A year ago, I left my home in California to embark on a 365-day tour across the USA in a 30-foot Winnebago with my partner. We played shows across the country to crowds of 150+ and crowds of 2. We played on beautiful stages, in basements, bars, storefronts, houses and more (to read about all the types of shows we played, read my blog 16 Types of Shows We’ve Played on the Road.)
I was asked to do a private audition for the producers of The Voice back in September of 2018, when we were 2 months into our road trip.
Some of you reading this have probably done the same audition or have auditioned for TV shows before. I’ve auditioned for The Voice twice with the general public. I’ve auditioned for American Idol once as a private audition (same deal, no waiting.) All 3 times, I was rejected. All 3 times, I told myself I didn’t care if I got it or not. All 3 times I realized I did care and, yes, I did want it. All 3 times I cried afterwards. All 3 times, I doubted myself as an artist and as a person.
I told myself: “I’m already on tour, doing it on my own, so I really don’t care if I get accepted.” The night before the audition, I played to a big crowd at The Listening Room in Nashville. I sang my heart out to a silent room full of people, I made some fans, and sold some CDs. I felt really great about my performance.
I auditioned the next morning and it erased all those good feelings.
I grew up in Los Angeles, surrounded by Us Weekly magazines, gossiping about who’s lost or gained weight, reality TV shows constantly in the background. It’s part of our culture: the importance of celebrity is palpable. Celebrities = Gods. If you’re a celebrity in any capacity, you’re better than everybody else. You’re untouchable. And that idea is injected into young artists and young minds every single day.
Here’s the best part: I have never watched one full episode of The Voice (and a lot of my artist friends who’ve also auditioned haven’t either). Back when American Idol first came out I watched the first few seasons of it, but I never watch it anymore. The competition doesn’t drive us, the drama doesn’t drive us, the image-driven stories don’t drive us: it’s simply that we want our voices to be heard.
So, for all my friends and fellow artists who get rejected on a daily basis: I hear you. I want you to know your art matters. Your voice matters. Your story matters. And it doesn’t need to be on TV to matter.
For a lot of us, our voice is a manifestation of our hearts on our sleeves. Sharing something as personal and unique as your voice takes courage. Singing is one of the most vulnerable things you can do, and for others to reject that is like getting stabbed in the heart. Okay, maybe that’s a little dramatic–it’s like being told your heart isn’t good enough.
I’ve learned through these failed auditions that I’m not as thick-skinned as I’d hoped. I’m a sensitive person with a warm heart. I’m a human being with a huge range of emotions, and I’m proud of that.
The night of the audition, after getting rejected and crying it out, I had another show in Nashville with 2 fabulous artists. They had both auditioned for similar shows, and we bonded over the experience of rejection, the mental setbacks it brings, and the grit it takes to move forward. We played in a divey bar to maybe 20-30 people. It wasn’t on TV. It wasn’t to millions of viewers. But it was our original music, our authentic selves, and we told our stories to people who enjoyed it for exactly what it was. And it was absolutely beautiful.
Ellisa Sun is an artist, songwriter, and blogger based in Nashville, TN. She released a new single today, “Quickdraw”, which is available on all streaming platforms.
Photos provided by Patric Carver and Ellisa Sun