For a vocal duet that went on to entertain millions on NBC’s The Voice, Alaska Holloway and Madi Metcalf sure got off to a rocky start.
“We both liked the same boy, and that was not working,” recalls Alaska, “especially since the boy didn’t like either one of us. It was kind of ridiculous, but we were fighting over him, and then they put us together to sing a Christmas song. And we were like, ‘Nope. Huh-uh.’”
Adds Madi, “I said, ‘Seriously? You’re going to put me with her? No way.’ We hated each other.”
Still, even in their preteen years, the two Tulsa natives were nothing if not troupers. So, they learned the song, sang it on stage together, and then adjourned to Old Navy, where Alaska bought them matching belts.
“After that,” notes Alaska, “we were best friends.”
“And,” says Madi, “we learned not to like the same boys.”
That initial pairing happened some years ago, when they were with American Kids Inc., a performing group founded by former Bartlesville music teacher, songwriter and performer Dr. Dale Smith. Initially called Oklahoma Kids, the still-extant nonprofit organization gave young entertainers a chance to perform in front of various kid-friendly audiences. Madi joined the Kids at the age of 11; just about a week later, 12-year-old Alaska signed on.
“Basically, it was a group of kids who could sing, dance, juggle – whatever,” explains Madi. “We did shows at nursing homes, town festivals, all sorts of things. There were a bunch of different states involved, and we had a national competition every summer in Branson.”
“You felt like a superstar,” adds Alaska, “because you got to perform on all those Branson stages. It was like, ‘Hello out there!’”
After years of singing together, the two got their big break in 2014 on The Voice. Chosen by Blake Shelton to compete on his team (in addition to being a fellow Oklahoman, country star Shelton is also an American Kids alumnus), they were unable to survive their initial “battle round.”
“When we were first on the show, we were like, ‘Oh, if we make it to the very end, we’re going to be famous, and we’re going to have a record deal, and we’re going to get to travel, and we’ll be on the Today show,’” says Alaska with a laugh. “But after getting knocked off in the first round, we were kind of worried. We thought, ‘Well, what do we do now?’ We’d had 15 minutes on a national television show that we were pretty much trying to work a career off of, and we didn’t know what to do because we didn’t have a manager or anything like that.”
So the two returned home, after having spent some three months in Los Angeles, sequestered in a hotel with the other contestants when they weren’t shuttling back and forth to the Voice studio. Then they were introduced to the Tulsa-based impresario Jim Halsey, whose vast show-business resume includes guiding the careers of such acts as Roy Clark, the Oak Ridge Boys, Hank Thompson, the Judds and Clint Black, among many others.
“We really didn’t have any idea what to expect next,” Madi says. “But the fact that we met Jim a week after we got home from filming the battle round fixed everything in our brains. We had someone who wanted to help us.”
For his part, Halsey says, “They do have good voices, but that didn’t interest me as much as their personalities. You’ve got to have a good voice, you’ve got to be able to write songs. They do. But beyond that, I see them in a much broader sense as personalities, a duo that could host a network television show.”
With that particular goal in mind, Alaska and Madi landed a job as halftime show hosts on Coaches’ Cabana, a cable and online program that features famed Oklahoma football figures Barry Switzer and Pat Jones commenting on college games in real time.
I remember Jim saying that the point of music is to touch people and try to make one person’s day better. I think that’s where we want to be in five years – making a lot of people’s days better.”
The Coaches’ Cabana engagement is just one part of Halsey’s “building a plan and a team” for the two. Currently, he’s concentrating much of his effort on finding them the right agent and press and public-relations representative. While they wait, Alaska and Madi stay busy performing, writing and recording.
“We’ve got one CD out, and we’re working on a new demo,” Alaska says. “We have someone here [in Tulsa] who’s a fantastic producer. His name is Kendal Osborne, and he’s in a duo himself. He has Closet Studios. We’re using him right now for our upcoming project.”
Halsey has long been known for his five-year plans, which map out long-term strategies for an act. His vision for Alaska and Madi, he says, “is beyond Nashville” but includes a major-label record deal, original music from the two, and steadily more prestigious touring. It’s all going to take time, he cautions, but that’s what he needs to get exactly the right elements put together.
In Jim Halsey’s world, plans and dreams often intersect. With Alaska and Madi, he has two performers who aren’t afraid to dream big.
“Our big dream would be having someone open for us at the BOK Center,” says Alaska. “Not to be the opening act, but to be the headliner, and do arena tours and sell albums and have people hear our songs. I remember Jim saying that the point of music is to touch people and try to make one person’s day better. I think that’s where we want to be in five years – making a lot of people’s days better.”
Adds Madi, “I can’t wait for the moment we’re playing a show and we can turn our mics around and listen to the audience singing our lyrics back to us.”
On the other hand, the two have what a lot of other performers don’t – a grounding in reality that anchors their aspirations.
“We say we could be happy selling out the BOK Center,” notes Madi. “Sure. Anyone could be happy doing that. But we could also be happy singing in church on the weekends for the rest of our lives. It’s just the fact that we want to sing.”
“I feel the same way,” Alaska says. “One day I’m going to get older and have a family and all that stuff. But I’ll always sing. I’ll always have that. It’s what I like to do, and I’m just happy I get to do it all the time now.”
“I don’t become interested in very many people,” adds Halsey. “I became interested in these ladies because not only do I feel that they’re very talented, but also I think their personalities extend beyond the music. I’ve never gotten involved with somebody I didn’t like, and I like both of them. I feel that they have a great future, and they’re just starting out.”
Alaska and Madi both agree that despite their exposure on a major national TV show, they’re really just beginning to, as Alaska puts it, “climb the ladder with Jim.”
“We’ve realized,” concludes Madi, “that you have to work very hard for it. That’s what we’re doing now.”