Seventeen-year-old Wé McDonald’s blind audition on NBC’s The Voice is the talk of the town.
The Harlem native chose Grammy-winning artist Alicia Keys as her coach on the hit show, and the two have a lot in common: both faced tough obstacles when they were in middle school. “I was bullied for the longest time and I was ashamed of who I was,” McDonald said on the show. “I was an awkward kid,” she continued. “I had freckles, pimples, a lot of eye problems, a lot of pig tails, chubby — I wasn’t the cutest thing.”
And she was also picked on, ironically for her voice.
“That was not the voice I was expecting after that voice,” said coach Miley Cyrus after McDonald’s debut performance.
“A lot of people think it’s fake,” McDonald told NY1. “I mean can you imagine me talking like this every day and it’s fake — I would annoy myself.”
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But it’s her singing voice that’s turning heads and winning hearts.
McDonald cut her teeth at the Harlem School of the Arts where coaches and peers taught her to toughen up and face the music.
“That all kind of changed come about eighth grade because at the time my only friend was Jesus, so I really tried to look for an outlet and that outlet was music,” she said.
And her biggest influence is her father, a longtime educator in New York City public schools.
“Even when she was going through the tough times — she would come home and tell us but one thing she didn’t want to do, she didn’t want me to pull her out of the situation,” her father said. “She wanted to hold on and fight and challenge all of her obstacles and by doing she developed and a certain level of strength, tenacity, values and she looked at people differently.”
She got thick skin just in time for her debut on Amateur Night at The Apollo.
“The Apollo was something I was horrified about,” she said. “It was like what if I get booed off the stage, I don’t look like I’m 17, they might think I’m an adult what If I’m not good enough?”
She appeared on the Apollo four times — and won four times.
In between filming segments for The Voice, she’s a student at William Patterson College in New Jersey and the only freshman who majors in jazz.
McDonald credits the late singer Etta James as one of her biggest influences along with Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Janice Joplin and Billie Holiday.
“They’re angels that watch over me, and give me some feedback,” she said.
So far the feedback is overwhelmingly positive and with Alicia Keys as her mentor, McDonald says the sky is the limit.
“When people ask me ‘What do you wanna do?’ I always say I wanna be one of the world’s greatest entertainers and don’t stop. I have to make sure I keep going.”