'Voice' singer brings homegrown talent

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Margaret Plevak | March 20, 2014

When “The Voice” contestant Megan Rüger comes back home to Wisconsin for  a visit tomorrow, she'll be bringing along at least one song she's performed on the California-based show, six years of singing experience honed in Nashville, and the Midwestern sensibilities of which she's never let go.

At her planned concert at the Brat Stop in Kenosha Friday night, the audience will hear a song she sang during her Tuesday night appearance on NBC's “The Voice” —where she continues to advance as part of “Team Blake,” and where she's grown a fan base in Wisconsin and across the country. 

Earlier that day, Rüger will also make appearances at two schools she attended while growing up as Megan Pflueger: Badger High School in Lake Geneva and Lakeland Elementary School in Twin Lakes.  She'll be telling students about the rewards of following your passion and the hard knocks you often encounter along the way. 

The hard knocks came later, but the passion definitely started early for Rüger.

“I've wanted to do this for the longest time,” she said. “The first song I sung was 'My Favorite Things' from 'The Sound of Music.' My mom backed me up on the piano.”

By age 7, she was singing at talent shows and local spots like the Kenosha County Fair in Wilmot.

She performed at Country Thunder USA in Twin Lakes for years, singing the national anthem before acts like Lynrd Skynrd, ZZ Top, Kellie Pickler, and Big & Rich. Those big-name artists kept telling her if she was really serious about singing, she had to live in Nashville, home of the music industry.

So at age 20, Rüger left home and headed south.

She found a place to stay and a roommate--a girl who was into the music management side of the business. But Rüger wasn't yet 21, so she couldn't get into a lot of the Nashville bars where networking goes on. She had few connections, knew almost no one.

“You move to Nashville on this pipe dream, thinking you'll be an overnight sensation,” Rüger said. “Then you find out everyone sings. Everyone plays the guitar. So you think, 'How do I stand out when we're all chasing the same dream?'”

Like other aspiring musicians there, she gravitated to the row of bars and nightclubs on Nashville's Broadway, often playing for tips.

“They say in this town there are so many negative, crazy things that can drag you under,” she said. “The drinking scene can really make or break your career.

“Playing for tips, making thirty dollars in a night can depress you. You need to be a strong person to keep your head above water. I've been fortunate to be able to get support from my mom and dad, brother and grandma when I've needed help.” 

It can be especially hard to be young and female in Nashville, when people in the music industry have set ideas about what young women should look like and what they should sing, said Rüger, a Pink fan who sports a Mohawk and tattoos.

“I've learned from a lot of trial and error,” she said. “I know it's not fair to put me in this box. I have to be true to myself. I will not compromise. I will not become somebody I'm not, and I know that it's okay to be different.”

She's paying her dues by working hard, often at day jobs to support her singing.

In this digital age, there are more venues to showcase Rüger's vocal talent. She's done Stageit, a virtual online, interactive concert that pays artists. Her songs can be purchased on iTunes. She's even acquired a large Youtube following.

But the financial expense of a music career, including putting out CDs, requires more heavy-duty sponsors.

She's hoping “The Voice” will help attract some.

While she's restricted from revealing the outcome of the show, which was taped in advance, she said the experience was exciting and tense.

“There was so much stress going into it and I've been dealing with that for a year now,” she said.

She clearly remembers the blind onstage audition in front of the four celebrity judges—who were facing the audience, not her. 

“When I finally stepped out on that stage, staring at the backs of those chairs, doubts were going through my head,” she said. “It was just a world of difference to what I was used to when I normally sing—a rowdy party crowd getting crazy. This audition was dead silent as I was singing the first line of the song. When the audience did react, it threw me off a bit. You can even hear a break in my voice. When (Blake Shelton and Usher) finally turned around, I started doing this crazy dance. I was so excited.”

Besides television exposure, the show has given her other perks, including voice lessons with a great vocal coach, Rüger said.

There's also the hair styling and makeup sessions for her performances. “I love getting pampered,” Rüger said, laughing.

She's grateful she's gotten the chance “to do what I was born to do.”

“I've learned through my time in Nashville that things will bring you up and down, but you have to be true to yourself,” she said. “I've got a huge support system, and my fans know that I'm very down to earth. I don't hide anything. I'm an open book.

“I'm not faking it because I've gone through it--the struggles, working my butt off. But I've kept my head up, and the feedback, the love I've gotten from people has been amazing.”

She's looking forward to seeing friends, even a few teachers again at Badger, where she remembers as a student she “sung anywhere, even the cafeteria.”

A current Badger student and singer, Genevieve Heyward, will open for Rüger at the Brat Stop, where Rüger looks forward to greeting fans--who seem as eager to meet her. “All the VIP seats are sold out,” Rüger said.

She ticks off a list of places she'd love to perform at this summer, including Venetian Fest and the Walworth County Fair.

“I miss being here in the summer time, with all the festivals, and I miss the people,” she said.

Southerners still tease Rüger about her Midwestern accent, so she's made a concession.

“I say 'y'all' now,” she said.

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