- October 5, 2022
Windermere resident Mikala “Kala” Banham recently wowed millions with her arrangement of the song “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell during her audition for the American singing reality competition TV series “The Voice.”
“I just had this song stuck in my head, and I kept singing it over and over again,” she said. “I reached back to production and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, I know this is so past the deadline, but I just really have a feeling about this song being my No. 1 choice.’”
Banham had already been through several rounds of auditions before she was chosen to advance to the blind auditions. With only one month to prepare, she — as well as any other contestant — had to provide production with a lengthy list of possible song selections just in case someone else had the same song or there were any issues with getting the rights in time to be able to air the song on national television.
“It was a lot of practicing over and over again; we had about a month to prepare before we actually did the audition, so I sang that song into the ground,” she said. “It’s funny, because a lot of people talk about how they liked my vibrato in the beginning (of the song) and I’m pretty sure that was just nerves. I think I was just so shaky … (but) I think that I tried my best to show every single aspect of my voice, I pull from a lot of different genres and musical inspirations, which I think reflects in the way that I like to use my instrument.”
And the judges believed it too, as Banham got three chair turns and one block from Niall Horan — which prevented Kelly Clarkson from fighting to have her on her team.
A graduate of Osceola County School for the Arts in Kissimmee, Banham comes from a musical family. Her mother, Riccinni, is a native of the Philippines so music is a big part of the family.
“My brother (Lesz) also went to the same performing arts school; he played the tuba in the band,” Banham said. “I have a lot of other cousins who sing and dance and things like that, so creativity has always been very nurtured. My mom had a band with her siblings when I was growing up (and) my dad (Lesz) also played in the band at church, so that definitely helped encourage me to build on those skills as I grew up.”
As a student in a musical school, Banham was introduced — from an early age — to a variety of instruments. Today, she plays piano, guitar, ukulele and viola. Whenever needed, however, she has also played violin or cello at church and currently is learning electric bass guitar.
“I dabble in a lot of things, but singing’s always been my main thing,” she said. “I like to mostly learn those instruments to accompany myself or help when it comes to songwriting. Piano and guitar are probably my favorite (instruments).”
Despite her beautiful singing abilities, Banham attended the University of Florida to pursue a bachelor’s degree in public relations, which she obtained in 2021.
“I didn’t really want to study music because I knew that it was possible to be successful in music without getting a degree,” she said. “So I was like, ‘If I’m going to go to college, I’m going to make sure I’m getting a degree in something that I feel like I need a degree in to be successful in.’ So, I always had sort of an interest in brand management and social media and marketing and things like that, so I studied PR.”
During her years as a public relations agent, Banham worked with clients who — in one way or another — were involved in the music industry. Her side hustle, through all her college and professional career years, was auditioning for “The Voice.”
“I think this was the fifth season that I had auditioned for,” she said. “So, I knew it was going to happen eventually (and) because I had gotten so close to many times, I felt I was learning more about myself with every attempt and I felt I just was going to keep going until they eventually put me on the stage — and they did.”
VOYAGE TO “THE VOICE”
Waiting to audition was one of the most nerve-wracking moments — if not the most — for Banham.
“You’re standing, waiting behind these double doors, and you can hear people going before you,” she said. “I actually went after someone — they changed the order on the show — (so) I went after someone who had a four chair turn and a block so I was like, ‘How am I supposed to follow this?’ I was so nervous. Then, these doors opened, and I saw my parents on the opposite side of the stage, and that was really special for me.
“It’s so silent in there, it’s like you can’t hear a thing.” Banham said. “You see people staring at you but no one is saying a word; you don’t get a glimpse of the coaches at all. You can’t hear them; there’s just spotlights on each of those chairs. So I walked up there, and I was just telling myself, ‘You are going to kill it,’ and then the second I opened my mouth, it fell apart.
“I wasn’t doing any of the things I had practiced for months,” she said. “I was really talking myself down, so when I saw (Kelly Clarkson) turning — (she) and Niall (Horan) hit their buttons virtually at the same exact time — instantly it was just like a rush of relief through my body. And so she turned and I saw her smiling face, I look and see Niall’s smiling face, and then Kelly stands up and goes, ‘No.’ And that’s when I realized that Niall had used his block on Kelly.”
Even though she was a fan of One Direction growing up, Banham wasn’t thinking about choosing to become part of Team Niall. In fact, she had initially considered joining Team Kelly if the opportunity presented itself given the technical training she usually provides her team members during the show.
“I’ve been a fan of the show for a while, and whenever I would see a coach use their block, I would feel really bad for the artist because they probably wanted to work with the person or at least have the opportunity to choose that person if they gave them a really strong pitch,” she said. “But, the second that Niall used his block, all that just immediately flew out the door,” she said. “I was so honored that he thought that there was something special enough about my voice that he would use the block. … (And), I felt that in that moment, even though Chance (The Rapper) said a lot of amazing things, Niall just really got me as an artist. … He is a person who understands music, … understands lyricism and he understands how to make the audience connect with you emotionally when you are singing a song.”
This isn’t Banham’s first time seeing Horan. For her 16th birthday, Banham’s parents got her tickets to a One Direction concert.
“It’s been really cool,” she said. “I never would’ve thought way back then that he would be my coach.”
Through her journey on “The Voice,” Banham hopes to gain a lot of knowledge and technical training that also will help her songwriting skills.
“I’ve been songwriting ever since I was a little kid,” she said. “I haven’t really had the time to dedicate to a project, but it’s definitely on the top of my to-do list.”
Currently, Banham is finishing up a song called “Back When,” which she was working on during a waiting period between two important parts of the show.
“(Niall) gave me some great advice, and it resulted in me singing or writing this song,” she said. “I sent it to him, and he gave me some incredible feedback and compliments. So, I really am proud of that song and the way that it fell together because of the advice that he gave me.”
Banham hopes to take a break from public relations and focus on music through this period of her life, as music is a passion she would like to explore deeper thanks to the opportunity she has been provided through “The Voice.”
The television show airs on NBC at 8 p.m. Mondays and 9 p.m. Tuesdays.