Though NBC's The Voice has been a big hit for the struggling Peacock, the singing show has yet to mint a new superstar, a la American Idol's Kelly Clarkson, Phillip Phillips or Scotty McCreery. Perhaps the program's focus on big-name judges blots out the up-and-coming talent; Idol contestants suffered similarly once Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey elbowed their way into the room. But the music-business lifers who sit in the show's swivel chairs note that, these days, the industry is a marathon, not a sprint.
"People judge success like it's this all-or-nothing thing, and that's not the case," Voice judge Adam Levine said earlier this month. "A lot has happened for a lot of these artists who are all better off and are all at another level of their careers as a result of being on The Voice."
Raleigh-raised (and, these days, San Francisco-based) belter Kat Robichaud is a prime example. Her brazen vocals and pedigree leading area band The Design pushed her into the show's vague "rock chick" category during its fifth season. Robichaud capped her version of AWOLNATION's glitchy "Sail" with a brief bit of crowd-surfing, an act that won her new fans. She was eliminated, though, after a rocky run through Pat Benatar's quasi-inspirational "We Belong."
But her top-10 finish was somewhat ideal, given the divergence between her punk-flirting aesthetics and current pop trends. She avoided the pitfalls of winning and being locked inside the whims of Universal Music Group's executives while boosting her profile enough to turn casual onlookers into a prospective new audience.
This media-assisted, still-scrappy level of fame fits crowdfunding perfectly. Robichaud helped finance Kat Robichaud And The Darling Misfits, her first album since the show, through Kickstarter, raising more than $42,000. Guiding her was none other than the patron saint of online asking, Amanda Palmer. She declared herself a Robichaud fan early during the singer's Voice tenure, and in the Misfits liner notes, Robichaud thanks Palmer for being "there every time I had a question or qualm."
Misfits shows that the admiration stems from more than advice, too, as Robichaud's music capitalizes on Palmer-like gusto. A major label likely wouldn't have released this 14-track rollick as a singing-competition victory lap. Meticulously plotted yet full of unfinished edges, it's rough and raucous. These tracks burst with ambition informed by the over-the-top, frenetic energy of Freddie Mercury and Kristeen Young, by the withering stares of Marilyn Manson and Palmer's Dresden Dolls. Robichaud is a formidable ringleader, the sandpaper grit of her voice rubbing raw the orchestral hoopla around her.
Opener "The Elephant Song" deploys militaristic drums and clarion brass, while rolling piano and Robichaud's besotted swagger propel "Somebody Call the Doctor." Robichaud bends the power-ballad template to fit her needs for "It's Cruel That You Should Be So Beautiful" and "The Long Kiss Goodnight," songs that allow her to split the difference between vulnerability and full-throat emotion. During a few particularly thrilling moments—the syllable-stuffed "The Apple Pie and the Knife," for example—Robichaud sounds ready to charge headfirst into the under-populated space where symphonic metal and musical theater overlap.
"The show is a great jumping-off point, but you really have to hit the ground running when it's over and be ready with new music," Robichaud told Palmer when she was still fighting it out on The Voice. "Otherwise, I think time lapses, and you leave people's minds."
That was November 2013. Maybe Kat Robichaud And The Darling Misfits is a bit late for people who haven't been paying steady attention to former TV show contestants, but it's time well-taken, at least. Robichaud shows off an expansive musical vision and impressive executive savvy here, qualities that result in an unconventionally winning narrative for a singing-competition also-ran. —Maura Johnston