Perkins continues to impress on 'The Voice'
Kat Perkins isn't afraid to take risks. Take last week's performance on "The Voice" where the Minneapolis rocker turned Daft Punk's electro-pop hit "Get Lucky" into a heavy metal blowout.
Strategically, she wanted to shake it up by leaving behind -- at least for one night -- the classic rock songs viewers have come to expect her to sing. Not only did she have social media buzzing after her performance, she also caught country superstar Reba McEntire's attention.
"Reba actually texted me after Kat's performance and said she was impressed," said actress Melissa Peterman, who is friends with Perkins and has appeared on McEntire's TV show, "Reba."
With millions of people watching her each week on the NBC singing competition, Perkins has become one of its most popular contestants. "Get Lucky" just missed cracking the Top 10 downloaded songs on iTunes, and she was saved twice by audience votes via Twitter in the last few weeks. Whatever you think of the songs she's picked, it's hard to deny the former nanny's dynamic stage presence, something she's been working on for years.
Peterman, who's been in "The Voice" audience a couple of times to cheer on Perkins, says the first time she saw her friend sing, she knew the musician was going to be a "superstar."
"She's known as the 'Rockin' Nanny,' but she loves all kinds of music," said Peterman, a Minnesota native who currently stars on ABC Family's "Baby Daddy."
"She's this teeny girl with the biggest smile and all her tattoos, but I've seen her singing in a bar and she'll have the biggest, burliest guy saying, 'That woman is bad ass.' I've seen her at a tiny bar in Shakopee and now on the 'The Voice' stage. You know what? What I saw at that bar is exactly what I see on the 'The Voice' and that's what I think is amazing."
'Retains her Minnesota Nice'
Perkins is a kindhearted soul, according to friends and family. You probably wouldn't expect the 33-year-old rocker with jet-black hair, piercings and tattoos to have knitted nearly 100 scarves for the "The Voice's" top 48 contestants and the show's crew.
"I know some people on the show's crew," Peterman said. "They say she's so nice and genuine. That speaks volumes to know that in the most pressure-filled environment she retains her Minnesota Nice -- that's hard to do."
Barely 5 feet tall, Perkins has always had a thing for music. Her father, Mark, is a music teacher and her mother, Gayle, an organist. When she was a tot growing up in the tiny town of Scranton, N.D., she was singing harmonies with her sister, Kelly, and taking piano lessons.
"We were always around music, it's just our family's thing," said Kelly Robinson, who noted her three children call Perkins "Auntie Meow." "It's in our blood."
Robinson has been at every "Voice" show since the blind auditions. She's always in the audience sitting next to Perkins' boyfriend, Eric Warner, who is also a musician. Robinson gives her sister a note every Monday before she performs.
"My message has been if this all ends this week, it would have still been something great," she said.
Perkins was one of 16 students in her 1999 high school graduating class. She went on to join the Medora Musical, a popular North Dakota production. A cosmetology school graduate, it didn't take her long to end up in the Twin Cities doing Hey City Theater productions and playing in bands including Scarlet Haze.
George Keller met Perkins while they were both in Hey City's "Tony N' Tina's Wedding." The two women became quick friends.
"She's the girlfriend everyone wants," said Keller, who has been taking care of Perkins' two cats -- Onyx and Ivan -- while her friend's been competing in California. "She's always been there for me no matter what. My mom is probably her oldest fan right now. She's 87 and wears her 'Team Kat' T-shirt every Monday night. I want this so much for Kat on so many different levels. She's such a great musician."
Inspired by the kids
A few years ago, Perkins ended up working for Keller's brother and sister-in-law, Pete and Stephannie Keller, as a nanny looking after the Edina couple's five children, who now range in age from 7 to 19.
Stephannie Keller said Perkins was always singing to her kids and didn't get the nickname "Rockin' Nanny" for nothing.
"There was never a day when I came home from work that music wasn't on or she wasn't singing," said Keller, an Edina business owner. "Her human spirit is so bright and lively and she's extraordinarily kind. Even though she's constantly singing and dancing around, she brings a really nice, calm feeling to the house."
The kids constantly told their musical nanny she should try out for "The Voice," one of their favorite shows.
Perkins got a call last spring from producers after they viewed a YouTube video of her singing Adele's "Someone Like You" during an airport layover in Amsterdam. They invited her to audition in Los Angeles, but Perkins was hesitant. More than a decade ago she auditioned for "American Idol" judges who told her they didn't like her voice or her image.
"The decision to try out for the 'The Voice' and really put herself out there again for one of these reality shows was one she didn't take lightly," Robinson said. "It took her a long time to make up her mind."
After thinking about the pros and cons, Perkins traveled to Los Angeles in October and was selected for the "The Voice's" blind auditions.
Now she's in the show's Top 5.
"I owe it all to those kids," Perkins said in an interview Thursday. "The kids I nanny for would not let it go. They pushed and they pushed. When I got the opportunity to audition, I couldn't say no. Those kids were so inspiring and so motivated for me to follow my dreams. I had to show them I was at least going to try."
Each week, the Keller family watches their former nanny perform. Youngest daughter Emma wants to be a singer just like Perkins.
"Kat's showing our children that if you have a dream, you really should try and make it come true," Stephannie Keller said. "And once you commit to trying, don't stop."
Surprise in store
On Monday night's semifinal show, which airs at 7 p.m., Perkins will sing two songs -- one she chooses and another selected by her coach, Adam Levine. While she can't reveal what she'll be singing, she promised an even bigger surprise than last week's head banging "Get Lucky" cover.
"I'm taking a whole different approach this week," said Perkins, who says she's grown as a singer and a person during her time on the show. "I'm going to go for a little bit softer side of me and I'm going to do something maybe super, super surprising to everyone. I'm going to attempt something I don't think anybody would ever expect."
There might be another big surprise in store regarding Perkins' hair. Levine dyed his dark locks blond last week. Perkins and Christina Grimme, who is also on Team Adam, told him if they made it to the Top 5, they'd go blonde too. She said it started out as a playful joke, but Levine took them seriously.
"Christina and I have a salon appointment, and I'm freaking out," Perkins said. "We'll see what happens. I told him I probably can't go all the way, but we're definitely going to do a tribute to Adam."
Perkins urges people to vote after Monday's performance and to download her songs from iTunes (if she makes it into the iTunes Top 10, she gets additional votes). And while she's looking forward to relaxing for a few minutes when her time on the show ends, it's not going to be for more than a quick catnap.
"You've got to strike while the iron is hot, and you have to really use the momentum from the show and keep going because the next season starts soon and I don't want to be forgotten about," she said. "After I breathe for a second, I'll get started on a record as soon as I can and book a show in the Twin Cities to say 'hi' to all the fans who have been so loyal to me over the years."