My name is Kat Robichaud. If you don’t know who I am, I am not surprised. I’m the crazy rocker chick from Season 5 of The Voice. I was the second-to-last contestant CeeLo Green had on his team before he quietly left the show; the one who crowd-surfed, hugged the random girl in the audience (gasp!), seemingly levitated from the stage in a sort of dance-shuffle that shocked even me when I saw it for the first time on TV and spurred a hilarious (albeit embarrassing) Vine that garnered half a million views. I was also the girl who wore the tiny hot pants that enraged Internet commenters everywhere and introduced me to a whole new level of body shaming that I did not know existed.
I have always been an outcast. I grew up in rural North Carolina at a time when it was not cool to wear any color but khaki and listen to any music but rap or country. In elementary school, my favorite movie was Edward Scissorhands when all the other girls were watching Disney films. In high school, I listened to Marilyn Manson when he was at the peak of his ability to terrify parents. I took a lot of heat for my taste in music and pop culture. At one point, a girl in my class created a list of 113 things she hated about me and then proceeded to pass it around to the entire school. And I guess I should have known when I formed my band, The Design, that we would struggle for eight years in the southeast before our rock souls were finally pummeled by the popularity of Mumford and Sons and every other mandolin-wielding folk group that emerged after them.
So when a friend of mine suggested that I go on The Voice, telling me that all I needed to do was make it to the top 10, I laughed at him. I had never really been accepted before, so how in the world did they expect me to even make it past the first audition, let alone get into the top 10? I played it out in my mind: me, standing in line with thousands of other hopefuls, singing for five seconds before they told me "no." That’s the scenario that went through my head every time someone at a show told me to go on The Voice, American Idol, X Factor, America’s Got Talent, etc. But The Voice struck me as a positive competition that didn't exploit their contestants. When my band broke up and I was offered the opportunity to audition for the show, I thought, "I have nothing to lose. This could be a really good thing."
I did not censor myself. I walked into that room in a leotard, wearing Frankenstein heels and singing my weird brand of rock. To my elated surprise, the casting agency loved me. And then the coaches embraced me, and CeeLo pushed me forward every chance he got. Not once did any of the producers or anyone on the show try to change me or tell me I should dress or act a certain way. They were all for me being me. We pre-taped The Blinds, Battles, and Knockouts and then went home for a couple months before the Live rounds started. In that time I lived in this tiny bubble of hope and happiness. Maybe this time I’ll be lucky, I thought. Maybe this time I found my place.
This feeling was relatively short-lived. From the moment the first episode aired, the online comments started pouring in on Twitter and YouTube. (I don't feel comfortable singling out and drawing attention to individual people, so I won't cite specific commenters.) Who does she think she is? Skank. Whore. This is a family show and she needs to cover her body and dress appropriately. (All of these comments came from women, by the way.)
It was especially curious to me that the male contestants were lauded for being boisterous and funny, but when I opened my mouth or stomped around the stage, I was shunned for being "too aggressive." Most of the online comments were positive, but anyone knows that the negative comments are the ones that stick to your bones. I started comparing myself to my fellow contestants, looking to see how many more hits their YouTube videos were getting and how much better their songs were doing on the iTunes charts. I was jealous of the thousands of Twitter followers my younger peers were getting. I tortured myself at night in my hotel room, looking at press articles The Voice reps told us not to look at, and reading YouTube comments that they told us not to read. I let the negativity get inside me. I wanted so badly to be loved for being myself.
Every week was a hurdle — I was trying to work hard and focus on the competition, while at the same time trying to block out the vitriol that bled through the cracks of social media, which made me constantly second-guess myself. The Voice team tried to help with song suggestions, but ultimately I lost who I truly was to the pressure and confusion of performing on a high-stress reality singing competition.
I wound up making several decisions based on what I thought America would like. I picked a slow love song to try and show America that I could have a gentler side. I wore softer makeup and adopted a meeker persona when talking to the coaches. I felt like I had to fight doubly hard to prove myself as a vocalist and as a performer, because of what I chose to wear and because I was a woman.
No one made comments about what the guys were wearing — they just focused on their voices. But if I had gone out on stage covered up head-to-toe in an attempt to combat the body and slut-shaming, it would have felt constraining and hollow. The shaming actually made me want to wear less clothing, to show that I had control of my body and that no matter what the trolls said, they could not beat me down.
After being eliminated and licking my wounds, I led a very successful Kickstarter with guidance from Amanda Palmer (our fans connected us on Twitter), who has also dealt with her fair share of body shaming. After years of trying to fit in, I was simply over it. I wrote an album called Kat Robichaud and The Darling Misfits and I did not hold back from speaking out against the online trolls who had shunned me for the way I dressed and behaved.
I made the theatrical glam rock album that I had always wanted to make, and I had no idea whether or not it would be popular. I just knew that I had to be myself and I couldn’t worry about following a trend. At the end of the day, whether anyone gets me or not, I wrote what I felt in my heart, and I can feel good about that. I also learned that not everyone is going to accept you for who you are or the way that you dress or present yourself. You have to do you. You have to dress in a way that makes you happy and let others who don't like it worry about their own hang-ups. One of the best things about living in San Francisco is that I can walk down the street in a leotard and no one bats an eye.
Image: Peter Samuels