Casey Weston epitomizes the girl next door, and with her country-influenced musical roots -- and her affinity for writing her own songs -- one could start making comparisons to that other country-girl-next-door sensation. You know...what's-her-name? But Weston's rise to fame is going a bit slower, despite a huge boost as one of the eight semi-finalists on the inaugural season of "The Voice."
While other struggling musicians might get a bit impatient for overnight success after such a life-changing experience, she's happy to take her time and enjoy the ride, despite the reality of getting back to the daily struggles to make it in the music business.
"I think the reality of it is, "The Voice" was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot but it still takes a lot of work and takes a lot more than people realize -- the music business is not an easy one," she said in an exclusive interview. "It was a great stepping stone and did a lot for my career, but I still have to make things happen and make connections and work hard to get where I want to get."
Things changed quickly for Weston after the show wrapped. She immediately started planning her move from her home in Florida to Nashville, spending a week on an apartment hunting trip with her mother. But right after that scouting trip, she went out on the road with "The Voice" tour. Then as soon as that was over, she packed up the U-Haul and finally headed for Nashville, where she's been living for four months.
Fans of her on the show will be happy to know she hasn't had to resort to some typical struggling-artist "day" job to make ends meet, but is indeed living her dream of making a living with music. Which right now is a DIY endeavor.
"I'm doing it really independently, writing my own material and finding the right songs for the next step." What, no slinging cappuccinos in a trendy coffee bar? "I'm just doing music. I don't have a second job -- music is how I'm making my livelihood. No coffee slinging for me," she laughs.
She's been playing shows mostly in Florida, her home fan base, and southern California, but for the most part, Weston's focus is that next album, which is still in the writing stage. She prefers creating her own material, but doesn't rule out using other peoples' songs.
"I love to be able to connect to the music I'm singing with and the songs and the lyrics, but I don't think artists have to do their own songs they wrote all the time," she said. "Because if it's a song they connect to naturally -- something they've been through and that song that somebody else has written speaks to them, that works too. But it's always that thing where you have to be able to connect to the song to really sing it honestly to the fans."
Weston initially didn't make the first cut on "The Voice" blind auditions, but when two coaches were still short of contestants after everyone had performed, "The Voice" brought some back to try again. Fortunately for her, coach Adam Levine turned his chair. And fortunately, unbeknownst to her, he bears a love for Stevie Nicks, which first came out when he chose Weston to duet on "Leather and Lace" for her first elimination round.
It couldn't have been a more perfect fit for her voice, and the girl who didn't make the first cut suddenly became a serious contender, reaching final-8 status when all was said and done. On the down side of the hand fate dealt her, she also happened to be on the same team as the eventual winner, Javier Colon, and only could have moved to finals by beating him directly.
But Weston says she doesn't really have any regrets.
"I think it all happened the way it was supposed to happen. There are things where 'man I wish I would have gotten a different song,' or 'I wish I had been able to practice my second audition song more than five minutes before.' There are certain things like that, if things could have gone that way, it might have gone over smoother. But I think I got really lucky and I really got far in the competition. I just went in wanting to do my best. I think it was all a pleasant surprise."
It was no surprise that for Levine's final two semi-finalist spots, the fans voted for heavily-favored Colon, leaving Levine to pick one of the remaining three for the last top-8 spot. Jeff Jenkins had been a huge favorite all season, and seemed sure to get that final call as one of the few contestants to make all four judges turn their chairs in auditions. But as Levine wavered at the moment of truth, even he seemed to succumb to a last minute change of heart.
"I gotta go with Casey Weston."
Weston was grateful for that chance to sing one more time, but little did she know that if she had managed just one more performance after that by making it to the finals, she would have been singing with one of her idols, the incomparable Stevie Nicks herself. Nicks ended up singing "Landslide" with winner Colon in hands-down the best performance of the season.
And I dare say unlike that other young songwriting superstar who shared a stage with Nicks at the Grammys a few years back, I think Weston would have more than held her own. (I know, I know...why I gotta be so mean?) A Stevie/ Casey duet was the one moment missing from an otherwise perfect season of the show.
Yet Weston did get a nice consolation, meeting Nicks after her appearance on "The Voice."
"I met her after and she was really sweet. It would have been amazing to perform with her, but she did tell me that the only reason she did it was because the song (her duet of "Leather and Lace" with Tim Mahoney) brought the show to her attention."
It ain't the same as picking up every major award on the planet before the age of 22, but getting the attention of a legend is no small feat, either. Not to mention she still has a couple of years before she hits 22, and I have a feeling we may just get that dream duet yet somewhere down the road.
While planning an album and tour for 2012, Weston still keeps in touch with the other contestants -- Jenkins lives close by and she meets up with Cheri Oakley frequently and other contestants when they come into town. It may have been a competition, but the continuing closeness of the group proves you can be competitive without being cutthroat. And isn't music about coming together after all?
"It never really felt like a competition to me -- how can you compete with music? It's all about doing your own thing."
For more information and upcoming shows, visit her official website.
The next season of "The Voice" debuts Feb. 5 after Super Bowl XLVI and will air Mondays for the rest of the season. This time, each coach will start with 12 instead of eight contestants, so expect more songs, more laughs, more tears and more drama. Which is to say, more awesome for the new year.
Subscribe to my articles for weekly updates on "The Voice," including upcoming interviews with last season's contestants and the dish on all the new episodes for Season 2.COMING SOON: an exclusive interview with Beverly McClellan.