Weeks before one of the biggest singing auditions of her life, Christy Simpson, 20, sat confidently in the living room of her Pleasantville home, watching on television as Beyonce - her "all time favorite" - sang the national anthem at President Barack Obama's inauguration.
Simpson watched intently, studying and taking in her performance, because, in less than a month, the college student has plans to travel to New York City to be on the other side of the screen. Five open call audition sites for the hit NBC vocal competition, "The Voice," have been announced, and Simpson plans to be at one of them.
"I was nervous, but now I'm ready to go," she said, referring to her Feb. 16 audition at the Javits Convention Center in New York.
Singing since age 4, the Charter Tech High School of the Performing Arts graduate, has always turned to the art form. Her mother, Linda McKoi, was a singer, but after having children, never pursued it seriously. Simpson, on the other hand, just can't seem to let it go.
"I just love music - I love to sing," she said. "It's just very invigorating. You feel like your own person. You cast all your worries away. It just gives you a rush. You don't have to worry about anyone judging you."
But, in this case, she'll have a panel of television executives and, potentially, a lineup of four celebrity singers judging her.
"The Voice," which begins its fourth season March 25, focuses on singing ability and star quality rather than appearances, which attracted Simpson to the show.
Once singers pass two rounds of initial judging behind the cameras, they must prepare for blind auditions for the celebrity panel.
And with their backs to the performer, the face behind the voice is only revealed to the judges once he or she hits their button to vote for them. This season, Usher and Shakira will round out the new cast of judges, joining vets Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine and country star Blake Shelton."I like the whole concept. They can't really judge you on your image, just your voice," the Pleasantville resident said, admitting that "American Idol" and its shock-value audition segments never appealed to her.
The newest American Idol judge, Mariah Carey, does, however, have the support of Simpson.
"Oh, I love Mariah! She helps me with my notes," she said.
Simpson - who receives lessons from Charter Tech vocal teacher Julie-Ann Green and her American Eagle Outfitters manager and former singer Jeremy Stayton - said she has a "nice range," but wouldn't compare her singing style to any particular artist.
"I like to sing R&B, but I can sing folk, classical," she said. "I try to be diverse and expand my horizons."
The business student hopes to make an impression with a prepared medley of "The Climb," by Miley Cyrus, "One + One," by Beyonce and "Lovin' You," by Minnie Riperton. The approach has never been done on the show before and will succeed in showing off her versatility, she said.
"Christy has a strong, powerful voice with a wide range, which makes her capable of singing many different styles of music," Green said, who helps Simpson once per week with her vocal technique.
Simpson revealed that to have a judge spin his or her chair for her would be "life changing" and to be a part of Usher's team would be ideal.
"(Usher) knows the industry very well," the aspiring singer said. "He's an entrepreneur. He can help me with my voice breathing techniques and strengthening. I feel like I could learn a lot."
Simpson already has sung in her fair share of talent shows and performances - Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart" was her choice at age 5 in her school's talent show, and she sang on four occasions with a mass choir at Carnegie Hallwhile in high school - but hopes that "The Voice" would be her big break.
Friend and mentor, Kristin Eason, 25, originally of Pleasantville, hopes to be there when it happens. The two have plans to drive up to the city bright and early for the audition, expecting large crowds and plenty of wait time.
The friends met a year ago with the start up of Princess Inc., the Pleasantville-Atlantic City-based mentoring program for young women. Simpson, who once served as the group's president, now serves as a junior ambassador with Eason.
"I've been telling her (to) just stay focused and basically claim it," Eason said, confident in her friend's talent.
"I think she's completely 100 percent capable and … even if she doesn't make it, it's an experience, and she will make it somewhere."
"It's not like I don't have next year," Simpson said.
And with stiff competition, Simpson has to prepare to hear a few "no's," but won't stop until she achieves her dream of singing professionally, an attitude she hopes to share with the young teens she counsels.
"Start believing more in yourself," she said she would share with her Princess Inc. girls. "Be strong. Be independent. Love yourself more and just think about where you want to see yourself in the future. … If you want something you have to go for it."
Contact Caitlin Honan: