Her powerful and sonorous voice stole millions of hearts, her carriage exuded class and her performances on The Voice Nigeria made audiences go through a flurry of emotions at the first note.
At the end, Agharese Emokpae‘s ability to fight week in week out, stand out among the other contestants, proved decisive as she emerged the first ever winner of The Voice Nigeria on Sunday, July 31 2016.
Graduating from Washington and Lee University in 2010 with a degree in Arts, A’rese as she is fondly known pursued her first love – theatre, appearing in stellar productions home and abroad including Saro The Musical and Wakaa! The Musical – which became her springboard to the show.
On arrival from South Africa where the show was shot, the 28-year-old stage actress spoke exclusively to YNaija in her first full interview; she talked about her rough road to stardom, experience on the show, relationship with Waje, life after The Voice Nigeria, her first love and more.
Read the interview below:
How has the experience been in the past three months?
The past three months have been amazing, crazy and the best time in my life. It’s also been the most challenging. In that way, I feel like I have grown so much in such a short period of time. But, it’s something that I will never forget.
Talking about challenges, could you mention a few you had during the show?
Well, the pace of the production is relentless and always moving, always rehearsing, always shooting something or the other.
So, learning to deal with all of that and still put your best foot forward every Sunday night was insane.
There were times where I would be sick or maybe not have eaten that day or slept in three days or you’re tired or emotional you still have to come up on Sunday and put on a great show. So, learning to deal with that has been crazy but so worth it.
How much of your experience as a stage actress did you put into this? Did it at any point help? How was the process transitioning from stage actress to singer?
It’s completely different. Being a stage actress, you have a character that you get into the mindset of that character when on stage so you’re not really thinking about the people who are watching but rather how that character feels in that way at that moment. But as a musician and an artist, they’re focusing on you, A’rese standing there, so my experience on stage helped me to channel my energy in the right direction but it was a brand new learning experience in letting and being myself on stage.
When you entered the competition did you think of coming this far?
I think all of us when we entered, I mean nobody goes into this kind of thing saying ‘I’m the winner, forget all these people’, No, you have a certain respect for your fellow contestants so I entered with that respect because I was with some really amazing people so I hope I can learn as much for however long I’m here. But, obviously as you make it further, you think ‘Wait a minute, I’m in the finale, is it possible? It might be possible.’ And here I am, so it’s possible.
When did you think ‘This is my moment and I think I’m going to win this’?
To be very honest, I don’t think I ever had moment.
Everybody at the final said that you were prepared for it and that you were ready for it…
It was never about winning but being about as true to myself as I could be at all times. Even all the way up to the last two songs, I had decided that Sunday that whatever happens, I would leave everything I have on that stage. I think that’s what resonated with people was that I was giving everybody everything that I had in me. It turned to just be a winning performance.
Which one of your performances would you say was your favorite? Which was the most challenging?
My favorite performance was when I sang ‘Palava’ by Fela Kuti, I don’t know if it was because I was saved the previous week, but I just felt free that day and when I sang that song. I was really feeling myself on that stage.
From that moment, it changed something for me, it was different for me for the show. The most challenging one is between the very first song I sang for the live shows, ‘Down’ and ‘Hide and Seek’, because there was no instrumentals to hide behind. Then, ‘Down’, I was so nervous and was literally shaking right before the show started. It’s between those two.
If not acting and if not music, what would you prefer to go into?
I’m not sure, I once read somewhere, a quote from Morgan Freeman that if you can do anything else in another industry, do it. Don’t kill yourself for acting or singing, because it’s so uncertain. But, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else because if I could, I probably would have given up because it’s been a long hard road to get here. I would be thinking that I could go work in an office somewhere but I couldn’t see myself doing something else so instead I just kept going.
Who supports your more, mum or dad?
I can’t pick one or the other, my parents are the best parents in the whole world. It’s not easy to see their child struggling. Everybody wants their kids to have a steady job and be secure and okay and for the fact that I was okay, just trying to manage, I know it wasn’t easy for them but they supported me from day one and pushed me to keep following my dreams.
The talk of your family putting in votes, what do you have to say about that? What would you think people saw in you to put in votes for you?
I think everybody that came to the show had something special and perhaps we all appeal to a different demographic. To some people, the demographic can be young ladies between 18 and 35 and that’s a demographic that is heavy on social media. For others, it might be the grandpas and grandmas or older people who might be able to use Facebook, they’re all watching the show because The Voice Nigeria is a family show and all of Nigeria is watching it whether on social media. Everybody’s fans voted as much as they could.
Going forward, what are the tactics you intend to employ in a music industry like Nigeria which is heavily dominated with pop sounds and afro-beats? Do you intend to mix anything with your sound to make it more afro-centric or you’ve just gone western style?
I feel like I tried really hard to show all sides of myself on the show. I sang Nigerian songs, sang Western songs and brought a little bit A’rese into every one of those.
The real A’rese is somebody who stays true to herself, the same way Asa wasn’t necessarily what people would say was Nigerian music but now Asa is a household name and she did that by sticking true to her truth. I believe that if I continue to be honest in my music, whatever that sound may be, people would appreciate it.
Is music now the focus or will fans continue to see you on stage?
I hope so, the stage is my first love. Doing musical theatre is what made me want to pursue and do music eventually. If I can, I would definitely do stage production, although for now, the focus is on music.
Who or what motivated you to want to go for the Voice Nigeria?
In out industry, in general, if there is an audition you would go. You never know what might happen. It wasn’t like something made me think that The Voice Nigeria is different from something else but it just came along.
The Voice was the first music talent hunt that I had ever gone to, so it was crazy that it was the first that I had ever done and I got this far. Any audition that comes your way, you try.
What’s your advice for those that go for these talent shows and don’t get to come out on top?
There’s no such thing. We learn from each other so for somebody to say they are giving advice it’s like I know more than you when no possible way for that. We all have our own uniqueness and we’re all special in different ways and everybody has something to teach other. I should even be asking them for advice.
That moment when the winner was called, what was going through your mind?
I was like ‘What?!’ I couldn’t believe that it was real, it was mind-blowing.
Have you experienced any major failures in your life that hit you so hard?
Of course, we’ve all failed so much. We’ve all been fighting to stay on this show. There’s no smooth sailing because we’ve all worked so hard. People only ever see success because they see you on stage but they don’t see all the other auditions that I’ve been to and that I’ve been rejected from.
Have you encountered any losing moment in life?
I think somebody who gets upset over losing is the person that is missing out on the learning experience that they had. Out of every failure rather than remember you didn’t get what you want, it’s more why didn’t I get the audition, the part. there must be something I can do for the next time. I remember the first theatre company that I worked for, I auditioned for them maybe 12 or 13 times and was rejected over and over, sure I was sad that I didn’t make them but I always think of why I didn’t make it and how I could do better the next time. I just kept going till the 14th or 15th time where they could see my hard work and once I got it, I earned so much from them. It’s about learning and improving yourselves.
How would you describe your relationship with Waje?
Waje was a very dedicated coach although all other coaches were like that, but because she was my coach it felt really special. She gave so much of herself to all of us.
Team Waje all bonded together. She took out time to mentor us on stage presence and how to behave in the industry, sound choice, how to sing the songs. She’s the type of coach that would sing the songs for you to understand and from there, you would just bond, it was so amazing.
Before the show, her music spoke to me deeply and for her to turn for me, it was the biggest thing in the world. I felt like I could go home now, Waje turned for me, I am done. Because she’s so dedicated and sincere, she puts everything she has into every thing she does, the improvement showed.
Is A’rese in a relationship?
The thing about this industry is that when you’re working hard and pushing so hard that there’s no space for anything else, so at the moment, no. I’m not really in the market for that just yet.