Even over the phone – more than 2,300 miles away on a spotty connection bouncing between cell towers – Janora Brown’s voice sounds clear and rich and pure.
You can hear her smile.
Just listen. Joy and enthusiasm come through in her spoken words, dropping hints of the singing talent beneath the surface, a vocal tone that piqued the interest of star coaches John Legend and Kelly Clarkson.
Brown, a 2020 UNC Greensboro graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Biology, chose Legend as her coach during her time on “The Voice,” NBC’s Emmy-winning singing competition.
Brown made it through the blind auditions, but she was eliminated from the competition during the TV show’s third night of “battle rounds” after singing a duet with fellow contestant Shadale.
“It’s incredible all I’ve learned in a short time,” Brown says. “John is an amazing coach. He’s worked with me on confidence, on stage presence, on performance, on dynamics, on specific details about the song my battle partner and I sang. He was coaching us step-by-step through that song. It was an experience I’ll never forget.”
‘UNCG was amazing’
But how does a 22-year-old Biology major from Wingate, N.C., end up performing on national television in Los Angeles?
The short answer is passion.
Brown was an excellent student during her years at UNCG. And in a lot of ways, she was a typical Biology student.
She lived in Spartan Village, and she spent a lot of time in classes at the Sullivan Science Building – at least until she and her fellow students were sent home for remote learning during the height of the coronavirus pandemic her senior year.
Dr. Pradyumma “PK” Pradhan was her favorite professor – “Organic chemistry is hard, but he was just an incredible teacher,” she says – and Brown worked hard for good grades.
“I didn’t know she was a singer,” Pradhan says. “But as a student in my class, she was very sincere, honest and diligent. She was always on the first few front rows, and you tend to remember the faces on those rows. She always comes to class, participates in the class discussions, and always gives her best when it comes to solving a problem. She is joyful, and seeing a happy face in the classroom always has a positive impact on the rest of the class. We are so proud of her.”
Brown proved herself in science, but there was always music in her life, too. She sang at weddings, at parties and at talent shows. She took a chorus class at UNCG that she loved. And she joined “Note Control,” a UNCG a cappella singing group founded in 2018 by Chris Borgstrom.
“I was performing on the side while I was studying in school,” Brown says. “Balancing the two was difficult, but I managed.. … Being there at UNCG was amazing. The college experience for me was so good: the people, the diversity, the professors, the campus, just all of it. UNCG really did help me ‘find my way’ like the slogan says.”
In Brown’s case, she found her way in both science and the arts.
“I’ve always loved music. It’s my passion,” Brown says. “But I come from a family that really values education, and I believe it’s important. I was always interested in science, so I chose biology as a major. Honestly, the plan was to use my biology degree to become a dentist or an orthodontist – something in that field – but to try music first.
“Music has always been my passion since I was a little girl. I’m considering going back to school now, to get a music degree or a theater degree, or something in performing arts. Because that’s where my heart truly is. But, financially, that biology degree gives me something to fall back on in the future.”
Brown believes that the arts and sciences are different songs on the same album.
“You know, it actually does go hand-in-hand,” she says. “My education has helped me grow as a songwriter. When I’m writing songs, I can use some vocabulary and some diction that you can trace right back to studying science and biology. It mixes right in.”
Brown auditioned for “The Voice” in 2020, sending three videos to the show’s producers. They liked what they saw and heard, but the pool of competitors was full.
“I did a virtual interview and signed some papers,” Brown says. “They said to try again for the next season. Well, when next year came around, I didn’t even have to audition. They emailed me for a callback to come perform. I was shocked when they reached back out to me. It was cool. I flew out to California, and I went right into the blind auditions.”
Brown sang “Angel of Mine” by pop star Monica, pouring herself into the performance. She was the third-to-last singer in the auditions, and coaches Blake Shelton and Ariana Grande already had full teams. The two remaining coaches, Legend and Clarkson, both turned their chairs and competed to get her on their teams.
Brown chose Legend, and she made the most of her time on “The Voice” by finding confidence in her own talent.
“I still get nervous, but I see nerves before performing as a good thing. How can you not be nervous?” Brown says. “I’ve performed so many times, that nervousness feels natural. But once the music starts, it’s really something magical. I hear the music, and the nervousness goes away and I become this different person singing with confidence. I guess I get lost in the moment. When the music is over and the song is done, then I’m right back to shaking and being nervous again. At least until the next song.”
Story by Jeff Mills, University Communications
Contributed photo courtesy of NBC