The interaction between Ferguson and the four celebrity coaches following her blind audition for “The Voice” reveals both her ecumenical attitude towards music and a soul sisterhood with fellow New Yorker Alicia Keys.
Her rapport with Blake Shelton, an affable country singer who exemplifies the Nashville dichotomy of un-ironic romanticism and banal beer-and-pickup-trucks swagger, was warm from the outset.
When Ferguson informed him that she was from Greensboro, Shelton rejoined, “It’s the home of Wrangler. Didja know that?”
He continued: “I am probably not the guy that you were thinking, ‘Man, Blake would be a great coach for me,’ but —”
“That’s not true,” Ferguson interrupted.
The country singer got up and ran a victory lap around his chair.
In hindsight, Shelton didn’t have a chance.
“Vanessa, it’s so great to hear you sing and to vibe with you,” said Keys, an R&B singer from Manhattan who scored her first hit in 2001. “I love your song choice. I love the way you put your spin on it.”
“I’m from New York, originally,” Ferguson, said with mock exasperation, almost as if it should be obvious why Keys was vibing.
“I can imagine what I’m going to discover about you in regards to the other talents that you have, your story, and what you’re going to bring to the world, you know? ’Cause that’s what it’s about,” Keys added.
As a longtime fan who has interpreted the older singer’s pieces, the working relationship only confirmed what Ferguson already felt about her connection with Keys.
“She’s a lot like me — very strong willed yet very loving and open-minded,” Ferguson said. “Knows what she wants, doesn’t take no for an answer. We really are ‘kindred spirits.’ Those are her words. But I’ve always felt that. She reiterated a lot of things with me, things like being yourself is important, which is something I’ve always believed and lived according to that.”
The lessons in the working relationship went beyond music, and Keys imparted some of her holistic philosophy about life to Ferguson.
“I’m learning to be and not do all the time,” Ferguson said. “I believe in that a lot. I have a career. I love what I do. I also love what I am. I am a stepmom. I’m a fiancé. I’m a granddaughter. Those things are all important to me.”
Every contest is an artificial construct in a sense because life — and, in Ferguson’s case, a music career — continues regardless of whether triumph or defeat ensues. Ferguson wound up being eliminated from the show on May 16 after failing to garner enough votes to make the final four. (The ultimate winner, a singer from Knoxville, Tenn. named Chris Blue, was also a member of Team Alicia.)
Ferguson said her next move will probably be to record an album or an EP.
“I’m also working on doing a huge production with lighting, costumes, dancing and the whole thing,” she said. “I’ll get whoever of my friends are able to do it. It’s primarily going to be me because it’s my show, but it will have a lot of different things going on. It’s not just going to be a regular show with a band; it will be a full-on production.”
In the meantime, with hometown pride and love welling up for Ferguson, the city of Greensboro is hosting a block party at Center City Park at midday on Saturday, and that evening she’ll perform a free concert at Barber Park as a kind of thank-you gift to her local fans.
Jesse Larson, the soulful, bearded Minnesotan who made it to the finals of the 2017 season, reflected on Ferguson in a comment on the show: “There’s so much more to Vanessa that America has not seen yet.”
As the name implies, “The Voice” necessarily reduces music artists to one facet of their overall artistry.
Dressed in a red gown as she delivered an authoritative rendition of Luther Vandross’ “Superstar,” Ferguson proved during the May 15 semifinals that she meets the requirements of a classic soul diva, but she also stretched the show’s boundaries by mixing rap and vocals in her cover of the Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing)” the previous week.
“Me coming out and rapping was such a big deal because it had never been done before,” Ferguson said. “There was a lot more to me as an artist than I was able to show. There were some things I didn’t get to reveal such as playing the guitar. I wanted to pick up a bass on one song. There might be a little too much to me to show that’s hard to fit into nine or 10 performances.”
As testament that “The Voice” is neither the beginning nor the end of a music career as layered and established as Ferguson’s, she popped up on April 1 in the midst of taping for the show for a surprise guest appearance with blues guitarist Eric Gales at the Blue Note Grill in Durham. Dressed in plain black turtleneck, Ferguson gave a tender and affecting rendition of her song “With U” with Gales accompanying her on guitar on an arrangement they’d worked out earlier in the day in the break room at the Guitar Center in Greensboro.
Even though her run on “The Voice” wasn’t complete, she’d already triumphed.
“Vanessa, as you see, I was going crazy losing my mind jumping up and down like a lunatic,” Keys told her after her semi-final performance of “Superstar.” “But because I know what you went through to find this beautiful place and for you to just uncover yourself in this way and really, really see you completely, and I feel like you are blooming and blossoming and opening, becoming just unafraid of your greatness and the phenomenal woman that you are.”