LOS ANGELES — The nerves were real for Gina Miles last fall and winter, when she first sang in front of the panel of four celebrity coaches for Season 23 of NBC’s “The Voice.”
Filmed in preparation for airing earlier this spring, the popular singing-competition reality TV series’ first four rounds of elimination — the blind auditions, battles, knockouts and playoffs — were a learning experience, admits the 19-year-old Miles, a Paxton native whose legal name is Gina Galey.
However, when last week’s semifinals arrived — and she performed live for a national viewing and voting audience — she looked every bit the self-confident, rising star she has since become.
“I think I’ve learned to trust in my own ability,” Miles told the Ford County Chronicle in an exclusive phone interview Friday ahead of her appearance on this week’s two-night season finale. “It’s really important in my career (field) to be confident in yourself, and I had a very big internal struggle with that, because in my daily life I wasn’t (confident) and it was showing in my work. So, I think the biggest thing that I’ve taken away from this show is that (confidence) is like the most important thing. To be able to have other people believe what you’re doing, you have to believe it, too.”
The soft-spoken Miles, an aspiring professional singer and songwriter with a bold, fluttering singing voice, looked much more at ease performing on stage in NBC’s studios in Los Angeles during last week’s live semifinals, after which she was voted by viewers to advance as one of five finalists. On Friday, Miles said her semifinals performance was her best so far.
“I definitely do feel more confident on stage,” Miles said. “I think it’s just mostly because I’ve let myself relax. I think the only one that was making me nervous before was me, and my problem was really internally, not really from external pressures. It was just me being in my head a lot, and I think I just finally learned to let go, because this is what I want to do — this is a hopeful career to me — and I need to be able to relax. I just found that in myself, and it’s been a lot nicer to go on stage a little less nervous than I used to, because it’s really stressful.”
Miles said she was working hard with the other four finalists to prepare for the live two-part finale that airs at 7 on Monday and Tuesday night, when each will perform a ballad and an up-tempo song in front of coaches Chance the Rapper, Kelly Clarkson, Niall Horan and Blake Shelton for a live national audience, which will vote one of them as “The Voice” and the winner of a recording contract.
“I’m super excited. I’m really grateful to be here at all,” said Miles, who is on Team Niall. “We’ve been preparing all week for the big show. All day, every day, we’re just working on stuff and making everything amazing. I’m really excited for everybody to see our performances, because we’re all working really hard on them.”
In addition to honing her craft, Miles was busy doing interviews with media outlets across the nation, from radio stations in Sacramento, California, where she now lives to her hometown newspaper in the seat of Ford County, Illinois.
“It’s been pretty busy, but I love to be busy,” said Miles, who grew up in Paxton and attended Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School through the end of her junior year before moving to Sacramento to live with her aunt and pursue a career in music. “The support from across America is just insane — and the fact that many people care and want to support me is just insane. It’s been a really eye-opening experience for me.”
Among those rooting for her success are people back in Paxton — pop. 4,450 — where another round of watch parties is set for Monday and Tuesday night at downtown establishments such as the Prairie City Wine Room, The Krog Uptown and Dr. E.T. Grove Civic Room. Miles said she greatly appreciates her hometown’s support.
“The support has been insane,” Miles said. “My dad (Ryan Galey) sent me pictures of all the (Gina Miles) posters around town, and I just was like, ‘This is crazy!’ It’s a real sense of community, and I’m really just happy to be a part of it, and to see everybody coming together is really special.”
Miles is still adjusting to her newfound celebrity. Just a few years ago, she was singing anywhere people would listen — at churches, hotels, bars and malls — no matter the size of the crowd.
“It’s something that’s really hard to believe — you know what I mean? — because where we started and where we ended up are very different places,” Miles said.
Miles hopes to use her experience on “The Voice” to launch a career in pop music.
“My dream is to sing for a career,” Miles said. “I would love to write for myself and for other people and tour and release albums and do all of those big things. I definitely think that’s the dream.”
To win “The Voice,” she said, would be “the biggest thing to ever happen to me.”
“It would be definitely a crazy, crazy thing to happen,” she said.
Regardless of the show’s outcome, she said she feels ready for her career to begin.
“Yeah, I’m ready,” she said. “I was ready before, I thought, and now that I’m actually ready, I realized how much I had to grow and how much I still have to go now.”
While it can be tough “just trying to navigate everything,” Miles said she believes she can be successful in music. It has helped that others seem to believe in her, too, she said.
“It’s easier to believe in yourself sometimes,” she said, “when everyone’s supporting you and you have that backbone of people and their belief in you.”
The highlight of her experience on “The Voice,” Miles said, was rehearsing with her fellow contestants, including her fellow finalists: Team Blake’s Grace West, 19, of Nashville, Tenn.; Team Blake’s Noivas, 30, of Hutto, Texas; Team Kelly’s D. Smooth, 25, of Montgomery, Ala.; and Team Chance’s Sorelle, comprised of three sisters who range in age from 15 to 21 and hail from Lexington, Ohio.
“We’re a very tight-knit bunch of people, and we all want everything to be perfect because we’re all singers and we’re all perfectionists, so we all just practice together and enjoy each other and share ideas and stuff like that,” Miles said. “That probably has been one of my favorite parts of the entire process is just making these friends and meeting all of these people and collaborating with other amazing artists. It’s just been an insane experience.”
Miles said she is now “absolute best friends” with fellow Team Niall contestant Kala Banham, who departed from the show after the battle round. In the battle round, the two teamed up to sing Bob Iver’s “Skinny Love” before Horan selected Miles to advance to the knockout round.
“One of my favorite performances was the battles,” Miles said. “I loved my battle partner so much … and I had so much fun working on that song.”
In the knockout round, Miles performed “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye to be selected as one of 20 singers to advance to the playoffs. In the playoffs, she performed “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak to advance to the semifinals, where she sang “All I Want” by Kodaline.
Her performance of “Wicked Game” prompted a congratulatory note from Isaak, who posted on social media: “Wow! Consider my chair turned. @ginamilesofficial! Great job.”
Miles said she was still in disbelief that Isaak listened to her song and told her he appreciated it.
“To know that he knows that I exist was just absolutely mind-blowing,” Miles said.
Miles initially appeared on the blind auditions, performing “The One That Got Away” by Katy Perry to advance to the battle round. Longtime coach Blake Shelton, in his final season on “The Voice,” was amazed by what he heard from Miles in her blind audition.
“Gina, where did you learn to sing like that? Who are your heroes? I’ve never heard a voice like that in my life,” Shelton said on the episode, which aired in March.
“I really love Adele. She’s like my favorite ever,” Miles responded.
On Friday, Miles tried her best to explain how she learned to sing.
“It’s just my voice,” she said. “I think practicing something over and over and over again in your voice — just singing it again and again and again — really helps you create your own style in how you like to hear things and how you like to say things — how you like to have varying inflections. It helps build your own sound when you’re just singing over and over and over again.”
The episodes that aired prior to last week’s live semifinals were recorded last fall and winter, Miles said.
“A big chunk of them we filmed all at once,” Miles said. “We were working for a couple of months at a time.”
Since then, Miles has not only realized improvement in her voice — with Horan telling her in last week’s semifinals episode that she seemed to be “a completely different person than who came to the auditions” — but has gained memories to last a lifetime.
“I just want to say thanks and let everybody know that I’m just as excited and happy as they are,” said Miles, whose favorite genre to sing is pop music. “It’s hard for me to communicate to such a large amount of people, but I am so grateful and happy, and I’m really excited. Thank you to everybody.”