Update: Casi Joy tweeted that she will be performing on “The Voice” tonight. “I can’t believe this day is finally here. I’ve been working so hard, & I can’t wait to give you the performance of a lifetime.”
Music came into Casi Joy’s life early. And she invited it herself. She was 5 years old, and she and her family, the McCalls, had just moved to Smithville from Osage Beach, Mo.
“Smithville was having a talent show on the courtyard stage downtown,” she said. “I told my parents I wanted to do the talent show. There was no music in my family prior to this, so they were pretty taken aback by the randomness of me wanting to do a talent show. But I did it and fell in love with the stage and performing, and my parents jumped on board with me.”
The song she sang was “Angels Among Us,” an Alabama tune that she’d practiced alongside a karaoke version.
“That’s how I got interested in singing,” she said. “A super-random song for a little kid to be singing.”
It was also the start of her interest in country music, which she has parlayed onto a stage much larger than the one in Smithville’s courtyard. This week, Casi Joy will compete in the live-performance round of “The Voice,” the singing competition that airs at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC.
It will be her fourth performance on the show. She chose country star Blake Shelton to be her coach after her blind audition, when she sang the LeAnn Rimes hit “Blue,” and all four judges turned their chairs for her. (The YouTube clip of her audition is nearing 3 million views.)
After that, she won a battle round by singing a Reba McEntire hit, “How Blue,” and advanced again after her performance of “My Church,” a hit for Maren Morris.
Joy, a graduate of Smithville High (2008) and Park University, talked to The Star recently about the role of music in her life, her life in Nashville, her experience so far on “The Voice” and how her hometown has embraced her.
Q: Your first live performance was in Smithville when you were 5. What happened after that?
A: From there we started doing the Midwest Opry circuit. I’d perform all around Missouri and Kansas. My mom booked those shows for me, and I had like a set list of some classic country songs. So I’d sing a lot of Reba, Brenda Lee, Tanya Tucker, Patsy Cline. That gave me a lot of experience with a band.
From the Oprys I went to Radio Disney and did that for a few years and was in a girl group called the Commotions. That was when I was about 12 to 14.
Q: Did you ever take any kind of music lessons?
A: Not really. I’m pretty much self-taught on vocals, guitar and piano. In high school, I was in the Lakeside Singers, which is like a choir. I also did the musical every year.
Q: You were also in the School of Rock. What was that like?
A: We did a lot of Beatles, a lot of ’80s rock, some funk-reggae. The music was all over the place. I remained really inspired by the traditional country artists.
But I was also very influenced by Paramore and Evanescence while I was with the School of Rock. I’m kind of a mixture of Patsy Cline and Evanescence.
Q: When did you start songwriting?
A: I started writing more seriously during my time with the School of Rock. I started a rock band with some other school members, called In Light. We put out an album. That was rock, kind of pop-rock. After that band broke up in 2012, I went back to country music.
Q: What else were you involved in at Smithville High School?
A: I did track and soccer and was on the dance team. For soccer I was all-conference and all-district, and in track I made it to sectionals.
Q: Then you went on to college.
A: Yes, I went to Park University on a track scholarship. I did the triple-jump. I got my bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
Q: After graduation, you turned solely to music.
A: Yes. The year I graduated (2012) was the year I decided to pursue a solo career in country music. It was a big turning point. I decided I couldn’t choose teaching over music so I really dove back in and decided to start writing country music and really pursuing it.
I was doing a lot of acoustic gigs around town in the Northland. I played all the Brew Tops. I always played Hot Summer Nights in Smithville. That’s when I started thinking about going to Nashville.
Q: What inspired you to move to Nashville?
A: We did everything we could every single weekend, traveling all over to try to get discovered. But it wasn’t happening. And I knew that after all this time if I was ever going to make this happen I had to bite the bullet, make the sacrifice and go to Nashville. Having the support from my parents and my fiancé gave me the courage to go out there. I moved there New Year’s Day 2015.
Q: How is life in Nashville?
A: When I first got there, it was crazy. It’s definitely overwhelming. There is music 24/7. If you want to play a gig, there’s always an open-mic happening. So that was incredible and inspiring to be completely surrounded by music and incredible talent. It was inspiring and overwhelming, but I definitely don’t regret it.
At first it’s so hard to get noticed. It’s a huge sea of incredible talent that it’s really hard to break out of it. I pretty quickly got into the Broadway circuit and that has been a saving grace for me. It has helped me as a musician, playing for tips four hours every day.
Q: Have you collaborated with anyone in Nashville?
A: I’ve done a few co-writes, but mainly I play solo/acoustic. I write pretty much by myself.
Q: Do you get to perform your own songs much?
A: I do originals every once in a while when I’m downtown. But we work in tips, so if you want me to play “Wagon Wheel” for the 1,000th time I’ll do it — if you put $20 in the jar.
Q: How did your road to “The Voice” begin?
A: It began in July. I was in Minnesota on a family vacation, and I got the call to try out — in like two days. We all had to come together and pool some money to get me a plane ticket from Minnesota to L.A. I had to get an outfit together because I only packed bikinis and sundresses. It was insane but, again, my family came through for me.
Q: This wasn’t your first attempt at “The Voice.”
A: I’d tried out several times before. I told Blake I don’t think all those other times were my time. Since I moved to Nashville and started writing and becoming a better guitarist, it makes much more sense for this to be happening now. I’ve grown so much more. I’ve gained a lot more vocal control, a lot more stamina in my voice. And I recognized who I am as an artist and to be the kind of country artist I am.
Q: What has the experience been like so far?
A: It’s been incredible. I’ve dreamed of getting to a stage and a platform like this since I was 5 years old. And my family and I have been working so hard for something like this. So to keep hearing a “yes” week after week from such prestigious names in the music business is an absolute dream come true.
Getting a glimpse of what it could be like and to get to a place where I’m hanging with the Blake Sheltons and the Luke Bryans and to have a tiny look inside their world has been so incredible. It pushes me even harder to reach that level.
Q: What have you learned?
A: I’ve learned a lot from Blake already. He’s taught me to make sure there’s a sense of finesse in the song. You can’t just come out guns-a-blazing.
And he has helped me understand who I am as a country artist. He coined me as an “edgier” country singer, and I think he hit the nail on the head. It has really helped me keep branding myself as I move forward.
Q: Did you know that edge was there or did he bring it out?
A: I kind of did. I just really didn’t understand how to say it. I’m quirky and weird. I’m not a blond bombshell of a country artist. You’ll never catch me wearing cowboy boots. But I didn’t really understand how to approach it. Blake has really helped me with that.
Q: Are you ready for the live performance?
A: I’m a little nervous about it. We’ll also be moving to in-ear monitors, so I’m a little terrified of having an Adele moment or something, like if my sound isn’t right or not working. I’m definitely nervous about that. But live music is what I’ve always done.
Q: What can you tell us about what will happen this week?
A: I am extremely excited about the song I’ll be doing. It was definitely one of my top choices. I just had my performance wardrobe fitting today so I’m super-excited about my outfit as well. So I’m ready to rock and roll, in a country way.
Q: What has the support of your hometown meant to you?
A: I am so proud to be from a small town. They’ve been so supportive. Just as I moved there was when all this music started in my life. There are still people in town who were at my very first performance, so it’s kind of surreal to get to share this moment with them.
It means so much to Smithville to share this experience. That first show was on the courtyard stage, and I’ll be back on that same stage Aug. 5 for Hot Summer Nights.
Where to watch
“The Voice” airs at 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday on NBC.