Colts Neck native rises to final round of ‘The Voice’

Staff Writer

 Jacquie Lee of Colts Neck performs “Cry Baby” and Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” during the Live Top 6 Performances round of NBC’s “The Voice” on Dec. 2.  PHOTOS COURTESY OF NBC UNIVERSAL Jacquie Lee of Colts Neck performs “Cry Baby” and Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” during the Live Top 6 Performances round of NBC’s “The Voice” on Dec. 2. PHOTOS COURTESY OF NBC UNIVERSAL Colts Neck native Jacquie Lee has quickly become a rising star on NBC’s “The Voice,” winning over nationwide audiences to secure a place in the final round of competition and rising to the Top 5 on the iTunes singles chart.

It may be hard to believe the 16-year-old who appears confident and professional on stage was once a shy child who had a fear of singing in front of others.

“I still to this day usually don’t really sing on command and on the spot for people, because I need to feel it,” Lee said in an interview from Los Angeles. “But I am not scared on that stage, because singing is what I love to do, and sharing that with people makes it more special.”

Lee said the love and support of her family helped her overcome her initial fear as a child, and she has since used music to learn more about herself.

“I was a shy kid, so I never even dreamed of imagining this life for me. Music, ironically enough, is what busted me out of my shell and made me my own person, which in high school can be hard to do,” she said. “That’s why my love for music will never stop growing. It helps me find more and more out about myself that I wouldn’t be able to know any other way.”

Prior to her appearance on the show, Lee performed locally, appearing at Espresso Joe’s in Keyport and Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, along with plays at Ranney School in Tinton Falls.

Many members of the community remember Lee for her role in Ranney’s Lower School musical, “Mulan Jr.,” in the spring of 2008, as well as her solo performances during choral ensemble concerts. Also memorable are her soulful songs at the piano during evening Coffee Houses, including her powerful rendition of the latest James Bond theme, “Skyfall.”

Her biggest performance, Lee said, was singing the national anthem at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game.

That is, until she decided to take her chances on “The Voice,” appearing in the second day of blind auditions to sing Amy Winehouse’s “Back to Black” and catching the attention of celebrity coaches Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton.

When Lee was on “The Voice” stage for the first time, she drew a blank and couldn’t think, she recalled. When it came time to pick a coach, she said her gut told her to choose Aguilera.

“Having Christina as a mentor is unreal. She is insanely talented and we have connected on a whole other level, which I never even expected,” Lee said. “I have learned a lot of vocal technique, but she also teaches me a lot about how the industry works.”

Lee went on to win the first Battle Round against contestant Briana Cuoco, the sister of “The Big Bang Theory” actress Kaley Cuoco, with a powerful duet of “House of the Rising Sun.” She also blew through the Knockout Rounds to reach the live performances, when the audience votes on who stays on the show. Her Nov. 5 performance of “I Put a Spell on You” has been listed on the Top 20 iTunes singles chart.

Lee was in the Top 3 on “The Voice” at press time for this story. Her version of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” earned her a standing ovation from Christina Aguilera and a Top 5 position on the iTunes songs chart. While it is exciting, competing on “The Voice” is a challenge, Lee said.

“Each week, Christina pushes me to my limits, and I have grown incredibly as an artist,” she said. “Competition is hard, especially on “The Voice,” because your competition is your friends.”

When she is not performing on the show, Lee said she is a normal teenager — focused on school, hanging out with friends or playing sports such as field hockey. Lee also plays the piano and spends much of her spare time writing songs.

While Lee has been in Los Angeles performing on the show, her fans back at home have continuously shown their support.

She has more than 86,000 followers on Twitter under @jacquieleemusic, and her Ranney family continues to support her, holding special “wear red” days on Tuesdays, as red is the color of “The Voice.” Red balloons and signs wishing her good luck have been displayed at the school’s entrance, dining halls and in front of Ranney’s Panther Hall — the school’s performance and assembly space.

“The teachers and students who have known Jacquie since she joined us at Ranney School in the first grade have always been impressed with her amazing talent and by the outstanding scholar, athlete and performer she has become today,“ said John W. Griffith, Ranney head of school.

“She is also so grounded and balanced, and she is as well-respected as she is wellliked. Her friends and teachers will tell you that Jacquie shows the same resilience that she displayed in the fifth grade when she starred in the Lower School play, ‘Mulan Jr.’ She has carried herself with tremendous grace on the national stage throughout this competition, and we could not be more proud of her.”

Lee said she feels blessed, and that it is because of their support that she has made it to the top.

“I never thought I would make it this far. The whole thing is unbelievable, and I’m really honored to be in a competition with such talented people,” Lee said. “It’s weird thinking that one day your life can change forever.”