Chloe Kohanski, who was crowned the newest Voice winner Tuesday night, stood out through Season 13 thanks to her gritty rock ’n’ roll style and, especially, her gritty rock ’n’ roll vocals. But sitting with Yahoo Entertainment the morning after her victory, she surprisingly reveals that she didn’t always possess her trademark rasp – its development was in fact a sort of defense mechanism against sexism in the music industry.
“I used to talk kind of higher, and softer, and I think somewhere along the way I felt like I wasn’t being heard,” the Nashville singer explains. “So I changed my voice, and I lowered my presence, so that when I spoke, I would be listened to. Because I felt like my voice wasn’t heard for several years. I started at 18 — I’m 23 now — and I feel like in the past year is when I felt like I was finally getting my bearings about who I was and being respected in that way. Before that, I felt like I was in situations in which my voice wasn’t [perceived as] important — because I was a woman! I have felt that way. I have experienced that. I mean, there’s no other reason, because I was always respectful, and I always had ideas and visions, but it was like I was trying to break through something, or I was in competition with something that wasn’t tangible.”
Kohanski says this experience was “kind of discouraging, and it’s why I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself. I started to kind of doubt this whole process of pursuing art as a career.” For years, her friends urged her to try out for The Voice, but she assumed that her husky singing style wouldn’t be a right fit for the show. When she finally decided to give The Voice a go, it was a “last-ditch effort” before giving up her rock ’n’ roll dreams altogether.
Interestingly, when Kohanski worked on changing her speaking voice, that helped her create her signature singing style. “Lowering my speaking voice actually lowered my range, and I was using it more,” she says. “And so, I think it got a lot grittier and had more depth and roundness to the lower tones. I mean, truthfully, it’s fun to go up and wail and scream, but the low notes are where I feel that really gets me emotionally. And I think people relate to that, because it’s a little bit unconventional for a female to sing that way.”
Now Kohanski is representing for rock goddesses everywhere, and she’s already won the approval of many rock veterans, including her finale night duet partner, Billy Idol, who made a special request to sing “White Wedding” with her. Kohanski says of the surreal experience: “We just sat there, went through the song, and just talked about how his voice is different and unique. And I told him that he really paved a way for people like me who don’t have conventional voices — there are breaks and cracks, and it’s not perfect. And he celebrates that, and he’s so excited about that. And he told me, ‘You rock!’”
The self-described “quirky” and “emotional” artist also beams when she talks about getting messages from female fans who tell her, “Thank you for being different — and for being proud of being different.” As her coach, Blake Shelton, noted in a press conference following Tuesday’s finale, her victory is particularly notable and needed in a year when women in entertainment have made their voices heard. “I feel extremely affirmed and validated by winning … because I think it is very important, visually, for people to see a woman in this genre of music win a show like The Voice,” she says.
Kohanski is actually the first female rock artist to win any U.S. television singing competition — going where American Idol’s Haley Reinhart, Allison Iraheta, Jax, and Carly Smithson, not to mention The Voice Season 2’s Juliet Simms, sadly could not — and it’s an encouraging sign that her covers of songs by Stevie Nicks, Blondie, Bonnie Tyler, Cyndi Lauper, and Kim Carnes (all while rocking Heart-sister ringlets and Bowie-circa-Scary Monsters glittery clown tears) managed to connect on such a mainstream level, regularly climbing the iTunes charts. Kohanski is hoping to carry that rock ’n’ roll spirit into her first album of originals, and she believes the public is ready for what she has to offer, despite the current dearth of rock music on the radio.
“Rock ’n’ roll never died. It will never die! I’m not the only person still doing it, but I am proud to be on a show like this doing it the way I’ve been doing it,” she asserts. “There’s a lot going on in the world right now. It’s almost like it’s going back in time, and there is injustice and there isn’t peace where there should be peace. I feel like rock music in the ’70s and ’80s and ’60s, that was such a healing experience. People went to rock music [concerts] to get away from what was going on; it was almost an escape. And I think people need that today. I’m hoping that even if I just take a step for what comes after, that’s all I want to make happen. I want to start the path to bringing rock ’n’ roll back into pop culture.”
As for her rock heroes who dominated pop culture a couple decades ago, they remain a constant source of inspiration for Kohanski and her work ethic. “They played because that’s all they could do. They were starving artists. They were starved for their art. That is a humbleness and a pain that translates to everybody, and I think that’s missing, and I want to bring that back. I mean, that’s how it feels when I sing. I feel like I would do this until my throat was bleeding. I would do this because there’s nothing else for me to do.”
Watch Chloe Kohanski’s entire Yahoo Entertainment interview below.
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.