Hannah Huston had a moment of calm on the stage of NBC’s “The Voice,” right in the middle of her audition being filmed under the bright lights.

The Arnold Elementary preschool teacher hadn’t turned any chairs yet -- the signal that one or more of the four famous coaches hears enough to want to work with a given performer in the popular singing competition.

“I had this moment, I had this calm moment, where I thought, 'If I sing and no one turns around I will be OK,'” she said. “'I will go home with my family and it will have been such a cool experience.'”

Then she closed her eyes and belted out the last note in her rendition of Allen Stone’s “Unaware,” a raspy quality in the 24-year-old’s voice coming through the microphone. And three of the big red chairs flipped simultaneously, the moment of truth in the "blind" auditions.

Huston, 24, suddenly had a choice of working with hip-hop artist Pharrell Williams, Grammy-winning singer Christina Aguilera and country music star Blake Shelton. Pop star Adam Levine, the fourth coach, also praised her performance.

She picked Williams, who rode the song “Happy” to fame. Having three accomplished artists want to work with her was overwhelming, she said, but she’d always loved Williams, and that night she felt the strongest connection with him.

Her performance, filmed earlier, aired Monday night, which meant Huston was finally able to talk publicly about it.

Here’s how the show works: Four coaches listen to singers with their swivel chairs facing away from the contestants. If they turn their chairs, they can coach the contestant. If more than one turns, the contestant gets to choose from among the coaches.

As the season progresses, the coaches can steal contestants during battle rounds to determine the strongest vocalists. The singers who progress to the live performance shows compete for America’s votes in hopes of winning the grand prize: a recording contract.

Huston, who grew up in Grand Island, has taken a leave of absence from her teaching job to let this experience play out, and she said she's grateful to Lincoln Public Schools for allowing her the freedom to do it.

She may well return to teaching but wants to see where the momentum of the show takes her.

“I’m going to let the show play out, this season of my life,” she said in a telephone interview. 

Before "The Voice," Huston had performed on much smaller stages.

She sang some for her church, though not much in high school. 

She wanted to make a difference, she said, and the time for singing wasn't right. Her counselors said she should be a teacher, so she earned an education degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Then a friend asked her to perform at a party where he proposed to his girlfriend. She was among many musicians singing that night, but it was the moment the idea of performing took hold. She sang in coffee shops in Lincoln and Omaha. Then she scored an audition on the 10th season of “The Voice.”

On Monday, a clip about her on the show began with a shot of the state Capitol, then followed her into the classroom at Arnold, where the world watched her teach for a few minutes.

That, she said, was a day.

“Try and get 20 pre-schoolers to do one thing one time for the camera,” she said. “It’s a task and a half.”

She loves teaching, she said, and teared up before her performance when an interviewer showed her a video of her students wishing her well from the classroom.

Her parents, brother and sister and aunt waited off-stage while she performed.

“Before I went out my dad said you sing for the glory of God, for an audience of one,” she said. "That was a grounding moment."

Then she went on stage and killed it.

Maybe, she said, what she’s doing can be a lesson for her students about hard work, and putting one's mind to something, having good intentions.

Since the show aired she's heard from many people on social media, including the musician whose song she performed. That was great.

But it’s family, friends, school and students at home who mean the most.

“It would have been just another thing on my résumé,” she said. “But it’s so much more when you have people to share it with.”

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.


Education reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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