Wednesday 17 January 2018

She sang on stage with Whitney Houston and now Dubliner Zena (14) is hoping to triumph on The Voice Kids UK

Zena Donnelly during her audition for The Voice Kids UK
Zena Donnelly during her audition for The Voice Kids UK
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Zena Donnelly credits singing on stage with the late, great Whitney Houston with igniting her passion for music.

The 14-year-old from Blackrock, Dublin was plucked from the crowd at a Whitney concert when she was just seven years old to sing 'The Greatest Love of All' alongside her idol.

"I remember the whole night.  It was crazy," she tells Independent.ie.

"My brother and I made a poster that said, 'I love you Whitney, can I sing with you?'  She was my all time favourite artist and can you imagine at my age, I was seven, getting pulled up on stage?  I was absolutely star struck. 

"We sang The Greatest Love of All.  I knew every word.  It was my favourite song.  She was the loveliest person, a lovely, lovely person and it's an experience I will remember always."

Last year the budding star also represented Ireland at Junior Eurovision with Bríce Ar Bhríce.

It's hardly surprising then that Zena displayed zero nerves when she sang at the blind auditions on hit ITV show The Voice UK kids last month, and bagged herself a place in the battles, which kick off tonight.

"There were actually loads and loads of auditions before we got to the blind audition so I suppose the fact I had done so many beforehand meant I was a bit less nervous than if I had just shown up and walked out on stage.  I was very prepared," she says.

"I was more excited than nervous but I did feel a little bit nervous when I got out on stage because I couldn't see the coaches.  You haven't seen them in person.  You've only seen them on TV so it's a bit mad!"

The coaches on the show are singer Pixie Lott, will.i.am and Danny Jones.  Pixie turned almost immediately for Zena.

"I've had Pixie's albums since I was very young and she was one of my favourite artists," says Zena.

"I think originally, before the show, I probably wanted will.i.am to turn because of the whole Black Eyed Peas thing and I'm obsessed with them and he does lots of music producing.   But I'm so glad now that Pixie turned because she's such a lovely, talented person and the advice she gives is invaluable."

For the battles the kids compete with other people in their team so Pixie has chosen their song and has been providing vocal coaching, tips, and advice ahead of tonight's battle.

"It's been going really, really well but it's going to be tough," says Zena.  "Five of us are Irish and it's a UK show so I wouldn't expect anyone Irish to be winning.  But you never know what way it's going to go!"

While Zena performs tonight, fellow dubliner Devon Browne (12), Marby Arriolla (14) from Kildare, Adam Moloney (14) from Clare, and Nathan Johnston (12) from Larne will compete on Sunday.

"We're like a big family now," she says of her fellow Irish contestants.  "Of course it's competitive on stage, but off stage you very much just work hard for yourself and work together on the battles and at the end of the day nobody wants a big cat fight behind the scenes.  We all want the same thing and I think we all have a really good understanding of each other because we're all going through the same thing."

However she progresses tonight, Zena hopes to have a career in music or, failing that, in pharmacology or medicine.  She has just completed her Junior Cert and will spend fourth year concentrating on music.

"I'm really into songwriting so I'm writing away and I have quite a few songs now," she says.  "I'm just writing with my piano at home.  Hopefully I'll find a sponsor somewhere but I'll just keep going at it and see how it goes!"

Five talented Irish hopefuls will battle it out on The Voice Kids UK this weekend 

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