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Originally published Monday, June 13, 2011 at 7:00 PM

Tacoma singer Vicci Martinez is a force on 'The Voice'

Tacoma singer-songwriter Vicci Martinez is a contestant on NBC's "The Voice" reality talent show. See her next on the June 14 episode.

Seattle Times theater critic


'The Voice'

9 p.m. Tuesday on NBC. Martinez also performs in Seattle on July 23 at the Triple Door.

Tonight in Prime Time

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Vicci Martinez did not win a slot to perform at Bumbershoot this year.

But the Tacoma singer-songwriter (who has played every Puget Sound venue she could, from Jazzbones to Bite of Seattle to the Triple Door) has plenty going on in the music biz.

Now she's working overtime to win the grand prize on "The Voice," the breakout new TV singing contest. The petite, impassioned blues belter is a leading contestant on the NBC hit — and a newly minted celebrity.

"The day I first appeared on the show, April 26, the response on social media was just ridiculous," Martinez said from Los Angeles, on break from a whirlwind of rehearsals and coaching sessions. "It aired first on the East Coast, and all of a sudden I was getting all these Facebook requests, Twitters, just this huge response."

Martinez also blew away the celebrity pop-star judges Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green (who picked her for his vocal "team" on the show), Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, with her galvanic rendition of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep."

After besting another strong singer in a duet battle, Martinez will try on Tuesday to win over the voting "Voice" viewers in the quarterfinal round — another step toward a prize of $100,000 in cash and a major recording contract.

The affable, down-to-earth Tacoma native shared her excitement, and anxiety: "It's this voting thing. I gotta get out the troops!"

A decade ago, she passed on other chances to wrangle votes. At 16, while attending Tacoma's Stadium High School, this spunky daughter of a Mexican plumber dad and an ESL teacher mom aced her early auditions for TV's mega singing competition, "American Idol." (She had earlier performed on TV's "Star Search.") But Martinez chose not to continue.

Why? "I definitely just didn't believe I was ready for it. I felt like I needed to grow up first. To represent yourself on TV at that age ... I knew it wasn't going to be right for me."

Martinez also had some beefs with "Idol" producers. "They told me they had to change my style, I had to rock my look out more, which I didn't want. And I'm a songwriter, and they were big on owning anything you created."

Instead, Martinez worked hard at her craft and paid years of dues in local gigs. "I got my first paycheck when I was about 16," she said, "and moved away from home at 17, and then I was definitely scrounging."

But gradually, her guitar chops and soulful pipes did not go unnoticed. She and her band have a solid local fan base. She just recorded her fourth album ("Live at Jazzbones"), and has opened for such stars as Sting, Annie Lennox and B.B. King. And Martinez notes with pride that "The Voice" producers came to her.

"I've been doing this for 10 years, and nothing else. I've met with labels wanting to sign me and said no because I haven't wanted to compromise myself. ['The Voice'] found me, wanted me to audition, and they've let me keep being myself."

Martinez, who is openly gay, appreciates that her girlfriend Kate Monthy, director of the MLK Ballet in Tacoma, has been cheering her on. And she's happy to choose her own songs, and stay with her casual pants-and- T-shirts look.

"We've joked about it," she recounts with a laugh. "One day in wardrobe I put on this crazy-expensive, black, tight dress, and we sent a picture of me in it to the producers. They said, 'We hope you're joking, because this is too crazy!' "

Misha Berson:


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