Sharon Zettlemoyer, aka Ms. Z, will travel a long way for music. She grew up in Poughkeepsie, New York, which is part of the New York City metro area, but sits midway between Albany and the Big Apple. She moved over 1400 miles from her hometown to Wilmot to take a position teaching music. She taught in Wilmot for five years, and then transferred to Webster to become the K-12 music teacher. Sharon says she loves the smaller schools and small town living, but she still has big city dreams.
One of those dreams is to be up on a stage singing and traveling across the nation to entertain crowds of fans. And as most people know, if you aim to be a famous singer, especially a country singer, Nashville is the place to go. Although Sharon isn’t quite ready to pack it all in and move to Nashville, she is ready to take a shot at stardom.
“One day, while my sixth grade students and I were practicing the ukulele, I sang one of the songs we were practicing in music class and they said, ‘you should go on The Voice.’ I brushed it off, but they kept pushing me.” Sharon says she has imagined auditioning on a TV talent show, especially The Voice, but things never gelled. This year the encouragement and timing seem perfect.
She flies to Nashville – a journey of 1100 miles – on February 14. Early in the morning, on February 16, she will make her way, from a hotel to The Voice audition center to stand in line to await her turn. Once inside the venue, she says, “You are separated into a pod with nine other singers and a producer. You all sing in front of everyone. If they call your name, you get a red ticket. If not, you know you didn’t make it. If I get a red ticket and pass to the next round, my callback will be in one to three days.”
Why The Voice and not American Idol or America’s Got Talent? “American Idol doesn’t seem as friendly as The Voice, she says. “The Voice gives you enough time to sing a verse and a chorus of a song, so they can see what you are capable of. On American Idol it’s just 30 seconds. The Voice also seems more practical. They care about your musical ability and not what you look like or if you come in a costume.” As for America’s Got Talent, she says it’s not a fit for her, “I’m just about singing.”
“I have been singing pretty much since I came out of the womb,” she says. “And when I was three, I wanted to be Madonna. I was obsessed with her and it grew into a passion where I sang all day, every day, every second. I’m sure my parents were annoyed, but I didn’t care.”
She was about 10 or 11 years old when American Idol was first on TV. She was instantly hooked. After watching the first season, she adored the winner, Kelly Clarkson. “I was so excited anyone could go on the show and become a singer. The show made it seem possible. It’s so easy to forget about your dreams.”
“I always wanted to be a music teacher – I love it more than anything in the world,” she says. “But there is always a part of me that wants to see if I can do more.”
Her biggest decision while preparing for her upcoming audition was choosing the right song. (But you will have to watch the show to find out what it is. Her song is a surprise.) She is willing to reveal, “It will be country because that’s more my speed, but I went through my entire playlists of about 30,000 songs.”
“At the audition, you have a minute and thirty seconds to show exactly what you can do, and it’s really important to show your range, flexibility, and style. I have to have three more songs if I get a callback. So, it was a little stressful. But in the end I think I picked solid choices.” Contestants are allowed to play an instrument during one tune, and Sharon is ready for that challenge. She plays the flute, trumpet, piano, guitar, and ukulele. At The Voice tryout, she plans to play the piano or ukulele.
Sharon says the biggest influence in her musical career (other than Madonna, of course) was her high school choir teacher. “She was phenomenal, and she was probably the biggest influence I’ve had in my life as far as music and teaching… and just really everything. I wish she could be there, but she passed away a few years ago. When I try something new, she is always the first person I think of. So, I can hear her now saying, ‘Yes, do it!'”
Sharon’s biggest fan? She says that’s a toss-up. Although her family is so supportive, her co-workers and students are also amazing. “They have encouraged me through the whole process. The band teacher and her husband are taking me to the airport to catch my flight. The kids (students) wanted to find sponsors so they could also fly out to support me, but I told them they have to stay in school. I’ll update them along the way. It’s kinda awesome to feel their energy and know that I have so much support and all these people in my corner.”
Sharon will fly solo to and in Nashville, but she was quick to add, “I read the staff are so friendly. It’s just going to be amazing to finally be there.” She plans to also do some sightseeing and is especially interested in checking out the Grand Ole Opry and getting a real feel for Music City.
One of her students asked her which judge she will select to work with if she gets chosen. Sharon says she answered, “Blake.” Her students then encouraged her to “pick whoever turns around first, they’re the one who believes in you.” Sharon thinks that’s a convincing argument and great advice. After all, her long time idol Kelly Clarkson is a judge. Other judges include Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and John Legend.
Sharon knows the road to stardom is never easy, and she expects to come up against a lot of tough competition in the 5000 to 7000 singers who plan to audition just in Nashville. (Auditions cities also include New York, San Francisco, and Miami.) But, she is optimistic she’ll make it to the second round. “Even if I don’t get the red ticket, the whole thing will be a learning experience,” she says. ‘I’ll know I tried.” So, when all is sang and done in Nashville, she can certainly find comfort in knowing a country road will take her home.
Season 16 of The Voice premieres Monday, February 25, followed by another episode on Tuesday, February 26. The NBC series typically airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8 p.m. EST. This season, after the first two shows, it airs only on Mondays.