Born and raised in Hanson, Massachusetts, Kristen Merlin has traveled far and has come a long way. A contestant on both American Idol and The Voice, Kristen talked to New England Country Music about her drive for all genres of music and why she chose country, her new EP ‘Boomerang,’ and her thoughts on the Little Big Town song ‘Girl Crush.’
From as far back as she remembers, Merlin wanted to be a singer. In high school, she participated in musicals and chorus. Merlin was at the top of her class in high school and it was expected of her to attend college. It wasn’t something Merlin wanted to do but decided, “If I’m going to go I’m going to do something I love and I love music so that’s how I ended up doing that.” Merlin attended the University of New Haven in Connecticut and majored in music and sound recording. It was here that Merlin started writing songs. Her major in music production had her continually surrounded by musicians and constantly engaged in jam sessions. At first Merlin only produced and recorded the jam sessions, but it didn’t take long for her to join in with the other artists and be an actual part of the recording as a performer.
Merlin listened to a lot of different types of music as a child, and there was not any specific group or artist that she looked up to and she actually did not like country music early on. It was when she started to grow up that she paid attention to a song’s lyrics, when she realized she liked country music and what it is all about. “The story telling, lyrically, I love country music for that. The content. A lot of it is very clever. The Metaphoric. I love the stories that it goes through. It paints a picture in your mind when you listen to it.”
After college Merlin started to pursue her music career, and took her chances as a contestant on both American Idol and NBC’s Emmy Award winning show, The Voice, where she placed in the top five in Season 6. Merlin liked the premise of The Voice, because during the blind auditions, she would only be judged purely on her musical talent and not anything else. “For me it’s been kind of an issue. People go through snap judgments and they look at me and country, yeah right, I’m not a country looking gal, so it’s always fun to see peoples’ reaction after I started singing and that was kind of cool. The whole thing with the voice was that they had to hear me then turn around and say oh my.” Merlin really enjoyed her time on The Voice, despite the snag that she had during her live performance of the Sugarland song, ‘Stay.’ Her mic went out on national television and even though she panicked she continued to sing through it. Merlin was determined to finish “regardless of who could hear me or who couldn’t.” One of the most important things Merlin took from her time on The Voice was her ability to connect with her audience, whether it was during a performance or talking to them between songs.
Well known around the New England area, with a big fan base, Merlin continues to connect with her audience. She released her first EP this past January, ‘Boomerang,’ which consists of five songs; four of which Merlin penned herself. And Kristen’s fans, and others, approved as ‘Boomerang’ reached the number two spot on the Billboard Heatseekers Chart, for new album release. The title track, and first single from the EP was one that Merlin connected with as it is a song that will satisfy both her country fans and her pop fans, “people will grab on to and it will get stuck in their head.”
You can purchase the Kristen’s, EP ‘Boomerang,’ on iTunes here.
Merlin thinks her music speaks for itself, but there is always a worry that some listeners of country music will judge her and not look at her talent as an artist and a musician. She struggled when she was trying to figure out what genre of music she wanted to connect with. Kristen knew that if she went into the pop world, she would be more easily accepted, and it would not be so much of an issue with her sexual orientation. Vocally, however, she felt her sound leaned more toward country than pop. Her feelings are, that if people like her songs, think they are fun and it gets their toes tapping, then they should just enjoy it. It should not matter who is singing what to whom. It still makes Merlin sad however, that people still make a big deal about who is singing what to whom, especially in light of the controversy around Little Big Town’s ‘Girl Crush.’ Merlin says it best about why she thinks the whole issue is ridiculous.
“It shouldn’t be an issue. It’s a really beautiful song and it has got a really beautiful meaning. Everyone doesn’t have to agree with every meaning to every song and every other song isn’t being picked apart so why this song? If people only took a minute and actually listened to the story behind it. Everyone has been there and have had that moment when you see someone have everything you want and you just wish you could be that person. Everyone can take a song and make into whatever they want. Everyone can make their own meaning about it. It’s time people are ready to move on with things.”
Moving on is just what Kristen is going to do. She enjoys playing the local New England bars and clubs, but would love to go out on tour and play some larger venues. Kristen had the opportunity to open for Sugarland in Las Vegas and thrived on the crowd’s excitement and enthusiasm. Some artists she thinks would be great to tour with are Sam Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Reba and Jennifer Nettles but overall her goal is to sing for everyone and touch as many people as possible with her music. With Merlin’s passion for performing and her musical talent, that could be happening in the near future.
Interview conducted by Lorraine Frigoletto contributing writer for New England Country Music. You can follow me on Twitter.