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The Reality of Stephanie Anne Johnson

Tacoma singer-songwriter's journey through "The Voice"

Stephanie Anne Johnson battled on the NBC talent show "The Voice." Johnson was on pop star Christina Aguilera’s team. Photo credit: Jason Ganwich

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"I was on a ship, in Croatia," says Stephanie Anne Johnson, "and I checked my email and saw a message that said, ‘Hi, my name is Dylan and I'm a producer for The Voice. We'd like you to come on the show.'"

In the weeks leading up to local singer-songwriter Stephanie Anne Johnson's appearance on The Voice, word had spread through the rumor mill that she had auditioned for the show. Instantly, the situation was reminiscent of when Tacoma's own Vicci Martinez had her stint on the singing competition. Johnson, like Martinez, was about to embark on an absurd journey through the twists and turns of reality competition television - a hallowed realm of heightened verisimilitude where people's lives are stories and their voices are sung dialogue.

The process for Johnson began in February, with that initial contact from the producers of The Voice. Understandably, Johnson's lips are sealed as to certain facts pertaining to the full nature of the audition process, but the upshot is that she ended up standing on that stage, on national television, performing to the turned backs of four incredibly successful music industry titans. For anyone unfamiliar with the show, Johnson's goal is to convince these people - "coaches," as their called - to turn their chairs around, simply through the power of her singing voice.

"I knew that I could do it," says Johnson. "I could feel myself getting nervous. I was wearing high heels and a shit-ton of makeup, and it felt a little bit contrived, or whatever, but I just made a choice: This is what we're going to go do. And then it happened."

During her rendition of KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree," two of the coaches turned their chairs: CeeLo Green (Vicci Martinez's former coach) and Christina Aguilera. Eventually, Johnson chose to join Aguilera's team.

From then on, Johnson's presence on the show was fraught with that ideal television drama. Bouncing from team to team after two losses in "battle rounds," Johnson seemed always to be hanging by a thread on the show. For reasons too complicated to explain, she ended up on CeeLo's team for a while before ending up back on Aguilera's.

All the while, all of us in Tacoma who are intimately aware of Johnson's talent and range as a singer-songwriter were fretting over how difficult it is to truly express where you're coming from as an artist in such a stifled environment. While Nora Jones writes perfectly lovely songs, to perform one on The Voice as Johnson did just doesn't convey what she can do. This is not the Stephanie Anne Johnson who busts out "No Diggity" on her acoustic guitar, nor is it the Stephanie Anne Johnson who studied opera.

"I was angry with myself," says Johnson of that first battle round loss. "I have high expectations for myself. I set almost unfair goals for myself, so a lot of folks didn't really understand why I was quite so broken up after that first battle. I didn't progress emotionally. I didn't progress past losing the battle and being stolen. Also, the terminology is weird to me: to be ‘stolen.' It just kind of makes you feel like less of a person and more of a commodity. I understand that this is show business, but it was a really tough moment for me, and I learned a lot about myself through that experience."

Ultimately, Johnson made it to the top 20, and into the first week of the public voting on who leaves and who stays. It was on her final night that she busted out a fantastic version of "Georgia on my Mind" Gladys Knight's "Midnight Train to Georgia," but it seems as though it was just too late. The following Thursday, Johnson was voted off of The Voice.

"My first feeling was, 'Shit,'" laughs Johnson. "The second feeling was, 'Now I can go back to saying motherfucker and wearing plaid shoes and hollering at dudes and drinking whiskey.' It was really exciting that now I can be myself, that I can wear and I can think whatever the fuck I want. ... Now I can book a tour and go anywhere I want, and sing the songs I like, and play for audiences that like me specifically and didn't come here for the light show."

It's important to remember that, even though Stephanie Anne Johnson technically lost, what she really did was have a five-week national audition for whomever was watching The Voice. Landing on her feet is not an issue - what we'll watch now is how far she'll continue to rise.

Show Alert!

Stephanie Anne Johnson will join Heidi Stoermer (she has new somgs!), Kye Alfred Hillig, Andrew Crook, David Hannon and Toby Hanson for a food bank benefit show at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22 at Northern Pacific Coffee Company in Pakland. Bring $5 and canned food.

Photography design credit: Photographer Jason Ganwich, art direction by Sam Ohara at Sam of Sorts media, make up by Kari Baumann at Decorate Your Face, hair by Jade Monreal of Supernova Hair & Tattoo and shot at Al Davies Branch - Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound

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