Finding Her “Voice”
Reality show spurs Monika Leigh to follow a dream deferred
By Kate Jonuska
His last message for her was a text. “If a door opens, always walk through it,” her stepfather, Texas blues musician Leo Aston, wrote to Monika Leigh in her adopted hometown of Boulder. “He was the one who taught me to love music,” says Leigh, whose 12th-birthday present was an electric guitar; she was playing it in clubs by the age of 13. “But at the time of his death, I had stopped doing music because it wasn’t paying the bills. I’d decided I could not afford to keep up with my dreams.”In fact, when the inspirational message and the bad news of his passing from cancer found Leigh, her talent had been kept on a shelf for four long years. She was studying at Front Range Community College to become a special-education teacher, and working as a housekeeper at St Julien Hotel & Spa.
“After that text, I just kept saying yes to everything, to every opportunity,” says Leigh, now 28.
One of those opportunities happened to be an audition for Season 5 of The Voice reality-TV show. The supportive team at The St Julien gave her weeks of time off while holding her job for her, believing in her ability. And sure enough, she earned her way onto the show, her blues-rock style wowing judges and audience alike.
“I fell in love with your voice, and it’s the same thing that would make me want to turn my stereo up if you came on the radio,” said Voice judge Blake Shelton after Leigh’s performance of “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King. “Star quality is what it is.”
Though she appeared cool and collected on stage, Leigh says performing for a television audience and taking part in such a prestigious competition was stressful. She also says that her late stepfather’s inspiring her to take part made the experience bittersweet and humbling.
On the other hand, “feeling like I’m representing Boulder, Colorado, saying that’s where I’m from [on The Voice], was a huge honor for me,” says the singer, who has performed locally at The Attic, Pearl Street Pub and the Boulder Theater. “I am in love with Boulder. It’s where I want to come back to, where I want to settle down, retire, live and grow old.”
So Hollywood hasn’t stolen Leigh away for good, although that’s where she’s living now. Unfortunately, she did not go on to win The Voice, but that’s not a big setback for someone who once put her dreams entirely on the back burner.
“Looking back, I realize how unhappy I was during those four years. Now that I’ve been back in music for almost a year, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been,” Leigh says. She calls The Voice a rocket launcher that catapulted her back on the track toward a lifelong music career.
“I’m not stopping, that’s for sure,” she says. “This time I’m continuing, no matter what happens in life.”
The next step for the Colorado portion of that career? “I’d love to come back and play the big theaters, like The Fox maybe. Oh, or Red Rocks! Those are big goals of mine.”