It is extremely unusual for NBC’s reality TV competition, “The Voice,” to have two San Diego-area singers vying for the top nine slots.
It is unprecedented for the live portion of the show, which airs Monday at 8 p.m. EDT, to go virtual.
But due to the coronavirus pandemic, instead of performing on stage in front of a live audience, Cedrice Webber, of La Mesa, and Mandi Castillo, of Carlsbad, will sing in their living rooms.
In fact, they already have recorded their tunes after back-and-forth communications with their respective celebrity coaches. Webber is working with Kelly Clarkson, who is at her ranch in Montana. Castillo is prepping with John Legend, who is giving her song choice, arrangement and technique advice from his Los Angeles home.
Webber, 28, graduated from Serra High School but didn’t develop her singing career until she was 24 and a student at San Diego State University. While there, she met musician Malachi Johnson, who manages an R&B soul fusion band.” They invited me to rehearsal one night. … We developed a musical chemistry, and they asked me to do a gig with them.” That was in October 2015, “and I haven’t stopped since,” Webber said.
Preparations for Monday’s virtual show have been intense and low tech. “I worked with a laptop and a GoPro camera,” said Webber. “I will not know what it will look like until you all do.” Coaching and communications with technicians and stylists were via Zoom.
“It feels like Christmas all over again,” she said. “Every time a UPS or FedEx truck comes into the neighborhood, I know it’s for me.” Shipments of shoes, fancy tops, dresses and accessories arrived — 15 outfits — all were tried on and critiqued with “Voice” stylists via Zoom to choose the best option.
All the at-home contestants will get to showcase a bit of their neighborhoods and towns for the audience.
Castillo, 23, lives in Carlsbad. She moved here after high school from San Antonio, where she grew up singing Tejano music with her uncle Jorge Alejandro’s band.
Castillo has sung at area coffee houses, but these days she spends her non-”Voice” time working construction. Yes. On any day she could be laying tile, painting baseboards or sanding cabinets. When I spoke to her, she was installing a bathtub. Castillo works for a company owned by the father of her boyfriend and music manager, Cion (pronounced Shawn) Palmerin.
Castillo and Webber didn’t know they both were from San Diego until they found themselves on the same train returning from blind auditions in Los Angeles. Both women share a life-changing medical story.
“‘The Voice’ reached out to me last year, but I wasn’t able to audition because I was in the process of donating a kidney,” Castillo said. Her mother was in need of a kidney transplant. It turned out that Castillo wasn’t a match, but she went ahead and donated a kidney to someone else so her mother would qualify to get one sooner from a matching donor.
At age 10, Webber was diagnosed with alopecia areata, a condition that causes hair loss. After years of bullying and low self-esteem, she took off her wig and revealed her hair loss during a speech in a Cuyamaca College class in 2012. She later stopped wearing wigs to conceal her condition, shaved her head and gave birth to a new self-confident version of herself.
The two singers since have developed a friendship, and Castillo says they hope to perform together some day after “The Voice” season ends, perhaps with another of the 17 remaining contestants, Nelson Cade III, of Irvine, Calif.
While their performances are prerecorded, both singers will be interacting remotely with judges on Monday’s telecast. “I made behind-the-scenes videos to post after the performance,” related Webber, who is active on Instagram and other social media.
(Diane Bell is a columnist for The San Diego Union-Tribune.)
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