When Danielle Bradbery steps on “The Voice” stage tonight, it will represent a homecoming for the young singer.
Bradbery was only 16 when she captured the coveted top spot on the popular show four years ago, the youngest artist ever to win.
But a lot has changed for the Texas native since then.
After signing her record deal with Big Machine Records immediately after her win, she released her first album, “Danielle Bradbery.” She’s sung on the Grand Ole Opry, toured with Brad Paisley and Hunter Hayes, and amassed more than 424,000 Instagram, 829,000 Facebook and 379,000 Twitter followers.
Despite her overnight success, though, something was missing. Her fans never really got to know the real Danielle. But that’s about to change.
Bradbery released her sophomore album, the appropriately named “I Don’t Believe We’ve Met,” on Dec. 1, and it shows a more mature side of the now-21-year-old.
Instead of a strict country album, this new effort is a blend of pop, R&B and soul — as well as country. Bradbery cowrote seven of the 10 songs, tapping into some of the industry’s most tried-and-true songsmiths, including Thomas Rhett and his father Rhett Akins, Julian Bunetta and Emily Weisband.
“On ‘The Voice,’ I was 16 years old and right after I got off, I made my first studio album,” she said. When preparing for the first album, she said, “it was more of a [type of process of] listening and picking the songs. I had to pick 12 songs for the first album and it was more of, ‘Oh, this is a good song, I’ll sing that.’ I didn’t really know how to insert myself into the songs I wasn’t a part of writing.
“But these last three years, I really wanted to home in on who I am as a person, as an artist, what my likes were and really talk about it because it was such a fast process in the beginning and I didn’t have time to really figure it all out,” she added.
The first album was also more “straight-up country music,” she said. “I’ll always be country, but growing up, I had so many influences: I love R&B and all of that stuff, which is what you’ll see on this new album. It’s been really fun to do a little bit of everything. The whole album doesn’t sound the same and it’s more honest.”
Her favorite cut is “Worth It,” which she’ll perform on “The Voice” tonight. She calls it “kind of an empowerment song that helps me speak up for myself in any situation, whether it’s a relationship, a job, anything.”
She also pointed to “Potential,” a love song to a guy who fails to live up to her expectations, that she said helped shape the mood of the entire album.
Then there’s “Sway,” the first single and an upbeat earworm of a song that is sitting around number 50 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.
“I’ve never had that crowd participation song,” she said. “And personally, I love to put music on at my house while I’m cleaning and sing along in my car, and I wanted a song like that for other people. I love to dance as well so it’s all about taking your shoes off, having a drink, being laid-back and having fun.”
That shows in the video for the finger-snapping tune as well where Bradbery is featured dancing with groups of young people in the street inside and outside a high school.
Because of her “Voice” fame, Bradbery never actually got to experience high school, something that used to be a sore point with her.
“I got out of school my sophomore year of high school, and did a lot of home school. I never went to college and I didn’t have time to do sports — and I love all of that,” she said. “It used to be a heavy subject, but this is obviously is a life-pinching experience and I’m so lucky.”
So while she may not have gone to the senior prom, she did get to walk on the red carpet at the Country Music Association awards so that kind of makes up for it, she said.
While Bradbery has been in the public eye for so long, if it wasn’t for her mother, she might never have hit the big time.
“My mom signed me up for “The Voice” because I was so shy and I wouldn’t do anything on my own. I was just going to stick to singing in my room by myself,” she said. Her mother surprised her with a ticket to Dallas to audition and the rest is history.
“I was so scared, but when I did it, it was like: ‘Wow, this is an amazing experience.’ But I was scared all the way through. I didn’t know much about the industry or anything, I just knew I loved to sing that that was my therapy,” she said.
She and her family watched “The Voice” and she recalls telling her mother that if she were ever on the program she would pick Blake Shelton as her coach. And that’s just what happened.
Although she doesn’t keep in close touch with him — “Blake’s a busy guy,” she said — she follows him on social media and he’s still quite supportive. “He did congratulate me on ‘Sway,’ so that was really sweet. And he recently tweeted about my song being in the top 50, which is really exciting, and I will be seeing him when I go back [tonight]. It’s going to be fun to show them how much I’ve grown and see everybody.”
In addition to her music, her personal style has also matured.
“I love style,” she said. “I’m just so interested to learn all about it. I follow my favorite models and I just love to see people that have a great fashion sense.” She pointed to Vanessa Hudgens, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner as among her fashion role models.
While her everyday wardrobe is simple — “I’m a huge Zara fan,” she said, pointing to her red sweater and black-and-white jacquard trousers — she works with a stylist for big red-carpet events. Although she doesn’t have any favorite designers, she loves to put things together and be involved in choosing her wardrobe.
“At the last CMAs, I tried out a beautiful red dress,” she said of the strappy gown with the thigh-high slit she donned on the red carpet. “I love finding unique things like that. I like to find things that are different,” she said.
Just like her new sound.
Bradbery isn’t sure where her new music will fit in — country, pop, R&B — and frankly, doesn’t really care.
“Country music will always be my base, I love the storytelling, and all of that, but who knows, maybe along the way, I’ll find myself steering a certain way, but right now, I don’t have any specific [path],” she said.