Dreams are for coming true for Salem native Cali Wilson. The 28-year-old was featured on NBC’s “The Voice” Monday night after she sang Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and earned a chair turn from three of four judges.
“The Voice” is a televised singing competition where the contestant sings for four celebrity judges: Blake Shelton, John Legend, Gwen Stefani and Kelly Clarkson. The judges’ chairs face away from the stage. leaving them to judge the contestants solely on their voice. If they hear a voice they like, they press a button to turn their chair, adding the singer to their team.
For Wilson, being on “The Voice” was never something she aspired to do, it just happened. But being a singer, she said, was her lifelong dream.
“I’ve been singing since I could talk,” she said.
She took inspiration from her mother, a singer, and fell in love with the idea of being able to tell a story through music. Growing up in Salem, Wilson said there was not a lot of opportunity but she took advantage of the ones available.
From the time she was two until she was about 13, she performed in local talent shows and eventually moved on to performing solo shows. During her teenage years, she shied away from music after some personal battles with stage fright. After talking with her mom about it, they came up with a solution.
“I picked up a guitar one day when I was 15. I asked my mom to play chords and teach me some things so I had something else to focus on other than my stage fright,” she said. “It just felt natural and right. I just went with it.”
She taught herself the rest and practiced everyday, eventually writing and composing her own songs. After practicing and playing for so long, she knew being a singer was what she always wanted and there was only one way to make it happen.
“I thought, ‘No one else is going to make this dream a reality other than me’, so I wanted to take a chance and really go for it,” she said.
Wilson’s first step in taking that chance was moving to Nashville. A friend living in the area mentored and helped her develop connections in the local music scene.
“That was the biggest chance I think I took, was leaving everything I knew behind for this dream. A lot of people told me I was crazy, but I had a lot of support as well. I really had to rely on myself,” she said.
While living in Nashville, the opportunity to audition for NBC’s “The Voice” came up. Her girlfriend encouraged her to go, convincing her that although there was a possibility of them telling her no, there was also a possibility of the judges saying “yes.”
After giving it careful consideration, she decided she had to try. At the beginning of 2019 she made a commitment to challenge herself as an artist. Auditioning for a televised singing competition on a national stage was just another challenge.
“‘The Voice’ was something that was out of my comfort zone but it was important for me to try it and see what could happen,” she said.
To appear on the show, Wilson first sang for a pre-audition and was given the green light for the blind audition. Standing backstage before her blind audition, Wilson said she was quite scared, but having her mother and girlfriend close by helped. Seeing how nervous the two of them were for her, helped Wilson realize her own nerves were not quite as bad; that gave her the confidence she needed.
“It was nervous energy at first and then right before I went through the doors to walk onto the stage, I was oddly calm. I felt a wave of relief that I got to that point and I just knew that something good was going to happen when I was on that stage,” she said.
The nerves quickly turned to adrenaline when the music started and she began to sing “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. The song was originally written by Stevie Nicks, who Wilson calls her “musical hero.”
“It reminded me of when I first started out in music and trying to find who I was. I would listen to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac and I would listen to ‘Dreams’ and feel connected to music like I hadn’t been before,” she said.
Once Wilson was on stage, she said it felt like her body went on autopilot. She channeled her energy and passion into her music and sang in hopes of getting just one judges chair to turn. Three chairs turned that night.
“When I saw those names light up and they turned their chairs and I saw their faces, it was a surreal experience. It’s something that you think about countless times when you’re an artist and you’ve seen the show, but you don’t know what it feels like until it happens to you,” she said. Wilson feels the best part of the experience was looking over at her mom and girlfriend celebrating for her offstage. “That was a moment I’ll never, ever forget. It was incredible,” she said.
Going into the audition, Wilson had hoped to join Blake Shelton’s team, but when he, as well as John Legend and Gwen Stefani all turned their chairs, the decision on which judge to choose was suddenly more difficult than she imagined.
When Shelton began talking about her hometown, and that he had been there a few times, Wilson recalled seeing him at the gas station. They bonded immediately, which helped solidify her decision to become a member of Team Blake.
“I went with my gut at the end and I don’t regret it at all,” she said.
Being from a town of 382 and ending up on a national stage was a definite step out of her comfort zone, she said, but one she was glad she took. Wilson said she will be back on the show soon once the battles begin and she is looking forward to working with Shelton and growing as an artist.
She said she is thankful for her small town roots, but also thankful for the opportunity to try something new. Having the support of her friends, family and everyone back in Iowa means a lot, she said. Getting to show the world how hard she worked to turn her dream into reality meant the world.
“I tell everybody it seems like a dream because it felt like one. It was something that dreams were made of, being on that stage,” she said.