In the five-year history of the reality singing competition "The Voice," few eliminations were as shocking as the season four ouster of soul singer Judith Hill. Her celebrity coach, Adam Levine of Maroon 5, was so upset by her elimination that he controversially mumbled, on camera, "I hate this country."
Levine later issued a public apology for his outburst, but Hill looks back on her experience fondly, despite her unceremonious dismissal.
"It was a great, great thing to do," Hill said. "It really brought a lot of opportunities and a lot of great things came out of it. Looking back on it, I was really glad I did it because it really did help me and opened up my fanbase."
The 29-year-old Los Angeles native hopes to gain more fans in central Pennsylvania when she performs at 8 p.m. Nov. 1 at The State Theatre in State College.
Hill talked to the Mirror recently from Grand Rapids, Mich., where she was on a tour stop as the opening act for Josh Groban. The opener slot is part of Hill's first tour as a solo artist, after years of being a professional backup singer.
But that job out of the spotlight brought her a lot of success. The daughter of two musicians - funk bassist Robert "Pee Wee" Hill, who played with Sly Stone and Bob Dylan, and keyboardist Michiko Hill, who recorded with Rufus with Chaka Khan and Billy Preston - Hill blossomed early as a songwriter and composer. But after singing backup for French singer/songwriter Michel Polnareff in 2007 in Paris, she was ready to strike out on her own.
If you go
Who: Judith Hill
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 1
Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
Tickets: $26 per person (plus $3 ticketing fee per ticket). Available online at thestatetheatre.org, by calling 272-0606 or in person at the theater box office
The State Theatre will play the documentary "20 Feet from Stardom," featuring Judith Hill, at 7:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and at 4 p.m. Monday and Wednesday. Tickets are $6 and $8
But fate had other plans. In 2009, a friend told her that Michael Jackson was looking for a backup singer for his "This Is It" tour. Hill was hired as a background vocalist, then was chosen to be Jackson's duet partner on the song "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." She rehearsed with the King of Pop until his untimely death on June 25, 2009.
At the legend's memorial service, held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast live worldwide, Hill was the lead singer for a mass performance of "Heal the World." She says Jackson continues to influence her today.
"He really did come in and rock my world. It was just an incredible experience," Hill said. "I learned so much from him. I had a front row seat to greatness. Working with him, I got to see how he created magic on that stage. ... I left that experience really inspired and with a new understanding of how to be an artist."
After Jackson's death, Hill took on just one more backup singing gig, going on a world tour with Stevie Wonder. She was also one of the backup singers featured in the 2013 documentary "20 Feet from Stardom."
Hill signed a contract with Sony Music earlier this month and is currently working on her debut album. She's writing or co-writing all the songs and expects to release the project in "the first quarter of next year."
"It's coming together really well," Hill said. "It's a pop-soul record. It's kind of a cross between the old world and the new world, bridging the two worlds."
With her background, many are banking on her success, including State Theatre management.
"It seemed like a good fit because this is her first headline national tour," said the theater's programming manager, Greg Ray. "As a small theater, we have to jump on acts that seem like they're going to be really big. Because a year or two from now, she'll be out of our price range. So you have to strike while the iron's hot."
Ray said they booked Hill in part because of the success they've had in prior years with former singing competition contestants like "The Sing-Off" winning group Pentatonix and "American Idol" winner Kris Allen - both of whom sold out The State Theatre when they played there.
"At arenas you can get really, really big name acts, but the fact that you can get someone who is hip and exciting and has national recognition in our little piece of central Pennsylvania, it's a surprise [to fans] and they're very happy to hear that," he said.
And the move into that spotlight all began with Hill's audition on "The Voice," regardless of whether she won or not.
"It was difficult to decide to audition because I knew what I was getting myself into," Hill said. "But I definitely was ready to step into my own as a solo artist.
"It's a great show because it shows you so much about what kind of artist you are and how to discover how to connect with an audience."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.