Imagine. You're a 17-year-old aspiring singer and Adam Levine, the Maroon 5 front man/heartthrob/hit machine, looks you square in the eye and, on national TV in front of some 12 million viewers, says, "I love you."
That's exactly what happened last Monday to Baldwin's Melanie Martinez, who is making her mark on NBC's blockbuster singing competition, "The Voice," for her beautiful, haunting sound and her quirky but compelling look.
The doe-eyed Baldwin High School senior is, as of tonight, one of six remaining contenders, one of two left on Team Adam. She's surpassed thousands of wannabe contestants and has triumphed over 58 top-notch vocalists who got onto the show all competing for the grand prize: a recording contract.
At her on-air blind audition, three of the four coaches -- including Levine, CeeLo Green and Blake Shelton -- vied for her to join their team (Christina Aguilera passed), after she sang a breathy, soulful version of Britney Spears' hit "Toxic." When the coaches turned their chairs around to view the singer -- "blind" audition being the premise of the show -- they were stunned to see the 5-foot-2-inch gaptoothed teen with a Pebbles Flintstone-like 'do and a bow in her two-tone hair.
She is a bit of a dark horse. Of her singing, she says, "I don't have a huge voice. I'm the only one with a soft voice. I didn't expect to make it past open call." She almost didn't due to a car breakdown at the Midtown Tunnel last March, but got to the Javits Center just in time. But while she lacks the power and vocal gymnastic ability of some her competitors, her sound, is as Green has said, "So unique."
Unique doesn't begin to describe her look. She calls it, "a cross between Olive Oyl on Popeye and Cruella De Vil." There's not a whiff of pop star tartiness here. Instead, she favors '50s-style dresses with Peter Pan collars and flared skirts and chunky heeled oxford shoes and boots. "I can't really walk in heels," she says. Sometimes frilly socks poke out over the top -- all the better to highlight her feet, which occasionally play the tambourine while her hands work the guitar. "I've always dressed this way. I just really like vintage."
On Long Island she hunts for clothes and props at thrift stores such as Glory Beezzz in Baldwin and Cooky's in Oceanside. But these days, "The Voice" fashion stylists dress her. "I sent them pictures of things I would like to wear on the show, and they sort of make it more blinged out. You have to show you are growing."
Oh, and then there's that divided hair -- half blond, half black -- inspired by Cruella De Vil, about which her mother Mery says, "I almost had a panic attack when I saw it." Along with that comes her prerequisite Minnie Mouse head-topping bow. "Everybody asks me if it's a good-luck charm," she says. "I don't think it's lucky. But it reminds myself to stay true to who I am."
Patricia Grant, her photography teacher at Baldwin High school who taught her for three years, says that everything about Melanie is "artistic, from her singing, to her photography to the way she dresses."
"She just had an eye beyond her years," Grant says. "Everything about her is original."
Some of Melanie's photography has appeared on the show, used as backdrops for her solos, and in one case, as a pattern on a dress.
Like her teacher, coach Adam recognizes the power of the Melanie "package." On the show, he said," I love how you present yourself in a way that separates you from everybody else in this competition."
Naturally, her parents, are over the moon. "I've always been and am so proud of my daughter," says her dad, Jose, who with her mom and younger brother, Joseph, are with her in Los Angeles. There, besides all the singing, Melanie is taking Baldwin school district online home schooling.
With two more eliminations and a finale Dec. 18, Melanie's fate is up in the air. But win or lose, she knows what's next. "This is the greatest exposure you can get and I'm really grateful for it," she says, adding that she "absolutely" plans on pursuing a music career. Says her mom: "I'm calm and at peace. To me she's already won to make it this far, to have the courage she has shown at her age . . . it's incredible."
Her teacher Grant sees fame on the horizon. "Since the day I met her, I always felt that she was going to be somebody. And in my whole life, I only felt that way about one other person. I went to school with him at Massapequa High School."
For the record, it was Alec Baldwin.
Melanie Martinez: chances are really good
Melanie Martinez seems like a shoo-in for "The Voice" finals. She has consistently been one of the top-selling contestants on iTunes, which yields big rewards according to the show's rules. When an artist's performance finishes in the iTunes Top 10, the votes are multiplied by 10, making him or her hard to knock out.
Martinez seems destined for a Final Four that includes Team Blake's pop-rocker Cassadee Pope, Team Cee Lo's quirky soul man Nicholas David and either Martinez's Team Adam teammate rock-and-soul singer Amanda Brown or Team Blake's Scottish classic rocker Terry McDermott.
Does the Baldwin teen have the chops to go all the way? Definitely -- she has a distinctive voice and point-of-view, as well as a memorable personality that will serve her well, whether she wins the show or not. Will she win? That depends on whether voters are looking for someone unique, like Martinez, or more conventional, like Pope. -- Glenn Gamboa