After Kennedy Holmes and Lisa Ramey reached varying degrees of acclaim on “The Voice” in recent years, Joanna Serenko is the latest St. Louis singer to be recognized on NBC’s hit series.
The 18-year-old is off to a soaring start after her blind-audition performance of Amy Winehouse’s version of the Beatles’ “All My Loving.”
Serenko was hoping just one of the show’s celebrity coaches would choose her for their team. And if it happened to be John Legend, one of her favorites, all the better.
But Legend, Blake Shelton, Kelly Clarkson and new coach Nick Jonas all turned their chairs for Serenko, instantly impressed by her performance.
“I was just so shocked,” she says. “Seeing celebrities like my voice is a really incredible feeling. I feel so grateful. A lot of it has felt like a movie — so surreal.”
After her performance, the coaches took turns praising Serekno. Shelton called her voice effortless and powerful. Clarkson said she’d be good for the show and that she can’t wait to see what comes next. Legend said Serenko’s performance gave him chills and that he loved the control she had over her voice. Jonas got out of his seat to plead for Serekno to choose him as her coach.
“It was between Nick and John — I love John Legend,” she says. “Then I figured if (Jonas) was putting himself out there for me, I felt safe picking him as my coach. He admitted he wasn’t the logical coach, but I trusted it would be a good decision, and he really wanted me here. I didn’t fight it. I went with the flow.”
It was an appropriate choice. Serenko’s first concert was a Jonas Brothers show a decade ago in Cleveland, where she lived with her family before they moved to Kirkwood in 2010.
“The Voice” came at the perfect time for Serenko: After graduating in 2019 from Kirkwood High School, she decided to take a year to plan her future.
“I don’t know what’s next,” she says. “That’s part of my story (on the show) — not knowing exactly right now. I always thought I would be a nurse or something in health. My mom (Anne Serenko) is a nurse.”
This isn’t Serenko’s first go-around with the television show. She initially auditioned a couple of years ago as a sophomore but didn’t make the cut.
“I hadn’t found my voice yet,” says Serenko, who thinks she undid herself when she opted to also play the piano as part of her audition, instead of focusing on singing. She also says she wasn’t broken-in as an artist yet.
After that experience, she decided to put any thoughts of “The Voice” on the back burner while continuing to work on her craft.
While in high school, she started getting gigs, mostly opening for other acts and integrating herself into the St. Louis music community, all in her quest to get a foot in the door and gain more confidence.
“I made connections, and it has helped me find my voice,” says Serenko, who has opened for Greyhounds, Leland’s Road and the Matching Shoe. She has performed at KDHX, the Ready Room and the Blueberry Hill Duck Room and won the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition in 2019.
She wasn’t as successful when she auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” in the eighth grade.
Her return to “The Voice” wasn’t because of her own doing. She says representatives for the show reached out to her for a private audition in Louisville, Kentucky, after seeing a clip of her performance of “Slip,” an original song, for Sofar Sounds.
Once she got on set, she says, she didn’t expect to make it to the televised portion of the show. “So many people were trying out, I thought my chances were low.”
She was nervous but got rid of her jitters once she hit the stage to do what comes naturally: delivering what she describes as acoustic R&B and singer-songwriter soul.
“I had the confidence I would at least get one chair and then get to the next round,” she says.
Next, Serenko proceeds to the Battle Rounds, which begin March 23. That will decide whether she advances to the Knockout Rounds and ultimately to the live shows. (The next rounds have been filmed, but she’s not allowed to speak about her fate.)
“I feel so energized with life right now,” she says. “I’m getting such positive responses and seeing it play out in St. Louis. All my family and friends are freaking out. Everyone is so stoked. I want to help put St. Louis on the map — be a part of that.”
As ‘The Voice’ season begins, we look at 17 St. Louisans from TV singing shows
The St. Ann native sailed through the earlier shows straight into the Top 24, before she was eliminated in Season 16 of "The Voice." Ramey, who lives in New York City, was on John Legend’s team on the show and received nothing but raves from her coach, though it didn’t lead to enough viewer votes to keep her on the show.
During season 15 of “The Voice,” Florissant teenager Kennedy Holmes was the first St. Louis-area singer to make it to the show’s finals. Though she looked like the show’s frontrunner, she was the first singer eliminated in the finals. We’re still smarting over that one. Since “The Voice,” Kennedy has been performing at special events throughout St. Louis.
Former St. Louisan and Waynesville, Mo., native Vino Alan looked like he was headed straight to the finals on “The X Factor” in 2012 — tattooed head and all. His elimination in the show’s live rounds, after singing the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling,” was a shock. Alan’s mentor on the show was L.A. Reid.
Competing alongside Kennedy Holmes on Jennifer Hudson’s team on “The Voice,” at least for a while, was Audri Bartholomew. She passed the blind auditions after her performance of Lauren Allred’s “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman.” Bartholomew, of O’Fallon, Mo., was eliminated in the show’s battle rounds after her rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Always Be My Baby.” She studies musical theater at Millikin University in Illinois and was a 2015 and 2016 finalist in the St. Louis Teen Talent Competition.
Former St. Louis Rams cheerleader Tess Boyer performed on “The Voice” in 2014 with “Wings” by Little Mix, Paramore’s “Ain’t It Fun” and more, making it as far as the Top 10. By the time she was eliminated, the Glen Carbon singer had been on Blake Shelton’s, Usher’s and Shakira’s teams.
“Sunday Best” may not have had the high profile of “American Idol” or “The Voice,” but the BET show hosted by Kirk Franklin was the biggest televised competition for the gospel community. St. Louis’ Amber Bullock won the competition in 2011, after a voting snafu caused a weeklong delay for the results. Bullock followed the win with her debut EP, “Thank You.”
Curtis Finch Jr.
St. Louis gospel singer Curtis Finch Jr. nabbed a Top 10 spot on “American Idol” in 2013 on the strength of performances of Luther Vandross’ “Superstar” and R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly.” Though he was booted his first week in the Top 10, he gained new fans in judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey. Minaj even threatened to leave the show if he was eliminated. Finch was seen on “The Tonight Show,” “Today” and “Access Hollywood.”
James Irwin’s first go-round on “The Voice,” in 2013, wasn’t a good one. None of the coaches turned their big chairs for him. But when Irwin returned the next season, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera all spun around for his performance of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion.” Irwin joined Levine’s team and was eliminated in the knockout rounds after performing “Break Even” by the Script. He’s the first singer in “Voice” history to go from no turns to four turns.
It was straight from Picasso’s Coffee House in St. Charles to “The Voice” for Chesterfield’s Caroline Glaser, who fell just shy of making it into the show’s Top 12 in 2013. She was on Adam Levine’s team and performed songs such as Ed Sheeran’s “The A Team” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” She also landed a gig touring with Straight No Chaser and debuted her self-titled EP at billboard.com.
O’Fallon, Ill., native Christina Jones went straight to Hollywood for this year’s reboot of “American Idol,” signing Gladys Knight’s “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” She was eliminated in the Hollywood rounds. In July, “Idol” finalist Ada Vox shared the stage with Jones at Hamburger Mary’s St. Louis. Jones won the Fox Performing Arts Foundation’s St. Louis Teen Talent Competition in 2017.
South St. Louis singer Gabbii Jones has the distinction of being called a rock star by Lionel Richie on “American Idol” in 2018. She killed it with Ariana Grande’s “Dangerous Woman” but was eliminated in the Hollywood rounds. Jones previously had auditioned for “The Voice” and is a graduate of Central Visual and Performing Arts High School.
Tish Haynes Keys
Tish Haynes Keys’ time on “The Voice” early in 2018 was a true roller-coaster ride for the St. Louis singer. After sailing through the blind auditions with Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools,” her journey included hopping from Adam Levine’s team to Kelly Clarkson’s team; she was eliminated, stolen, saved and eliminated again. Her songs on the show included Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Etta James’ “At Last” and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan’s “Sweet Thing.” She’s working on her debut EP and will perform on New Year’s Eve at River City Casino.
Ashley Lusk of Eureka is quite experienced with “American Idol.” She was seen during seasons 14 and 15 by judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. and on the 2018 reboot by Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. She was eliminated in the 2018 Hollywood rounds. Though her TV time was minimal, she was able to snag a selfie. Lusk attends St. Louis Community College.
Auditioning alongside Nikko Smith in 2005 was Aloha Mi’Sho (known at the time as Mischeaux), who ascended to the Top 20 before being eliminated. She was sang Beyoncé’s “Work It Out” and Alicia Keys’ “You Don’t Know My Name” and became known for the flower she wore in her hair. She’s currently one half of the popular St. Louis duo the Knuckles.
St. Louis singer Theresa Payne performed on “The Voice” in 2014, delivering Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love,” but none of the judges turned their chairs for her. She was seen on the show in montage form. Shakira accused her of singing behind the beat. Payne recently performed as Whitney Houston at An Undercover Weekend at Delmar Hall and opened for the War and Treaty at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill.
Nikko Smith, son of St. Louis baseball legend Ozzie Smith, competed on Season 4 of “American Idol” after auditioning in St. Louis. Smith got as far as the live semifinals; he was eliminated just outside of the Top 10. But after semifinalist Mario Vazquez mysteriously dropped out of the show, Smith was reinstated — then eliminated again. He was known as the Comeback Kid and performed songs such as Tevin Campbell’s “Can We Talk,” Sisqo’s “Incomplete” and Stevie Wonder’s “Part-Time Lover.”
Festus’ Patrick Thomson landed on “The Voice” in 2014, finding a spot on Adam Levine’s team after his performance of Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.” Thomson landed in the Top 20 after moving to Shakira’s team and was eliminated after singing Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” — though that performance was considered his best of the season.
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