NAPLES — Casey Weston has come a long way. And now, for a few days at least, she’s come home.
The 18-year-old singer-songwriter, and 2011 Gulf Coast High School graduate, garnered a lot of attention when she made it to the “elite eight” on NBC’s talent competition “The Voice.” After the rush of the television lights, and a brief tour with other finalists from the show, she moved from Naples to Nashville, determined to make it in the music business.
Friday afternoon, Weston gave her first local performance since her appearances on “The Voice,” playing the first of two shows at Germain Arena in Estero for attendees at the Women Today Expo.
As she displayed, “The Voice” was an appropriate venue for her talents, because she’s got a voice – a powerful, country-flavored set of pipes that she can dial back for an intimate effect, or allow to swell to belt out a standard like “Stand By Me.”
The curtained-off end of Germain Arena was a bit of a tough venue, with the house lights turned up bright, and noises from the booths at the expo filtering through. But Weston, clearly at home on the stage, made it her own.
Wearing a flowing top, jeans, and ostrich-skin cowboy boots, she spent time talking to the audience of nearly 100, introducing the songs, explaining how she came to write the originals, and sharing tidbits from her new life.
“I’m sorry I’m not 100 percent. I tried to be 90 percent,” she told them before leaving the stage, dealing with the effects of a sore throat. Clearly, the crowd felt the singer was giving 100 percent, as they sat silent through each number and applauded enthusiastically afterward.
Following her set, Casey autographed T-shirts, CDs and posters for her fans, including young girls who gazed at her as though she were “Sing ’n Strum Barbie” come to life. There were older fans, too.
“I think she’s great. She could be the next Carrie Underwood,” said Janet Kamrad of Naples.
Nancy Dagher described herself as a longtime Casey Weston supporter. “
Lubia Rengifo was hearing Casey for the first time.
“I was just walking by. I heard her, and I sat down. She’s great,” said Rengifo, purchasing a CD for $10.
Dave Weston, Casey’s father, who guided her fledgling career through its early steps, was in the audience as well. He works as chief financial officer for Naples Lumber, so he’s perhaps stronger on financial numbers than musical numbers.
“I had a full head of hair when we started this,” joked the noticeably balding father.
Before the show, Casey Weston sat down in a cinder block dressing room at the arena, and talked one on one about music, how her life has changed, and where she wants to go from here.
“Every year, I look back and think, man, I’ve come a long way,” said Weston. “A couple of years ago, my mom was letting me stay up for open mic nights, and here I was singing for 12 million people on national TV.”
She used to write songs sitting on her bed in her room at home, she remembered.
“The dog would be up on the bed, and if he jumped off, it was a bad song,” she said.
Now Casey is working with songwriters in Nashville, and concentrating on writing and recording new material.
“There’s a lot of co-writing that goes on in Nashville. There’ll be two, three, or four writers in a room. It’s sort of like a relationship – either you stay together, or you don’t.”
The entire city, Weston said, is permeated by the music industry.
“You’re surrounded in Nashville. The waiter at a restaurant, the guy selling shoes, everyone you meet, they’ll say, ‘oh yeah, I’m a singer, I’m a drummer, I’m an engineer.’ But you can really learn a lot.”
Weston realizes, she said, she has a lot to learn.
“I am young and naïve. I don’t know everything, and I know that.”
One thing she has come to realize, she said, is how much she owes to her parents, not just for the total support they have given to her dream, but shaping her musically with the tunes they played at home.
“I would mock my mom’s choice of music, and make fun of Joni Mitchell, but her and Fleetwood Mac, that’s what I grew up listening to,” she said.
After “The Voice” wrapped up production, Weston headed off on a barnstorming tour with her fellow top contestants.
“It was great. I wouldn’t call it a tour – it was a quick kind of thing. I would have loved more stops,” she said.
They played shows in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston, Hartford, Conn., and New York, although she and another Florida finalist tried to get some shows added in the Sunshine State.
As soon as she returns to Nashville, Weston is booked for more shows, opening for singer and guitarist Tyler Ward, with stops in St. Louis and Chicago as well as Nashville this month.
“He’s what you’d call a business-savvy dude. He’s got more subscribers on YouTube than Taylor Swift, so I can definitely learn from him,” Weston said.
All her friends from high school are away at college now, she said, so she doesn’t know if she’ll get to see any of them during her week back home. As for her future, music is it, she said.
“I don’t have a fallback plan. My goal is just to keep growing, keep getting better. There’s never a final destination,” she said. “I know this is God’s plan for me.”