by Candace A. Gray —
If you’ve never watched NBC’s “The Voice,” you’ve likely at least heard about the vocal powerhouse, Memphis-native Wendy Moten on the most recent season (21), that concluded Tuesday evening, leaving more than 7 million Americans in (what some might say is) shock when a trio (Girl Named Tom) won.
A “Team Blake” favorite from beginning to end, Moten headed home with a full spirit to heal her physical wounds after placing second in the popular singing reality competition.
“We are extremely proud of Wendy,” said Moten’s nephew, the Rev. Derrick Joyce, pastor of Monument of Love Baptist Church in Orange Mound. “She’s on a whole new plane now – this is just the beginning.”
Though Wendy lost a chance at the $100,000 grand prize and a record deal with Universal Music Group, according to Joyce she gained so much more.
“We know Wendy deserved to win,” said Joyce.
“She’s a force of nature. She had the opportunity to share the gift of her atmospheric talent on an amazing platform with on average 7 million viewers a week, but it wasn’t even ultimately about winning,” he added.
“Wendy brought a community together, as if she was Steph Curry or Michael Jordan. She was able to share with millions of Americans what we get to see all the time at church, at Thanksgiving dinner, every time we’re together – her spirit, which is positive, uplifting, cleansing. She touched people’s lives and hearts with her voice and her beautiful spirit.”
Moten, who attended Overton High School, a local performing arts school, has built a career wowing crowds around the world, lending background vocals to the likes of Julio Iglesias, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Michael McDonald, Martina McBride and more.
Critics thought Moten had an unfair advantage, having been a professional singer and background vocalist for decades. But, her performance on “The Voice” meant something more.
“Being on ‘The Voice’ gave her an opportunity to free herself from being A voice to so many greats, to being THE voice in and of herself. It was a liberation,” said Joyce. “Her murdering song after song, night after night inspired audiences to make room for themselves, regardless of age, circumstances, mistakes and mishaps.”
Moten, 57, showed America that even when some might say your time has passed, you can still make room for yourself. She also showed America that Memphis spirit we know so well that pushes you to fight through pain and adversity to make something happen.
Last month, Moten fell on stage, breaking her right arm in two places and her wrist on the other arm. But she kept going.
“We gotta be like Wendy Moten and embrace the pain and move out of it,” Joyce said. “She couldn’t even hold the mic – and she still came in number two. She was planted in her purpose.”
But Wendy Moten was not always embracing of the big stage.
Long-time, Grammy-nominated friend, songwriter and musical director, Kurt “KC” Clayton, shares that Moten actually wanted to become a nurse when they were younger.
“Though she’s always had a great voice, she didn’t really want to sing,” Clayton said. “In the late 80s I remember working on ‘Somebody to Love Me’ with Nico Lyras and Ernest Williamson for the group ‘The Jets’ and we called Wendy, who reluctantly came in to sing the demo … then something started to click.”
A few years later (1992), Clayton, Lyras and Williamson would go on to produce Wendy’s self-titled debut album, which featured her hit “Come In Out of the Rain,” written by Curtiss Boone.
“The album did great on the charts, but it was bad timing … Celine Dion had also just come out,” said Clayton. “Both were powerful sopranos, but Celine was on a bigger label, had more resources and took off.”
“But at that point, she was a singer, and there was no turning back,” added Clayton.
Moten performed locally with Garry Goin in the group MVP, was featured on a Stevie Wonder cover of “All I Do” on Kirk Whalum’s album “For You” and won talent competitions before moving to Nashville, where her career took off.
“Wendy has always been gifted to sing all kinds of music – that’s the Memphis way,” said Clayton.
Moten has been lauded for her vocal renditions of songs such as “If I Ever Lose My Faith”, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “You’re All I Need to Get By” on “The Voice.”
“Not to mention, she’s a true professional and so humble about what she’s done and where she’s been,” said Clayton. “‘The Voice’ has given her more exposure as the true solo artist she is, which will open more doors for her in the near future.”
Clayton and an all Memphis-based band will share the stage with Moten at her upcoming show April 2, 2022 at the Orpheum Theatre in Downtown Memphis.
“This show was planned before ‘The Voice,’” said Clayton. “But now we have to up the ante. We’re going back to the drawing board to include some of what she did on ‘The Voice,’ to show her versatility as a singer and an artist,” he added.
“We gotta make sure we’ve got some defibrillators backstage. The energy is going to be through the roof,” said Joyce, referring to the upcoming spring show.
(Tickets are on sale for $37 on Ticketmaster.com.)