16-year-old Sacramento native makes it on “The Voice”

ARC Theatre performer snags a spot on Team Gwen

Larriah+Jackson+has+performed+in+over+300+shows+to+date+and+has+opened+for+well+known+gospel+artist+Yolanda+Adams+and+singer-songwriter+Lyfe+Jennings.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Warner+Brother+Studios%29

Larriah Jackson has performed in over 300 shows to date and has opened for well known gospel artist Yolanda Adams and singer-songwriter Lyfe Jennings. (Photo courtesy of Warner Brother Studios)

Ariel Caspar, Editor-in-Chief

As soon as 16-year-old Larriah Jackson opened her mouth to sing during her blind audition for NBC’s “The Voice,” which aired on Oct. 27, she captured the attention of the four superstar judges.

Kelly Clarkson smiled as she heard Jackson’s soft falsetto fill the empty auditorium, but hesitated to push her button. Then as Jackson let out a mature and robust belt from Mariah Carey’s version of the Jackson 5 classic, “I’ll Be There,” Gwen Stefani confidently pushed the famous red button to turn her chair—every performer’s hope as they prepare for the blind auditions.

At just 16 years old, the Sacramento resident and American River College Theatre performer confirmed her spot on Team Gwen on season 19 of “The Voice” after Stefani turned her chair.

“It took me a minute to understand what was happening, but eventually I was like ‘wow I made it.’ I said to myself before I got on stage, ‘all you need is one chair,’” Jackson said.

The mental preparation for the blind audition was lengthy, but Jackson says she knew she wanted to select a song that had meaning to her and her family.

“When I first started thinking about my song choice, I wanted to be very intentional. I wanted to do something that would not only show my range and vocal ability, but I wanted to show a song that means a lot to me,” Jackson said. “It’s a song that truly spoke to my love for music and my love of Michael Jackson.”

Jackson said she originally performed “I’ll Be There” for a second grade graduation ceremony, and performing it again for her blind audition has brought things full circle for her in her musical journey.

The St. Francis High School junior had an unusual start with music and performing. Her first performance was at the Crocker Art Museum when she was just 3 years old. This performance led to more local recognition as others wanted her to perform at their events and venues.

As her talent continued to grow, she went on to audition for “Hairspray” with ARC Theatre, directed by Sam Williams.

According to Jackson, Williams cast her in her first role with ARC, Little Inez, in “Hairspray” when she was just 8 years old.

“To play this role a person needs to exude with confidence and have a big, dynamic mezzo-soprano belting voice,” Williams said. “Larriah blew the audience away in every performance. [She] loved being on the college stage and working with other college-aged students.”

Williams said Jackson has performed in several ARC Mainstage productions under his guidance and direction including “Everyman,” “Shepherd’s Play,” and most recently “North Star.”

Jackson said she appreciates the time and effort Williams took to help her feel more confident in her abilities as a performer throughout the years.

“He is a phenomenal director, such an amazing spirit, and me being so young in all those plays, he took so much time with me, guiding me through the process,” Jackson said recalling her time working with Williams. “He has taught me so much, how to use my voice and tell a story with it.”

Professionally, Jackson has done over 300 performances to date, and performed regularly on weekends before getting onto the show. She has opened for artists such as Yolanda Adams and Lyfe Jennings.

She released her first single, “Talk,” six months ago and said she had come to a point in her career where she felt ready for the next level.

“Before getting on ‘“The Voice,’” I think I reached a point like, where am I going to go? What am I going to do with this?” Jackson said. “‘The Voice’ came in at a perfect time. It was truly a saving grace. It was like, this is how we’re going to take it to the next level.”

Jackson said it’s been amazing getting to work with Stefani on the show.

“She’s really caring about each and every person on her team,” Jackson said. “She cares about us dearly and I truly appreciate that because it’s not Gwen Stefani the superstar, it’s Gwen Stefani our coach, and I appreciate the intimacy of that.”

This is Stefani’s fifth time coaching throughout the 19 seasons of the show. After Jackson’s blind audition she expressed her excitement about getting Jackson on her team.

“Your singing talent is just unbelievable,” Stefani said. “Your voice is just so rich and warm and dreamy and you have so much range. I know that this is meant to be, and I’m really excited.”

The show’s producers told Jackson she was allowed to bring one person to Universal Studios in Hollywood to accompany her during her blind audition, to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Jackson chose to bring her mother who she says has been her “biggest support system.”

Doing a competition like this in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has not come without challenges for everyone involved, but Jackson says she is making the best out of her performances to the virtual audience.

“It was really amazing … when you’re on stage, you just kind of look up and there’s the virtual audience and they just have such big smiles on their faces,” Jackson said. “It was a different process, but it was very easy to work with.”

Besides the four judges and the host of the show, her mother was the only other person present in the studio, and Jackson said there were some funny moments between her and her mother during her performance.

“There was a moment on stage right after Gwen turned and she started jumping and laughing and screaming and I had to turn away,” Jackson said laughing. “It was amazing having her there. So rewarding seeing her eyes light up when that chair turned.”

Jackson is one of the several younger contestants on the show this season, and she says it’s an honor to be in the midst of music-minded and talented people.

“Being this young and this impressionable, it’s just not really heard of for a person who’s 14, 15, 16 years old to really be at this level. It gives me a lot of confidence to know how far I can go in life and how much more I can grow in my artistry,” Jackson said. “If I’m 16 now, what are the possibilities when I’m 20 or 30 years old? I have a lot of growing to do and I’m happy I have this experience to do so.”

Williams said he has high hopes for Jackson to continue to grow as a humble vocalist and performing artist as she keeps pursuing success in the music industry.

“Every time Larriah opens her mouth to sing, it is clearly evident the Lord God has given her the gift to bless people with her voice. She added her touch of excellence in every show in which I directed her,” Williams said. “In theater productions I was not able to use the abundance of her talents enough.”

As Jackson goes forth into the competitions, she says she wants to use this experience to learn more about herself and develop her own unique musical style.

“I want to figure out who I am as an artist. I want to create my own music,” Jackson said. “I have a lot to figure out in these next few years, but I have a phenomenal team and support system that can help me do so.”

Tune in to view “The Voice” every Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on NBC to witness the rest of Jackson’s journey.