When Ryan Berg thinks of The Voice, he thinks of coffee. Most mornings, the Dallas singer-songwriter and his competitors-turned-friends Jim Ranger and Ian Flanigan would grab some cups of joe and hang out at their hotel, taking a brief break from the surreal insanity of being on reality television. There were plenty of other positive memories for Berg, too, including his meeting with songwriter Julia Michaels of “Issues” fame (“to have that facetime was a fangirl moment for me,” he says) and writing songs with his co-artists, but those coffee conversations will always be a highlight.
“To be in a setting where we’re all coming with the same dream but different backgrounds is really special,” he says. “I’ve got some new brothers now because of that show.”
Berg competed in season 19 of The Voice, which was dramatically altered by the pandemic. Instead of performing for a live audience, he sang for the panel of famous coaches and a vast screen of fans tuning in on Zoom. Berg says he has always been an “anxious person,” so he was expecting to be nervous. But, for the most part, he wasn’t.
“I didn’t feel as much pressure as I thought I would,” he says, “and part of the reason why is because you rehearse your ass off before that. So, when you jump on that stage, it’s kind of like a blackout moment. Your adrenaline’s pumping, and you don’t remember much of anything. You don’t think about John Legend being right there.”
Berg, who considers his time on The Voice a positive experience, impressed Legend and Gwen Stefani with his smoky sonics, a sound that is perfect for blues and soul. However, like the several other Dallas Voice alums interviewed for this story, he knows being on The Voice, which returned for its 20th season this month, can only get you so far, and if you’re eliminated, fans can be quick to forget.
“I got 6,000 new followers overnight, which was a huge deal for me and still is,” says longtime Denton pop singer Katrina Cain. “People immediately hop on that train, but as soon as you get cut, they just forget about you. It’s frustrating because your entire M.O. as an artist is to develop a relationship with people. But my most popular song is still ‘Rhiannon,’ which I auditioned with almost three years ago. Honestly, it’s kind of a mindfuck. I want people to love my songs, too.”
Cain now lives in Los Angeles, where she has a new country project called Jessamynn.
“When I was on the show, they specifically tried to make me do country, but I was adamant that I was a pop artist,” she says. “And ... now I have a country project. Oops.”
Nevertheless, Cain’s proud of her new work and has spent much of the last two years writing music in L.A. and working on a forthcoming album release. She moved west shortly after her Voice elimination, leaving behind the Denton scene where she had invested 12 years of her life. The artist is keen on taking every career opportunity that presents itself, which is why she auditioned for The Voice.
“It’s an experience that, if you have the opportunity to have, you should take it,” she says. “I tried to go in with no expectations, and I kept telling myself, ‘It’s just a show. Take the opportunity, do your best, and it’ll be fine.’ But in a way, I knew, ‘This is about to be very weird.’”
Cain says she has never been a social person, so being sequestered for four months in a Burbank hotel with complete strangers (as all Voice competitors are if they make it past the show’s preliminary stages) was initially unappealing.
“I spent a lot of time hiding in my hotel room while others made friends,” she says.
She also put more pressure on herself than she expected.
“Even though they try not to make it this super-competitive environment, you’re always going to want to do better than the other person,” she says. “You don’t want to fall flat on national television, so how can you not be competitive?”
Cain eventually made some friends, though quality time and camaraderie with coaches Legend, Stefani and Adam Levine were pretty rare. As she puts it, “You’re not going to barbecues with celebrities.”
“You don’t really talk to your coach outside of your rehearsal,” added another contestant who asked to remain anonymous. “It can be a little lonely, and it’s not like all of the exposure you get one day is going to be with you the next day. Most of the time, it’s not.”
Because of the multiple nondisclosure agreements the show’s producers make contestants sign, Cain and others were a little reluctant to discuss details, and many didn’t know what they could or could not share. Yet the former contestants interviewed for this story had plenty to say about life after The Voice, which can be a mixed bag.
Some artists would rather not be associated with the show. Others, like Cain, believe the show was worth it. They all sometimes hesitate to bring it up.
“It’s kind of like tailoring your resume to the job you’re applying to,” Cain says. “Sometimes The Voice thing works, other times, no one cares. There have been so many seasons of the show, which means thousands of people have The Voice on their resume now. There’s a part of me that always worries about being seen as a ‘reality TV kid.’”
Ultimately, Cain considers the show “a stepping stone,” much like a gig at, say, The Bomb Factory. It was a great opportunity, she says, but it’s not making her famous anymore, and it doesn’t mean she can take her foot off the gas. That’s what Michael Lee, a Fort Worth bluesman and another former contestant, has consistently told Berg: "Don’t slow up."
“You need to be writing on the show. You need to be releasing music after,” says Lee, who has mentored Berg over the years. And Berg has listened; he’s hard at work on a new album, and he is planning a move to Nashville, where he has learned mentions of The Voice don’t carry much currency.
“I think a lot of Nashville people tend to put old Voice artists in a box,” Berg says. “At the end of the day, no one really gives a shit about a reality show. It’s like, ‘OK, you were on a show, but what have you done lately?’”
In Dallas, however, people seem to prick up their ears when they hear those two words. Berg has been playing plenty of outdoor gigs throughout the city, and he’s noticed that the crowds are a little bigger since his stint on television. Every now and then, he’ll wait two or three songs into a set before he says the words “The Voice.”
“That’ll turn some heads,” he says, “and people will pay closer attention for the rest of the show.”
That’s mostly a good thing. After all, if you’re paying attention to a Ryan Berg show, you’re going to hear and perhaps fall in love with his music. Yet, in a way, it can be a little frustrating.
“I want to be ‘Ryan Berg, singer-songwriter,’” he says. “I don’t want to be ‘Ryan Berg from The Voice.’”
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