JACQUIE LEE : The Voice’s season 5 Youngest Contestant

She's pretty, young, and amazing. Yeah, she's still 16 years old, oh god youngest lady in The Voice season 5, she's really really perfect, great, her voice is amazing.

Seated at a Starbucks corner table on a cool October afternoon, Jacquie Lee illuminates the otherwise bleak shop, radiating a seemingly boundless youthful energy. She giggles breathlessly between bites of her Bountiful Blueberry Muffin, silky brunette locks falling onto her fresh face as she reveals the mysterious designer of her black, studded boots—of Cee Lo Green did-you-buy-those-boots-from-Aldo fame. “Vera Wang!” Lee exclaims. “I didn’t want to say, ‘No, Cee Lo, they are not Aldo’ on stage, so I just laughed it off!” Clad in a loose-fitting peach T-shirt, gray athletic shorts and shin guards leftover from afterschool field hockey practice, she is, upon first glance, almost unrecognizable from the black cocktail dress-adorned, folk-soul singer, whose sophisticated tone earned her a spot on the fifth season of NBC’s “The Voice.” It is in these candid moments when Lee reminds the world that, beneath her astonishing vocal range and control, her advanced stage presence and poise, she is still a 16-year-old girl on the journey of a lifetime

A Ranney School junior and longtime resident of Colts Neck, N.J., Lee discovered her passion and talent for singing in the third grade, when her mother, Denise Lee, overheard her humming along to the radio and asked that she sing for her family. Lee had never shared her voice before and, to calm her nerves, opted to sing for her mother and uncle from behind closed doors. “I was really scared, so I locked myself in the closet and I turned off all the lights and I made them close their eyes,” said Lee of what was her first “blind audition.” “I sang ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ and then I came out and my mom was crying and put me in vocal lessons.”

 In the years following her singing debut, Lee immersed herself in music in an effort to develop her voice and identity as an artist. Aretha Franklin, The Beatles and Whitney Houston quickly topped her list of musical influences, as well as her now “Voice” coach, Christina Aguilera, whose work on Disney’s “Mulan” soundtrack inspired and guided Lee through her first public performance. “I did a fifth grade play. It was the first thing I had ever tried out for, singing wise, and it was ‘Mulan,’” said Lee. “I got the part of Mulan and I was shocked, because I was really shy…that gave me a lot more confidence. I listened to Christina’s version of ‘Reflection’ and I was hooked on her voice…that really helped me develop.”

With this newfound confidence in hand, Lee began performing more and more. She used her voice for charitable purposes, singing for Camp Quality, a supportive camp for children with cancer; children at Monmouth Medical Center and the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that provides events, programs and services to veterans injured during military action.

It was also during this time that she got her first taste of competitive singing, beginning with a win at the Colts Neck Fair Talent Contest. Following this success, Lee signed up for Freehold Idol, another local singing competition, which she soon learned would pose a greater challenge. “I did [Freehold Idol] twice, and the first time I didn’t even place,” said Lee, who coped with the loss by delving into her favorite pastime—songwriting—and growing artistically. “The second time I did it, I came in with a song that I wrote on my own, and I went with my gut and I won.”

While walking away with the title of Freehold Idol was certainly gratifying, it was nothing in comparison to what was just around the corner for the young artist. While singing The Beatles’ “With A Little Help From My Friends” in Pier Village with Rockit—a Count Basie Theatre program that provides young musicians with the opportunity to collaborate and play rock music— Lee’s powerhouse vocals caught the attention of Monocentric Music President and Creative Director Marc Swersky and singer/songwriter Brielle Brown (who Lee now endearingly refers to as her “soul sister”). “[Swersky] was in the audience and I guess he heard something in my voice that he really liked,” said Lee. “We didn’t formally meet then, but that was when we first knew about each other. Then later on he came to me with the idea [to try out for ‘The Voice.’]” Lee took him up on his offer without hesitation, and the duo began vocal training.

Lee prepared for her “Voice” audition just as she would for any other performance: rehearsing constantly, eating countless gummy bears—“I eat gummy bears a lot because I like candy, and they soothe my voice!”—and playing one of her original songs the night before as a reminder of her personal, artistic style. However, as soon as she took “The Voice” stage for her rendition of Amy Winehouse’s “Back To Black,” faced with nothing but the broad backs of ruby, leather armchairs, concealing four of the music industry’s top artists, she came to a sudden realization: “There’s no way you can prepare for the exact feeling that you have when you walk on [‘The Voice’] stage.”

The music started, and the rest was a blur. “I just remember my eyes being glued to the back of their chairs…I saw Christina’s hands waving up above her chair and I was like, ‘Why is your hand there and not on the button? Come on!” In fact, it was not until the final six seconds of Lee’s performance that, in unison, both Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton turned their chairs. “It definitely helped me stay focused throughout the performance,” said Lee of the coaches late chair turns. “If they turned in the beginning, I don’t know what I would’ve done—I might have laughed my way through the rest of the song!”

Although Shelton, with his three consecutive wins and lighthearted personality, was a tempting option for Lee, she followed her heart and joined Team Christina. “She can do so much with my voice; her voice is pretty much unbeatable. It was just really clear to me,” said Lee. “Christina was also a young girl growing up in the industry, so I think she can relate to me in that kind of way.”

 Though her time on “The Voice” has only just begun, Lee already describes the experience as being different than anything she’s ever done, in the best of ways. “All the people behind the stage were so nice and the contestants were all really nice. You make some really great friendships,” said Lee. “And the feeling of getting a chair turned with your family surrounding you, and your friends finding out about it—there is no other feeling like it. It’s better than Christmas!”

 With her audition behind her, Lee is more than ready to continue on in the competition, and is eager to gain exposure and a greater understanding of herself as an artist. As for after “The Voice,” she’s already got a plan. “Next would be straight to writing, straight to the drawing board!” said Lee, who would love nothing more than to record and share her original music. In the meantime, however, she’s perfectly content hanging out with her friends, playing field hockey and just being a normal teenager.

At the mention of her working with Ed Sheeran in preparation for battle rounds, Lee squeals with a girlish glee, searching for the right words to express the pure excitement of meeting yet another one of her idols. She is animated, bubbly, everything a 16-year-old girl should be. And yet, Lee possesses not only a voice, but a mind mature beyond her years. “I am the youngest [on the show], but I try to play it to my advantage,” explains Lee of how she manages the intimidation factor. “I am 16 and I’ll show you everything I have and, hopefully, you’re impressed by that.” “She’s very devoted and she’s a hard worker,” adds Swersky. “And the world will hear about her—I promise everybody that.”


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