Persona helps Federal Way singer fight fear on 'The Voice'

Ayesha Brooks, the Federal Way singer competing on the NBC talent show “The Voice,” remembers the moment her alter ego, Music Box, was born.

It was at a Tukwila Christmas fair where Brooks, then 12, was booked to sing. When she arrived with her mother, Cynthia Brooks, she was shocked to see a large number of people there.

“I didn’t think there would be so many people there and I started crying,” Brooks recalled. “I said to my mom, ‘I don’t want to go on.’ And she said, ‘You’re probably going to hate me right now, but I’m going to teach you to overcome your fear. You have to go on.’”

Brooks’ mother told her she had made a commitment to the event and she had to keep it.

And Brooks did.

“It taught me to overcome fear,” she said. “Fear is crazy. It can really make you feel like you can’t move.”

It wasn’t until she was 18 that Brooks adopted her stage name of Music Box. Now 28, she still has stage fright and still uses the name to overcome it. Even on “The Voice.”

The second part of “The Voice’s” Battle Rounds will begin Monday and run for the next two episodes. In this phase, two singers choose a song they will perform as a duet. The loser will be sent home. Coldplay frontman Chris Martin is advising the singers.

Brooks barely survived her first Battle Round, which aired March 24.

Celebrity coach Shakira chose contestant Deja Hall over Brooks after the two sang “Eternal Flame” by The Bangles. It would have meant Brooks getting let go from the show. But then fellow celebrity coach Usher stepped in to save Brooks and place her on his team.

“You have the potential to go really, really far in this competition,” Usher told Brooks.

It’s all been one long emotional ride for rock and soul singer Brooks.

“It really feels out of body,” she said. “I work at Basil’s restaurant (in Tukwila). I’m a server. I have a 2-year-old and then you’re thrust into this superstar world. I don’t know how to handle it yet. It’s a good thing I have an alias to act cool as Music Box and then go home and freak out. I rock with Shakira and I get to kick it with Usher. It’s weird.”

The Virginia native has lived in Federal Way since she was 5. She went to high school at Life Christian Academy in Tacoma. In 2008, Brooks got a year-long scholarship to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music but ended up staying in Boston two years beyond that. She moved back to the Puget Sound area in 2011.

Currently, Brooks is working on song writing. She most recently sang with Seattle band Imagine the Giant.

“Rock is kind of what I love to do,” she said of her style. “I like to sing over rock arrangements but I definitely have a soulful voice.”

In December 2012, Brooks had a private audition with the casting director of “The Voice.” Then, for a year, she heard nothing. When the call finally came, it was a shock.

“I didn’t know if they really liked my sound or if they could see me going far on the show, so I was trying not to get too excited and not get too emotionally attached,” she said of the wait.

Though Brooks knows whether she survived the previously taped second Battle Round, she can’t reveal the outcome. She did say the experience boosted her confidence.

“You find that you’re stronger than you think you were,” she said.

Brooks said she sees herself in the celebrities she works with.

“You realize they’re human, and this is a job,” she said. “So it makes it feel more attainable. And they see themselves in you as well. They had to start out somewhere. The only difference is that the world is watching us in a more vulnerable state.”

When Brooks chose her stage name (“Music Box just fit”), she was hanging out with up and coming Seattle rappers.

“I love that rappers always come up with an alter ego,” she said. “You don’t really know their real names.”

So why not a rock and soul singer, Brooks thought.

Though her friends and family call her Ayesha she becomes Music Box when performing.

“Every time I walk on stage I don’t feel like I’m Ayesha,” she said. “I don’t question myself on stage. I allow the music to use me.”

The name, she said, usually engenders one of two responses: love or hate.

“People are very vocal: ‘Why do you have a stage name?’ ‘That’s a dumb name.’ Others love it,” she said. “Some people are very inspired by that name.”

Brooks’ employer supports her frequent departures for “The Voice.”

“I couldn’t ask for a better work family,” she said.

But she calls her mother her biggest supporter. Her mother watches Brooks’ son, John-Alex, when she has to travel to Southern California for “The Voice.”

“I always say she’s the other parent for my son,” Brooks said.

John-Alex has a nickname of his own: “Cuatro.”

He’s the fourth John in his family.


When: Mondays and Tuesdays

Where: NBC (KING-5)

More information: nbc.com/the-voice

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541