‘Voice’ star with local ties makes finals

The next winner of NBC’s “The Voice” could be a singing sensation who’s very familiar to family and friends in the Columbus area.

Morgan Myles was selected as one of five finalists on Tuesday and will compete live on national television next week for the title this year in the long-running hit talent competition series. Her parents graduated from Columbus North High School in 1975, and her two grandmothers, three aunts, five cousins and multiple second cousins still call the Columbus area home.

“I’ll be there for Christmas, most likely,” Myles said in a phone interview last week. She noted that she often accompanies her parents, Karen (Thompson) Pinsonneault and Dan Pinsonneault, who like her now live in Nashville, Tennessee, when they come “home” for the holidays to visit family here.

Those family members were on Myles’ mind on Monday night when she dedicated her performance to her late grandfather, Luke Pinsonneault, and to her cousin Mackenzie “Mac” DeClue, formerly of Columbus, who died on Dec. 9, 2018, at age 33. Both died after battling brain cancer.

Myles, 35, who has been a touring musician based in Nashville for years before appearing on “The Voice,” took to the NBC studio stage in Hollywood seated before a piano. Singing with an orchestral arrangement, she performed an emotional and powerful tribute, the Lady Gaga ballad “Always Remember Us This Way” from the 2018 film “A Star Is Born.”

Myles’ parents were in the audience, and her mother Karen was moved to tears. Also watching at home in Columbus were many of Myles’ extended family members, including Myles’ aunt and Karen’s sister, Sherry Johnson of Columbus, who was watching at home with her husband, Gregg.

“I could hear him sniffling, and I said, ‘Are you crying?’, and he said, ‘Maybe a little,’” Johnson said.

“I don’t know how Morgan did that. She’s a truth teller and she has true grit,” she said. “I can’t imagine how she did that without shedding tears.”

Also watching in Columbus was Morgan’s aunt and Dan’s sister, Cathy Schooler and her mother, Morgan’s paternal grandmother, Betty “Mimi” Pinsonneault. She got an unexpected call on Monday evening.

“Morgan, probably about 20 minutes before singing her final song, called my mom and they were facetiming,” Schooler said. “She told my mom what to expect and showed her photos of my dad and Mac.”

When they watched Myles perform a few minutes later, Schooler said, “all of a sudden it just hit us. … We started bawling, too. The song was absolutely beautiful.”

Myles’ aunt and Mac’s mother, Elaine DeClue, said in an email that Myles’ performance was “a beautiful tribute” to her son and to Myles’ grandfather she called “Pip.” “They were very close when she was growing up. ‘Pip’ was always making her laugh, cheering her on in sports and doing funny pranks that embarrassed her but made her smile. Brain cancer hit him quickly, and it was hard.

“Then it hit cousin Mac. The cousins grew up in separate states, but when they got together, they were best buds. As they grew older they stayed in touch and when Morgan performed in the Boston area, Mac tried to be at her shows,” she said.

“Both men meant a lot to her, and I’m glad she picked that song as a tribute to them. It was powerful and performed from her heart,” DeClue said.

Johnson said that watching her niece sing a Lady Gaga ballad requiring a big voice and a wide vocal range showcased her abilities. “I just envisioned her on a big stage for the rest of her life. … All my friends were texting me saying that they would buy a ticket (to see Myles in concert) any day of the week.”

After her performance, Myles told People Magazine, “We were thick as thieves, me and Mac. … So it just was a lot, you know? When you lose people like that, it changes the dynamic of your family forever, and it’s a struggle. It still burns that hole in our hearts.”

Johnson, a 45-year employee of Columbus Regional Health who manages multiple departments at the hospital, has long been a big booster of her “baby niece” Morgan, sharing her professional successes on social media and cheering on her career.

Johnson said she first got a clue of her niece’s talent when Morgan was 3 or 4 years old and her mom, Karen, and older sister Meghan were taking piano lessons. Johnson was talking on the phone with Karen, who was distracted by someone playing the piano rather well and went to see who is was. When she returned to the phone, she told Johnson, “It’s Morgan!”

“Morgan by ear had picked up the songs” her mother and sister were learning, Johnson said.

“She can play multiple instruments, she can sing any song and she does it from her soul,” Johnson said. “She makes people feel the song and feel what she’s feeling, and I think her last performance really showcased that. Everyone who’s listened to it and seen it is brought to tears. It’s just heartfelt.”

And she said Myles, now 35, has never forgotten her family in Columbus. Last Christmas Day, in fact, Johnson said her niece was in town and came to the hospital to play for the skeleton crew that was working on the holiday. She estimated maybe 50 or 75 people passed through and caught at least some of her performance.

Schooler, who works at Voelz Body Shop in Columbus, said she worked for years in food and beverage businesses in the area before COVID. She remembers Myles singing everything from country to opera in local establishments that she and family members owned or operated.

Under the format of “The Voice,” the eight remaining vocalists who performed on Monday were narrowed to the five finalists who will compete for the title next week.

Four of the five finalists are those who received the most votes from viewers after Monday’s performance, revealed on Tuesday night’s show. Myles was among the top four, along with finalists Bodie, Brayden Lape and Bryce Leatherwood. The fifth finalist, Omar Jose Cardona, punched his ticket to the finals after winning a performance competition among the four semifinalists who received fewer votes from the public.

“The Voice” finals will air with live performances on Monday at 8 p.m., followed by selection of the winning vocalist on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NBC, WTHR-13.

“Her aunts and uncles are all voting for her … and her cousins,” Schooler said. “Everyone’s watching and voting.”