How 'The Voice' Celebrated My Culture and Connected Me With the Country Music World (Guest Blog)

In the first of TooFab's special series celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, "Voice" Season 12 competitor Valerie Ponzio explores her deeply personal connection to country music

When I was a child, I used to analyze the deeper meaning of Johnny Cash songs with my mom during our trips from El Paso Texas to Old Mesilla, New Mexico. I grew up on the West Texas Border town and often visited the adorable, little southwest town of Mesilla -- a town notorious for the prison that the infamous Billy the Kid escaped from. Given my upbringing, I was BEYOND excited when I got the opportunity to sing Cash's "Ring of Fire" during my Blind Audition on NBC's Emmy-winning reality competition, "The Voice" Season 12 in March of 2017-- Of course, I was even MORE excited when that performance resulted in a FOUR-chair turn!

I’m from the town of El Paso which sits on the West Texas/Mexico Border. It’s a special city that brings the two countries together in really interesting ways. Back in the 70’s it wasn’t uncommon from my grandpa to ride his horse back and forth within a matter of minutes from El Paso to Juarez. The people are humble, hard working, super supportive and full of so many stories including those of passerby's. One of which was a young country singer who was arrested in October of 1965 on that very border crossing. His name was Johnny Cash.

When I hit the stage for my blind audition on "The Voice," it was important for me to show the coaches (and the world) in 1:30 seconds who I was and where I come from. I was really lucky I got to sing a Johnny Cash song -- especially since Johnny has inspired me my entire life. His songs were for the downtrodden; the underdog; the Native American who was judged for turning to alcoholism because of his PTSD; the prisoner. I come from an area that has many disadvantaged immigrants from Mexico -- Cash sang about (and for) these people. He even sang "Ring of Fire" in Spanish. He was an empowering country figure for women and people whose voices weren't always heard. "The Voice" was also diligent about showcasing my Mexican background at every turn -- they wanted their audience to know my story. They even had me film and shoot part of my piece on the Little Mexico set in Universal Studios.

My 4-chair turn on "The Voice" -- and joining #TeamBlake-- has been a huge part of a journey I've been on for several years now as a Latina telling her story in Country music. Joining #TeamBlake was a validating moment for me and for my place in Country music. It's wonderful that my background -- and what makes me different - has been embraced from Texas to The Voice to Nashville (where I currently reside). My fellow Latinos in Texas are absolute lovers of Country music -- it's not something people may know but if you scratch the surface you'll find yourself with the wildest bunch of Mexicans shouting every lyric to every George Strait song perfectly!

Blake Shelton told me, "Nashville relationships tend to last a lifetime-- Country music fans are the most loyal fans in all of music, I think." He was right. Months after I ended my time on "The Voice" my fiancé and I packed up our belongings and moved out to the Country Music Capital of the World: Nashville Tennessee! Country music is a genre that honors the story and storytelling. Here, I've been delighted to find that in the deep south, country lovers are eager and want to hear stories from all walks of life, including mine.

As we honor Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15), I’m so honored that I was welcomed to represent Latinos in Country music and on #TeamBlake on "The Voice" and I'm so inspired to see so many other Latinos stepping into their own separate unique lane of who they are and what they do. I would encourage Latinos and others like me to not shy away from telling your story and showing the world who you are and where you’re from no matter how intimidating the stage or how different you feel. If you brave to take that step, be ready to see that many more ears excited and waiting to hear what you have to say.

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