Ready for your mind to be blown? According to 23-year-old Cassadee Pope — newly crowned winner of NBC’s The Voice — the ever-eccentric Cee Lo Green is actually “really normal” in person. “You can sit down and have a conversation with him and it’s not weird,” she explained yesterday during a visit to EW’s offices in New York City. “He’s very intellectual.”
Cassadee’s insight about Cee Lo is much more surprising than her recent win, which seemed foretold as soon as her cover of Blake Shelton’s “Over You” shot to No. 1 on iTunes’s singles chart. While the singer says she never thought of herself as season 3’s frontrunner — “I knew that stuff can happen in this show and not be lasting” — she will admit that her iTunes sales made her “very optimistic” before Tuesday’s finale. And though Cassadee feels like her victory still hasn’t really sunk in, she also can’t wait to get back to the recording studio in January and start work on a debut album that combines pop, rock, and country — sort of like “an edgier Taylor Swift [record], not as country, with more mature lyrics and more challenging vocals and melodies.”
Intrigued? Read on for more about Cassadee’s time on the show, her relationship with mentor Blake Shelton — and her near miss with the Muppets.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: After you won, Carson asked how you were feeling, and the first thing you said was, “I don’t know.”
CASSADEE POPE: I know! [Laughs] At the time, I had no words. My brain was just mush, and it didn’t feel real.
Does it feel real yet?
It doesn’t. Being at Live! With Kelly and Michael, and Anderson Cooper, and Jay Leno last night — all those things are making this feel even more like a dream, you know? But I think once I go back to real life and go out and go grocery shopping and stuff like that, and if people recognize me — that might be when I start to realize it’s real.
Right now, you’re on a whirlwind press tour. When will things start to wind down?
I think probably January 1 or 2. We’re going to start talking about where I’m going to go direction-wise [on my album], what writers I’m going to write with. I would love to have some songs on the album be just written by me. [We’ll] hopefully get a single out by mid-January.
Every coach turned around for you during your blind audition. What made you choose Blake instead of Adam or Christina, whose own music seems closer to your style?
I had actually wanted Blake beforehand. I like the freedom he gives his artists. He’s very trusting. And I love him as a person — just watching the show, I could tell he’s a genuine guy.
What’s the best advice he gave you?
It wasn’t so much advice — it was just encouragement. I’m pretty hard on myself when it comes to my voice and certain notes I’m afraid to hit because I’m afraid I’m going to sound bad. But he was always really good at pushing me to just go for it. He believed in me from day one.
Did you get to hang out at his and Miranda Lambert’s house?
Yes! It’s beautiful. Miranda’s a southern girl — she’s not super into L.A. So he thought it would be great to rent this really swanky, big house — and he told me she was like, “This is ridiculous!” She thinks it’s too much, too fancy. It’s not his style either. He was like, “I actually got it for Miranda, and she doesn’t even like it.” It’s cool to be in a place like that and know we’re being welcomed into his home. A few other shows do it for show, and it’s not real — but this is actually his home.
How do you see your relationship evolving now that you’ve won?
There were certain things we couldn’t really talk about, like the label stuff. I didn’t know if I was going to get picked up by Universal. But since I have, I’m really excited to talk to him about what he had to go through when he was negotiating his deal. If the label wants me to do something I don’t want to do, he’s more than willing to step in and lay down the gauntlet for me. I also want him to sing on the album — I’m really serious about incorporating some country elements into my sound, and I think he’s the best person to help me do it tastefully. I’m not trying to claim I’m a country singer, but I do love country music.
Were you interested in branching into country before you got to know Blake?
I had always dreamed of starting off in pop radio and crossing into country. I used to sing country; that was my genre when I was a kid. I’m from Florida, and my family somehow is really into country music. We’re all southern in a way: My grandpa hunts, my uncle’s, like, a redneck, and we’re all NASCAR fans. But when I was around 13 years old, I started playing in bands and became obsessed with Blink-182 and Newfound Glory. I didn’t pay attention to country music anymore; I wanted to do more pop rock stuff.
On the show, I was pushed to try something different. Doing “Over You” was actually my idea — I wanted to make it a little more my style, not so country. But then people were like, “You did a country song, I loved when you did a country song.” My plan kind of backfired, but in a really good way. So that’s when I really started thinking, “Well, maybe I could do both right off the bat.” The sound I love, the pop rock sound like Michelle Branch and Avril Lavigne — that could be on country radio now.
Yeah, it seems like the female singer-songwriters of the early ’00s have paved the way for Taylor Swift.
Yeah, exactly. Taylor Swift is something I’m really scared to compare myself to, but it’s true. I want to do an edgier, less country — well, I’m talking about her past, not now. She’s like, dubstep now. [Laughs] But, you know, an edgier Taylor Swift — not as country, with more mature lyrics and more challenging vocals and melodies.
NEXT: “I sure as hell didn’t have the best voice on the show. I’ll admit it.”
Going into the finale, did you think you were going to win?
Honestly, I was very optimistic because of iTunes. But when I was standing there with Terry [McDermott] next to me, I really had a feeling that he was going to win because of how popular he was and is.
Are you and Terry close?
Yes. He actually just texted me today — he was like, “I hope they’re not working you too hard. Miss you!” He’s such a good guy; he’s kind of like the big brother I never had.
Which other contestants were you close with?
I got really close to Liz Davis. She’s someone that I feel a lot of people don’t understand. People are quick to judge because she’s so gorgeous, she’s got this killer body, she’s not afraid to show her legs — but she’s just a really good person, and I feel like her time on the show was cut too short because people didn’t get to see her personality enough. Even when I first met her, people were saying so many things behind her back — not when it came to the finalists, but way back in the beginning, when there’s a ton of people there that shouldn’t have been there anyway. [Laughs] And towards the end of the show, I became closer with Nicholas [David] — he’s a really special guy, and he’s got a really good outlook on life. He’s got these crazy theories.
He seems like a wise man on a mountain.
He is! That should be his album cover, just standing on a mountain in a robe. But he’s super talented, and he just knows who he is. That’s something I really admire.
Is there anybody you didn’t get along with?
Um… there are people I didn’t mesh well with. I wouldn’t say I didn’t get along with anyone. I mean, you choose to not get along with someone. That’s your choice. I never got into any fights with anybody; I just kind of stayed out of everyone’s way. There were some fights, I just didn’t want to be a part of them.
On a similar note, some people have said that since you had a band and a fan base before you came on The Voice, you had an unfair advantage over the other artists. What’s your reaction to that?
I think it’s so dumb. At the start of the show, I had 150,000 followers on Twitter, which sounds like a lot. But if that meant I was really successful, then why was I struggling to pay rent every month? Why was I not able to get any label to sign my solo project? Being in the band and not growing was not something I was content with. And I’m young — why do I have to stop now? Why can’t I keep reaching for my goals? So it was frustrating. It hurt my feelings to think that people didn’t think I deserved to have a chance. It’s bothered me and affected me, but I feel really proud because there’s no way that my 150,000 fans got me to win The Voice. I did win it on the right terms and fairly.
The Voice’s other winners haven’t had much success in the music industry. Does that worry you at all?
I was worried about that towards the beginning. But when I started seeing how much [my music] was catching on on iTunes, it made me realize that maybe they just haven’t found the person that’s going to break into the mainstream world yet. And it’s not the label’s fault, it’s not Javier [Colon] or Jermaine [Paul]’s fault — it’s not anybody’s fault. I think they made iTunes such a huge component in the voting process [this year] because they got to see who sells the most records. As a label, what better way is there to scout? Everything that they changed about this season really made a lot of sense — it’s more about relatability than who has the best voice. It’s funny — it’s called The Voice, but I sure as hell didn’t have the best voice on the show. I’ll admit it.
Which contestant do you think had the best pure vocals?
Probably Trevin. He can just wail and not sound like he’s straining and not go pitchy or anything — when he did the right songs for him, it was like, “What am I doing here? I don’t even know how I’m still here.” It’s like vocal acrobatics. When he left, that was like, an event. He’s just a monster.
I’m going to let you go, but before I do, one last question: Did you get to meet the Muppets?
I didn’t get to meet the Muppets! I’m so sad! They were there when we were all leaving the stage. They got out of there before we got to see them. When [their appearance] finally aired, all of us were watching it backstage and just staring at the TV like a bunch of five-year-olds. It was amazing.
Maybe you can collaborate with Kermit on your album.
Maybe! I would love to have him, actually.