When Alisan Porter won The Voice singing competition in 2016 with a majestic, goosebumps-up-to-here rendition of “Somewhere” from West Side Story, it was one of those reality TV moments that might send you down a YouTube rabbit hole, wanting to know more about this powerhouse talent. It doesn’t take long to find a 5-year-old Porter belting out “Over the Rainbow” on Star Search, her vocal chops and a preternatural stage presence so clearly evident even at that age. In fact, she went on to become the youngest contestant to win that competition.
Three decades separate those victories, yet despite her commanding Voice performance, the now-38-year-old singer says she still felt the familiar twinge from those early days of stardom. “It’s a different kind of nerve-racking,” she tells the Weekly. “I mean, when you’re 5, you’re kind of clueless. But this time around, it was more exciting, obviously. There was a lot more at stake.”
Porter went on to appear on television and in films post-Star Search, memorably as the title character in Curly Sue, the beloved 1991 John Hughes film starring Jim Belushi. But she says music was always her first love. She moved to New York to audition for Broadway shows and eventually formed a couple of bands, including her own Alisan Porter Project. She released her eponymous debut album in 2009 and a second one, Who We Are, in 2014.
Despite a lifetime in the industry, The Voice was a whole other ballgame for Porter. It gave her massive exposure on a national level—and she gave Christina Aguilera her first coaching win. It also introduced her to audiences who might not have known her as a child star. “Before, I was like raw crystal. After The Voice, I was like a buffed crystal, like a rock,” Porter says. “It just really helped smooth out the edges. And [it gave me] confidence—just being confident and understanding who I was and wanting to be as an artist. But [also], it’s tough. It’s a hard competition.”
After winning The Voice, Porter began working on her third album, 2019’s Pink Cloud, behind which she’s now touring, with a March 13 stop at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. Porter says the country- and soul-influenced album, released independently, is an ode to a life that’s seen ups and downs. “Everything about recording this album was therapeutic. I went through a divorce; I fell in love again. Everything about the album was like a complete and total rush of healing. It was everything I wanted to say and everything I wanted to do when I won The Voice. … It was a full-circle moment, a real culmination of everything that I’d done in my life.”
ALISAN PORTER March 13, 7 p.m., $39-$59. Cabaret Jazz, 702-749-2000.