FORSYTH COUNTY — Riley Biederer was so focused on not focusing on the judges in her audition for “The Voice” that she did not even immediately realize who chose her.
The 19-year-old singer/songwriter/musician from Forsyth County sang her way onto the hit NBC reality singing competition when one of the four celebrity coaches, Pharrell Williams, turned his chair around for her.
“I definitely want to do pop, but in the last year I’ve been growing into my style and now more of a pop-soul genre,” said the former West Forsyth High School student. “And [Pharrell] is really involved in that aspect of music right now and understands it. He has the skill and the ear for honing in on that and developing it more.”
The show first features blind auditions, where the four coaches — Pharrell, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani — build teams of contestants without seeing the person behind the voice.
Then comes the stage Biederer and the others are about to face. They will be pitted against each other in different challenges, with the coaches picking the strongest prospects to move on to a final live performance level, where viewers vote.
“I had a couple friends go on before me and they said don’t focus on the chairs because it makes you nervous,” she said. “I knew someone had turned, but I didn’t even know who it was. He was my No. 1 choice going in. I was ecstatic.’”
The teen seemed both humbled and excited when reflecting on the audition process.
“The most eye-opening thing for me was getting there [Los Angeles]. You go through your life in a normal town and do shows, and you’re usually the only performer around. You build your confidence up and think, OK, I’m pretty good,” Biederer said. “Then you show up to something like this, and you meet these people and you’re like, whoa. These people are so good.”
Her song choice for the audition — Kelly Clarkson’s “Invincible” — signaled a shift from the Taylor Swift-pop she had been recording since landing a record deal at age 15 with Elton John’s management label, Rocket Music.
There, she began with a country twist that evolved into country pop and a songwriting contract with Sony at age 18.
“I had been working with producers and writers in California for a couple of years. I would go for a month, and every day would be a different writer and producer. That helped me develop my style,” she said. “Going to L.A., I was getting great songs, but I was kind of all over the place.
“Now I’ve been working a lot in Atlanta and with producers who were more urban and had more soul in it. A light bulb went off. That was the groove.”
She found it funny to spend so much time going to L.A. to develop her personal style, only for it to click back home in the Atlanta area.
That shift worked for Pharrell, and Biederer hopes it continues to work for her.
Though viewers did not get to see her full audition, she said her family came out to support her.
“They were so excited. They were freaking out,” Biederer said. “My dad is crazy. He was screaming … He’s a total dad-ager [manager] … He sets everything up and tears everything down, and he’s been booking shows since I was like 15. If anyone is going to have your best interest at heart, it’s going to be family.”