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Earning a spot to compete on ‘The Voice’ takes a lot of effort

Posted on Friday, February 9, 2024 at 11:23 pm

Editor’s note: In this week’s installment of “An Interview With Ruby Leigh, And Her Family,” the runner-up on “The Voice” talks about all the behind-the-scenes work before the blind audition, a panic attack before singing “Blue,” and why she was OK with finishing second.

By Gregory Orear

Journal Publisher

Greg: Let’s start with a general question about your overall experience on “The Voice.” Sum it up.

Ruby: It was really great. It was definitely life changing. I remember my audition, we were all super nervous because going into it, you’re not promised an audition. Just because you’re flying out there does not mean you get to audition. So, you can be there for two months and get sent home. So that was really nerve-wracking. I’m like, you better be really good in these interviews.

Casey (Dad): People were sent home because they couldn’t interview well. They’re like “uhhh” and “ummm” and they’re like, “sorry, this ain’t going to work.”

Ruby: Yeah, they want people that obviously America can connect with. I think they want, polished and kind of ready to present to everybody. You know what I mean? I mean, obviously they don’t want to throw someone on TV that isn’t ready for it.

Greg: Right. That makes sense.

Ruby: I remember my audition day. A lot of it is hurry up and wait. You get in there and you leave at four in the morning. You get there and then you’re rushed in, hair, makeup, you’re rushed in getting your outfit. And then I sat for 8 hours before my audition.

Greg: For eight hours?

Ruby: It’s a long time. And throughout that, and you don’t have, like, a monitor. You can’t watch anybody, but you can hear them. You’re right behind the stage and it’s just a curtain separating you so you can hear everything that’s going on. You can hear them singing but you can’t really hear what the coaches are saying. You can’t tell if they got a chair turn or not because you don’t hear the buttons. It’s very nerve wracking. You’re sitting back there, I’m thinking, how am I going to do? Am I going to do well? I couldn’t see my family before I went on, so I was just, like, by myself. I’m like, let’s hope I kill this. Yeah. It was just a crazy experience, but obviously it worked out.

Greg: OK, so a little bit more on this whole process. You send in your audition tape. Now, at that point, then you’re contacted by the show and invited out to California.

Grumpy (sister): Oh no, not even close.

Ruby: This tells you how long it takes. I auditioned in November of 2022. My audition on stage was in June of 2023. So all those months in between is all casting and sending in more videos and more videos and more videos. It’s all elimination things—because they have millions of people that send in videos. They have to narrow it down to 100 people who actually get flown out and 56 make it to even try to be on the show. Yeah, I didn’t do it to try to be on the show. I did it as a joke. She (Grumpy) set me up for real, and I’m like, there’s no way.

Casey: We’ve met a lot of industry people, and I’m a genius when they give me the answers. And we were told all the stuff that you see on TV … it’s very rare somebody makes it through. I think Ruby is the only one on the show that went through all these cuts because we were told it’s astronomical. It’s like winning the lottery to make it through. And that’s what Ruby was telling her sister, and I didn’t even know that they were doing that. And then they’d come up with their idea what would be funny to do.

Ruby: Yeah. So after I told her there’s no shot, I’m like, there’s no chance of me actually making this. And she says OK, but we couldn’t figure out how to cancel it. So she says “how funny would it be if you sang rock but if you dressed up super country.” My audition outfit was all mine. It was all my stuff. So, super-country, like embroidered French cowboy hat and I sing a bunch of rock. I’m like, great. That’s awesome. They’re definitely going to kick us out.

Greg: What did you sing?

Ruby: I think I sang Alice Cooper.

Greg: I think Alice would appreciate that.

Ruby: (Laughs) It was just really funny. I don’t even sing Alice Cooper. I just looked up what’s a funny heavy rock song or something? So I think I sang, like “Poison” or something.

Grumpy: Yeah, something like that. It was heavier rock music.

Ruby: So we sent them this Alice Cooper song, and we’re like, those are great. And within two hours, we got an email back and it said congratulations, you made it to the next round. And we went going to my Dad and we’re like, “you’ll never believe this, we just made it to the next round.” And then my Dad said, “Calm down. You know why that is?” And we’re like, “no, why?” He said, “You know that there’s probably one person who saw that audition. They just probably just said, move it on to the next round so a bigger group of people can see it and laugh at it because it’s so funny. And then they’ll kick it off.” And I’m thinking that makes sense.

Grumpy: Way to crush the dream, Dad.

Ruby: (Laughs) So for this next round, you have to send in three songs, more heavy rock songs, send it in super country, and, well, I made it through. And then I’m like, this is really weird I’m making it through. I’m thinking maybe it’s just for a bigger group of people. I don’t know. So, next round I sent in three more, and we made it through. In this next round, it was the producers that reached out to me before I could send in another song, and they said, “Hey, we feel like you have a great country voice. Would you mind sending in some country songs? If not, no worries.” And I responded back, “Well, that’s actually my genre, so, yeah, I can do that.” So I sent in three country songs, and I made it through.

And then I looked at my Dad. I’m like this is really weird. Now it’s not a joke anymore. Now it’s for real. Then it was in March of last year they called and said they were going to fly me out for a blind audition, and I don’t think I had the reaction they wanted because I was like, “Really? For real?” I wasn’t over the top. I wasn’t super mellow. So, more months of Zoom calls and signing things and talking to a bunch of people.

We finally got flown out, and then two more months of interviews and waiting. Then we were up for the blind auditions, which is where we went in and obviously auditioned. Then we got flown back home after the audition. About a month later, we went back, filmed all of the rounds up to the playoffs, came back home for a month or two, and then went back and did the lives. It’s just a long process. I think a lot of people look at it, and they’re like, oh, an audition, send in one video, and it’s like, hey, you made it. But it’s not. It’s a lot of work. It’s crazy. A lot of Zooms.

Grumpy: We had a whole tour booked, too. When we were doing it as a joke it was no big deal, but when we had a date to fly out we had to cancel and rebook because we weren’t expecting her to go.

See, RUBY page 4

Greg: Now, the blind audition, the most viewed video in “Voice” history. You got four chair turns and 18 million views. Obviously, that was the right song. Did you have 100 percent control over what song you were going to sing and was there anything else in contention, or did you know that was it?

Ruby: I knew that’s the song I wanted. It just depends on if they would clear the song for me to sing it. They give you a list of at least 200 songs to pick you can sing, and obviously, a song from 1935 is not on it. So I was like, I actually have one I really want to do. So, I had to pick three songs off of this big list, and then I had to put three more songs that weren’t on the list that I would also prefer doing. So I put “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” for all three. I’m like, this one, please. And they ended up, they gave it to me. And with the songs they do, they have to do it exactly like the artist did. Not singing wise, but lyric wise. It has to be exactly what they said. So, apparently, I do a different version of the song. I mean, it’s still “Cowboy Sweetheart,” still like the same rhythmic flow, but it’s just a few different words. So they sent this song back and I looked at the lyrics and every verse was different. I had to relearn this whole song.

Casey: After singing it for a long, long, time.

Ruby: So, it was stuck in my head. And I’m like, no, this is not right. And I finally got it the day before my audition where it came to my mind and I could do it. I don’t think I’ll ever change that song up again. I don’t care. It’s too much. I was so nervous for that, too. I sang at least a billion times in my hotel room and I was just like, come on now.

Casey: The day before her actual audition, they do a dry run, which is lights, camera, everything that is going to be on audition day. The only difference is the people in the crowd are the NBC executives and producers and all the people that work on the show. And no coaches.

Ruby: Yeah, no coaches.

Casey: You don’t get to see anybody else. We’re all isolated. You can hear, but you don’t get to see. And anyway, we go in and Ruby goes up and does her audition. Everybody stands up. They’re clapping and cheering, and it was pretty good. So Ruby finishes up and we walk out and the sound guy says, “Ruby, over here, I need to get your mic, and we got a shuttle waiting for you.” And that was all standard. So we walk over and the guy is getting her unmiked, and he says, “Ruby, unfortunately, I’m going to be in Building 31 tomorrow, so I’m not going to get to see your audition. But I want to let you know. I’ve been here 23 of the 24 seasons from season two all the way through.” And he said, “I have never seen anyone get a standing ovation from all the people in there, all the execs. You are going to do well.”

Greg: So I’m curious, and maybe he might have just answered my question. I found out an answer to when you started treating this seriously and it wasn’t a joke anymore. At what point did you realize, not only is this not a joke, but something you could win?

Ruby: Honestly, probably after the playoffs is when I was really like, oh, my gosh, I have a good shot. After doing the audition, the four-chair turn, I was not expecting that at all. Honestly, if anyone was going to turn, it had to be Reba (McEntire) in my mind, because I’m like, none of the other coaches would have a shot at knowing this song. I’m thinking maybe Reba doesn’t even know this song. I’m like, if anyone was going to turn, it’s probably Reba. But if not, I’m fine with that. It’s OK.

So, I got out there, started singing. John (Legend) turned first. I’m like, what the heck—he turned before I started yodeling. And I’m thinking, what is going on? This is really crazy. In my mind, I’m like, all right, you’re Team Legend. But then I thought, wait a second. Reba didn’t turn. She’s in your genre. She thinks you’re horrible. And then she turned, and that’s why I smiled and nodded that everyone’s talking about.

I think everyone thought going in that Reba was my only shot. Like, my only choice and the only person I was ever going to pick. I almost picked Niall (Harron). It was very close because they don’t air everything, obviously. And Niall was fighting really hard, and I was thinking maybe I should pick Niall. I need someone that wants me. Because Reba was just sitting in her chair, just smiling at me, and I was like, does she think I’m just going to pick her just because I’m country? I’m not going to do that.

I was looking between Niall and John because they were really fighting hard. And then Reba used her trick, which the trick was the fake hair that the crowd did, which only each of the coaches get one trick that they can use on one contestant one time throughout the blind, and she used it on me. I didn’t know that. I just saw that they were all chanting Reba. And I’m like, she wants me, so I picked Reba. I come off the stage and they were like, do you know what that was? And I said, “No. What?” She said “You know, each of the coaches only get one of those, and she used it on you. That’s like, ‘hey, I really want you. Please pick me.’ So I thought, whoa, made the right choice, I guess.

Going through the battles, I was really nervous because it’s the first, real competition round. And going in, I was partnered with Al Boogie. And he was great. And I did get a lot of hate for “Jolene” because people thought me or Reba chose it too because it’s a woman’s song. But he picked the song. He picked the song because he sings it with his daughter before they go to bed. And he was like, I really want to do this song because of my daughter. And I said, “Sing Jolene with me? You kidding? Yeah, sure.” So we got Jolene, and he did a great job. And honestly, I was sitting there and he hit that high note, and I’m like, I’m going home. So they’re going through. And Reba has a great game face because she doesn’t give any hints. She’s said you guys were both great. Doesn’t give any hints of who she’s looking at. So I’m like, oh, no.

Casey: And also, on your audition, you were on the stage for over an hour.

Ruby: Over an hour. They don’t show that. But, yeah, we were all. So, when they went through, they all picked me, and I was still nervous because Reba didn’t pick me. So, I’m sitting here and I’m looking at her wondering what are you thinking. And every time she doesn’t do the suspense. Every time she goes through, and she’s like, the winner of this battle is Ruby. Like, quick. And it takes a second for me to register.

So, obviously, I won that. The knockout round was probably the most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. Only because I sang “Blue” by Leanne Rhimes. I sing that song all the time. I knew that song. I was super happy with it. I’m like, I got “Blue” great. And the knockout rounds this time, it was three-way, so it was me against two other people, one winner, which usually it’s two.

And I was going through, and on show day, before I went out to perform, I was going with my Dad, and I went into a practice room. I’m like, hey, let’s just go through this song. It was like 15 minutes before I went on stage, because, mind you, I knew I had it. It’s a song I sing all the time. So, me and my Dad were going over it. I played this track because you get 30 minutes rehearsal with Reba, and you get 30 minutes band rehearsal. And then from all that, you get the band track with background vocals. All of it, just like they’re going to play it on stage, right?

So, I start playing it and I start to sing, and within the first line, horrible off key, like, really bad. And I’m like, oh, that’s all right. Let me do that again. Rewind. Horribly off key every time I sing it. And I looked at my Dad, and then at this point, it’s about 10 minutes before I go on stage, and I’m starting to freak out. I’m like, “Dad, I can’t fix it!” I don’t know what’s going on. So then I sing it again and again and again and again, every time, horribly off key. At this point, I’m shaking, freaking out. I’m like, this is awful, Dad. This is really bad. And my Dad said, “No, it’s not that bad. Calm down. It’s not that bad.” And he told me afterwards it was that bad. I’m like, thanks, Dad.

Grumpy: He was trying to keep her calm.

Casey: She was literally about in tears and just shaking.

Ruby: It was just awful. Like, never been so bad off key in my life. I’m thinking, this is it. Right before I go on, at all times, now I have to be, like, the worst singer I’ve ever heard my life.

Casey: And then knock, knock, knock.

Ruby: They had no idea what was going on because they don’t stand by the door and listen, right? So knock, and they’re like, “Hey, one of the vocal coaches is in, if you want to run your song with her?” which they do that before every round, just make sure you’re confident. So I was like, yes. It’s a new lady I’d never worked with before. She was super calm. She said “Hi, Ruby, how are you?” And I’m like, “Not good!” And she says, “OK, calm down. What seems to be the problem?” I’m like, “I’m really bad off key. I can’t sing this. I sing this song all the time.” I’m rambling. And she says, “OK, slow down, slow down. Are you nervous?” “Well, now I am!” She’s says, “OK, let’s work through it. Let’s sing it. Let me listen to you sing it.” So I sang it, and she heard it. She’s like, “Yeah.” She’s said to sing it one more time just to make sure it wasn’t a one-time thing. So I sang it again and it was badly off key.

Casey: And then, knock, knock, knock.

Ruby: They say, “Hey five minutes till you’re on stage.” Like, real performance, on stage in front of the coaches. I’m freaking out. Then she had me download a piano app on my phone, and had me play the notes I was singing. Not off key, but the proper notes I was supposed to be singing. She had me sing through it. And every time I did it, it was off key. And I’m like, what is going on? I’m freaking out. It’s not working. And then I go to hand the phone to my Dad. She’s said, “No, do it again. Do it again.” So I sing three blind mice. I’m looking at her, I’m saying, “This is not working, ma’am. I’m going to be on stage in a few minutes.”

And then she says, “OK, you know what? Let me just listen to the track. OK?” And we already had two warnings. Like, hey, you should be getting out right now. We need you now. Still freaking out. And she plays the track, she listens, and the background singers were off key, and it was throwing me off key, and I never got to fix it. I went on stage not being able to sing it. I never got to fix it. In my mind, I knew that I was off key. I just knew this was the round I was going to go home. And I was against Miss Monet and Rachel. They were both my friends. So I got up there and I was the last person to perform, but they aired it like I was second. I got up there and I’m sitting down. Miss Monet gets up, sleighs the house down. Everyone’s screaming. I’m praying. I’m like, please let me get this. Please let me get this.

Then my friend Rachel gets up. She sings, does a great job. And at the end of her song, I’m getting ready to go up because the coaches don’t talk to you in between. You get up, you perform, go back, sit down. Next person sings. They talk to everyone at the very end, after everyone sang. So she goes up, and at the end of her song, right before I’m supposed to go on, my brain immediately goes, you just forgot all the words to “Blue” now. So then I’m just like, oh, no. I’m going to forget the words. I’m not just going to be off key. It’s going to be a train wreck. This is going to be awful. So I get up there. I walk up to my spot, super nervous. I’m freaking out. I know I’m just going to be so embarrassed. I know it. I’m going to be ridiculed for the rest of my life.

So, I got up there and like I said, coaches aren’t supposed to talk. Niles mic was hot, and he didn’t know it. And he put his head down, like, quietly trying to say it, and he was like, “Go get him, Rubes.” And it went everywhere. Everyone heard it. The girls I was going against heard it. The whole crowd, all the coaches, producers were doing the neck chop. They muted his mic for the rest of the song. I was thinking at least someone believes in me. So, I got up there and music started, and that’s literally the last thing I remember. I totally blacked out. And then when I came back to, I was like, I just did it on key. I was on key. Then I was getting into it. And I’m, like, pointing.

I looked at my Dad and I still didn’t know if that was enough. Was that good? Because I know in the beginning I was probably just nervous. And then I just all of a sudden just start breaking out. So when they were going through all of us, everyone picked me every time through each round. So Niall picked me. Gwen picked me. John, actually said it would be between Miss Monet and me. He said the reason why is because Miss Monet was a one chair turn, and he said, her progress, she’s just now really great. And then when he came to me, he’s said with Ruby, we always expect you to be great because you’ve been great and flawless throughout each performance.

So he was, “That’s not to say that you’re not great, but we always expect you to be great and you were great. So it’s just something that we expect.” So after that he said, “But I totally understand why Reba would pick Ruby. So either one I’d be totally fine with.” Then I’m standing there … nervous. Next, Reba’s talking to all of us and she’s like, “Miss Monet, great job.” And says what she says. And then she goes, “Rachel: great job, Rachel.’ And she gets to me and it’s “Ruby, great job.” And I’m like, all right, are you picking me please? Yeah, I’m sweating. I just know that she’s going to pick Miss Monet. I just knew it. When she said my name, I was like, no way. You’re kidding. And then I looked at my Dad. We were both shocked. I looked at my Dad after Miss Monet sang, and he was like …

Casey: What are you going to do with that?

Ruby: She was, like, doing leaps in high heels, jumping all around. I mean, the crowd was screaming, it was so loud. And I was like, oh, no. They both had these happy songs. I’m going to get up here with “Blue” and dampen the mood of everyone, but I can’t believe I did it.

And then going to the playoffs a long, long time, I had the most votes in “Voice” history to move on to the live round. And then after seeing that and making all the coaches cry, I was like, gosh, I might have a great chance at this. The playoffs were the hardest though. We all perform, all of Reba’s team, and then Reba picks who she wants to move on. So I was competing against everyone, so that was the hardest round for me because I was just hoping to do well. And Reba picked me. I was the last person she picked to move on. So then I was, sweating. I’m like, oh, no, now this is it.

But I made it through, and then in the live runs, I felt a lot more confident, I guess, with it. But it was also still nerve wracking because my first song in the live runs was a Reba song and her hardest song at that. I’m like, great. But it was a close competition throughout the whole thing because it was our most talented season. It was the first time in all the seasons that they’ve ever had, all the top five being four chair turns. So I was against some talented folks.

Being in there and they were calling the names in the finale and they’re going through. They said fifth place, then fourth place, and then for third place, I for sure knew it was going to be me because going through the competition, I knew Niall was going to be the one to beat. It’s not his team, it’s Niall, because he has more followers than all the coaches, combined. They’re all teenage girls that love him. So as soon as he looks at the camera, he’s says, “Vote,” and every girl votes, votes, votes, votes. So I just knew he was going to be the one to beat. I think he looked at the camera one time saying, “Vote.” and I might have thrown out a vote for Huntley myself.

So, when they got down to when they were calling third place, I knew it was going to be me. I’m like, there’s no way. Niall’s team is obviously going to be in the final two. So I was just sitting there and I’m, like, expecting Ruby Leigh, and it was Mara. I’m like, what? I was sitting there, shocked. Honestly. I’m in the top two right now. It’s insane. Obviously, then they called Huntley. I was really happy, actually, because I made it farther than anyone from Missouri ever has. And to be on Reba’s first team? I’m like, come on. And I had just gotten done singing with her, so I felt pretty good anyways. Plus, I was the only minor to make it to the lives. I had to beat people two times, multiple people. But, yeah, it was weird, but I was happy for Huntley. He was holding the trophy and said, “You want to hold it?” “Um, no,” but he was really cool. Honestly, if I had to lose to anyone, I’m glad it was him because he’s a great person. So, yeah, I felt great about it.

Next week: In part three, Ruby and her family continue with stories from her time on “The Voice.”