VICCI MARTINEZ IS BACKSTAGE awaiting an elimination round on NBC’s The Voice, and she’s not afraid to tell the world, “I kind of feel like I have to poop.” “I want the people to know what it really feels like to be on The Voice,” she says with a let’s-mess-with-the-network grin. Pacing in skintight gold lamé pants and elfin boots, she seems to be channeling Joan Jett and Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream—ready to rock and make a little mischief. In a few minutes, the 26-year-old from Tacoma will run onto a glowing boxing ring, jabbing the air like Rocky, to battle a 19-year-old for dominance in a duet of a Pink song. Martinez will cock her head back, close her eyes, and let a soulful solo rip as she bounces around stage in what celebrity judge Cee Lo Green will later call her “war dance.”
And she’ll win. It was the performance of the night.
America, meet our bluesy singer-songwriter, the self-taught guitarist who picked up the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and “In My Life” by ear at age 12, and was in a band by high school. She was a working musician by age 16, the same year she came out to her parents. (“Being in a religious family, it wasn’t accepted.”) And though she mended those relationships, she continues to forge her own path—on national TV and off.
“I’d tried out for American Idol the first year. I was able to go on but I didn’t because they were already telling me how to dress—to make myself look more rock star and Hollywood—and I was like, screw this, that’s not why I play music. And then this show was totally opposite.” If and when she feels like wearing gold lame pants, she can. Martinez also benefits from one on ones with Cee Lo, her coach in all things soul, rock, and funk, who draws from his experience as a solo artist and half of the Grammy-winning alt hip-hop band Gnarls Barkley. Tutor and tutee are close enough that she’ll even reveal what’s behind Cee Lo’s ever-present sunglasses. “He has these tiny, beady eyes.”
If Martinez feels like wearing gold lamé pants on The Voice, she can.
As for her own reality TV persona, Martinez says, “I was really surprised that they’re not making people look bad. Everyone’s character and personality was spot on.” Who wouldn’t mind being pegged as the fiery soul singer from the Pacific Northwest? It makes our corner of the world sound so much less…soggy. She’s proud to call Tacoma home, having just bought her first house there with her partner—an open, airy place that has a furnished apartment for her partner’s mom downstairs. A month after she won her first Voice battle, Martinez is back in Seattle, fielding press calls from a park in Queen Anne where she’s interrupted by a passerby who recognizes her (not from the show, but from middle school). She’s on a break from taping episodes in Los Angeles, and by the time this issue of Seattle Met runs, she may be $100,000 richer with a Universal Republic recording contract. Or not. Either way, we’ll be listening.