Happy to be Home on the Beach After “The Voice”
The popular NBC-TV program “The Voice” has become one of the most valued platforms for singers to show millions of people, all at the same time, that they have something special to share with the world. Leading up to that nerve-wracking moment, when after auditioning with thousands of other hopeful singers in five major cities across the United States, all hoping to be chosen for one of 48 televised audition slots (known as The Blind Auditions, or ‘The Blinds’)*, each singer brings a lifetime of hopes and dreams and experiences to the stage. For many of them, they have spent years grinding away in the corner of a bar or restaurant for a bit of cash, or they grew up singing in church, or school, or even achieved a measure of success at some point. Yet even with a loyal group of followers, very few musicians get to play their own music, or their choice of music, for people who are really tuned in to what they are doing. While it is beyond valuable to learn to focus in a less-than-ideal environment (like a bar with televisions blaring, loud conversations bouncing around, well-meaning folks looming dangerously and drunkenly near your amps, speakers or mic stand, and with so many people not even aware that it is you, and not the piped-in radio, that they are hearing), the chance to perform before a rapt audience is a gift for a singer.
Due to any number of circumstances, there are many extraordinary artists out there who will play out their days in our area’s local bars and venues, and more than a few are quite happy to do so. Among them, some are known to many famous people in the music industry, and actually record, tour and even co-write songs with them. They are highly regarded by their peers, the A-List players and their hard-core fans. So why aren’t they famous celebrities if they’re that good? The short answer: personal priorities, marketing savvy and just plain luck.
Among our locally-based world class musicians as mentioned above, we have gotten to know one of this year’s “The Voice” Blind Audition winners, Sheena Brook. But before she tells her story, there are some things one needs to understand about the show to fully appreciate Sheena’s nearly year-long journey from Southwest Florida to Los Angeles, California.
There are several things that set “The Voice” apart from the field of talent shows on television. First and foremost, is the mentoring of the contestants by some of the most successful, talented and beyond-popular stars in the music business. This year features Blake Shelton, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani and Adam Levine, along with a host of special celebrity advisors including Celine Dion, Luke Bryan, John Legend and DJ Khaled. These music luminaries have worked their way to the top of the heap, have maintained their success and celebrity status for decades, and happily share invaluable advice and insight into the world of show biz with the artists chosen to be on their teams.
One cannot talk about the uniqueness of “The Voice” without talking about Paul Mirkovich and the incredible band and backup singers who play for the contestants throughout the rehearsal, recording and performance process. No matter what the genre is, these pros can play anything and everything.
Last weekend, we sat down with Sheena and her best friend, biggest fan and wife – Summer Stockton – to talk about what led to her appearance on “The Voice,” and what she has taken from the experience.
Born in Lee Memorial Hospital, Sheena is a bona fide ‘Florida Cracker,’ like her mother and father before her. Her family moved all around Lee County, which meant changing schools often, from Orange River Elementary School, to Villas Elementary School, then Suncoast Middle School, some homeschooling, then Mariner High School, and finally Southwest Florida Christian Academy. “I’ve literally lived all over Lee County.”
When Sheena got her license at the age of 17, a trip over the bridge to Fort Myers Beach became a nearly daily afterschool ritual. “I always have felt like this is my home.” Since her appearance on “The Voice,” her local fans have asked her if she is going to move away to seek fame and fortune. “I just say to them to go look out there,” as she gestures in the general direction of the Gulf of Mexico from her seat on the patio at The Tuckaway, where she and Summer Stockton are enjoying some coffeehouse treats at ‘their place.’ “This is where I live. It’s not that I don’t move around. I do travel a lot. I mean, with this girl,” leaning toward Summer. “We work hard, we’re always pushing and we travel. But we always love coming home to Fort Myers Beach.”
A little over two years ago she met Summer, and Sheena says her life has radically changed for the better since then. Her life up to that point had been a series of confusing and heartbreaking moments that tested her lifelong faith and nearly blew her family apart. “My family moved around a lot, but we went to the same church for a really long time.” Her parents were not clergy, but they were, as Sheena puts it, heavily involved. “I was groomed for ministry-type work.” But when she was 16, she and another girl were caught kissing, and she was made to go to counseling. She was told that if she didn’t get married to a man, no one would ever take her seriously, and that “God can’t use you”, because Sheena liked girls instead of boys. Eventually, after more counseling and pressure, when she was 22 or so, Sheena married a man who was a member of the same church. “It was a really dysfunctional situation. I was really lost in my own faith.” Sheena’s life spiraled into despair. “I was so miserable.”
After four years, they divorced, and Sheena ‘came out’ to her family. She says her brother Chris was key to helping build the bridge between her and her parents, and has been with her “every step of the way.” She explains how many of her parents’ fears and concerns faded away.
“As soon as they met Summer, there was a huge difference” in their whole attitude. Sheena holds no ill will toward her parents either. “They believed in what they were saying. They really thought they were helping me.” And Sheena says they love Summer and how happy their daughter is with her. “My whole life changed so much for the better.” She leans into her wife’s shoulder and says, “No one believes in me more than Summer does.”
With her unbridled support, Summer encouraged Sheena to break out on her own as a solo artist after several years playing in various bands. Going out on her own really pushed her to learn how to accompany herself on guitar. Her first instrument is piano, but she doesn’t feel it provides enough rhythmic support on a solo gig. If you happen to catch her at La Ola in Time Square, you will see she has a tambourine under her foot, and music ‘toys’ hanging from her mic stand. “I have so much respect for these guys who play on the beach five or six days a week, and they know every song in the book. The truth is, I don’t know a lot of songs, so I have to employ the things I do know how to do so that I entertain myself and the audience.” She adds, “The more I solo gig, the better I get.”
“Walk Through Every Door”
Last June, Summer loaded up their truck and told Sheena they were going to “The Voice” auditions in Atlanta, Georgia. In their relationship, Sheena is the artist, and Summer is the catalyst. “Sheena’s a very giving and loving person,” Summer explains, “and I’m the person who will not let anyone take advantage of that.” Sheena concurs adding, “She’s very smart.”
Talking about that trip to Atlanta, Sheena recreates a bit of the conversation that won her over to the idea. “Summer said to me, ‘Let’s walk through that door. It doesn’t matter if you get on the show or not. You could be told ‘no’ a thousand times. But if you don’t try, you’ll regret it. So let’s walk through every door.’ And that’s how we work,” Sheena adds. “We walk through every door.”
‘The Voice’ attracts very talented singers from all over the world, mainly the U.S. Talking about the incredibly talented and friendly, supportive people she met that day, Sheena pops her eyes wide and says with a combination of wonder and respect, “Do you know how many people I met in the Atlanta audition line that were amazing? There are so many very talented people out there.” Yet, in spite of the very fierce competition, the hopefuls in line were for the most part very friendly. This culture of mutual support and respect is engendered by the stars and staff at the show, and is a big part of its appeal. “Everyone on the show, all the stars and staff and musicians, are incredibly nice and helpful.” Sheena says this was one of the best take-aways from the experience.
Winning the “The Voice” opens many doors, but it’s not the be-all, end-all for the contestants or the champion. Sheena emphasizes that fame and fortune are not the driving forces or inspiration behind her multi-faceted voice and the songs she sings and writes. It is not why she pours her heart out in her music, whether she’s in a bar or on a concert stage or in a studio. “To me, it’s mostly hard work and not giving up. It’s doing what you love.”
For those who have been following her on “The Voice,” this week’s Battle between Sheena and Hanna Eyre was awesome. Sheena and Hanna both sang their hearts out and blew everyone away. But in the end, Hanna was chosen to stay on the show. Sheena never intimated or implied any sort of disappointment during our interview. Her appearance on “The Voice” has given her exposure to millions of people, and she has won the hearts of thousands of new fans; the opportunities that have presented themselves abound.
As the conversation wound down last weekend, it was clear that Sheena is very happy about her life and the direction it has taken. “My entire life changed for the better when I met Summer. When you are with the right person and when you are surrounded by positivity, support and unconditional love, your whole life will change. I really hope people get that message. If those people who congratulate me and thank me for my music only knew… they’d be thanking Summer too.”
Sheena Brook is a warm, sincere woman with an amazing set of vocal chops and a writing talent that had already won her notice and respect in the business, before her appearance on “The Voice.” But talent and ability alone cannot carry someone through the crazy life of a working musician. “I think it’s a very powerful thing,” Sheena says, “and I’ve said this before: I wish more artists could find this balance between ambition and contentment, because sometimes we let the fun and the beauty of artistry fade in ourselves. It is a battle. But I’m not trying to be famous. I just want to do what I want to do. And,” she says playfully with a nod in Summer’s direction, “I want to do it with this broad.”
* The Blind Audition or ‘The Blinds’ and Beyond
To those unfamiliar with the show, this is the audition that really levels the playing field. There are four celebrity judge/coaches who sit with their backs to the stage. They cannot see the singer and have absolutely no idea about them or their story before they even sing a note. If the contestant gets one or more of the coaches to turn their chair around, then the singer has ‘passed’ the audition and wins a slot on one of the celebrity’s teams. Adam Levine turned his chair. Ultimately, each team has 12 contenders, or singers who have been chosen to be on that celebrity’s team, making 48 total contestants who actually appear on the televised show. The process of paring down the teams pits teammates and then singers from other teams in Battle Rounds and Knockout Rounds. For more information about the structure and schedule of the show, go to the show’s website, Facebook page, or phone app.