Persistence paid off for Holly Tucker, the local girl with the big voice and down-to-earth personality who found herself in the national spotlight on Season 4 of NBC’s “The Voice.”
Undeterred by previous tryouts for competitive talent shows such as” The X Factor,” “American Idol,” “America’s Got Talent” and even Season 1 of “The Voice,” Tucker was certain her time to shine was near.
“You just have to be confident in what you have, and I knew I was there for a reason,” she said.
Tucker, 20, had matured into the singer and performer who would earn a No. 6 spot on the show and a loyal fan base who keep telling her not to stop.
Tucker said she walked off that “huge” stage with more confidence and poise than she would have mustered on her own.
It was a long road from when she auditioned for the show in July 2012 in Irving where thousands of hopefuls turned out. Despite the crowd, one of the producers remembered Tucker from when she first auditioned for the show four years earlier.
This time, they called her back to Dallas two weeks later for on-camera auditions and interviews intended to pare down the pool to 170 contestants who would stand before a bank of celebrity “coaches” in Los Angeles.
In fact, she also was called back after three tries for “American Idol,” but was already in the process for “The Voice.”
“I think she was more ready in a lot of ways in terms of maturity and stage presence, and her voice has matured,” said her father, Johnny Tucker. “She has been in the studio a lot and dabbled in writing. There has been a steady improvement since she was 16. She hasn’t been sitting still.”
Tucker was even taking a full load of classes at Baylor, where she is majoring in business and Spanish, when she received the call to audition again in October in Los Angeles. She was told to be prepared to stay, so she made arrangements with her professors to complete her classes via email and online.
Tucker’s parents, Cheryl and Johnny, were there in October when she performed Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” in a blind audition before judges Adam Levine, Usher, Shakira and Blake Shelton and a live audience at the Warner Brothers studio.
The show’s premise is that the coaches, or judges, listen to the singer while their chairs are turned toward the audience. They give their approval by turning around to face the contestant while he or she performs.
“All four coaches turned around, and anytime you get that, that’s special,” said Johnny Tucker. “The rest is history. The show is really screening, and they are looking for the best talent and best voices.”
The Tuckers soon gained a sense for the kind of attention the show attracts.
“When the first show aired March 25, 11.3 million people watched and increased to 14 (million) to 15 million by the end of the season,” Johnny Tucker said. “That’s pressure, and you know your performance will catapult you to the next level. All the kids in the top 16 are super-talented and could have won the show.”
The team-based show landed Tucker on the team of country singer Blake Shelton, who has charted 24 country singles, including 14 No. 1s and has been nominated four times for a Grammy Award.
Shelton coached Tucker and the other contestants on his team by helping them select songs to perform from week to week.
“I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to have my confidence built up,” Holly said. “Blake would tell me ‘You’ve already got the gift and the voice, so just loosen up and enjoy it.’ I just have to remember to forget about all that and have fun.”
Tucker took his advice and also took risks, such as performing a traditional hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” and never wavering from her deep-rooted faith.
“I’ve grown up in church with really good parents who have taught me the values I need as a person,” Tucker said. “I select my songs really carefully. I don’t do trashy songs. I’m not going to go to another level and sing about things that are not me. I want to be the type of artist that people can listen to and really feel good.”
The night she sang the hymn, which was selected days in advance, the country was reeling from the devastating tornadoes in Moore, Okla.
“Nobody knew the tornadoes would be that Monday morning,” Johnny said. “The show opened with Holly singing that song. That touched a chord with America. That song gave America some hope, and that was probably as a great a moment as Holly had.”
Her version of “How Great Thou Art” debuted at No. 35 on the Hot 100 Country Billboard on June 5.
“There was a lot of buzz around the country about it,” Johnny said. “It was the first time anyone had sung an overtly Christian song on any of the talent shows.”
Tucker also enjoyed showing off her sassier side with her rendition of “Done” by The Band Perry.
“It was one of my favorite songs to do because it one of my first times to do a sassy, upbeat song,” Holly said. “I had a lot of adrenaline going through me, and it was a great feeling.”
Another high point on “The Voice” was getting Oklahoma native Shelton to do a “Sic ’em” in honor of her Baylor Bears, she said.
“You have a moment with America, and Holly had a couple of those that we’re real proud of,” said Johnny, citing when all four judges turned their chairs at the blind audition and the night she sang “How Great Thou Art.”
Another unforgettable moment was Holly’s last solo performance on “The Voice,” he said.
“The night she was eliminated, we were there,” Johnny said. “It was tough because she was the only artist through the entire season who was eliminated by herself.”
Despite being eliminated June 4, Holly said she turned a pivotal corner as a performer by being thrust onto the national stage.
“When you have a big audience and a huge stage to fill, you want to use every part of it,” she said. “I saw myself transform into a better performer. I learned how to move on the stage and feel comfortable with that. I always knew I had something, but I didn’t know how far it would take me.”
Tucker left the show a week too early for the home visits where the show gives more insight into where the performer comes from.
“She would have loved to give Waco and Baylor more of a shout-out,” said Cheryl, who tried to stay strong because she knew Holly would be disappointed.
“It was hard for me because they would call her last or next to last in the weeks prior. That’s a real gut-wrenching thing,” said Cheryl. “My heart hurt for her. She had an idea it would be her, but she still wanted that one more week. She handled it like a pro, so I had to handle it like a pro.”
Even so, Holly had to gather her things and head to New York City the next morning for an appearance on “The Today Show.”
“Team Blake Season 4 will always be a family,” she said. “We all have each other’s numbers and stay in touch. I think ultimately people chose their favorites, and I think we all got to where we did for a reason and I see that now.”
Tucker got to keep three outfits from the show as well as her custom “blinged-out” cowboy boots that were a gift from a fan who makes boots in Sweetwater, Texas.
“When I saw them, I fell in love with them,” she said. “They gave me something extra to stand out.”
The boots also made their way to Korea when Holly’s luggage was separated during her trip to New York City.
“It took three or four days to get them back,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I love them!”
Tucker said she will always cherish getting to perform in the Healing the Heartland concert with Shelton and other stars as a tribute to the Oklahoma tornado victims.
“We don’t have answers for something like that,” she said. “All we can do is help them get through it.” Tucker and other contestants visited Moore and the site of the school that was destroyed by the tornado.
Her lifelong supporters are her parents and brothers, Travis and Shane, who have applauded her since she first started performing on stage at age 12 at festivals, fairs, churches and schools.
“I am not a stage mom,” Cheryl said. “I don’t have the energy nor the desire to be a dance mom or a stage mom. She’s the one who energizes this and stayed in her room practicing for hours. She is her own worst critic. If the note isn’t right, she’ll work on it. If the phrase isn’t right, she’ll work on it.”
Tucker graduated from Lorena High School in 2011 before heading to Baylor and attends First Baptist Church Woodway.
“We did a lot of church singing, and she has a good range and control so we branched out and did these little oprys around Texas and Louisiana,” Cheryl said.
Because Johnny was a music major at Baylor, Cheryl plays the piano and brother, Travis, is a percussionist, the Tuckers were immersed in music, performing positive country and Christian music. Holly also plays piano, saxophone and acoustic guitar.
Holly already has five CDs under her belt, including some of her own songs, “Twice as Strong,” “Unbreakable” and C”ould’ve Had Me.” Her last project is a three-song mini CD on Baylor’s UPROAR Records titled “Something to be Said.” Her first full-length country music CD, “It’s About Time,” was produced in 2007 in collaboration with contemporary Christian music singer and songwriter Chris Wommack.
Tucker’s website says that some of her influences are Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Billy Gilman, Jimmy Wayne and Carrie Underwood.
In 2007, Tucker was named Waco Idol by Mix 92.9 FM, and performed the Star-Spangled Banner at Waco’s Fourth on the Brazos celebration and fireworks show. She repeated that honor again in 2012. She also performed for the opening show last year at the Waco Cultural Arts Fest.
She won the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame’s John Ritter Showcase in 2011 in Carthage and female vocalist of the year and solo act of the year from the Music Association of Central Texas. In 2012, she won D&D’s Got Talent of the Northeast Tarrant Chamber of Commerce, and local FOX 44’s pre-American Idol competition, Central Texas Idol.
“Singing at an early age helped her learn confidence and stage presence,” said Cheryl, who has worked at Baylor for 29 years and is assistant to Dennis O’Neal, dean of the School of Engineering and Computer Science.
“Being on ‘The Voice,’ she learned so much about time management, a very strict schedule and responsibility,” Cheryl said. “You have to learn your song and be on time and be ready. The people who work with her know her work ethic and her musical ability.”
Johnny works in sales for Discount Floor Superstore and serves as interim music minister at First Baptist Church of McGregor.
“I’m definitely a family girl,” Holly said. “I’m very close to my parents and my two brothers. When I was in L.A. all by myself, I could call them up and get a little love sent to me all the way from Texas.”
Travis, 26, said he’s not surprised that his hard-working sister is enjoying the limelight.
“It’s just been a blessing and an honor to see her rise like she has, and she deserves every bit of it. She’s one of the hardest-working singers, I think,” he said. “Not many people know, but she’ll take a song that she’s interested in and go in her room and listen to it over and over and take pieces of it and concentrate on those certain pieces and analyze it and see how she can put her flavor on it.”
Travis attended Holly’s last performance on the show and made sure to lend his support as much as possible during her 10-week run on “The Voice.”
“Holly is a real homebody,” he said. “Through talks with her we could tell she missed home really badly, so we wanted to be out there as much as we could. Unfortunately, she got eliminated that night, but this is just the start of her career.
“It’s also fortunate though because now she has the opportunity to have more say in her career than if she would have won. She has more say in which record label she wants to go to.”
Travis has enjoyed playing drums in the Tucker family band with his parents and Holly through the years and is joining up with Tyler McLaren to form a new country band.
Brother Shane, 25, said he doesn’t follow in the family’s musical footsteps but is equally proud of his sister.
“We got to see her grow as an artist and a musician on the show,” Shane said. “It was just amazing to watch. Every day is just another surprise. It’s really neat to get to watch that happen and support her in what she does. I couldn’t be a happier brother.”
He said she has inspired him to go back to school to get a degree in communications and pursue a career in radio.
“With Holly doing her thing, I’ve gotten to go and sit in on a few little sessions,” Shane said. “It just seems like something I’d be really good at and would enjoy. Holly has really helped us all prepare for things we want to do in the future. She’s done a lot for all of us. It’s really neat to get to be a part of it.”
The family received generous support on Holly’s behalf with lots of friends and family turning out for the weekly watch parties at Applebee’s, all while honoring the show’s requirement of keeping her progress confidential.
“All along the way, we were on Facebook, and we could put up a comment, and we would have 400 to 500 comments back,” Cheryl said. “It’s always great when your kid is loved. You’re just awed by all the people lovin’ on your little girl. It’s lovely.”
In Los Angeles since March, Holly was ready to get back to Texas where she was greeted with an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at Waco Regional Airport.
She performed four songs the next night, June 6, at Brazos Nights at Indian Spring Park and signed autographs for more than three hours.
“It’s overwhelming, the love and support that Central Texas has shown to her,” Cheryl said. “I’m from here, so I know Waco is a wonderful place, but it’s even more wonderful now. It was humbling to see people come out, and she got to do her whole concert. I don’t know how you thank people for that. Waco people and Central Texas people are amazing, and Baylor has been so supportive. Holly will be an ambassador for them everywhere she goes.”
Since “The Voice,” Tucker has performed at a youth camp in Alabama for Second Baptist Church of Houston and before 5,000 voting delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston before returning to Los Angeles for a finale on “The Voice.”
Her official homecoming concert was June 20 at the Bosque River Stage on the McLennan Community College campus, where she performed all of her singles from “The Voice” and a few of her own songs.
“I got to thank the people for all the support they have given me,” she said. “I’m still the same girl. It was like ‘Wow, all these people came out for me.’ It’s just so sweet, and I feel really humbled by that. “ Tucker wants to perform again for her local fans.
“We’re hoping to have some other events coming up in Central Texas so we can pay back and say an extra thanks to those people who saw her before ‘The Voice,’ ” Cheryl said.
Holly now gets recognized locally at restaurants and stores.
“Her brothers are getting known almost as much as she is,” Cheryl said. “People want to take pictures, and she is very welcome to taking a picture anytime, anywhere because it’s the payback. We know she got to No. 6 because of the people here.”
Still under contract with “The Voice,” Tucker is watching the clock tick so that she can soon take the next steps in her musical career.
A trip to Norfolk, Va., to perform on “The 700 Club,” with permission of “The Voice,” and then a week in Nashville where she and her parents will meet with record labels and agents to make some big decisions are on the agenda.
“We’re looking for a good fit,” Cheryl said. “We have to figure out where’s the cart and where’s the horse.”
Holly took a couple of classes during the spring semester but is taking a break from school for now.
“I want to get my Baylor degree and have that in my hand,” she said. “For now, I may focus on my music. In this business, you have to strike while the iron is hot.”
More on Holly
Her website is HollyTucker.com
Online at wacotrib.com/wacotoday, find a video interview with Holly as well as additional behind-the-scenes pictures from the cover photo shoot.