Monika Leigh was used to playing open mics at Illegal Pete's, The Attic and other Boulder venues. When Adam Levine and Blake Shelton of "The Voice" got into a catfight over Leigh on national TV after her rendition of "The Thrill is Gone," it was clear her singing career had reached a new level.
The 28-year-old artist performed the song during a segment of the singing competition's blind auditions, which aired Sept. 30, and Levine, Shelton and a third judge, CeeLo Green, jockeyed to recruit her to their teams. She chose the country singer Shelton, and, in a phone interview this week, Leigh said Shelton's ploy of flashing the three trophies he's won on "The Voice" clinched her decision to go with him.
"Seeing those trophies when he pulled them out, it was like I had my eye on the prize," Leigh said. Shelton's "Southern charm" was also an advantage, said Leigh, who grew up in Texas.
Leigh's music career can be traced back to her 12th birthday, when her stepfather, Leo Aston, gave her a Gibson electric guitar. Aston was a beloved blues guitarist in Houston -- a Houston Press obituary called him "one of the good guys."
"I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for him," Leigh said.
Aston's influence was more than merely musical, and it includes an uncanny circumstance of timing. Before he died last year, he told Leigh, "Just remember, if a door opens you always walk through it."
A week after he died, Leigh was contacted by "The Voice." She took Aston's advice and walked through the door.
At one time Leigh performed often, but it had been about four years since she had played in public.
"I was trying to get my life in order," she said. "Playing music wasn't paying my bills."
She had studied special education at the Front Range Community College campus in Longmont and was working as a housekeeper at the St. Julien Hotel and Spa. Producers at "The Voice" first learned about her through Daisy Rock, a guitar company that sponsored her, she said. At first she didn't take "The Voice" call very seriously, because she thought it was basically an invitation to take a place in line. But she quickly found herself at the head of the pack.
Now she's working with Shelton to get ready for a "battle" round on the show. Bluesy rips often can be heard around the edges of her voice, and they're part of what make her singing soulful, but Shelton is trying to get her to tone down this "crackle," she said.
"Every time I work with him is like a dream come true," Leigh said. "Sometimes I feel like I have to stop and pinch myself."
Making the leap from The Attic to "The Voice" was a hurdle, but those small local shows, especially because she was performing her own songs, helped her when it came time to step up to a national stage, Leigh said -- vulnerability is part of any kind of performing.
The nation's gain is Boulder's loss. Leigh and her boyfriend, Weston Trapp, are moving to Los Angeles They're planning to leave today.
"Regardless of how 'The Voice' turns out, I figure I have a good chance," Leigh said, "And I'm going to ride the wave as long as I can."
Quentin Young can be reached at 303-684-5319 or firstname.lastname@example.org.