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NBC's 'The Voice' gives voice to gay singers

By Mesfin Fekadu

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, June 28 2011 11:15 a.m. MDT

In this June 22, 2011 photo released by NBC, Vicci Martinez, a contestant on the singing competition series, "The Voice," is shown during a performance on the show in Los Angeles. Martinez, a top four finalist, is being mentored by celebrity judge Cee Lo Green.

NBC, Lewis Jacobs, Associated Press

NEW YORK — NBC's hit show "The Voice" is giving a voice to gay singers.

The singing competition wraps its first season this week with four contestants battling for the championship. Two of those finalists are gay.

Other TV talent shows such as "American Idol" and "America's Got Talent" have featured gay performers but not in an open way. For example, Adam Lambert, who won second place on "American Idol" in 2009, didn't address his sexuality until after the competition ended. He's had success as an openly gay performer, earning a Grammy nomination, a gold-selling CD and a pair of Top 40 hits.

But the presence of gay singers on "The Voice" is fresh for prime-time TV, and the singers are making a splash at a time when New York State has legalized gay marriage.

"It couldn't have come at a better time, could it?" said Beverly McClellan, a 41-year-old gravelly voiced singer from Virginia and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., whose partner has appeared backstage on the show with her.

McClellan is working with Christina Aguilera on "The Voice." Vicci Martinez, a 26-year-old energetic singer from Tacoma, Wash., is also gay and has Cee Lo Green as her mentor.

"Everybody is just evaluated based on their talent and their voice, and that has no boundaries and no boxes to put anybody in," said Audrey Morrissey, one of the show's executive producers.

Aguilera, Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine serve as coaches on the show. The four chose teams of eight after an audition process that allowed them only to hear the singer's voice but not to see them. Teams were whittled down to one contestant for each coach in the finals.

The winning singer gets a record contract with Universal Republic Records and a $100,000 prize.

McClellan and Martinez have battled multiple rounds to land in the Top 4. They both received top votes in their teams when each group reduced from four to two contestants.

McClellan, who rocks a shaven head and multiple tattoos, won over Aguilera and Levine with her rendition of the soul song "Piece of My Heart" during the auditions round.

"I just think that it's amazing that America voted for me to stay, living as a 41-year-old lesbian with a unique look," she said. "America has come a long way."

Martinez agrees, saying that she feels like "there's a shift right now in the universe."

"People are waking up and people are being honest with themselves," she said.

Martinez, whose staggering covers of Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and Florence + the Machine's "Dog Days Are Over" helped make her one of the competition's front-runners, believes the show's success is shifting the state of the record business.

"The music industry is changing and 'The Voice' is going to be big reason for that," she said.

Morrissey, whose producing credits include MTV's "Unplugged" and the Video Music Awards, doesn't think the singers' sexuality will hinder their singing careers.

"Clearly America loves them — they voted for them. I don't think they're going to have a problem at all," she said.

The other two finalists on "The Voice" are Dia Frampton, the bubbly and smooth singer working with Shelton, and Javier Colon, a powerful crooner with Levine of Maroon 5.

The winner will be crowned Wednesday (NBC, 8 p.m. EDT). The finalists will perform original tunes for the first time Tuesday night (9 p.m. EDT). The singers are getting a big boost thanks to the show's ratings — a 13.2 million viewership average, according to Nielsen Co.

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