After Filipino-American singer Amy Vachal turned three chairs during her Oct. 5 blind audition for "The Voice," judge and coach Adam Levine was left sad about his team being full. "Not only am I sad that I didn't get to turn around for you, but you could win this whole thing," he said.
The 26-year-old from Somerset, New Jersey, who auditioned with "Dream A Little Dream Of Me" and will enter the competition's Battle Rounds stage this week, originally went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania to pursue an art degree, but after a traumatic injury she delved deep into music. Having already released two EPs, she is ready to go to the next level, and hopes that her "Voice" coach Pharrell will help get here there.
So how did you get into music?
I always loved music and I always secretly sang and I would try to write little songs here and there, but never out in public. It was always a secret passion that I held very dear to me for my whole life. I was coming out of an injury that I got from playing lacrosse in college and it was a transition period for me. I had to give up sports altogether and that was a big part of my life. In recovering from my concussion I ended up just writing songs in a prolific way, which is kind of surprising, but it became my new project, my new focus. It was really like a blessing in disguise. While it was really scary to go through an injury like that, it really opened a way for me to just jump in and go after it with everything I had.
Before auditioning for "The Voice," what were you doing?
I can say my entire life after graduation has been, you know, just trying to make ends meet in whatever way I can. Living in New York, sometimes you’re lucky and sometimes you’re very unlucky. I went through many different waitress jobs. I worked in a bakery. I worked in a bar. I would just get these opportunities to sing sometimes whether it be at a restaurant or a well-paying gig and somehow I got into doing more session work in the studio and for the past two years that has become my biggest source of income. From month to month it’s really a surprise. It’s like, “How am I going to make this work?” Every time that I am not going to make ends meet, I throw my hands up to God and say, “You are my provider.” And He has provided for me every time.
I see that you have gotten a lot of attention from the Filipino community. Do you feel really connected to that community?
Yes. I’m half Filipino. It’s crazy that there has been such a huge response and I have been overwhelmed by it. My mom was born and raised there. I’ve only been there three times in my entire life. The most recent was last fall and I went to go visit family. It happened to be right after this crazy hurricane hit the area where my mom is from and we weren’t sure if there was going to be a runway. We ended up going and we just jumped right into the relief efforts. Ever since that I’ve felt a special connection to the Filipino culture. I’m so grateful to be considered one of their own even though I’m a “hapa” baby.
"I had to get to a point where I was bringing the mentality I bring to every show, no matter how small, that it’s about connecting, and sharing your heart with all that you have in you."
What music inspired you growing up?
I listened to all sorts of stuff. My dad was really into bluegrass and that was always playing in my house. Every once in awhile he would whip out his guitar and I’d hear him Travis picking, and that embedded the seeds for loving bluegrass and old gospel soul. I have so many influences from so many different times and genres but what’s really important to me is the integrity of a good lyric and the marriage of that to right melody. That’s the kind of artist I aspire to be.
Is this your first time auditioning for "The Voice" and what made you take a shot at it?
This is my very first time. I actually got an invite on my birthday, of all days, last year to audition in New York. I wasn’t sure what to think at first. I was so excited but then I didn’t consider myself the kind of artist to go after something like this. My brother was like, “What do you have to lose?" I decided to just go after it and it’s just been blowing my mind ever since.
You turned three chairs around during your blind audition. What was that moment like?
Oh my goodness. That moment was something I’ll never forget. I’ve played so many shows in the city to a handful of people at a time and it’s always been a special thing and a new challenge with every new room of people. It was so different [on "The Voice"]. I am singing not only to the backs of four chairs but to more people than I have ever played to in my entire life. In that moment I had to get to a point where I was bringing the mentality I bring to every show, no matter how small, that it’s about connecting, and sharing your heart with all that you have in you.
Why did you decide to pick Pharrell as your coach?
I’ve always admired who he is. He is just a special person and he’s got this amazing spirit about him that most people would agree they just want to be around and learn from someone like that and that was my gut from the very start. I just felt like I could really learn the most from him and he would help push me further on the path that I want to go down.
How do you feel going into the Battle Rounds on Monday?
I’m excited. I’m a little nervous. This is a very different kind of challenge than I have ever done. I have definitely sung in duets before but never with the underlying understanding that there is going to be a winner and a loser, so that can make me a bit anxious but I’m excited.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.