Ahead of NBC's 'The Voice' elimination tonight, Iowan Cali Wilson gets candid
"The Voice" is adding Nick Jonas to its celebrity coaching roster. Jonas is set to join the singing competition in spring 2020. USA TODAY
Iowan Cali Wilson will appear on NBC's "The Voice" Monday night as one of 20 contestants singing for a chance to make it to the top 13.
A native of the small, southeastern Iowa town of Salem, the 28-year-old made her first "Voice" appearance Sept. 30, performing Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."
Before 'The Voice'
The songstress' love for music began with her mother, who was a full-time singer in Texas and Iowa. Despite having the singing bug, Wilson said in an interview with the Register that she stopped performing in her early teenage years because she felt awkward and afraid to be herself.
However, at the age of 16, she started playing the guitar and began to soar as a performer. At 25, she packed up her life to move to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue music. The late Amy Winehouse inspires Wilson.
Wilson hopes to inspire kids to say, "Hey, I can do that someday," despite feeling like Iowa is sometimes overlooked.
During the blind auditions, Wilson received chair turns from judges Blake Shelton, John Legend and Gwen Stefani (judge Kelly Clarkson did not turn her chair around). Wilson went with her first choice of a judge, Shelton.
"I wanted Blake to be my coach. I've loved everything that he's done with prior contestants in prior seasons," Wilson said. "He is the most winning coach in Voice history for a reason. He makes smart decisions, and he lets the artists be themselves."
Wilson added that Shelton pushes and guides his team to rise to the occasion. She said having Legend turn his chair for her was an honor, but felt as though she and Shelton meshed.
So far, she describes her experience with the country superstar as "incredible." "He's very personal with his artists," Wilson said.
According to Wilson, Shelton doesn't cross over to push his artists in a direction they're uncomfortable with but challenges them to sing songs that they regularly wouldn't sing. "I think he has your best interest at heart."
"His big thing is you can always improve, and you can always learn something new in every session that we do together," Wilson said.
During the knockout rounds on Oct. 28, Wilson performed a rendition of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" — a song she has played at her shows and gotten many compliments on. For Wilson, the track makes her feel something and invokes emotion in the audience.
She even helped the song reach No.1 on Billboard for the first time. Initially, the track hit No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1991, but it re-entered Rock Digital Song Sales tally after her performance, Billboard reported.
Wilson said she hasn't heard anything from Isaak, but is "holding out hope that maybe he'll see it and hopefully enjoy it."
Friendly Iowa competition
Before the knockout rounds, Wilson went head-to-head with EllieMae Millenkamp in the battle rounds. The two faced off singing "Miss Me More" by Kelsea Ballerini.
Wilson said the two would often joke about being rivals — Wilson is a graduate of the University of Iowa and Millenkamp goes to Iowa State — but reassures it was all in good spirits.
On what it was like having a fellow Iowan on her team, she said, "It was incredible. EllieMae is one of the sweetest people I've ever met."
The two spent a lot of time rehearsing the track together and creating their Iowa bond. Wilson said that she and Millenkamp bounced positive vibes between each other.
Wilson won out, and Millenkamp was eliminated from the show in mid-October.
"We both wanted to do our best and push each other to rise to the occasion and do the best version of that song that we could do together," Wilson said. "Ellie Mae's incredible, and I wish her the best. I had such a fun time with her, and being her teammate was truly an honor."
Preparing for performances
On how she prepares for each live performance, Wilson said she does push-ups to warm her body up, has tea to warm her voice, and then takes a shot of olive oil before hitting the stage.
Ahead of Monday night's top 20 competition, Wilson said she feels good. She's received an outpouring of love and support.
"I'm going to try to stay healthy and focus on my mental health and being clearheaded," Wilson said. "A lot of things are out of my control when I go on that day.
"If it's my time to move on to the top 13, I would be so happy, but if it's my time to go home, I'm grateful for the experience and I've truly had the time of my life on the show."
Be sure to catch NBC's "The Voice" Mondays and Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Watch some of Wilson's performances below:
Sierra Porter covers entertainment for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.