Finding their voices

One-time national contestants, Kat Perkins and Nicholas David have come home to lasting success in Minnesota

He’s a Bible-quoting hippie dad, a 6-foot-2 kaleidoscope of colors, layers and wizardly beard.

She’s a spunky 4-foot-11 rock ‘n’ roller, all tattoos, leopard patterns and jet-black hair.

He lives with his wife and three kids in their St. Paul home. She’s single in a rented house in suburban Minneapolis.

Nicholas David and Kat Perkins seem to have about as much in common as mystical rocker Father John Misty and pop powerhouse Lady Gaga. But David and Perkins are indelibly linked — Minnesotans who won the hearts of America on NBC’s “The Voice” and then became bankable stars in their home state.

Several singers from the area have made deep runs on “The Voice” and “American Idol,” but only David and Perkins have used theirs as a springboard to an enduring musical career. They get called to sing the national anthem at sporting events, headline charity galas and entertain in clubs and concert halls. They have remained household names in the Land of 10,000 Bands.

Veteran Twin Cities musician Paul Peterson knows what sets them apart from other talented vocalists on TV competitions. “It’s a work ethic and a personality thing,” says the bandleader, who has hired both of them. “Kat is a frigging rock powerhouse. Super-confident. She’s a go-getter. Nick is super-soulful, a really good keyboardist and guitarist. He knows who he is. That’s a big voice in a big package. Kat is a big voice in a compact package.”

Although David and Perkins are closely connected, they have duetted only once — in 2014 at a children’s charity benefit at the Depot in Minneapolis.

The two singers met years ago, long before “The Voice” was even on the air. “The Rock nightclub in Maplewood,” recalls Perkins, 38. “You were in Scarlet Haze,” says David, 39, “and I was in the Feelin’ or Nick the Feelin’. I don’t know how freakin’ long ago that was. Maybe 2006 or ’05.”

After the supremely soulful David crooned his way to third place on “The Voice” in 2012, Perkins didn’t seek any advice when she tried out for that show the next year. In fact, Perkins, who had gotten bounced during a 2003 “American Idol” tryout, didn’t tell anybody she was auditioning for “The Voice.” But the world certainly knew when she rocked to the final five in 2014. Perkins and David reconnected afterward. Now when they get together infrequently, it is like long-lost high school classmates.

First things first, during a joint interview this spring, they shared their COVID-19 scares that compelled them to self-isolate. Perkins played a corporate gig in New Orleans where folks tested positive for the novel coronavirus; the show’s sponsors put the singer and her band on a private jet back to Minneapolis. David’s return home wasn’t nearly as efficient. He was in Belgium, playing with blues guitarist Samantha Fish. When the plug was pulled, they headed to Amsterdam, flew to Moscow, then to New York, Detroit and finally MSP. Upon his return, David dispatched his family while he quarantined solo at home.

Get Perkins and David together, and they will tell you almost everything you want to know about “The Voice” except, well, what percentage their income increased afterward.

“Significantly,” Perkins says succinctly. “I’m working harder than I ever have in my whole life. I wouldn’t break it down hourly because it would not sound great.”

The usually voluble David agreed without giving specifics. “I feel blessed I can feed my family with the gifts God gave me,” he says. “It’s come with years and years of hard work, determination, struggle, strife, pain, sweat, truly tears of joy and sadness. It’s as it should be.”

David and Perkins elaborated on other topics — from watching “The Voice” these days (no, they’re too busy) to experiencing security issues (she’s been cyber-stalked, he’s had women make passes at him even when “my mom was next to me selling merch”).

Left Kat Perkins performs on season six of "The Voice." Right Nicholas David performs on season three of "The Voice."

Top Kat Perkins performs on season six of "The Voice." Bottom Nicholas David performs on season three of "The Voice."

How often do you get recognized in real life?

Kat Perkins: Every single day. We stand out a little bit, first of all. I was just in a grocery store with a mask and a hat and got recognized. What ended up happening is I found the new abnormal. We worked all our lives to have that kind of recognition, and it makes it OK and worth it.

Nicholas David: Especially when I’m with my kids and my wife, people recognize her from the show. Even when the show was like two, three years later, people would be like, “Is she pregnant? Did she have the baby?” It’s a blessing and a curse, to be honest. I’m like a papa bear and keep private with my kids.

How did you feel about not going further on the show?

KP: I had such mixed feelings. Going all the way to fourth, I got angry in the first 48 hours. I’m competitive. I’m a Capricorn. I wanted to win. When I returned home, I felt like I won. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have taken one more week of that. My voice was tired. My mind was tired. It was the best I could do with what I had at that moment.

ND: I was fine with third. I couldn’t believe I was on the danged thing from the beginning. Like Kat said, you redefine winning. Then it’s what you do with it: Are you bold enough to knock on doors?

Did you think it would lead to a major record contract?

ND: On our season, I was automatically signed to UMG [Universal Music Group]. But I got out of it. Yes, it’s music; but you learned [about] the music business on all levels. Some of it’s been ouchies. I got hurt. My trust has been damaged a little bit on this journey. I turned down record deals because I wanted to own my own music.

KP: I was lucky to have gone through much of that before “The Voice.” I went through two record deals, one in Nashville when I was 19 and one with a subsidiary of Warner Music in Los Angeles with my band Scarlet Haze. I had had the ouchies. I had my lawyers get me out of the UMG deal with “The Voice.”

Did you get paid for appearing on “The Voice”?

KP: At a certain point, they make you join the union, SAG-AFTRA. We got union rate. It’s just peanuts. And then we got residuals, sometimes for like a dollar sixty. But you sacrifice financially. They give you a motel room and a per diem. But you could not pay your cellphone bill or your rent back home. My season took up a solid six months of my time, and it took the better part of a year before we filmed live. It was a long time to sacrifice my income, but worth it in the end.

ND: Our landlord put the house for sale [while David was shooting “The Voice”]. My wife was pregnant. I had to move out of the house, clean the house so I missed a wedding gig [in the Twin Cities] and had to fly out to Hollywood. The first time I walked in my new house I had “The Voice” camera crew on me.

What’s your most cherished item from the show?

ND: The memories, snakeskin boots and a car. I won a car [as a top three finisher]. I can’t complain about that. I had to pay taxes on it. My wife had a joke that we’d never be able to get an automobile on a musician’s salary. We’re still driving that car.

KP: The friendships I made. They’re pretty dang priceless. Boots are my second most cherished item. I got the coolest shoes and one of the coolest jackets I still wear. I have really small feet, so they gave me all of the shoes I ever wore on the show. And a sense of style. The hair and makeup lessons I learned were priceless.

Did you feel typecast being from the Midwest?

KP: The ratings in this area, all the way down to Missouri, were super-duper high on my season. I think they want someone from this area, especially in the winter season. People are cold and they’re watching TV.

ND: I was the bearded, glasses guy. I saw my character pop up in other seasons after that.

KP: There was definitely a dark-haired rocker chick lane they filled on my season. We have to remember it’s a casted television show.

When was the last time you talked to anyone from the show?

KP: I keep up in really close contact with my hairdresser Jerilynn [Stephens]. There are three contestants from my year I keep in touch with, and I still have access to [her coach] Adam Levine. I don’t have his direct number but I have his assistant’s number. Whenever Adam is in town [with Maroon 5], I get to go backstage. Last time we had beer and sushi. I always give gifts to his kids. That’s a real connection I have.

ND: I keep up with Paul Mirkovich, the music director, and some of the contestants. Cee Lo [Green, his coach] messages me on holidays.

It’s time for the battle-round competition: Nicholas’ scarves vs. Kat’s tattoos? Who wins?

KP: Ha, ha, ha. Not that I’m counting, but I have 52.

ND: You have 52 tattoos? I think I might have that many scarves, to be honest. I have, like, two drawers full of scarves. They’re different kinds. Like the pashmina ones and the other ones. Dude, it might be a draw. Fifty-two tats! That’s pretty amazing.

KP: I covered one up. It was my first tattoo ever and when we started seeing ourselves on television with the stuff we’d taped, I was like: “Kat, you look so 1999.” So I ran to the tattoo shop and covered it up.

ND: Dude, how many more do you think you’re going to get?

KP: I have plans for at least four.

ND: Do you think you’ll hit a hundred?

KP: Oh, yeah. With my whole back being empty right now, there’s a high chance that I will. I love art on my body. I don’t have it on my walls. I just put it on my body. It stays with me everywhere since I travel a lot.

If you recorded a duet together, what song would you do?

ND: That’s a good question ’cause that could probably turn into reality.

KP: I feel like we should do our own version of “Islands in the Stream.” Kenny and Dolly.

ND: Oh dude, that would be deece. My buddy in Wisconsin — Minnesota East — coined a phrase “deece” [it rhymes with peace]. It’s really hip. If it’s better than good, it’s deece.

Kat Perkins, with guitarist Eric Warner, performed a pop up concert for the family she used to nanny for before her appearance on The Voice. Photo by Jeff Wheeler.

Meet Kathy Perkins

On a windy April day, Kat Perkins returned to the pivotal person in her life — Emma Keller, the 5-year-old who suggested that her singing nanny audition for “The Voice.” The singer pulled up in front of the Keller family home in Edina for a surprise pop-up pandemic performance for the now 13-year-old’s birthday.

“Emma, the first year I was nannying you,” Perkins reminisced, “on your birthday, I made you a special mac and cheese. Back when I only knew how to make mac and cheese.”

From the bed of her shiny black pickup truck, Perkins belted birthday greetings in front of Emma’s family and 20-some social distancing neighbors and their dogs. She turned on the personality and power as if she were performing for 15,000, like when her band opened for Bon Jovi at Target Center in 2005. Then, for 45 minutes, Perkins displayed her perfect-for-all-occasions versatility — from Heart’s “Barracuda” and Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to the original “Life Is Good.”

Emma is special to Perkins. After the singer/actress had surgery for a cyst on her vocal cord, she needed to find a new way to make a living for the time being. So, she became a nanny. While she cared for Emma and her four older siblings, they watched “The Voice,” rooting for a Twin Cities contestant named Nicholas David. That’s when the little one suggested Perkins audition.

This year, with acoustic guitarist Eric Warner, Perkins undertook a spontaneous COVID-19 live truck tour, doing curbside concerts — and singing telegrams. Those performances became her fallback from her usual slate of 100 concerts — including performances for U.S. troops abroad — as well as her annual nonprofit Rising Star Foundation summer camp for aspiring singers, appearances for Livea weight control and frequent motivational speeches.

In 2014, Perkins started speaking to schools of all levels, whether about bullying or being fearless in pursuit of your dreams.

“Off camera, Adam Levine single-handedly helped me define this word I’m talking about today — that is fearless,” Perkins told 130 people at Ohio University this spring via Zoom. Since she was doubting herself on “The Voice,” Levine suggested she look up the definition of fear. She learned even more after reading Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear.” Perkins then ended her talk with her inspiring power ballad, the aptly titled “Fearless.”

Whether she’s speaking to students or corporate gatherings, Kathy Perkins shares her life story, from growing up in tiny Scranton, N.D., the daughter of a church organist mom and music teacher dad. The undaunted teen drove to Minneapolis as a high school senior to audition with actors from all over the country for the high-profile Medora Musical, a summerlong celebration in North Dakota. Not only did the self-taught actress/dancer land a Medora role for several years but that led to a five-year run in “Tony and Tina’s Wedding” at Hey City Theater in Minneapolis.

Her theater background seeps into her speeches and performances, especially her annual kind of corny but comfy small-town Christmas tour with her father in the band wearing his “Feliz Navi Dad” sweater.

Ever ambitious, Perkins keeps crossing things off her bucket list. She’s sung “The Star-Spangled Banner” at a Vikings game (she has season tickets) and traveled to all 50 states. Now she wants to buy a house, make records in various genres and headline the grandstand at her beloved Minnesota State Fair. Maybe sharing the bill with Nicholas David.

Nicholas David performed with the "Twin Cities Funk & Soul" all-star crew during the first night of the Current 8th birthday celebration at First Ave in 2013. Photo by Kyndell Harkness.

Meet Nicholas David

Words matter to Nicholas David. So do faith and family. Music and sports. And all things Disney. He can go deep on many subjects.

Like having faith in his journey.

“You’ve got to try things. One of the things I never thought of trying was ‘The Voice,’ ” says David, whose voice-over agent urged him to audition. “I don’t watch much TV, and all of a sudden to be on TV in Hollywood? I was listening to classical Indian music at the time; I didn’t know who was popular. I had to trust in the journey — and it keeps unfolding.”

The bearded, bespectacled and often barefoot singer has been all over the world trying to find his path. After graduating from Eagan High School, he turned down a jazz vocal scholarship to Chicago’s Roosevelt University and spent five years in Colorado, grooving in the mountains and soaking up knowledge about Jack Kerouac, Ram Dass and Eastern philosophy. In his 20s, he started going on silent Jesuit retreats with his father (“life was loud, with thoughts about doubt and regret”).

After growing up devoutly Catholic, he investigated other religions, visiting various houses of worship in the Twin Cities. Even when he was on “The Voice,” he discussed spirituality with uber-TV producer Mark Burnett, who was then working on “The Bible” miniseries.

Having explored many ways to make himself “a calmer, more peaceful person,” David is writing a book about God. “I want to share this spiritual map, if you will,” he says.

Meanwhile, the singer-songwriter remains focused on family and music. Before the pandemic hit, he was on tour with blues guitarist Samantha Fish and the Devon Allman Project (led by the son of Gregg Allman). He met them when opening for the likes of the BoDeans, Avett Brothers and Rusted Root. Fish gave him an opportunity to make his latest album, 2019’s “Yesterday’s Gone,” for her Wild Heart imprint.

Recording in New Orleans sparked David to come up with a new mantra: “Yazzur.” He peppers that piquant slogan into his performances just the way he dropped “hey now” on “The Voice” and later “c’mon” into his live gigs.

Inspired by his grandfathers (one a visual artist, the other an accordionist), Nick Mrozinski was always interested in the arts — drawing, writing poetry and playing piano, starting at age 8. His mom realized he had a powerful voice when she overheard the teenage football, basketball and track athlete singing along to a grungy Alice in Chains record in his bedroom. In high school, he belted the national anthem in his football uniform. After a school trip to Broadway cemented his love of musicals, he juggled acting in his high school musical with punting duties on the gridiron.

With a few of his football teammates, the singer-keyboardist formed a rock band called Felix Feelin’, playing “head-tinglin’ feet-jinglin’ ” music. That earned him the nickname “the Feelin.’ ”

Under various monikers, David has released new music every year since 2005. He just dropped a new single, “Waiting.” Among his other endeavors is the weekly music show on KFAI community radio that he’s had since 2018, the eclectic “East of Here and West of Now,” with co-host Jackson Buck.

Never shy about furthering his journey, David aspires to “doing something with Disney and writing a musical.” But his goals are both metaphysical and mundane: “Try to be a better husband and father and son and brother and friend. I’m trying to be more proactive than reactive. I’d love to learn how to do a [recording] studio a little better. And just try to keep the spark and to stay open enough to dream.”