It wasn’t the years spent toiling in clubs with a Twin Cities hard-rock band nor the long hours she put in at Hey City Theater that earned Kat Perkins what she calls the greatest opportunity she’s ever faced. Instead, it was an impromptu, jet-lagged, two-beers-down singalong of an Adele song at 6 a.m. on a layover in the Amsterdam airport.
“We were pretty much out of our minds,” the Minneapolis-based contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” laughingly recalled of last year’s Adele “incident,” when she and her bandmates wearily made their way home from a military entertainment tour.
As is wont to happen in this day and age, someone in the entourage filmed Perkins singing “Someone Like You” in the piano bar, posted it to YouTube and the TV producers came calling.
“I call those kinds of circumstances where I’m being egged on like that ‘Kumbaya-ing,’ and I usually hate it,” Perkins said. “This one changed my life, though.”
She enters “The Voice’s” top 10 this week after easily passing the first live round last week with her clenched-fist version of Heart’s “Magic Man.” As much as she has impressed her team leader, Adam Levine, and the other celebrity coaches with her voice, the 33-year-old singer has also made a strong impression on TV viewers with her gregarious personality and seemingly bipolar identities.
She’s the tough rocker chick with ample tattoos and piercings, the contestant who took up Levine’s challenge to sing Metallica during a rare goofing-off moment rehearsing for “The Voice.” She’s also the friendly, small-town gal from Hey City’s cutesy comedy “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” who was nannying for an Edina family with five children when she got the call.
Talking by phone before rehearsals for last week’s performance, Perkins said her varied background has helped her move on in the highly watched TV competition.
“It’s an advantage to be a well-rounded performer on this show, and to know how to appeal to different kinds of audiences,” she said. “Everything I’ve done professionally since I moved to Minneapolis has helped me here.”
Leather and lace
After graduating in a high school class of 15 kids in Scranton, N.D. — “just a perfect little small-town community,” she said — Perkins moved to the Twin Cities in 2000 largely to make it as a singer.
Foremost among her professional experience, her metallic band Scarlet Haze worked its way up to headliner status in Minnesota bars during the latter ’00s, earning opening gigs for Bret Michaels, Warrant and Bon Jovi. “We really worked our asses off,” Perkins rightfully bragged, calling Scarlet Haze her “introduction to the music business, good and bad.”
Like fellow Twin Cities singer Jordis Unga, who made it to the top five in Season 2 of “The Voice,” Perkins’ “rocker chick” edge is a far cry from the kewpie-doll pop starlets who have won, such as Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery.
“That was one of my big questions coming into this: ‘Can a rocker really win ‘The Voice’? ” Perkins recalled.
“It remains to be seen, of course, but I realized there was nothing I could do to change who I am. And I mean that literally: I can’t take away my tattoos and my piercings. I have to be me, or people would know it’s not genuine.”
Sandy Hey, artistic director of the now-defunct Hey City Theater, actually remembered having to cover up some of Perkins’ tattoos when she was in the cast of “Beehive” in the early ’00s. However, the tats came in handy for “Tony n’ Tina.”
“She played the pregnant bridesmaid Connie, who was supposed to have a bit of a hard edge, so the tattoos and Kat’s whole look only made the role all that more funny,” Hey recalled. She added, though, “Kat herself really couldn’t be any sweeter.”
Perkins said of her experience with Hey City and prior community-theater work: “It taught me so many things that are being thrown at me now on the show, from finding my light, to blocking, to so many random things about staging.”
While Scarlet Haze never called it quits — it played the Cabooze in December after Perkins returned hush-hush from auditions for “The Voice” — she did step back from the music business in 2011. “I was just burnt out,” she said.
She dove into nannying with the kind of dedication she shows for music, said Stephannie Keller, the Edina business owner who hired Perkins to help manage her and her husband Peter’s five children, at the time ages 4 to 17.
“She has such an upbeat personality, she immediately became a calming presence in our household and really a part of the family,” Keller recalled.
When Perkins told them about “The Voice” audition, Keller said the family expressed nothing but encouragement — despite the hard fact that it left them without their valuable nanny. They have yet to hire a replacement, either.
“We always wanted her to feel like she had a place to come back,” she said, admitting that ship has probably sailed. “Now, I don’t want to jinx her.”
The Kellers watch Perkins religiously each week. The youngest of the clan, 7-year-old Emma, is pretty well set on becoming a rock star now, Stephannie said. “I think it’s been great for them to see someone they know so well work so hard and really just shine the way Kat has.”
For her part, Perkins cites the Kellers as inspiration and valuable experience for the show. She would often watch “The Voice” with the family.
“I got to see firsthand what it’s like for a family to come together and watch the show, and debate the music,” said Perkins, who also held music sessions with the kids around the Kellers’ piano. “I think the show is making a lot of kids get passionate about music.”
As wholesome as that sounds, Perkins has more devilish intentions when it comes to her tenure in prime time.
“I really think we’re going to see the return of rock — real rock — in America,” she said, “and maybe, just maybe, I can be on the front end of that on ‘The Voice.’ ”