‘The Voice’s’ Kristen Merlin on Shakira, Song Choices And That ‘Gay’ Label

Kristen Merlin (NBC)

There was once a time when you’d watch reality competition singing programs and artists who viewers would be left wondering if an artist was gay because, for whatever reason, they didn’t talk about it. Case in point, when Adam Lambert competed on “American Idol in 2009 he did not talk sexuality until after the competition had ended.

That’s not the case anymore when we have multiple gay artists being out and proud on a variety of shows, including the best one of the crop these days, NBC’s The Voice.”

In the current season, Boston-based singer Kristen Merlin is making it week after week due to her strong stage presence, amazing vocals and, no doubt, her openness about who she is and, yes, that includes sexuality.

While we wait for tonight’s episode to find out if she will advance another week, I was able to ask some questions to her about what she’s learned from Shakira, what she’s hearing from her family, friends and girlfriend as well as being out in the country music world.

How is it working with Shakira?

Kristen Merlin: Shakira is an absolute doll to work with. From the moment she battled Adam for me during the Blind Auditions, until now, she has stayed true to the genuine, kind-hearted, invested woman she presented herself to be.

Do you think your music has changed since starting the show, assuming you’re learning from Shakira?

KM: I can for sure say that I have grown as an artist since starting on The Voice. Every week I have the opportunity to learn new things from Shakira. The most important piece of advice she has given me thus far is to be sure to connect with the song’s lyrics and to deliver it with heart and conviction.

[iframe http://xfinitytv.comcast.net/watch/The-Voice/7958122402999891112/247623747948/Kristen-Merlin%3A-%22I-Drive-Your-Truck%22/embed 580 476]

What's been the biggest surprise in terms of what you're hearing from fans? Are there a lot of gay fans out there? Or a good number of straight fans?

KM: The most surprising thing I am noticing is how many view me as a great role model or an inspiration. I have people of all ages, race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. contacting me and sharing their support. I can only hope that I can continue to build my fan base. I would love to appeal to all walks of life. One thing about music is that it is universal. It speaks to so many in some fashion and that’s when people tend to forget about differences and just sit back and enjoy the art of music.

Do you have a goal to broaden the minds of country music listeners? Gay country singers are not non-existent but there aren't a lot at this point.

KM: I would love it if what I’m doing now on The Voice happens to do just that. However, my goal is to be myself and make a career in doing what I love to do – sing on stage. Not everyone agrees with my lifestyle and that’s okay. I just wish to no longer have that be a hurdle I need to clear in order to be successful in the country music world or music industry in general.

Do you like watching yourself on the show?

KM: I find it weird to watch myself on T.V. We are often times kept so busy, that I haven’t had time ti wrap my brain around everything that is happening. So, when I watch myself on T.V. it just doesn’t seem like real life!

Kristen Merlin, Shakira & Tess Boyer on 'The Voice' (NBC)

What has the reaction been about how far you've come on the show from your family? Your girlfriend?

KM: Everyone that is watching me on my journey is beyond excited for me. I have nothing but love and support coming from my friends, family and girlfriend.

I won't make you pick a favorite but is there a song you've performed on the song that hit you differently than others? Maybe was more personal or became more personal?

KM: I’d have to say that “Stay” and “Let Her Go’ have been my favorite performances so far. They certainly are emotional songs and I was really able to dog into them and deliver each with heartfelt emotion. Each are beautifully written songs that touch a lot of hearts, including my own.

Sometimes when you are the only out performer on a show like this, you might hear 'the gay one' or 'the gay singer.' How do you feel about having 'gay' always attached to your name?

KM: I’ve become accustom to hearing that phrase attached to my name. Although it’s not ideal, at least I am sticking out to people in some form. I don’t take offense to it. Sometimes that’s just how people remember others. Eventually I hope to be known for my talent and not my orientation.

I know you just wrapped up this week but any hints as to what we'll see next week? Maybe the song you're working on or the genre?

KM: I’m going to have to keep you all guessing on what’s coming your way for next week…but be sure to tune in and vote!!!

The Voice airs Mondays and Tuesdays at 8pm on NBC. You can also follow Merlin on Twitter and her website.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

Got a comment for the LGBT site? Tweet @JimHalterman with your question.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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