When NBC's The Voice first aired in 2011, it seemed an obvious attempt to capitalize on the enormous popularity of American Idol for almost a decade before it. But while that was no doubt the inspiration, The Voice perhaps tapped into something altogether different and likely changed the course of such talent searches into the future. Because while American Idol first gained attention from the often caustic critique of Simon Cowell, The Voice brought a kinder, gentler approach to the concept.
Gone was the notion of "judges," replaced instead with "mentors." For the four who fill those seats - Adam Levine, Blake Shelton and a rotating cast of musical superstars - the show provides an opportunity to encourage rather than browbeat, to help train and inspire rather than provide snark.
Although the show is currently in its 14th season, it was last fall that it really became the talk of Fort Wayne. As Concordia High School student Addison Agen began her steady move through each round, excitement grew until the week when she ultimately reached the finals. Although she came in second, the city had already exploded with Addison fever, and she had solidly locked up hometown support while earning fans around the country.
Something like that is so rare, what are the odds of it ever happening again?
As it turns out, better than you might think. Because while excitement over Agen was growing in her hometown, Christiana Danielle already knew that another Fort Wayne local had cleared the first hurdle.
"We actually watched Season 13 from a hotel room and thought 'This is really happening for us," says Danielle. "It was surreal."
Danielle (who is known as Christiana Hicks to her friends in Fort Wayne) began singing around the house and in church, but she said that in her early years her voice was pretty much a secret to everyone outside those two places. Gradually she began to let the secret out during her years at Snider High School when she sang for the praise team and choir at New Zion Tabernacle. But as she told The Voice in an interview, a throat virus led to emergency surgery and the fear that she might never sing again. Once she did recover, she decided to make her gift more public.
"When I got my voice back, I decided to be more outgoing," she says. "I tried out for the jazz choir, and when I went to Huntington University I got involved in talent shows and the worship team there."
Having graduated last year with a degree in sociology, Danielle decided to do something even more daring than before.
"I decided I wanted to take a gap year before going on to work on my master's degree rather than just pushing through and continuing at school. I'd heard that there was one last open call in St. Louis for The Voice in June. I mentioned it to my father, and he kind of called my bluff and said, 'It's just six hours. Why don't you just go?'
"When I got there, there were just thousands and thousands and thousands of people. It was the last stop for auditions, so people were coming from everywhere. I just went into it thinking I was going to try but not being super hopeful because I was up against so many people. I was just going to be happy with the experience."
Although up against many, Danielle found out immediately after her audition that she had made the cut and was moving on to the blind auditions. But due to the terms of the agreement with The Voice, she was unable to share the news with anyone, even as Voice mania was taking root in her hometown. The blind audition process was particularly memorable for her, something she is now finally able to discuss.
"The blind auditions were in October, and I was kind of both nervous and excited. I kept thinking I just didn't want to mess up and end up on YouTube. But when I started singing and three of the judges turned around, I just dropped to my knees. After that I wasn't able to tell anyone. Just my parents knew which was hard because The Voice had become so popular in Fort Wayne."
Given her choice of judges, Danielle chose Alicia Keys and feels very comfortable with her place on Team Alicia.
"She is super awesome, super Zen. She's just a calming presence which is helpful for me because I'm kind of all over the place. And she's even prettier in person than she is on TV."
Given her druthers, Danielle prefers to sing jazz classics, particularly Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Etta James, but she concedes that as the competition moves on, she'll need to find more contemporary material to perform. She also gravitates to worship music, so don't be surprised if that works its way into her Voice repertoire.
But regardless of how the competition proceeds for her, she already has found a larger audience in her hometown and among those who watch The Voice every week. Her singing talent is no longer a secret to anyone. And maybe at some point she and her Voice colleague Agen can fill up Parkview Field together?
"That would be awesome," says Danielle.