Trae Patton/NBC
TV Show
Reality ,
December 21, 2012 at 06:20 PM EST

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.”

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A rotating chair-full of judges search for the next great superstar singer on this NBC reality show.
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