Soulful, eclectic New Orleans singer Tonya Boyd-Cannon got national exposure this year when she competed in the NBC singing competition series “The Voice.”
In February, “The Voice” viewers watched Boyd-Cannon sing Pharrell’s “Happy” for her “blind audition,” as it’s called. She sang her final solo, Elton John’s “Take Me to the Pilot,” on the show in April. Following her Top 20 placement on “The Voice,” Boyd-Cannon is moving on.
“It’s time for me to take that fire that ‘The Voice’ started and keep it burning,” the singer and educator said last week, just after she dismissed her students in the Little Village Youth Ensemble theater camp.
“I’m just going to take everything that I did, stand on top of it and keep pushing.”
Boyd-Cannon is taking another step forward with her Essence Festival debut as a solo artist. She’ll sing Saturday at the Soul of R&B Superlounge. Previously, she made guest appearances at the 2012 Essence Festival with the Stooges Brass Band and rap star Eve.
Boyd-Cannon, a performer who’s heard “no” many times during her career, believes her appearances on “The Voice” can inspire others to reach for their dreams.
“The show allowed me to be a voice for those who want to be on ‘The Voice’ or whatever show they have in mind,” she said.
Boyd-Cannon won her spot on the program’s eighth season through in-person auditions in New Orleans and Los Angeles. Her earlier video submission to the program had been rejected. Nearly a decade before, the singer’s 2005 try at “American Idol” met the same fate.
Boyd-Cannon’s first successful in-person audition for “The Voice” came on a cold and rainy winter day in New Orleans.
“I knew they were in town,” she remembered. “I said, ‘I don’t care who says what. I’m going to audition.’ ”
When she arrived at the tryouts, Boyd-Cannon, a wife and mother in her 30s and a former Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputy, sat among the other hopefuls, feeling as if she was surrounded by children.
“All of these kids were vying for the same thing that I wanted, which was an opportunity to share their gift with everybody,” she said.
When her turn to audition came, Boyd-Cannon sang the Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Later, she couldn’t believe what she heard.
“The producer said, ‘Thank you all so much for coming. I need to see Tonya Boyd-Cannon.’ I was like, ‘Huh? You need to see who?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I want to see you.’ I was like, ‘OK, all right.’ ”
Boyd-Cannon’s next step to becoming a contestant was a flight to Los Angeles, her first visit to that show business capital. The show sent a driver to pick her up at Los Angeles International Airport.
“People there holding a sign up with my name on it,” she said. “ ‘We’re here to pick you up.’ When they escorted me to the hotel, I felt like the president.”
Boyd-Cannon was back home when she got word about her audition in L.A.
“They said, ‘We want you on the show.’ I started screaming. My daughter screamed. I called my husband. He was like, ‘There it is, babe. There it is. That hard work has paid off.’ ”
Although she didn’t win “The Voice,” Boyd-Cannon, who sings in the low, rather rare contralto range, can apply her experiences on the show to the rest of her career.
“Everything I went through, it was truly rewarding,” she said. “I learned that I can’t hit some notes that everyone else can hit, but also that nobody has my voice or my style. That made me even more comfortable with who I am as an artist.”
Performing under her own name at the Essence Festival for the first time is a great honor, Boyd-Cannon said. It’s also another dream made real.
“I know it takes work to get there, but I believe big, I dream big.”