There are perhaps scores of music talent hopefuls who dream of the day when they can just get their big break, and get the right person in the music industry to sit up and take notice of them. But that’s not how it was for 2017 The Voice finalist, Michelle John.
It took 43-year-old Michelle three years to agree to The Voice’s repeated invitations to enter the TV talent competition.
“I was singing at a venue about three years ago,” Michelle reports, “when a scout for The Voice approached me and offered the invitation. I declined because I really didn’t feel confident enough to put myself out there in that way. Besides, I was comfortable in my role as a backing singer, so appearing on The Voice was just not something that I wanted to do.”
Hearing Michelle admit to lack of confidence may seem surprising, when one considers that she is an accomplished backing vocalist, having successfully done vocals for the likes of Eric Clapton, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Joss Stone, Carole King, Mary J Blige and Mariah Carey.
“But, as a backing singer, the pressure of performance is not as much on you as it is on the main artist,” Michelle explained. “But I believe that my lack of confidence had roots in my childhood. I was a Mixed-race girl, from a single parent family, where my siblings were all Black. So I grew up in a family of beautiful dark-skinned people, and that always made me feel like the odd one out. I was also brought up in a Black church, where I was labelled as ‘the White girl who could sing’—that, again, highlighted my oddness. And something about living with those differences always made me feel fragile in adult life.”
Despite that gnawing lack of confidence, Michelle’s career as a singer blossomed. She said she never planned any of it, but it all started when Songs of Praise came to her local church to do one of their recordings during a Sunday morning service. A music producer spotted Michelle when the programme was aired on BBC; he contacted the BBC, found Michelle, and the contact led to her doing a dance gospel house track. From there, many other doors began to open up for her.
Michelle subsequently met Bazil Meade, who invited her to join the London Community Gospel Choir, of which she was a member for at least 11 years. Her journey took her to performances in many shows; had her working with many artists, and being a part of many albums. It was during this time that she was asked to do backing singing, and the whole world of backing vocals – for which she is now primarily known – unveiled itself.
In 2016, when The Voice approached her for the third time, Michelle finally accepted the invitation.
“I was then working on my album,” Michelle said, “and I felt that it would be a good time to enter to get some exposure for my album, but also to make a statement of leading from the front in ONSD (Oh No She Didn’t)—a women’s group where we meet every other month, and where women are encouraged to showcase their gifts and talents. I established ONSD in 2015. It was birthed as a result of my experience in a domestically violent relationship and my resulting passion to empower women to step out and to make their mark, so that they can share their testimonies in order to help others to grow and to come through their struggles victoriously. So taking part in The Voice was a bold statement in that arena of stepping out and presenting what I had to offer. But it also meant coming out of my comfort zone, and transitioning from the role of backing singer to the role right at the front.
“I still had a sense of lacking confidence. I would question whether what I did matched up to what others were doing; whether I was good enough to be there. Even though I’d accomplished many things musically—I even performed in Madison Square Garden—I was conscious that I didn’t have the formal training qualifications. But the end result of getting to the finals in The Voice has given me the endorsements I needed to gain the confidence that I am good enough and that I can do this!
“So many people—men and women—have sent me amazing messages about my bravery of going on the show, and how it has inspired them. My son, who is 18, thinks I am a champion. I am thrilled about that, because he is at that age where he is making important life decisions and, as parents, we have to give them good examples to encourage them.
“I could not have done any of it without the backing of my family. They have supported me throughout the process, and especially in practical things like seeing to my son’s welfare. It’s almost like a reversal of roles: as the oldest, I used to look after my siblings, but now they are looking after me. They are like my managers and I am very blessed.”
Following The Voice, the future looks even brighter for Michelle. “Several opportunities are in the process of opening up,” she said. “My album is completed, and I hope to release it later this year. It’s an inspirational album, and it tells the story of my journey as a single mum and the things I have overcome. I am also preparing to do a tour of live shows across the UK, details of which are on my website: www.michellejohn.co.uk.”
Michelle’s 2013 EP, ‘Little Me’ – an ode to herself as an eight-year-old girl, assuring her that she would be OK – is available on iTunes.