By Chase Kamp
Whitney Fenimore has been watched by 15 million pairs of eyeballs on national television. She’s sung in front of Jennifer Hudson and Blake Shelton. She got to hear Adam Levine from Maroon 5 call her voice “powerful” in front of a studio audience.
But she admits that when she took to the humble stage at local watering hole Tempe Tavern on a recent Sunday night, singing solo before just a few dozen music fans, she felt a familiar twinge of nervousness.
“Being nervous is good,” she says over the phone a few days later. “It helps me stay on my toes and not feel entitled.”
Though she briefly tasted the limelight on the small screen, the Oklahoma-raised alt-country singer hasn’t stopped staking her own turf. She has a fivesong EP called Battle Within slated for release on May 18, and her multivalent songwriting cuts against expectations for both pop and country, fitting both for a dreamy night drive or a backyard barbecue.
Last year Fenimore was cast on NBC’s The Voice, a talent show where unknown performers try to earn the approval of four megastar judges and get hand-selected to be coached by one of them. She went under the tutelage of bizarro pop phenom Miley Cyrus (who had stolen Fenimore from Adam Levine’s team). She made it through a few rounds before being eliminated, and many less dedicated artists would have been content with a splashy fifteen minutes of fame among pop royalty.
But not Fenimore. Newly settled in Arizona as of six months ago, she’s released a number of singles, including the most recent “Find Your Love”, a riveting track that hits on her touchstones of country, R&B and folk rock.
The song begins with smoky, cool verve, soon surging with organs and strings in the chorus, where Fenimore croons a hook that could double as a mantra for her career: “I won’t stop until I find it.” And then, unexpectedly, there is an ambient midsection, and her voice soars in a cascade of spacious reverb, glinting like a sunset. It’s decidedly pop, but it pushes against the confines, so much so that her producer had to cut the nearly six-minute jam down to a radio-friendly three-and-half.
Though she might get reined in at times by the realities of the industry, Fenimore isn’t afraid to chase her muse. “Find Your Love” features a particularly strong rhythm performance by firstclass session drummer Aaron Sterling, the kind of role player hired by top acts like John Mayer, and Fenimore gleefully recalls messaging Sterling out of the blue on Instagram to see if he would lend some beats.
“I just said, ‘Hey, I’m in L.A., what are your rates?’” She thought it couldn’t hurt to try, and he ended up responding quickly and enthusiastically. She was amazed at what can happen when you proceed with confidence. “I’m so glad I didn’t second-guess myself,” she said. “I’m so forever grateful becomes I love the drums on that track.”
Her country background looms large over her vocal style and sonic palette, but she often feared getting cornered by the genre’s limitations. That was until recently, when innovative personalities like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris proved to her that the country pop template has room to fit so many more ideas.
“I love the heart behind country: every time we go to the lake in Oklahoma we’re listening to country and drinking a beer,” she said. “But when these new singers came out, I realized that’s the vein that I’m in.”
WATCH: Whitney Fenimore’s new single, ‘Stones’