The life-changing phone call for Canton native Grace (Rembinski) West unfolded several weeks ago as she was driving home from her job as a songwriter for Mucho Love Music in Nashville.
“The person calling was with ‘The Voice’ and they invited me to audition for the show,” recounted the 19-year-old West, a 2021 graduate of Plymouth High School. “I pulled over to the side of the road. I was shaking, blinking back (happy) tears, trying to hold it together at least until the phone call was over. It was surreal.
“I immediately called my mom (Jill Rembinski) and told her: ‘I’ve got some news’. I didn’t want to tell her right away that I had an audition for ‘The Voice’ … I wanted to, you know, build up to it a little (she chuckled). When I told her, she immediately started crying and freaking out.”
NBC’s “The Voice” is an Emmy Award-winning singing competition that features four music industry mega-stars/coaches (this season’s coaches are Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson, Chance the Rapper and Niall Horan), who select teams of 10 blind-audition performers based on their voices alone (the coaches’ chairs are turned away from the performers).
Following a weeks-long series of intensity-coated competitions, the ultimate champion reportedly receives $100,000 and a record deal with Universal Music Group.
Pride of Canton
Since word spread like wildfire on social media that West had earned one of 40 spots that millions of entertainers covet, she has become The Pride of Canton — an inspirational rallying point for countless residents of her hometown.
“The support I’ve received from Canton has been overwhelming in the best way possible,” West said. “I’ve had former teachers reach out to me — from elementary to high school — friends and family … the love I’ve received has been absolutely insane. I’m so proud to be representing Canton and P-CEP (the Plymouth-Canton Educational Park).”
As she performed the Pam Tillis mega-hit “Maybe It Was Memphis” on the March 21 airing of “The Voice”, Shelton, who has announced this is his last of 23 seasons on the show, and Horan, a former member of the since-disbanded musical group One Direction, pushed their buttons, signaling they were super-impressed and wanted West on their respective teams.
While flattered that two of the coaches showed interest, the situation created a dilemma.
“Honestly, in the moment it was a little difficult which coach I was going to choose,” West reflected. “First of all, I always wondered how the performers continue to perform once the coaches’ chairs spin — I didn’t know if I’d break down right there and then — but I managed to get through the song.
“I’d been a fan of Niall for a long time — my older sister was obsessed with One Direction, so I heard their music coming from her bedroom on a regular basis — and Blake is a music-industry superstar. Going into the process, I knew that if I was fortunate enough to make it to the blind auditions and Blake did turn his chair, he’s the coach I wanted because he had moved to Nashville when he was 17 — a lot like me — and he knows everything I need to know to further my career. So I picked Blake.”
West said working with the legend has been a dream come true.
“Just being able to get advice from someone who is insanely talented, has had such an incredible career, it’s been an amazing experience,” West said. “He has helped me with things — given me tips — I had never even thought of before. I can’t say enough good things about his coaching.”
The ‘Hunger Games’ factor
Working with a team of singers who are seeking the same ultimate prize has a small level of “The Hunger Games” feel to it, West said.
“It’s natural to become great friends with the other members of Team Blake because our backgrounds are so similar — most of us started singing when we were small — and there’s really nobody else to connect with during the process,” West said. “You develop a bond.
“The hard part is when members of your team start getting eliminated. Myself and my family have an app for ‘The Voice’ and when someone gets eliminated, their face gets grayed out on the app. You see that and you think to yourself, ‘Whoa!’ It hits home that we’re not all going to make it all the way through.”
West’s journey to the national spotlight has been lined with hard work, resilience and a love for music.
Developing a passion for singing since the day she learned how to talk, West’s talent earned her a steady stream of live-performance gigs at southeast-Michigan establishments.
She has performed “The National Anthem” before Detroit Tigers home games and even won a “Canton Idol” singing competition (a local version of “American Idol”) when she was in middle school.
“Leading up to the ‘Canton Idol’ competition, I remember feeling insecure — everybody was so good and I’d be performing in front of kids I went to school with,” she said. “I was horrified before I walked on the stage for the ‘Canton Idol’ and I was horrified before I walked on the stage for ‘The Voice’ (she laughed). It was just different scales of horror.”
Battle rounds of “The Voice” continue to air on NBC Monday from 8-10 p.m. and Tuesday from 9-10 p.m.
Music fueled perseverance during pandemic isolation
West admitted her music helped get her through the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic which shifted most of her senior year at Plymouth High School to virtual learning.
“The isolation the pandemic created wreaked havoc on my mental health,” she said. “It was my senior year of high school — a year that is supposed to be fun and exciting, but it wasn’t. It even rained at our outdoor prom at Central Middle School, pretty much wiping it out.
“I spent most of the time in my room with my electric guitar, my amp and a pair of headphones. I wrote a lot of songs because that was the only way I knew of releasing what I was feeling.”
She signed a contract with Nashville-based Mucho Love Music before graduating from Plymouth and moved to “The Music City” with her parents, Jill and Daryl, weeks after graduation.
The weeks and months since then have been a whirlwind of songwriting, performing at Nashville-area nightclubs and simply enjoying life.
And, oh yeah, performing on national TV while being coached by a country-and-western superstar.
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