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Little Warrior

Vicci Martinez took her warrior spirit to national television and emerged stronger than ever before

VICCI MARTINEZ: She literally packed this year's Art on the Ave. Photo credit: Steve Dunkelberger

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At this point in humankind's evolution, the televised singing competition - aided in no small part by American Idol - has abstracted to the point of a never-ending, sensory-obliterating series of lights and sounds. Contestants have had all personality (if, indeed, they ever possessed any) drained, vampire-like, from their bodies. What remains of these often young, hapless individuals is a perpetual marketing machine made up of interchangeable ciphers.

All of this being said - and, to be fair, it is being said more dramatically than it may deserve - the concept of NBC's The Voice was an unusually intriguing one. Yes, we were told, it is a singing competition, but it will put a paramount on the one thing that a singer must provide: the voice. The show's celebrity judges would sit facing away from the contestants as they auditioned, so that the judges couldn't be influenced by age, attractiveness or any level of marketability that did not solely hinge on the quality of the voice. It was a brilliant idea.

Had that been that, I would've tuned in a couple times and probably forgotten about it. But when promos started popping up showing someone who looked an awful lot like Tacoma's own Vicci Martinez, I was hooked. Unlike American Idol, contestants on The Voice were invited to come and audition. Producers scoured the Internet for working musicians - for people who were established, to varying degrees, and playing around in their regions. Martinez was chosen to perform.

"(The Voice) contacted my manager, Beth Tallman, and asked her to convince me to do it, because they knew I didn't want to do anything like American Idol," says Martinez. "I liked the concept, especially the blind audition idea. I thought, ‘That's cool. It'd be totally based on my voice, if they like me.' ... Even my girlfriend said it, one morning. She said, ‘It's like a big commercial. You get to be on NBC and have a big commercial about you. What's wrong with that?'"

Martinez's first appearance on The Voice, on the aforementioned "blind" auditions, featured her performing Adele's new-soul banger "Rolling in the Deep," which proved to be impressive enough to convince judges Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera to turn their chairs around (rounding out the group of four judges were country singer Blake Shelton and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine). Martinez was faced with the decision of choosing between Green and Aguilera, and ended up going with Green as her "coach."

In the following weeks, Martinez distinguished herself from the group of contestants, not only through outstanding performances but with her selflessness and seeming lightheartedness about the pageantry of the show. Take, for instance, the battle round, in which teammates were made to duet on a song, after which one teammate would be eliminated. This was the most surprising and perverse aspect of The Voice, as it's not quite natural to sing with and, simultaneously, against another person. Her duet on Pink's "Fuckin' Perfect" was notable in both her and her partner Niki Dawson's clear desire to make the song as good as it could be, and to forgo the kind of "playful" animosity that hung over others' duets.

"Mine and Niki's battle round definitely got a lot of attention because of how sincere it was," says Martinez. "Cee Lo even admitted that he didn't pick that battle pairing. He was really busy, so his assistant made that decision. And Cee Lo was pretty upset that he put two great singers against each other. But I thought that was so great, because that's what the show was about. I think it would have been too safe to put your weakest with a strong one ... Niki and I were both fans of each other, and we said, ‘Whoever wins, let's at least make a great duet, so that we do the song justice.' And we did."

With the pool of contestants being whittled down, Martinez continued to stand out in a group of similarly impressive and seasoned performers on the basis of her vibrant live presence and on the merits of her smoky, impassioned vocals. Coming out of the gate with "Jolene" when the onus of deciding who leaves and who stays was transferred over to the viewing public was a bit of a dicey movie. That classic Dolly Parton song is brutal in its absolute vulnerability. As Green noted in his criticism of the performance, it takes a brave person to reveal the kind of doubt and sense of inadequacy that the song depicts. But the performance proved winning, and Martinez moved on to the next round.

"I was actually going to be given a different song for the first live round, and I put up a fight," says Martinez. "I said, ‘I've made it this far. I don't want to misrepresent myself, and I don't want to misrepresent your TV show. You guys are doing such a great job at being so authentic and letting us be authentic and be ourselves.' I was talking them into it."

She followed up "Jolene" with a rousing rendition of Florence + the Machine's "The Dog Days Are Over," which featured Martinez on drums. Here, and in other cases, the term "war dance" was invoked. Since her first appearance on the show, a trademark of hers was this kind of stomping intensity that seemed to grab Green's attention.

"At home, that was already happening," says Martinez. "I've been called a little warrior by fans. I've been called Mowgli by my family since I was kid - like from The Jungle Book. I guess it's just something that was already in me, that NBC was just going with."

As the little warrior, Martinez got nearly to the top of the competition, ultimately placing third after winner Javier Colon and runner-up Dia Frampton. But, Martinez says, she wasn't surprised by the outcome.

"It was just so cool and incredible to be able to make it to the finale," says Martinez. "After they told me I was a finalist, the week before, I started celebrating then ... I made it so that I could enjoy the present moment I was in, and enjoy that I was a finalist. So, (the other finalists and I) would have drinks together with the coaches and shoot the shit and really enjoy each other's company. It was a great time."

We've learned, over the years, that there are no real losers in a competition like this. Just like she predicted, Martinez effectively had a televised, weeks-long audition for anyone who happened to be watching. As of the last time Martinez and I spoke, she wasn't able to reveal all of the details, but she is being courted by a label and says an album is in the works.

She is nowhere near finished showing America her warrior spirit.

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Comments for "Little Warrior" (1)

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Denise said on Jul. 14, 2011 at 10:57am

Vicci is awesome, she was our favorite for the beginning ..

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