Erin Willett won over millions of Americans while appearing on The Voice and has since gone on to share the stage with the likes of Adam Lambert. However, off camera, Willett has struggled with confidence and eating disorder issues, both of which she addresses through her songs and through her upcoming appearance on the new series of The Biggest Loser.
Now, with 2016 just around the corner and a new EP due out in the coming weeks, she's feeling positive about the future and kindly agreed to this interview to discuss new music, dream line-ups and future plans.
PopWrapped: Sum yourself up in three words.
Erin Willett: I am cool.
PW: Who were your musical inspirations growing up and how did they impact your desire to be part of the industry?
EW: I grew up listening to all the big voices in music, Christina, Whitney, Mariah. They just seemed like powerful women and their voices were an extension of that power. I also had a phase in high school, like most my age, where I really got into indie music. I went to Warped Tour one year with a friend who had free tickets and it opened my eyes to what independent artists were capable of. The idea of DIY was so liberating and rebellious; it gave me a lot of inspiration to not feel a label had to give me validation, but if people wanted to hear my music, and I gave them the platform to do it I could skip so many channels.
PW: How did having a musician father help or hinder that decision?
EW: It didn't. He was always a dreamer and that inspired me to dream. He was in The Newports in the 60s and if you have ever seen the movie That Thing You Do, that was my dad. I was always surrounded by music growing up and though by the time I came along my father had moved on from music to be a “family man,” that talent was always around me. Music was a way for me to escape and express myself. He helped me find that.
PW: What was it that made you apply to go on The Voice?
EW: A couple of my girlfriends were going to the audition and I tagged along. I had gone to an American Idol audition in high school and I didn’t even get through the first round, so my expectations were very low. At the time, I had just graduated college and moved to Brooklyn, NY. I was playing little shows around the city and really exploring what life as a musician would be.
PW: Do you have any favorite memories from your time on the show?
EW: One of my most favorite memories was the night of my birthday/semi-finals. It was the night that the top 4 were to be announced. All the contestants were escorted to the stage for the live opening with Carson Daly. That night we all were a little nervous knowing that whoever made it to top 4 would have an intense week ahead of them with press and engagements for the finale the following week. Before we went live, Blake Shelton came up to us as we were being placed in our positions and asked if we all were nervous – we all clearly were. So anyway, he hands us a cup and says “Here, have some of this” - a mixed drink concoction - and we all sip and pass the cup as if we are college freshman partaking in a hazing activity. It ends up at Chris Mann who chugs the rest of it, with Blake cracking up that we drank all of his drink. I have loads more great memories too.
PW: Did your mentor Blake Shelton give you any particularly good advice?
EW: Though I didn't take it at the time, he often reminded me - and a few other contestants - that there are always going be people out there that don't like you, are mean, and have nothing better to do than tweet you rude shit…but that you shouldn’t let it affect any decisions you make. Also, he said that, as with any job, life is still going to happen and your career and personal life are a balancing act.
PW: What was it like being coached by Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert?
EW: They are two of the most down to earth women I have ever met in the industry and they are talented and successful because of it. I once drunk cried at both of them telling them how great they were at the wrap party for our season…I think I freaked them out a little bit.
PW: Would you do a show like that again, and if not, why?
EW: As the Biebs once said: “I will never say never.” It’s not something that is on my trajectory right now, but I don't know what will come in the future. I would rather build my fan base in other ways and sometimes I find with talent based shows that it's hard to transition a viewer who is a fan of you “on the show” to being a fan of you “as an artist in real life,” especially when you are trying to show who you are artistically by singing cover songs.
PW: Your success on the show led to you opening for Adam Lambert. What was that like?
EW: Adam is talented as hell and it was an honor to sing for him. He has capitalized so well on his success from Idol and I look up to him for that. I did ask for a picture with him after the show but he kindly declined because he was all sweaty. That was a sad day for Erin Willett.
PW: What inspired your debut self-titled EP?
EW: The inspiration behind the EP was just trying to figure out who I was as an artist. I just had a lot to say and was trying to figure all the thoughts in my head. I was young and had an incredibly successful run on a hit TV show, but I wanted to separate myself from it. I wanted to see if I could do it on my own. I wanted to channel the power I had looked up to in Christina and Whitney and Mariah and be unapologetic. My father had just died and I got a lot of support from fans, but I also got a lot of hate saying I had exploited his death. And as a 23 year old just trying to figuring it out, you want to stand up and yell “fuck you, you have no idea what you're talking about!” but NBC press probably wouldn't like that. So after the show, let's just say I had a lot of pent up aggression to just express myself. And whether that was saying “fuck you” or “I've regretted somethings in my life” or “I'm just trying to figure that out” …it felt good.
PW: You developed an eating disorder after The Voice. How did that impact your career and life decisions?
EW: During that time in my life, I didn't know how to balance anything. I didn't know what I was doing or where I was going and I just felt lost. I was becoming very insecure about myself and my talent, and it was effecting my career. I was thinking about quitting music because I wasn’t fulfilled by it anymore. It was all just becoming too much and nothing was happening the way I wanted. I was making decisions out of fear and running away from a lot.
PW: Why did you decide to open up about your struggles when so many people keep quiet?
I felt that if I truly wanted to get past it, I had to bare it all and just be vulnerable. It was the scariest thing to do but I thought that it would be the beginning of a new chapter that I had wanted so desperately in my life. I realized that, no matter the reactions of people, I had to do it for myself. It was a ghost that was a burden to hide and I just wanted to get rid of that weight.
PW: What do you hope will happen as a result of you being open and honest about your disorder? Do you think it will encourage others to do the same?
EW: I think there is a power in realizing we all, as people, struggle with similar things. We all do things that we think are weird, or think “no one else does that...I'm so alone,” but the truth is you're not. And as much as I hope this encourages people to be honest about their struggles, my first priority was me. I wanted to be a better, more honest version of myself and that was my way of moving toward that.
PW: You're also to appear on the new series of The Biggest Loser. Were you a fan of the show prior to joining the latest series?
EW: I had definitely seen a few episodes and envied many contestants. I have always in my life wanted to lose weight - in a healthy way - but never could just take the first step. I would try to convince myself that I was okay with my weight to stay stagnant in my lifestyle but I was just lying to myself. And especially while trying to be a more honest version of myself, I had to finally fess up to the idea that I wasn't happy in my body…and whether that meant doing something to change the physical or the mental, it was going to have to happen.
PW: Shows such as TBL have often had a mixed reaction with some people believing that the goals, transformations and fitness regimes featured aren't realistic to every-day people. What are your thoughts on that?
EW: For me, the show has been an incredible vessel to learn more about myself. Whether that be learning how to take care of my body or empowering me to be proud of myself and every milestone I achieve. Yes there were things on the ranch that I was like “What the heck?!” but in reality they were outside my comfort zone, a place I had lied to myself to stay in and a place I didn't want to be anymore. The process isn't for everyone, but if you surrender yourself to it, there are a lot of things that you start to realize about yourself that you probably wouldn't otherwise. I am proud that I have learned what a healthy lifestyle looks and feels like for me. It's hard work, every single day, but it feels good. It’s very interesting what you can get done when you make yourself the priority. It might not seem “realistic” to your current situation, but when you change your perspective, it's very interesting what things are actually possible.
PW: Tell me about your single "Out Of The Darkness”.
EW: "Out Of The Darkness" is a song I wrote about 2 years ago. It was when I was feeling very stuck in my career. As I told you before, things weren’t going my way and nothing seemed possible. I had created this hole for myself and decided I was going to be okay sitting in it. I was struggling with a little depression and my fears of the future. This was the song I wrote to myself to just be straight up and honest with myself. This was my way of looking inside and asking myself for advice. This also, is probably one of the fastest songs I ever wrote. It all came out so quickly that I realized how much of my environment and my attitude was effecting who I was becoming…and I didn't like who I was becoming. This song is honest and raw and not necessarily all rainbows and unicorns. It's saying “the struggle is real” and it's your choice to try and get out of it. i love the song to the core, because it's honest...and that's who I am becoming…and I love that.
PW: The track is taken from your upcoming EP due out early next year. What can you tell me about it?
EW: It's compiled of songs that I have written over the past few years. Nothing is really locked down on it, but I feel like my writing is more reflective of a more honest version of myself. I want to stop the “fake it till you make it” mentality that I have been putting on for years, and really delve into what I want and what I need to do to get there.
PW: Do you have a favourite track and if so, which is it and why?
Once again, nothing is locked down, but a song I hope makes the EP is a song I wrote with my friend and co-writer Esther. It’s called “On The Way Down” and it has this gospel feel to it. We had written it about a friend of ours that we were kind of judging the shit out of. He was going through some internal struggles but pretending he was all good and perfect. I also at the time had a huge crush on him which didn't help the judging. But the more and more I think about the lyrics, they really were about what I was going through. I was projecting all of this judgement on him, but I was the one who thought I had it all figured it out and I was looking down on him about it. It's just a song saying, you're going to make mistakes…its inevitable…don’t be scared of those mistakes and look forward to the lesson.
PW: Who or what most influences and inspires your song-writing?
EW: My relationships with people and people interacting with one another. This is one of the reasons I love watching reality TV so much. I love seeing how people react and how many sides to a story there really are. Life is crazy like that and perspective is really an interesting thing. I also don't know how this growth within myself after The Biggest Loser will effect or change my writing. I haven't had the chance to sit down and write a song yet, and I wonder if it will be more internal and personal instead of outwardly looking at others.
PW: With which three artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with and why?
EW: Michael Jackson. I think any singer/songwriter/performer can agree with me on this one. He is just a legend. His songs are classics but there is something that feels timeless, as if they could forever be on the Billboard Top 100. His approach to performing was so innovative and fearless. On The Voice, I got to work with vocal coach Romeo Johnson, who had worked with Michael, and that was just insane to me.
Next, I’d go with Hayley Williams. She is just someone I look up to in all aspects of music. Her writing, vocal ability and live performances are incredible and she is awesome. She's like this little body with such power, but she was also one of the bands I saw the first time I went to Warped Tour and it was when Paramore had just released All We Know Is Falling. I remember standing there, watching her and the band on stage - there was just so much passion and surrender in her performance. She just ran around the stage and head banged and let the music move her without giving a single fuck.
Finally, Jessie J. I have followed a substantial part of Jessie’s career dating back to when her videos on YouTube were big, because she hadn't released any music yet. Her vocal gymnastics are sick and she can also write a great pop song. Her tenacity and spitfire attitude are something I look up to. She just seems like a down ass bitch and her honesty is so admirable. I have come very close on many occasions to meeting her and each time has slipped through my fingers. During season 2 of The Voice, Blake’s team was originally contacted to perform with her and I literally almost shit my pants when I got the email in my hotel room. Team Christina enviably got to perform with her that season…it's all good though, since I probably would have looked like a deer in headlights admiring her as she performed and would have missed all cues because I would be have been in awe of the whole thing!
PW: If you could play any venue in the world, which would it be?
EW: There is an outdoor stage in my town right next to our City Hall. It's so small and intimate but it was a stage I drove by all my life thinking, “wouldn't it be something to come back to the town I grew up my whole life in and pack the lawn with people who have helped make me into the person I am today and show other kids from where I live that it's possible to do what you want to do and be bigger than your own dreams.” It's no MSG or The Staples Center, but it's a dream that 5 year old me would freak out over knowing it came true.
PW: How do you feel about social media? Would you agree it's helped in terms of giving you an audience?
EW: Social media is a tool that is incredible if used correctly. It is a direct line to those who want to know what is going on with you and a way to connect to the people that mean the most to you. It can be scary how closely woven everyone can be, but if you accept the flaws of it and focus on the power of it you can use it to your advantage. For a while after The Voice I had a mental block about actually wrapping my mind around the fact that people all over the world were actually fans of mine. It weirded me out to interact because I didn't understand why I was so special. I’ve recently realized that this was a problem I was having with myself and loving who I am and finally being able to accept that support from other individuals. I am excited to reconnect with people and show them how grateful I am to them because they have made me realize that my dreams are tangible.
PW: Finally then, aside from your EP and appearance on TBL, what else does 2016 have in store for you? What would you ultimately like to achieve in the year ahead?
EW: I just feel like this year I am open to all the possibilities like never before. I have seen what is possible when I push myself out of my comfort zone and also learn how important it is to make myself and what I truly want for myself a priority. I feel like the changes I have implemented in my day to day life just make me feel happy and fulfilled and anything more than that is just blessings. I'm so proud of myself for all the changes I have made and look forward to continuing to be the best version of myself I can be. I know now that I have the power to do anything I put my mind to…but I have to fearlessly DO IT!
To keep up to date with Erin, visit her website, give her a like on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and don't forget to watch The Biggest Loser when the new series, 'Temptation Nation', premieres January 4 at 9/8c on NBC. Her music is available on itunes.