By Katie Parsons for KnowMore.tv
Audra McLaughlin will step on The Voice stage tonight to perform for millions of viewers and superstar judges Blake Shelton (her mentor), Usher, Adam Levine and Shakira as one of the hit show's top 12 finalists. It's a big stage for a big voice from Philadelphia who, before the start of season six of the singing competition, was unknown.
"The main reason I'm here is because it is what I love to do, and I'm really blessed to have this opportunity," said McLaughlin, 21, via a phone interview last week. "Before I'm up on stage, I try to remember that this is a once in a lifetime thing, then take a deep breath and really just perform."
In celebration of cracking the top 12, here are a dozen things you need to know about Audra McLaughlin:
1. Her performance idols are Martina McBride and Mariah Carey. "I've always loved their big voices," she said.
2. She carries a rosary from her grandmother. Before she performs live on The Voice, McLaughlin holds the rosary and says a prayer to her grandmother, now deceased.
3. Her grandfather taught her about music. Though he never took any lessons, McLaughlin's grandfather knew how to play the piano by ear and he shared the joy of his talent with his granddaughter. "He would play, and we would sing together. He was really talented, even if he never took any official lessons," she said.
4. She struggled with a learning disability. Now a college student with a 3.5 GPA, McLaughlin says that traditional classroom learning has never come easily to her.
5. She is an anti-bullying advocate. McLaughlin has been outspoken about her own struggles with bullying and has performed at anti-bullying campaign fundraisers.
6. She took voice lessons for just two months before sending in her audition tape for The Voice. Her voice coaches, Melissa and John Daley of the Let There be Rock School in Folsom, Pa., encouraged her to send in an audition tape for the show. She was then invited for a private audition in New York.
7. She's a songwriter, too. McLaughlin has been so busy with The Voice that she hasn't had much time to write lately but she knows she will have a lot of material once the competition ends.
8. She says Blake Shelton is all he seems. Of her megastar mentor, McLaughlin says what you see is what you get. "He is the same off-camera as he is on it. He's real," said McLaughlin. She says that he makes her feel like a family member and gives her confidence in every rehearsal and performance.
9. She hopes to meet Miranda Lambert. The rock-country wife of McLaughlin's mentor, Blake Shelton, has been on The Voice set but McLaughlin has yet to meet her.
10. She says that music is her identity. "I can't separate myself from the music," McLaughlin said. "Singing is me. It's who I am. It's something I couldn't live without, basically."
11. She's still humble. McLaughlin seems incredulous when she talks about getting positive feedback from fans and her mentor Blake Shelton. She says she takes every compliment to heart and it is the fuel that drives her to work even harder.
12. She's ready for the next level. When the competition ends for her, McLaughlin hopes for a record deal, a tour and the chance to sing some of the songs she's written for large crowds. "I'm ready to just keep doing what I love, no turning back now," she said.