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Sitting down with ‘The Voice’ finalist Brooke Simpson

A self-proclaimed ‘happy girl who writes sad songs,’ Haliwa-Saponi tribal member Brooke Simpson took the U.S. by storm in 2017 on the 13th season of NBC’s “The Voice.”

Singer/Songwriter Brooke Simpson, a Haliwa-Saponi tribal member from North Carolina, currently resides in Davie, Florida. (Courtesy photo)

Originally from Hollister, North Carolina, Simpson grew up singing with her evangelist parents. Although she sang her whole life, it wasn’t until she started attending college at Lee University that her career starting taking off. It was during her time there she originally auditioned for “The Voice,” but didn’t make it past the initial auditions. Fast forward four years and she and her husband are residing in South Florida when she receives a call that the show would like her to re-audition.

This phone call determined her career, leading her to work with and befriend Miley Cyrus, becoming part of the first all-female team on “The Voice” and preparing her first studio album. The Tribune spoke with Simpson about her journey on “The Voice” and what she has planned for the future.

What kick-started your singing career?
Honestly I would say ‘The Voice.’ In college is when I really started finding my sound and discovering who I was as an artist, but I wasn’t fully developed and was still really young and was still trying to figure out life. I’ve never been in an atmosphere where I know what connections I need to make and who I need to talk to to get my music career started. I was really ignorant to the music industry and had no idea what I was doing. When ‘The Voice’ happened for me, it showed me so much and opened my eyes to a whole different world of music. It taught me the importance of not always saying yes to everything and staying firm on who I am as an artist and as a person. Even though all intentions are well, if you don’t know who you are as an artist on a show like that, then you’ll be told who you are. It was a huge learning experience and it was incredible. I can’t give any credit to anything but that for catapulting my career because now I have a fan base that I never had before and I don’t think I would have ever had before this. … I had the year of my life last year.

Was a career in music always your Plan A?
It was always Plan A. I always knew that I wanted to sing and I’ve always had a heart for music, but I knew that my music would look different than what I grew up around. My parents hoped that I would go into the Christian music world, but I just knew that I had a passion for not just writing songs that are about love, but I just wanted to write about what I’m experiencing right here, right now. I really still want to help people and I want to do that through my music. I always knew I want to share my music and if it’s 10 people or 10,000 I don’t care as long as people listen to my music and know they aren’t alone. … I never knew if would have the opportunity to do it. The year before ‘The Voice’ I actually started thinking, ‘OK I’m 26 and I’m getting older, maybe I need to hope for something else to happen’ because it felt like everything that I tried to make happen was all just closed doors.

You actually auditioned for ‘The Voice’ four years prior to getting called back. What was your reaction when the called you back so long after?
I was freaking out. … It was destined for me to get that call; so much had changed in four years. The first was that they had emailed me the callback to an old email I don’t even use anymore and then they called my number I had back then, but it wasn’t even my number anymore. It’s now my dad’s number so he didn’t answer their first couple of calls and then finally he answered and asked who it was trying to call him. It was so crazy and I didn’t know what to think. Even when I was a teenager, I tried American Idol and nothing happened there, so I was just kind of jaded from the whole singing show reality thing. … Little did I know that I would basically be spending my whole year in California last year.

Why did you choose Team Miley and how was your experience working with her? Do you stay in contact with her?
I knew I wanted to pick Miley from the beginning. I’ve just always been a huge fan of hers, especially when her ‘Bangerz’ album came out; that was my college anthem. I think it’s because I was more of a conservative girl that I was just really attracted to her rebellion in that ‘Bangerz’ stage. … I’ve just always been in love with her music and how she’s just relentlessly authentically herself in whatever she’s doing. I knew that I could learn so much from her because I just want to be nothing but me and she’s dabbled in so many different genres so I knew there wasn’t a single piece of advice she couldn’t give me. I went on stage thinking to myself, regardless, I was going to follow my heart even if my heart doesn’t tell me Miley when the judges turn around.

When all four judges turned around my brain was just thrown for a loop and I was like OK heart, you better guide me. Everyone was talking and saying great things, but then she ran up on stage and put my hand on her heart and said ‘Do you feel how fast my heart is beating? That’s how bad I want you’ and I was just like OK this is the kind of confirmation I needed. You can’t fake that and this whole time I was talking about following my heart and then this girl comes up and asks me to follow hers so I just knew it was perfect.

Miley’s so invested. As soon as she got there she gave us her email address and we would just talk about songs and email back and forth like that. Once we got to the top 12, she said she was sick of emailing and told us to just text her. So now we still talk just about every other week. She’s incredible and is just such a real person.

Was there a particular moment with ‘The Voice’ that really resonates with you?
There were a lot of crazy life-changing moments on that show. One big moment for me was when I did ‘It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ during the playoffs just because I knew out of six people, she could only pick three to go to the top 12. I just knew I needed to give and bring everything that’s in my bones. My voice was so tired; we were singing every day so hard for that whole month of August, but I was just like OK this is the last song at least until October so I have to push myself and make myself sing and perform the crap out of this song. Because I focused so hard and was so determined to give everything within my bone marrow, that was just a huge moment for me. That was the first time I’ve ever left the stage – anytime in my life – and I just knew that there was nothing left in myself to give, I know that I gave everything. Even if she didn’t pick me, I couldn’t feel more excited.

How has your career developed since your experience?
My life has changed completely. I have a whole new platform of fans that I did not have before this that I’m so thankful for and try to communicate with every single day. I’m just trying to make sure that I don’t waste any time, not just because I have a momentum and there’s a wave right now, but because I have all these people that love my voice and want to hear my music and I don’t want to waste time and make them wait years before they get anything. That’s why as soon as the show was over, I hopped in the studio and recorded my single ‘2AM.’ Other than that, I’ve just been trying to book as many gigs as possible and travel to as many states and even some places outside of the country, just trying to do as much as I can as soon as I can just because I want to hurry up and see and hug and squeeze all these people that kept me on that show for all the weeks I was on. This is also just what I want to do for the rest of my life and I don’t want to waste any of that time.

Where do you find the inspiration for the songs you write?
I actually find myself inspired when I’m the saddest or when I’m hurting. I’m generally an extremely happy person, so when I’m happy it’s hard to write; I can’t sit down and focus on writing a song because I’m enjoying life and I’m having fun and I’m with the people I love.

When I’m heartbroken or I’m hurting or I’m frustrated or mad or any type of negative emotion, that’s when I decide not to wear my heart on my sleeve, but put it on paper. … ‘2 AM,’ the song I just released, I actually wrote the night I got back from ‘The Voice.’ I was sitting at my dining room table, my husband had already gone to bed because it was so late, and I’m just sitting there crying my eyes out thinking ‘God, thank you so much for that opportunity. I can’t believe this is my life and I got to do that.’ But then at the same time, I kept thinking I was happy I made it to the finale but I can’t believe I got third; I wish I got first. There were so many different things in my head and I was so confused and then I looked at the clock and it said it was two in the morning and I said to myself that nobody prepares you for this part; nobody prepares you for 2 a.m.

It took me like an hour to just sit there and pour out my feelings on paper and write the song, but even though it’s weird that I write songs from a sad place – just because I’m such a happy person – I think it’s a good thing because it lets people know they’re not alone in their sadness. Everyone has a 2 a.m.; everyone has a time where they feel just completely by themselves and I want to be a reminder to let them know that they’re not going through those situations alone.

How do you think your success in the music industry so far is significant for your tribe and other tribes in the country?
It’s something that I take so much pride in, but at the same time it’s so humbling and so heavy. At first, when I went on the show, I got so excited that they were talking about North Carolina and where I come from because it’s giving my tribe recognition. We’re such a small tribe and not many people know we exist, so [I thought] this was going to give us so much recognition and it was awesome. But then as the show went on and I got more influence, I came to realize that I wasn’t just representing my people, but that I’m representing tribes from all over the U.S. and outside the U.S. … I’m just so honored that I can play a small part in shedding light on the people that a lot of times are forgotten. It’s just been awesome and I can’t believe it’s me that has the opportunity to do that.

What are your plans for the future?
I have a bunch of gigs lined up for the rest of this year and some of them haven’t been announced yet. I’m still in the studio and still recording more songs. I’m trying to keep as much of it a secret as possible, but it’s stressing me out because I want to just scream it to the top of my lungs and let everyone know about the music I’m making. Right now, the future just entails traveling, meetings and greeting my fans and making as much music as possible.

Simpson is currently performing around the country. Her latest single “2 AM” is available on iTunes, Spotify and Google Play. To stay updated on her performances and other news, follow her on Twitter at @BrookeSimpson.

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Li Cohen
When she isn't drinking a [probably excessive] cup of coffee, Li is reading and writing about local, national and international news. She can also be seen running around NYC in preparation of marathon season and travelling to new lands. Make sure to check out her work at liyakira.com, send her an email at liyakira9410@gmail.com and follow her journeys on Twitter (@WritingLiYakira) and Instagram (@LiYakira).
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