that I've gotten. And it's all due to Pharrell and the coaching that I've received, as well. There's lots of conversations that happen, obviously.

I think you take those things, and you take them into your next performance, if that's how it plays out. I think that taking it to heart and being really coachable helps.

•BTS: You talk about the experience of being up on that stage. It's a very emotional experience, and you see a lot of performers - they're nervous; they're panicky. You seem to be just enjoying every minute. You seem to just have this joy - this peace. To what do you attribute that?

•Hannah: I know where I'm grounded. ... I obviously am nervous. (But) I always think of my dad. My dad is a very wise person. And he just reassures me that God has everything in control. And everything is according to his plan. And so I have a peace about it when I get up there, knowing that, honestly, my identity is not as a singer. I'm not Hannah Huston the singer. But it's more than that.

So, I think just being grounded, going up there knowing that this moment is just - you should be grateful for every step of the way, honestly. And I think constantly being grateful. ... There's just so many people who would love to be on that stage. And ... what I think about that, too, is I need to enjoy this.

It's a lot of things. But my joy comes from Christ, ultimately, and singing is just a sweet part of my life that I get to do. It's just really fun to do it.

"The Voice" airs at 8 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC.

Follow Hannah Huston on Twitter @thehannahhuston

Joshua Maloni writes about "The Voice" and other television series and music events. Follow him on Twitter @joshuamaloni.

Watch Hannah sing "The House of the Rising Sun":


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