American Idol, The Voice, Nashville: The Rise of Kenna Elpers
By: Jackson Patterson
Country music, an industry that is easier said than done to make it in. One might think that it is equally challenging no matter who the person is. According to up-and-coming country recording artist, Kenna Elpers, this is not the case, saying it is even tougher for females trying to make it in that world. But she is taking that challenge by the horns and continues to pursue it. This is her story.
Born and raised in Evansville, Indiana, Elpers has always had a passion for music, specifically country. She has been singing since she was 11 years old and started performing at age 13. Performing ignited her passion even more and she wanted to take it a step further and improve herself. By age 17, right before the Covid-19 pandemic, she took this step and received a phone call from The Voice in 2020.
“The Voice was a unique experience because it was right before Covid time,” Elpers said. “It was the first show I did, and I always told myself when I was younger that I wasn’t going to do shows like that. But something with The Voice that was really unique was they had reached out to me, and I had never had that happen before. They asked me to come to Nashville and we went to this sketchy warehouse. But inside, we went in, and they had me perform for all the producers of the show. So, I went in there and I was able to get through that round and they called me right at the end of March, so it was right after Covid kicked off and we were all in quarantine. I had just gotten a call from a random number, and it was my producer. We were all assigned a specific storyline producer, so he was the recruiter/producer who asked me to come to LA. So, at the time they were planning to go in May and then they ended up having to push back to July. We were in Burbank, California and we were all assigned to our rooms, and we were not allowed to leave for ten days, we were stuck in quarantine. I think they had close to 150 people there for
the auditions. Once we all did that ten days in quarantine, they started placing people for productions. We had to do band rehearsals, wardrobe rehearsals, voice lessons, all of that. They originally assigned us all to be there four weeks. I was there for almost three. Then what happened was, with Covid, they ended up having to do a big cut and had to cut about half the people off their roster and I was one of those who got cut. So, I never got to make it to the blinds.”
Elpers further explained that she was invited to come back for the next season but declined due to being in a place in her life where she felt that coming back would not have helped any further in her pursuit of a country music career. She did, however, leave the show with some amazing takeaways and perspective, not having any negative things to say about her experience. Not making the part of the show that everyone sees on TV did not dampen her spirits, something which she emphasized is important for anyone pursuing a music career.
“Although I didn’t get to the blinds, working with the behind-the-scenes people was just as important,” she said. “Not only did I get to meet a ton of artists that I cam still very close with today but working with the bands and the caliber that they have. They are so talented. I have worked with a lot of bands, but I think the one thing I loved about them is they were so open to ideas, which normally, when you go into something like that, you give them the song that you’re going to audition with, and they will work it exactly as the tape. I personally had a different way that I wanted to go about my song. I wanted to create it and make it unique for my style, my voice, the way I like to do things. You went into that first rehearsal that I went into, and they said, ‘how do you want us to play this.’ I found that very admirable that The Voice allows their contestants to choose that freely.”
The Voice was not the end of her music journey. Elpers took what she gained from her experience on The Voice and continued her unique pursuit of what she has always dreamed of. Just four months later, she took another giant step forward and tried out for another competiton singing show, American Idol. This time, the hopeful, rising star made it further than she did on The Voice. She made it all the way to the auditions seen on TV, and a total of eight submission rounds. But even in this chapter of her journey, she took away even more learning points to further herself in her career.
“American Idol was such a great experience because first of all, you get to meet so many amazing musicians that have either similar journeys to you or completely different and I think it was just one of those experiences, not only getting to go in front of three amazingly talented artists that are very well known and meet them and share my music with them, but also just getting a chance to network and connect with others and learn what happens behind the scenes,” Elpers said. “During that experience, at the time I was really young, I was one of the youngest there auditioning, and something that a lot of people don’t know about the behind the scenes of American Idol is, before you even get to the judges, you have to go through this whole process. You have your open call auditions, then you have all the different producers you have to meet. I think you go through either six or seven submission rounds alone. So, doing that from behind the scenes and really seeing how much work is involved, and getting to do it at such a young age, it was very impactful for me to see what it can create and how they create it.”
Any musician that tries out for these types of shows has a certain comfort zone that they are naturally in. Elpers described that the music she was creating and writing at this time was her comfort zone. But going in front of Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie changed her perspective. She said that the three of them, and the show overall, helped her realize the specific areas of her music that she could mature in and broaden her horizons when it came to how she approached her writing style.
“I was 17 years old when I went in to audition and when I went in, I had this mindset that, all of the music I was creating and all of the music I was writing and performing for others, I had this idea that it was exactly where I needed to be, my niche, the area in which I was comfortable in,” she said. “But going through that experience, whenever I got in front of those judges and I played my music, it was this eye opening of them telling me, ‘your writing is great, but I think it can be better,’ and it kind of clicked something in me that I was, at the time, writing for other people and I wasn’t writing for myself. Since then, I’ve realized now I am writing things that matter to me and my own experiences and I am telling my own story rather than somebody else’s, and that really came from that experience, Lionel Richie specifically. He gave me a “yes” and Katy and Luke gave me a “no.” But Lionel, he looked at me and he told me, ‘what you have to offer is unique,’ and that he enjoyed every moment of my audition. Then he went along the lines of saying ‘although maybe you don’t need American Idol, I feel American Idol needs you because its going to show you what that niche has to offer.’ Since then, I have learned that, at the end of the day, music is specifically for me. It is what I love to do, it’s my passion. I think they just opened my eyes to that idea of, right then wasn’t my time but I just needed to figure out who I was as an artist and now I am slowly doing that, and that was really impactful for me.”
Since her time on The Voice and American Idol, Elpers has been nothing but busy. Her nonstop pursuit has consisted of writing stronger and more meaningful songs, practicing every day, “even when I don’t feel like it,” and hitting the studio and getting her songs recorded and released. Elpers has a total of eight released songs, including an EP album. She now resides in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, just 30 minutes south of Nashville, and regularly performs at different venues on Broadway Street. She is currently a sophomore at Middle Tennessee State University and is pursuing a degree in music business. Because of her move to the Nashville area, she explained that she is able to now work with writers of higher calibers that help her take that advice she received from Lionel Richie. She said the main thing she draws inspiration from in her writing is her own experiences, her day-to-day life.
“I feel the best songs I write are the ones that are true and authentic to me and my own personal situations. Music is so powerful to me because I am able to tell my story in a way that people will actually listen,” said Elpers.
As her final, parting thoughts, Elpers humbly explained how thankful she is for all of the people who have supported in the ups and downs of her journey, mainly her family. She said her parents were always there when she started performing at such a young age and helped by driving her across the Midwest to different venues and events where she was invited to play at, further saying they helped her get to Nashville and secure this new opportunity in her career.
She ended on a tug of the heartstrings, by sharing her advice that she would tell a 13-year-old girl who is pursuing a career similar to hers.
“I would tell her that I’m proud of her. I would tell her to never give up just because one person tells you to. You put in the amount of effort, and I promise you will be rewarded. You just have to keep persevering and not worry about other people’s opinions. Trust in yourself and trust that, with work and dedication, you will win.”