Take the recent house concert in Seattle, where Johnson was booked to perform. Some guests who chatted with Johnson were surprised to learn she was the evening’s entertainment.
One guest even mentioned that Johnson could go on “one of those TV music shows.”
Even as she became a star, during her lively run on The Voice in 2013, Johnson was nothing like the over-the-top coaches with whom she worked.
She’s the same on stage as she is in person: While pursuing all her passions—with great success—this delightfully authentic superstar-in-the-making has stayed true to herself. In addition to a unique voice that’s a rich mix of Nina Simone, Fiona Apple and Amy Winehouse, Johnson also has a heart of gold and a steady dedication to service—which started early.
She incorporated those life lessons into her grown-up job as a staffer and troop leader at Girl Scouts of Western Washington, where she led five troops each week, working with girls on everything from self-esteem to community improvement.
Eventually, she branched into other service, including as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Al Davies Boys & Girls Club in Tacoma.
I like to think of myself as compassionate and a work in progress. If I’m not the best at living up to everything I hold dear, I hope that I will continue to grow into that person.
“When I was on The Voice, a reporter once asked me if I knew I was now a role model,” she remembers. “If a kid is upset because they didn’t have breakfast that morning or kids are making fun of them because their clothes are dirty, that’s role–model time. That’s changing someone’s life. That’s love. Me singing in public is joyful and fun, but it’s not anything like being at the community center where homeless members in our community get hot meals.”
Johnson’s growth as an artist began at the age of 8, when she was given her first tape player. She remembers coming home from school, turning on her Walkman and singing all afternoon in her room with the doors and windows closed so no one would hear her.
“My brother heard my singing and told my mom that she should get me voice lessons. The first time I sang in public was at a coffeeshop. I was 15 and felt awkward and didn’t know what to do with myself. I remember being really scared. My heart was beating really fast in my ears. I was scared people would look at me.”
“I was singing with the best voices I’ve ever heard,” she notes. “People who sang in that choir have gone on to Julliard.”
“There was some great programming in the choral music department. And there still is, because Dr. (Richard) Nance is there. He was a really caring guy, and so knowledgeable. I felt challenged in that way that I love to feel challenged when I do music. He was all about choral fundamentals—–how to stand and form the proper vowels. I think that really helped me relax on stage because I knew what to do. There wasn’t a time I was like, ‘How do I do this?’”
After PLU and her work for Girl Scouts and AmeriCorps, Johnson took a step toward her performance dreams—–complete with flotation devices. (Really: She was on a boat.) A friend connected her with a cruise line, which eventually led to auditions for The Voice—and knockout performances for two celebrity coaches.
A lot of people wait around for validation and for the world to tell them they’re doing the right thing, but that’s something you have to tell yourself.
Now, no longer the shy girl singing alone in her room, Johnson recognizes the gifts she has to share with the world and has no plans to stop sharing. She’s working on her next album, performing and giving her soul “a bit of nourishment.”
Not the kind of advice you’d get from someone who begs to be noticed. But Johnson knows who she is and is comfortable with that. You don’t learn that from fame.
“My sense of self is really important to me,” says Johnson. “If who I am is not good for someone, talk to the next person down the line.”