It’s easy for serious music fans to hate reality TV talent shows like The Voice, because in many ways they represent a boiled-down version of what the industry is from a mainstream perspective — image-obsessed, safe, and sanitized. We get to see the horror and humiliation of it all play out for our entertainment — everything that holds back the real artists while giving a platform to the average.
But every now and then, the shows drop us a gem. Adam Lambert, for example, has been dazzling on tour with Queen and he came out of season eight of American Idol. And then there’s Bay Area resident Kat Robichaud, a season five contestant on The Voice in 2013.
Back then, Robichaud stuck out like a leather-clad thumb. She had a voice that slayed, and a strut and swagger that screamed “rock star.” Watching the judges dissect her heartfelt performances felt icky. She was and is above that nonsense. Still, she got to perform for a TV audience of approximately 15 million.
“Producers tell you what to do, what to say, how to act, how to dress,” she says now. “When you’re in that bubble, you can’t really think straight. I made some stupid decisions that weren’t the best songs for me to sing but I thought would be popular songs. But I did well considering I’m a loud mouthed rock & roller and I found that wives in the Midwest were not a fan of me. It was like I was going to reach out of the screen and grab their husbands. I got called a skank on Twitter. It’s fine, I wrote a song about it. But it was a great way to toughen your skin, and learn that what people are saying on the internet means absolutely nothing.”
That’s a valuable lesson — people will be gross on Twitter and it pays to ignore that crap. Ultimately though, Robichaud says that her The Voice experience was a rewarding one.
“It’s like a double edged-sword,” she says. “On the one hand, you’ve been given this great opportunity, this incredible platform. With that, I did a successful Kickstarter and was able to put out my first album. When I moved to San Francisco, it was a really nice calling card — anybody I was interested in working with, I would send my YouTube videos which were still up at the time. At one point in time, I had millions of views on my videos.”
Robichaud grew up in North Carolina and she got her degree in graphic design. In her senior year, she joined a band that recorded albums of original music but would make their money performing covers at weddings and the like.
“It wasn’t what I wanted to be doing, singing ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ every night, but I learned a lot about how to talk to an audience and stuff like that,” she says.
The singer moved to San Francisco about five years ago after her stint on TV. Her husband is an engineer with a biochem startup (she calls him a “mad scientist”), so when the couple were looking for a city that could accommodate both of their careers, San Francisco was an obvious choice.
So now she’s here, minus any massive TV network backing, standing on her own two feet as a local artist. She still has a few loyal fans that discovered her through The Voice, but for the most part people forget the contestants from season five as soon as season six begins. No matter, she’s out here doing her own thing with a style she defines as “theatrical rock & roll.”
“David Bowie is my number one and has been for a long time,” she says. “I love Freddie Mercury and Queen. Marilyn Manson is another person that I was super into growing up. I always felt he was a pop star in disguise. Amanda Palmer has been a real influence on me. I got introduced to her and Neil Gaiman through fans on The Voice. I’ve had the opportunity to perform with Amanda a few times now.”
That makes complete sense; all of those artists, especially former Dresden Dolls singer Palmer, share a “dark cabaret” sensibility with Robichaud, highlighted by the fact she started her own Misfit Cabaret a year after moving here.
“I started it with my partner Jordan Nathan,” Robichaud says. “She and I produce it together. We started in an illegal speakeasy that held about 100 people. Those are still around. We only did a few shows there before we moved to the Great Star Theater in the heart of Chinatown. Then we moved to Z Space which is in the Mission and is a smaller theater. We did that for a year and then we just moved to the Alcazar, which is a 500 seat theater and it is in the heart of the theater district so it’s legit. It’s a year long residency — we’ll be there until the beginning of June and then see how it goes. We might stay for another year.”
The performance, she says, is a variety show inside of a musical — a framed narrative. There are fun covers in there, as well as original material.
“We have a rotating cast of musicians, drag queens, burlesque performers, aerialists, vaudevillians, puppets — we have a puppet troupe that we work with called Shadow Circus Creative Theatre,” Robichaud says. “They’ve got something really special for our Halloween show. So creepy, and huge. I love when our audience dresses up to come to our show, like it’s an event.”
Theatrical rock & roll, with drag queens and puppets — seriously, what more could you want? It’s a very different world to the one she left behind with Blake Shelton and the rest, and she’s thriving in it. She did exactly the right thing — take all of the good from the The Voice experience and leave the bullshit behind.
“I maintained a lot of fans but I think for the most part people don’t care as much about the contestants as they do the coaches,” she says. “It was a positive experience and it’s part of the journey. Amanda Palmer told me that I needed to hit the ground running as soon as I got off the show. Grab all of the fans that are just as weird as me.”
She found them right here.
Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret
Every Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m., at the Alcazar Theatre, 650 Geary St., $20-$250, krmisfitcabaret.com.