When Houston native Sarah Golden's audition for NBC’s hit singing competition The Voice aired a few weeks ago, producers opted to mask her identity, putting the show’s entire premise of a “blind audition” to the test, not merely for the judges but for viewer at home as well.
The voice-over intro to Golden’s performance focused squarely, not on her sound, but on how her refusal to fit a cookie cutter mold with her physical appearance has held her back professionally. To that end, the viewers saw little more than what The Voice judges got to see, forcing people to judge her merely on her talent.
Although, for the trained lesbian in the audience, it seemed fairly apparent that she just might be one of the team as The Voice cameras revealed only Golden’s desert boot and jean-clad lower body.
In the end, the 27-year-old musician, who’s amassed quite a fan following playing shows in and around the Houston area, literally turned judges Cee Lo Green’s and Blake Shelton’s heads with her slow-burn rendition of Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” Golden joined team Cee Lo and now she’s off to the Battle Rounds, which began last week and continue on for the next few Mondays.
SheWired chatted with Golden about the masked audition, coming out as a folk musician, singing Gaga and choosing Cee Lo.
SheWired: Out of the gate let’s discuss that dramatic intro to your blind audition. Who made the decision to mask your identity, and were you in on it?
I was, and I have to say, this show is absolutely leaps and bounds better than just about anything else I’ve experienced in terms of really being supportive. I feel like maybe they got kind of a bad rap, a bad name for doing it that way (the producers). It really went along with my story line because I have always been judged based on my appearance and not based on what else I have to kind offer. I think maybe if it had been edited a little bit differently it wouldn’t have sounded like I do have some deformity or something [laughs].
But they were really excited about it. I was totally on board the whole blinding me out thing.
I think the lesbians who were watching just thought, “Oh, she’s gay.”
I know that’s all I was thinking throughout that intro.
And I’m fine with that. That really is kind of who I’ve been. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself, but that is kind of who I’ve been aiming toward kind of targeting. Not just lesbians, but the whole GLBT community, and honestly, even folks who don’t even get a chance.
I had one guy send me a very beautifully written letter about how he feels the same as I do because he’s in a wheelchair. He sent me some of his stuff (music) and he’s actually really good. He has said, “I feel like I can’t catch a break. Who wants to watch some guy in a wheelchair play songs?” I was very happy to, not happy to hear that, happy to hear that he connected with me. I’m not just trying to pigeonhole myself into being the GLBT spokesperson as much as I am just standing up for the little guy that doesn’t get the attention that they deserve.
While it’s terrific that you are out about your sexual orientation I was really impressed that you came out as a folk musician. Out and proud folk musicians are rare.
I know. Actually, it was so funny because there are about 15 plus steps to this process before you even get to the blind audition. At one point there were about 300 of us that flew out to L.A. when they were still weeding people out. There was a very large percentage of country folks, a very large percentage of R&B folks, and then everyone would ask me, “What do you do?” And I would say, “folk.” And they’re like, “What? How do you even qualify? Who’s a folk person?”
I’d say like Shawn Colvin or Lucinda Williams and they would say “I don’t know any of those people.” Oh come on!
Two of my favorites.
I know. See, that’s the thing in Houston, because Houston is not quote-unquote the music scene, in Texas it’s Austin clearly. Houston is the folk scene.
I didn’t know that.
It’s funny. Most of my peers are in their 50s and up, but that’s the people that I play with. We all sing the same kind of stuff.
Can you talk to me a little bit more about how you got into the folk scene in Houston?
Not to be your stereotypical lesbian, but I have always been an Indigo Girls fan. I’ve always thought they’ve had probably the greatest harmonies. I also always loved the fact that they never hooked up because as any true music fan or musician should know, you should never date within the band. So I was always so happy to hear all that because then they would never breakup.
I grew up in a very eclectically musical family. My mom was an opera major. My dad has always been in blues and jazz. My brother is actually a jazz musician. And then my sister very much got me into Poe, Fiona Apple, Tori Amos and Sarah McLaughlin even. You know, got me into all of the awesome Lilith Fair kind of ladies.
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You were one of a handful of people who auditioned for The Voice with an instrument. When did you start to play guitar?
I sang my whole life but never played guitar and the thing that really got me into playing originally, there was a girl.
There’s always a girl.
I saw that she had a bunch of stickers on her car of bands like Nirvana and Hole. She brought a guitar one day and so I grabbed a guitar and I went on the Internet and I learned every single song by all of these bands hoping that one day she would have a guitar and I would pull it out and I’d just strum a few chords and she’d be like, “Oh my gosh. You know Hole?” And I’d be like, “Oh yeah. You know Hole?” How perfect would that be?
How old were you when you came out?
I was, I don’t know, 15 or 16 when I came out. I have a very liberal family. A very loving family. I never experienced any of the hate and terrible things that come along with it. It was something that we just never talked about because I think it was something everybody knew. I was the little kid that was like “God, that girl smelled so good, did you think that girl smelled good?” And my older sister’s like, “We get it lesbo. Chill out.”
I read that you’ve been in a relationship for six years.
I’m in a long-standing relationship -- a hugely supportive relationship.
Let’s talk about what happened immediately following your performance. What was going through your mind when you realized you’d have to choose between Blake and Cee Lo?
Throughout the whole show I told everybody that I wanted to be on Blake’s team. But Cee Lo was pretty convincing in his argument. You really only got to see a very small portion of the conversation that took place. He’s hilarious. I’m totally crass and have a sarcastic sense of humor that I felt meshed very well with him. At the end of it, I really can’t tell you what it was.
Cee Lo seems like a good fit.
He’s different. I’m different. It seems like he would be cool to work with. Also, half the people on the show were gay and out. That was a huge part of the reason that I even went forward with the audition.
Tell me about your song choice for the blind audition – Lady Gaga’s “You and I.” Did her being such an incredible LGBT ally figure in to your song choice or did you choose it just because it’s a great song?
I love Gaga, and I love what she stands for and how absolutely, absurdly crazy she is in her shows. It’s show stopping and I’m always so inspired by her crazy showmanship. I’m too scared to do anything like that. I just don’t think I have the guts. I’m a huge fan. When I originally auditioned for the show, I auditioned in Houston with two songs. One was a folk version of “Poker Face” and the other was a Gillian Welch song – “Miss Ohio.”
That Gillian Welch song is terrific.
Yeah.For that audition they said, “OK, what are your songs?” And I said, “I’m going to do Gillian Welch “Miss Ohio” and then I have Lady Gaga “Poker Face.” And they said, “You understand that nobody here knows that song (Welch’s) and if you get halfway through it and we don’t take you, then that’s it. You’re done.”
I said, “Yeah,” and they said, “So which song do you want to do?” I said, “Gillian Welch “Miss Ohio.” Let’s go.” They let me finish. And they were like, “That’s a really good song.” And I said, “Hell yeah it is.”
I love it.
So I had originally gone in with that song, and then they wanted to hear the Lady Gaga to see what I could kind of modernize. But “Poker Face” was not an option.
Was this at the blind audition?
Yes. There’s a list. It’s like a 300-plus song list. Actually, you are charged as a participant with putting those songs in order of 1 to 300. Basically, in terms of what your strongest preference would be versus the song you’d like to do the least.That is a daunting task.
I would imagine.
I don’t consider myself even a guitar player. I think I’m a singer who can play the guitar. This, to try to figure out if I could even play half these songs, it was like, “holy crap, are you kidding?”
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What was your number 300?
[Laughs] Oh my god. Number 300. Let’s see, trying to think of songs on the list. I mean, there were songs that I would never be able to do. There were Mariah Carey songs or there were some completely out of my range songs. There were some rap songs. I couldn’t even tell you what my bottom song was. By the time it gets to like the last, really honestly, 150, it’s like I’ll just put the rest of them in here.
Lady Gaga, I feel like, is someone who is kind of in my range. Someone I feel like I could do a good show with. I like her because she gets soft and belts out. I think that a big thing about my music, personally, is I have the ability to belt out and those are kind of wow moments in my shows at home.
Lady Gaga was always my number one choice. So I didn’t realize just how cool it was to get the song that you picked the whole time until I realized that some people were doing their 12th and 15th and 20th songs, because there’s only so many people and they can’t have anybody do the same songs.
That makes sense.
I was lucky enough to get that. My second song, I think, was Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Also a good one.
I was happy to get the Lady Gaga song for a million reasons and I think the main reason being I like the song and the second being for what she stands for. I’m so happy to kind of represent her. I hope I did her some justice.
How is prepping for the battle rounds going?
Awesome. Getting prepared for it is super. I don’t think I’m allowed to actually go into any of that.
Team Cee Lo
I figured but I thought I’d try just the same.
What sort of response have you gotten from viewers since the blind audition aired?
In terms of the response, it’s been crazy. It’s almost overwhelming and it’s 98-percent positive, which is awesome. There’s always going to be people that just want to put you down for no good reason. It has reminded me a lot of high school and all the drama, you know, just being a young, not quite out yet teen. I was actually outed in private school. So that was not very fun. So it has brought back some of that, just the negative press at the very least, but the positive has, so far, overcome that.
Seriously, the messages I’m getting on a regular basis are just so touching and it’s very, “Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for.” I honestly, I don’t believe I’m a pioneer. I know that there were plenty of gay folks last year on the show.
It’s still important to have that visibility though.
Yeah. I absolutely believe that. Something that I told the show repeatedly was, “I thank you guys so much for what you’re doing and letting me be me and not trying to put me in a freaking box.” This is so big to me, and to me, this show makes me feel like we’re making strides because a lot of people watch this show.
There’s that other little show, American Idol, which has yet to feature an out contestant, so The Voice is leaps and bounds ahead.
I agree and, actually, I auditioned for that other little show.
And they told me, “No, we’re not interested.” I got the sense that there was something else to it. They were like, “Look, you got a great voice but you’re never going to make it looking like that,” and that was it.
And that was kind of the same thing with another one (singing competition). This was the first show that was like, “Hey, we love you.” And I said, “Yeah, but what do I need to change?” And they said, “No, come on down. Sing your, whatever that girl’s name is. Gillian? Jillian? Whatever you want to call her.” So they’ve been super great and super supportive throughout the duration and I’m so thankful for that.
Is there anything else you’d like to touch on?
If there is anything that I can take from all this, or even put out there, just given the responses that I’ve gotten, or as a follow-up to the responses that I’ve received so far from so many very sweet fans, do not stop doing what you’re doing. Don’t change for anybody.
Read SheWired's interview with The Voice's Erin Martin here.