December 22, 2020 : By Jacob Couch - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Few would have thought that the young girl from Siloam Springs, Ark., with a love for music would be offered a college scholarship at age 16 to travel the country on a worship team. But that is how Tori Miller (’14) launched her career, leading to another answered prayer this fall, when she performed on the nationally televised singing competition “The Voice,” filmed in California.
Miller grew up singing on any stage possible in northwest Arkansas. During her first years of high school, she heard of a Christian college in Lynchburg, Va., that was focused on spreading the Good News of Christ around the country through a music ministry team, the Sounds of Liberty. As she looked into the team more, she learned there was one spot open for the upcoming school year and hurriedly submitted an audition tape.
“I was able to figure out how to graduate from high school early,” she said. “I auditioned and Scott Bullman (director of ministry teams at the time) heard something that he liked in my voice and offered me the last spot.”
Miller said that her parents were terrified at the thought of their daughter going to college at such a young age, but they trusted that the Lord was working through a door He had opened.
“I know they’ve always believed in me, but I think they thought that me getting this role with a bunch of early- to mid-20-year-olds 18 hours away was overwhelming,” Miller said. “But I did pack my belongings into my little car and drove to Virginia in 2010.”
Miller was given the opportunity to travel across the country and into regions of Canada while touring at various churches with Sounds of Liberty. In her junior year, she had the chance to audition for “The Voice,” through Liberty alumnus Anthony Evans who was working for the show and had known of her time with Sounds of Liberty.
“I auditioned back then and it didn’t end up working out, but I feel like I owe a lot to that time in my life at Liberty because it was the initial step that eventually landed me a spot on the show this year,” Miller said. “Liberty really afforded me a jumpstart to the career that I’ve always wanted. Being able to travel while making lifelong friends was one of the best experiences of my entire life.”
Miller graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in English, but music was still her true passion. She returned home and started to contemplate a career as a recording artist.
“I went back to Arkansas and started nannying to pay my bills while I started to hone my songwriting and artistry,” she said.
She recorded and released multiple singles in Arkansas before moving to Phoenix. It was during her time in Arizona that she decided to submit another video audition to The Voice. She received a call from “The Voice” informing her that her second audition, held that same summer, was enough to grant her a trip to Los Angeles in July to start filming for the show.
She performed in the first round of Season 19, aired this past November, in front of coaches Blake Shelton, Gwen Stefani, John Legend, and Kelly Clarkson. Miller said singing for some of the world’s most renowned vocalists in their respective genres was the most nerve-wracking vocal performance of her career.
“There’s a lot that goes into that moment, but I was just so cripplingly nervous,” she said.
Miller channeled her nerves into a successful performance of “When You Say Nothing At All” by Alison Krauss, resulting in an offer to join Stefani’s team and move on to the Top 40.
“When I made the Top 40, I had to quit work and leave everything and move to Los Angeles for a couple of months to pursue the show full-force,” Miller said.
She sang “Exile” by Taylor Swift and Bon Iver in the following round, but was eliminated.
“Fulfilling a lifelong dream of being on The Voice was such a full-circle moment in my life,” she said. “I feel so confident that the timing for the show was perfect because I made the best friends of my entire life. Even getting sent home, all I felt was a sense of pride and gratitude that out of 40,000 auditions, I ended up as 1 of 10 singers fortunate enough to be on Team Gwen Stefani.”
While in California, Miller was able to write songs from her hotel room during off time from the show, so when she returned home to Arkansas, she was ready to produce more music and pursue her dream of becoming a full-time recording artist.
“In a world that has been stricken by the pandemic, it’s hard to predict when that is going to happen, but I feel super grateful to have steady work while I’m able to return to my roots and figure out what the next leg of my music is going to sound like.”
Though many recording artists make their way to Nashville to chase their dreams, Miller said she desires to strengthen her home region fanbase before she makes the leap to Music City.
“I think you need to be around the minds of those making it happen in the music industry at some point,” she said. “But I think there is value in reaching and hopefully breaking through that glass ceiling in whatever community you are in. Those are the people who are going to support you in whatever phases or growth periods you experience. That natural and organic fan base is really invaluable.”
In 2021, Miller will look to give fans a surprise twist in her music.
“It sounds completely different than anything I have currently available and I’m really, really excited to share it,” she said.